This is Sally. (Chris actually took this photo, I forgot that when I put the watermark on here.) Sally showed up on our pond about six weeks ago or so. Muscovy ducks aren’t normally on our pond, in fact I’ve never seen one here before Sally showed up. Which makes me wonder where she even came from. Was she someone’s pet that got loose? A lone duck that lost her way? She floats around the pond all alone, sometimes perching on downed tree branches along the shoreline, or waddling along the roadway-dam at the end of the pond. I’m worried someone will hit her one day. Some jerk had the gall to hit a turtle at a stop sign this year, so I wouldn’t put it past them to hit a duck waddling across the road.
I love Sally, but I’m normally not fond of muscovies. In Florida they seemed to be on every pond at one of the places we lived in Miami, so they got a little annoying with their constant begging for food which was of course aided by the people fishing along the ponds.
Around here in the animal universe we’re all a little mixed up. First, Chris saw a bald eagle on one of the trees near the pond *in our yard*. We had guessed that perhaps one day we might see one around here but I had pretty much given up. This was at lunch time one day and so I asked him if it really was a bald eagle, because you know osprey look similar. Not that he wouldn’t know the difference, but asking is habit because many people mistake them. I got a sarcastic “Yeah, it was an eagle” answer back, and then we went on a search to get a photograph which ended up in no photograph since we never saw it again.
Sometime over the weekend the feral cat Callie stopped showing up. She has a sister, Little Callie (yeah, I know, I’m not original), that has been around but Callie hasn’t been here. I’m sad about this since she was one of the cats I would have made an inside cat. She always hovered at the door in the mornings, so close that she would come inside if I let her.
And then Fred got sick for a few days. He refused to eat food and huddled under the carport and looked generally distressed. We began to worry an illness was going through the group but a call to our vet friend told us not to freak out and of course soon after Fred seemed to recover from whatever he was sick with. We try not to get too attached to the ferals, knowing that cats who live outdoors have a lower life expectancy. But, I can’t help it, they are sweet and lovable in their own ways.
I’ve got a lot to write about, but I’m planning on spending a lot of time writing on my Florida Trail book before the end of the year. With the evenings beginning earlier it will be easier to spend time hiding out in my studio for a few hours every evening. I hope, at least.
Over the weekend a friend of mine had a snake in her yard which she ended up killing due to its being near where her dogs were located. She didn’t know if it was venomous or not at the time and later posted a photo of it which her friend identified as potentially a rat snake, to which I conconcurred it likely was. Now, I’m not writing this to pick on my friend, but it really was a bit of a tipping point for this post to be written as I’ve read several different items from other people in the last year about snakes being killed by people who felt that ‘A good snake is a dead snake’, or perhaps the perceived threat is not nearly as great as they believed it was.
So, this is my rant…snakes aren’t the foes we’ve been taught to think them to be.
Coral snake found in my yard last year. No, we didn’t kill it and haven’t seen it since, though I did see a small coral snake on a road in my neighborhood that had been run over.
Part of the human freak-out factor about snakes is how we’re raised and taught about snakes. They are the villain in Disney movies and snakes are almost unequivocally symbolized as evil, part of this going back to the Garden of Eden if you are raised in any of the Christian denominations (I’m not sure about other religions, anyone of another religion care to pitch in about snake portrayals in your religion?). There’s even potentially an evolutionary explanation, but then again maybe it’s just something we’re taught.
Now, outside of the U.S. and in the tropics there are definitely a few more snakes to be more wary off, but here in the United States there’s only a handful of the 100+ species to be concerned about (unless you are in south Florida, and well then, you’ve got your own problems. Pythons I’m talking about you. And Green Mambas. And Anacondas. But I digress. Yes, Miami you are your own little world.). And even then most states maybe only have one or two venomous snakes to worry about.
Before I go further, let’s talk venomous vs. poisonous. Snakes, if they are, they are venomous NOT poisonous. Venom is injected into your skin through a bite; if you eat something and it makes you sick that is poisonous (ie: that shady mushroom you misidentified while foraging).
Chris holding a rough green snake while on a hike.
First, it is good to know what species of snakes are here in North America. This site is a good place to start. This site lists venomous species by state and includes subspecies of rattlers, cottonmouths and other species. Next, learn what you might see in the habitat by you. If you live in suburbia you are less likely to be running into a rattlesnake than you would a garter snake. If you live near water, even a pond in suburbia, you could run into a cottonmouth or a non-venomous water snake (Nerodia sp.). If you plan on walking near a pond, watch where you walk near tall grass and poke a stick in the grass to make your presence known before entering to go fishing or any recreational activities near water. If you see a snake, move on somewhere else down the shore, don’t kill it.
There’s a great chance that if you see a snake once, you will probably not see it again unless it is nesting somewhere in your yard or if you have a healthy population of food for it to feast on (rats, mice, other rodents), and in that case maybe you do want it around. If it is a non-venomous snake and not posing a threat, leave it alone. If it is venomous consider trapping it yourself if you are comfortable and confident with it (but let it be known, this is when a lot of bites occur) or having someone else trap it and humanely release it. Of course having piles of wood or overgrown grass and shrubs can attract snakes, and wood piles especially provide a desirable shelter for them. Removing the piles or being cautious when working around these areas can reduce unwanted snake interactions.
Living in a rural area of course provides the greatest opportunity for having a snake encounter. This is where a mind-shift has to take place and understanding that you are sharing habitat with other animals, even if they are a little close for comfort. Definitely consider keeping a trap on hand if you know you are likely to see a venomous snake instead of going for the immediate reaction of killing it—unless of course its a life threatening situation—but if it isn’t, assess the ability safely to move it to another area if possible. You should also keep in mind that there are both venomous and non-venomous snake species that are protected either by state or federal laws, so if killing it isn’t necessary to protect someone (human or otherwise) you love, think twice before doing it.
A Google search has shown me multiple snake trapping methods, none of which I can really vouch for as I’ve not used them, but you can check them out for yourself to determine which might work best for you. The only time I have seen some kind of trap used was using one of the snake poles and putting it in a cloth bag to release elsewhere. And if you are squeamish about trapping one yourself, go ahead and see if there are any snake removal experts in your area and keep the number on hand, especially if you’ve seen snakes in your area before.
I don’t expect people to go running to snakes and wanting to hold them, I’m certainly not, but I do want people to start thinking twice about encounters with snakes and start removing the initial reaction of killing a snake because it is a snake. I’ve taken to doing this myself with spiders that I find in the house, attempting to capture them and put them outside instead of instantly squashing them. I’m just like most people, not overly fond of snakes and spiders on me, but I can certainly appreciate them for what they are and leave them be in instances in which they are not causing harm to me or anyone else.
With declining populations of snakes worldwide, its time to start educating ourselves on how not-so-scary snakes actually are, at least in the United States. Of the approximately 2500-3500 (I’m also seeing the numbers 7,000 to 8,000 on other sites, so I’m not sure what is correct) snake bites annually in the US, only about six people die every year from a venomous snake bite. Of course if you look at the first link in this paragraph you’ll see that the statistics do go up for those living in the rural tropics where access to antevenom is not available.
So, with all of this in mind, be aware of your where you live, where you are hiking or exploring, and learn to identify snakes in case you encounter venomous species. If the snake is not venomous and causing no harm, leave it alone. If it is identified to be venomous and you are uncomfortable with removing it, please attempt to have it removed professionally before killing it. The timber rattