Denali By Bus: Part III


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Eventually we made it to the Eielson Visitors Center, where a decent crowd from earlier buses were already inside. Bathrooms, water bottle refilling stations, a gift shop, and other exhibits were open to learn more about Denali.

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I was captivated by the artistry of these art quilts that captured the essence of the park. I had my long lens on and for some reason I’m not finding a lot of photos that didn’t involve my zoom lens so I guess I didn’t take any phone photos. Why, past self, why????

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I believe we had about thirty minutes at the visitor center and if we wanted to board the same bus we had to stay within that time frame.

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This was our view of Denali! Socked in with clouds! Visibility was very poor. Should visibility have been better I think we would have stayed around the visitor center longer to explore and enjoy being able to see Denali. As it was, we decided to stop back at the Toklat stop and explore the river there.

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At Toklat we hauled out all of our gear and the car seat and asked if we could leave the car seat in a corner at the gift shop there. When there weren’t any buses it was spectacularly quiet there.

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I think we spent a good hour or so wandering around the river, poking around, and Chris was looking for any kind of animal prints to take castings of. Eventually he found what he was looking for and while that was setting we moseyed around the river and gift shop.

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Marsh Grass-of-Parnassus, Parnassia palustris

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Arctic Ground Squirrel, Urocitellus parryii

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We came around from the river and up an embankment and found this chubby ground squirrel who immediately posed for us in a manner that looked as if he was accustomed to begging for food from tourists. Instead of food I took plenty of photos of him and we moseyed on down the way.

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A few buses came through but none had room for us. Eventually we found some room on another bus and made our way back towards the entrance of the park.

Pre-Birthday Hike on the Lone Star Trail


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Our last hiking adventure has been a few weeks now, the Friday before my birthday. I took the day off and after we’d decided to back out of our initial idea of going to the beach, we opted instead to go for a hike on the LST and then head over and check on our Texas pipevine plants to see if they had set any seeds.

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Arrowhead Rattlebox, Crotalaria sagittalis
I noticed this interesting plant on the way into our hike and on our way back out I kept an eye on it. I hadn’t noticed it before but after I identified it as a crotalaria I was surprised I didn’t figure it out on the hike because I was familiar with many of the non-native species that I used to see in Florida.

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Ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata
We weren’t but a quarter of a mile or so down the trail, when as the trail slopes down to a drainage, Forest said he wanted to go off and have a look. It timed well because another hiker was coming our way and we gave her wide berth and hopped down to explore.

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Anglepod, Gonolobus suberosus

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Southern Pearly-Eye, Lethe portlandia

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Green Branch

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Wild yam, Dioscorea villosa
This area of Texas has both the native wild yam but also the invasive air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera. Thankfully I haven’t come across the air potato that often, though I often do a double take every time I see the wild yam. This was the first time I had seen it with seed pods and thought they were very interesting and quite decorative!

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Of course the highlight of the hike was when Chris found a Pandorous sphinx moth caterpillar, Eumorpha pandorus. This one was on a sorrelvine, Cissus trifoliata, a member of the grape family and among the host plants for the caterpillar. Such a cute and chunky caterpillar! I second guessed myself on the sorrelvine because it is usually found much more commonly west of here but it appears there are a few sightings in this region of Texas.

I’d like to get back out for some hikes soon. We’ve been sticking close to the house the last few weeks working on various projects and honestly, just resting and relaxing! Plus, we’ve had some rain events on weekends as well. I’m ready for a cool down and some backpacking and camping weather!

Denali By Bus: Part II


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Eventually the bus climbed around a pass and we came to a second stop, Polychrome Overlook. We had about 15 minutes to walk a short trail and take in the very scenic views.

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Several braided rivers were in the distance and all I wanted to do was get five days of food on my back and head off into the wilderness to explore!

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Honestly, the photos speak for themselves.

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Eliana looking a bit wistful.

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After our short foray at Polychrome we boarded the bus once again and it wasn’t long before we saw more bears!

Denali By Bus: Part I


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To explore Denali beyond the Savage River you need to access the park system’s bus services. There are several options designed for various experiences, including guided tours and buses that just get to a destination. They are also various lengths as some buses only go to certain locations and turn around. The longest bus ride would be to the end of the Denali park road at Kantishna, some 90 miles down the road. We opted for a transit bus which its sole goal is to deliver visitors to certain destinations along the way. You can also get out at any location along the way as off-trail hiking is encouraged within the park and is really the main way to explore.

My one beef with the bus system is the requirement for a car seat for kids under a certain age. (Looks like it is an AK issue). It would make/makes it incredibly hard to do that off trail exploring when you’ve got to keep an eye out for/lug around a car seat. We hopped onto a bus for the Eielson Visitor Center, mile 66, about a four hour ride down the road. You may wonder how such short mileage makes a four hour bus ride but these are dirt/gravel roads, fairly narrow in areas, plenty of stops along the way for wildlife, plus passing other buses, a couple of pee breaks and stops at other viewpoints—and that all makes for a long bus ride. We would have loved to have gone all the way to the end but didn’t know how Forest would handle such a long day in a bus and car seat so the Eielson stop made the most sense.

Our goal was to stay on the bus to Eielson and then decide to stop wherever we felt like on the way back. You can basically hop on any other transit bus you see on the way back as they regularly traverse the road throughout the day, as long as there’s room on board for you. Of course, bring all food and drinks with you! I know you can refill water at a couple of stops but otherwise there are no food vendors within the park that far in (that I saw—maybe at the last stop?).

And so, we set off very early for the Eielson Visitors Center!

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While the transit buses aren’t really guided, some of the bus drivers are more chatty about their knowledge of the park and more willing to stop and look at wildlife. That was the case with our first bus driver who did a great job of dishing out information along the way. And stopping relatively close in to the beginning of the park to get a glimpse of a couple of moose!

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Descending towards the Teklanika River.

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It was a very moody early autumn morning.

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Sometime after the river another passenger noticed a dead lynx along the side of the road. The bus driver said it had not been there the day before so perhaps a bus had hit it the night before? Sadly, this was my only glimpse of a lynx on this trip, though Chris ended up getting sight of one darting across the road on the return trip closer to the park entrance.

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The colors are just something to soak in here! I’m really sad I won’t be experiencing this kind of fall color this year.

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We’d been keeping our eyes open for wildlife and then, finally, brown bears!

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The bus slowed and stopped while all of us tourists oohed and ahhed and paparazzied them from afar. They ambled over the hill ridges and as the road curved around we were able to keep our eyes on them and watch from other angles.

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It was really a sight to behold, to watch as they dug for roots and berries to fatten up before winter set in. And the colors here, the cranberry and gold—so good!

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Eventually though we had to keep on down the road and around the next bend.

This will be at least a five part series! Stay tuned for more!

Life Lately | Late July 2020


Thinking:
Covid as per usual. And we’re 100 days from the election. All I’ve got to say is that I hope the aftermath isn’t a shitshow, either in that he’s out of office and doesn’t go off the rails for the few months until inauguration, or in that he doesn’t win. No winning. No winning. No winning. Because we are well and truly screwed if he does.

I’m not really in the mood for a comprehensive write-out of what I think but here are a few items of note:


AOC’s speech to Rep. Yoho the other day.

The Poison of Male Incivility – RE: AOC and Yoho

To Be a Parent Right Now Is To Be A Liar — this whole thing speaks to me. I’ve tried to explain to Forest that he won’t be seeing his friends from daycare again. He used to mention it more often and I’ve had to tell him that it likely won’t happen. You can tell it doesn’t quite sink in but that it is also painful for him to think about. I’m constantly thinking of when he will get to play with kids his own age again. Since we’re starting kindergarten with online learning he won’t even get the kid interaction. And it isn’t even like he would have gotten the kid interaction as well if it was in person with so much social distancing happening. It honestly breaks my heart.

Gardening:
The edible garden has slowed down in production as heat increased and rain disappeared. We’ve gotten a great soaking from the far outer bands of Hurricane Hanna this weekend so we’re very thankful for that!

Mercer Arboretum had an online plant sale last weekend. All you had to do was order and then pick up a few days later. I bought a couple of gingers and a silphium and ended up getting two extra gingers because the lady giving out the plants was being extra generous. Chris bought two Texas sotols for the cactus bed and a Hercules club tree! I’ve been searching for that for several years now.

I need to get on top of weeds again and made an effort for about twenty minutes today before another round of rain came through.

Loving:

+Live Rootbeer Kombucha still!
+I made bagels. A few months ago I made pretzels and the recipe for the dough is the same and the process is nearly identical. I had a hankering for bagels and made them up Friday evening. Delicious!
+Bike Rides!
+A hammock that I got for my birthday! It hasn’t been up all week due to the rain. Ready to get back into it

Reading:
I recently finished A God in Ruins, a sequel to Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. I’m currently reading Wild Island: A Year in the Hebrides by Jane Smith. It’s a journal of sorts with entries and watercolors throughout. It is an easy and lovely read. I’m also reading Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a book I’ve wanted to read for years but never made the time.

Making:
I’m working on an iris painting in the studio that I should be wrapping up this week. I have also been painting in a watercolor sketchbook with some new paints I bought for my birthday. My friend Meghan convinced me to actually buy some professional grade watercolors instead of something of lesser quality. I went with Daniel Smith brand and have been loving them! I also bought some water soluble pastels from Caran D’Ache and those have been really fun to play with. Now I’ve become a person who goes down watercolor journal flip-through rabbit holes on YouTube!

I’ve been thinking of doing some more crochet again soon.

Watching & Listening:

I have literally never listened to a Taylor Swift album in my life but someone mentioned there were Lana Del Rey and Lorde vibes and so I gave it a listen and have been blown away. I might actually buy the album! It’s a great art studio album!


Always love The Chicks and this album is a stunner! Lots of subtext about Natalie’s ex husband in there! March March is my favorite but I also love Texas Man and My Best Friend’s Weddings.

On the watching front:
I hit the bottom of Netflix a while back and hadn’t been interested in anything. But I finally gave Cable Girls a go. I remember trying to watch an episode a few years ago but because it is a Spanish show you either need to put captions on or listen to it in dubbing. I was doing a lot of work in the evenings when I needed this so captions weren’t going to be feasible. It starts in 1928 in Madrid and focuses in on 5 women who work as cable phone operators as Spain’s phone system starts broadening. Lots of flapper vibes and intrigue in the late 20s and early 30s. I actually had to do a lot of reading online because I didn’t know women didn’t get the right to vote or divorce there until the 1930s. The latter seasons jump to the end and aftermath of the Spanish Civil War so you see how the rise of fascism happened there and how the social justice movements slid backwards for nearly 50 years until Franco died in the 1970s. Highly recommend it if you can deal with dubbing and/or captions!

I also really loved the rebooted The Babysitter’s Club on Netflix. This series was what catapulted me into being a devout reader. I was a little wary at first because of some changes to the cast but honestly, it was the right thing and everything goes so well! Unlike the Anne of Green Gables reboot on Netflix, this one is a homerun!

And I’m back on a “there’s nothing to watch!” phase so I’m starting Alias again. It’s on Amazon Prime. The last time I went through that was when we moved in here 8 years ago. It’s very funny to see how the tech aged now that it is nearly a 20 year old show!

Looking Forward:
Lots of birthdays—mom turns 60 tomorrow! Then my niece turns 12 next week and my nephew turns 9 in mid-August. And of course Forest is also antsy for his birthday in early September!

Escape to the Beach


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Double rainbow over Galveston Bay

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A few weeks ago we talked ourselves out of going to the beach the Friday before my birthday. Not knowing what crowds would look like, it just made us nervous. That said, the beach was still calling. We decided to take a Wednesday off and go very early in the morning so we left the house at 6:30 and arrived at about 8:45.

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These last few years we’ve usually picked one of the public entrances on either side of Galveston Island State Park. I enjoy walking down the state park beach because it is a lot more wild and less maintained. Also, beach side entrance from the actual state park is still closed as it was last year because of construction in the state park so it was even more desolate than usual.

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When we arrived there were a few people on the beach but everyone was spaced far apart. The beach to the east, past the posts keeping you from driving down the beach, was fairly empty too despite being in front of the row of beach houses. There were folks out walking but it wasn’t packed. That area slowly increased in activity as time went on as did our little public access area.

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Forest was thrilled to be at the beach! He’s been practicing holding his breath under water this summer, something he has been too timid to try until now, and since he has this newfound skill he’s really become more of a water kid than he was before! Usually at the beach he likes to hang out in a little dug out pool of water Chris would dig for him and then sometimes splash at the water line but this time he was completely wanting to stay in the water the whole time to jump the little waves near the shore! I’m really grouchy at this pandemic because we were finally going to get real swimming lessons for him this spring and summer and now that is put off for another year (two?).

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It was a high sargassum time on the beach and I was glad that as soon as we got out of the car Forest asked “What’s that plant?” and wanted to play with it. We explained that it was actually a macroalgae and most people freak out about sargassum (it makes the beach “dirty” or they don’t like it brushing against them in the water) but he immediately took to it and was interested, especially after we started pulling floating sargassum up to look for marine life within it!

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One of the first things we found was a Sargassum Nudibranch, Scyllaea pelagica, something I had never seen in the sargassum! They were very cool and we found several throughout the day.

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And lots of Sargassum Shrimp, Latreutes fucorum

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Beach Morning-Glory, Ipomoea imperati

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I headed east down the beach early for a walk before more folks came to the beach. It was very pleasant along the walk and I ended up bringing a bag to pick up trash along the way, something I always say I’m going to do but never actually do.

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Open beaches!

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The handful of cars early on in the morning.

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A nudibranch egg case washed up on the shore.

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Blue Button, Porpita porpita

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A cute little crab that was commonly seen in the sargassum. I think this could be a juvenile blue crab but I’ve not been able to actually identify them quite yet.

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And of course our big find was seeing several Sargassumfish, Histrio histrio. It’s been many years since I’ve found one but we came across several that day. We kept our eye out for sargassum seahorses but no luck!

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Atlantic Sergeant Major, Abudefduf saxatilis

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A nudibranch on the left and an egg case on the right.

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Towards 11:30 the beaches got busier. The area to the east had more umbrellas and beach towels scattered as far as I could see down the beach. And our public area slowly added a few more cars. Everyone attempted to give those there a wide bearth but then two cars with an extended family group of 9 pulled into the east of us between the other car that was parked near the wood posts and we cringed. I was miffed they didn’t pull into an area further back that had a bigger gap of space but there they were, next to us. Under any other circumstances it wouldn’t have been a big deal but pandemic times? Too close for comfort, especially with the several kids they had. We put up with it for about an hour before Chris decided he was done with it and we packed up and headed out about 12:45. The rest of the area was also starting to get a little busier so it was only a matter of time before we would have left anyway.

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But before that I walked down to the Galveston Island SP side to get some quiet and see what I could find down there. It’s just always nice to be on a section of beach that barely anyone else is on—something you don’t get too much of in the height of summer in Galveston.

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There was a tropical disturbance earlier in the week that brought some rain to the coastal areas and that morning there were still showers coming in off the Gulf, which I think helped deter some of the people on the beach that morning. This little shower came in right before we left.

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A video of the nudibranch moving—give it a minute to load as well as the next two. Or click through to view it over on Flickr.

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I’m glad we were able to make it happen! Hopefully we can do it again next month or maybe in September. Once school starts things will quieten down a bit more so September will be a good time to go. Go early and avoid the crowds!

San Bernard NWR Wrap-Up


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I thought I had enough photos for at least two more posts from our trip to San Bernard NWR but it looks like I only have a smattering of photos that don’t really congeal into a write-up about a specific trail. The rest of our time at SBNWR was spent popping in and out of an assortment of trails near the wildlife drive.

These Swamp Rose Mallows, Hibiscus moscheutos were seen on the main road into the refuge as we crossed Cocklebur Slough.

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Climbing hempvine, Mikania scandens

We ducked into the Bobcat Woods Trail as we waited for another family to leave the Wolfweed Wetlands area.

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A swampy view of the southern end of Cocklebur Slough.

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A budding swamp rose mallow along that trail.

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And a pleasant surprise, a viceroy (Limenitis archippus)! I’ve yet to see them around our house and this is my first sighting in Houston. We saw several others flitting about the willows near the Wolfweed Wetlands area.

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We climbed up onto the overlook at the wetlands and enjoyed the scenic but hot views into the wetlands. It was not unlike a view of many impounded areas in south Florida that a lot of birders utilize! The heat ran us off from further exploring the levees around the impounded areas–that would be better suited for a cooler season!

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Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis

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American Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica ssp. erythrogaster
Near the wetland area was a large covered picnic area but unless you wanted respite amongst bird droppings, this was a no go!

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Saltmarsh mallow, Kosteletzkya pentacarpos (formerly K. virginica)—not confined to salt marshes!

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Fall Webworm Moth, Hyphantria cunea

After our tour at the wetlands we drove down to the end of the road and viewed Cedar Lake Creek which has a boat launch at the end. A few trucks were parked, trailers empty, folks on the water fishing. We contemplated the Cedar Lake trail, which was short, but decided to head for the Scissor-tailed Trail. It was mid-day at the point and the sun was high. I actually loved this trail but the downsides are lots of poison ivy and the mosquitoes were thick. We walked it quickly with Chris swatting mosquitoes for Forest as the two of them basically ran back to the car!

In all, I will be returning to this refuge during different seasons. There’s a lot to see and being that it traverses bottomlands to fresh and salt marsh along the way, there’s quite a diverse array of habitats to see!

A Glimpse of Comet Neowise C/2020 F3


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Like many folks, we attempted to go and see Comet Neowise on its once every 6700 year fly by of Earth. Last Friday evening we drove out towards Waller and Hempstead and parked ourselves on the side of a narrow road adjacent to some cattle pastures. As dusk set in we listened to the coyotes come out as the cows mooed in the distance. It was a rather clear evening with some haze on the horizon to the west but most of the clouds dissipated as time went on. We stared at the sky from the back of the truck and saw nothing but stars. The Big Dipper came out and we knew to look down from there but still, nothing. Chris called a friend who had seen it from his home down near Shiner and Sweet Home (much darker out that way) and got a few tips. After adjusting where we were looking we sat out there for a while longer and finally gave up. We determined there was too much haze and we couldn’t see it.

Saturday evening proved to have too many clouds to the west so we didn’t bother going out but then Sunday Chris said someone had mentioned being able to see it from a quarter mile away at the city park! I was surprised to hear this but we gave it a go last night. A few other folks were there so we socially distanced and kept masks tucked away in case things got busier. The person who had seen it the night before was out and gave us the direction he had seen it. Dusk finally fell and we kept our eyes out but nothing was visible. And then the person who had spotted the night before said he found it. Chris looked through his binoculars and found it as well! We are much closer to light pollution than where we had been on Friday night so it was very difficult to see it without an aid but once you knew where to look you could faintly see it. Trying to set my camera up to see it was another story! I could see a couple of stars that were near it so I looked for those and then had to play around with the manual focus before I got it configured enough to take a variety of shots at different shutter speeds and f-stops. They aren’t Nat Geo worthy but they are a cool memento for a once in a six millennia occurrence!

That said, after we saw it from basically around the block from our house we were kicking ourselves for not seeing it on Friday night, a much clearer and scenic evening! My parents attempted to see it from suburban Fort Worth on Friday night and didn’t get a look and then tried again out in Decatur but didn’t see it. At this point unless you have binoculars it would be difficult to spot—but give it a whirl! It is worth the sight before it fades from view!

These Are The Days


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Back in March when the pandemic got going here Forest and I would have lunch in his treehouse. It was cooler then and much more doable. We’d eat lunch inside and then move to the back balcony to have a treat in our “treat spot” while we watched the turtles on the downed log in the pond. I honestly thought by May that we’d have transitioned him back to daycare and Chris and I would both be in the office full time. Oh, how naive we were!

We haven’t had lunch in the treehouse in months, mostly because we’ve moved onto other things we do at lunch but it also quite hot out there right now. One thing we’ve been consistent with is our 3pm (ish) ice cream/popcicle break. It really morphs into a whatever kind of break, though Forest is pretty consistent about having a popsicle. While I haven’t gained weight during quarantine, I also haven’t lost any weight despite my fairly regular daily bike riding activities. Having a daily ice cream isn’t helping that! So, I’ve laid off that lately and now that there is no ice cream in the house I should probably keep it away for a good while! I just remembered there’s leftover birthday cake still out in the fridge in Chris’ man-cave. Oof.

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While many aspects of these times are challenging (trying to work 40 hours a week during a time frame everyone else is working but also somehow manage to keep Forest just entertained enough to stay out of my hair so I can focus) there’s been a lot of fun for these months at home. I miss the whims of going wherever, whenever but we’ve made do. Between little outings locally and finding the most interesting things to do around the yard, we’ve had fun! In the spring we were all about finding the leaf cutter ants and looking for other nature bits. Then we moved on to more poor time once things heated up—water always rules in these parts! No beach trips so we’ve had to improvise and enjoy what we’ve got where we’re at.

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Being around the garden more has meant that Forest is also around the garden more. That has piqued his interest in sowing seeds and wanting to grow anything he can get his hands on, weeds included! I’m letting him go with it at the moment because he is so interested and trying to answer all of his questions. The questions get a little tedious sometimes because he’s at that age where he wants to know how and why things work and trying to be in the mood with the patience for it all can get overwhelming.

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He’s been very into blanket fort building this summer and there is always a blanket or two stretched between the ottoman and the oversized chair, pillows propped up for doors. Toys are constantly scattered throughout the house and I would be lying if I said I never reach into the recesses of my memories to think of how lovely my floors used to look in the pre-kid days. Once or twice a week we have a big toy cleanup, though he is finally getting better about cleaning up without whining and throwing a fit about it. TV has worn thin around here, no longer the attention holder it was earlier on in this stay at home time. So, the toys come out, art and craft material comes out and before I know it he has concocted the idea to make kites out of large mulberry leaves, complete with yarn for a string. Nevermind that I can’t get through to him that they aren’t going to fly like a normal kite—it is the process of doing it that matters.

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And now someone is begging me to play Legos with him and so I must depart for a few minutes of building before I have to move on to weekend chores! I’m sure we will find time to test out those kites later today along with many other expeditions around the yard. There’s only a few more weeks left of this routine before it changes. We’ve decided to start off with online kindergarten, though I look wistfully at the folks who are transitioning to straight homeschooling for the year as it looks a lot more forgiving in regards to time—the ability to do the work at your own pace. I’m worried about how much actual online work will have to be done but I guess we will have to cross that road when it comes in mid-August. In the meantime, I’ll keep holding tight to the here and now and enjoying it for what I can.

Catchfly Prairie Gentian (Eustoma exaltatum)


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I initially wrote the title of this post as calling this particular species as Texas bluebell. But upon further digging my lumping of all Eustoma sp. together as a Texas bluebell seems to be the wrong way to go. There are three primary species in the US, Catchfly Prairie Gentian Eustoma exaltatum, Texas Bluebell Eustoma grandiflorum, and Showy Prairie Gentian Eustoma russellianum. But then you dig a little further and depending on which site you read, some of these turn into a subspecies of E. exaltatum and other people will use the common name Texas bluebells for them all—and well, maybe it doesn’t actually matter, because common names are common names and this is Texas and any flower that can remind you of Bluebell Ice Cream is probably a great flower to be loving!

The last time I had a post on bluebells was back in 2011 when we saw them at Tandy Hills. This time these were in a moist area (with potential to be rather wet at certain times of the year) along the side of the main scenic loop at San Bernard NWR. We were taking our time along the drive, admiring the different plants and scoping out anything we wanted to look at a little closer. I spotted this patch and the light was just right so I jumped out while Chris and Forest enjoyed the A/C.

Luckily the area wasn’t wet, though there was a bit of mud in some areas as I tip-toed around, but I found the area fairly easy to navigate. It was late morning so the sun was easing up in the sky but not quite so harsh that it made for bad photos.

We took a drive up to Sam Houston NF last weekend for a short hike on the Lone Star Trail again and several pastures near Montgomery were covered with bluebells! I do think those were likely E. grandiflorum. After seeing the first field Chris thought perhaps they were sown like that but we saw several other fields of them and they were really show stoppers. To be honest, they would give the bluebonnet fields in April a run for their money! I later regretted not pulling over to take a few photos. I’m sure they are likely there every year but since we typically haven’t done a lot of hiking in recent years in the summer due to the heat and having a little kid, we didn’t know about it. Our summers are usually reserved for areas near water or visiting venues with some respite from the heat, such as family visits. Obviously this year we are adjusting and Forest is old enough now to handle the heat better.

I’m thinking of attempting a few paintings of these photos and if I get around to it and they look decent enough, I’ll share them here!

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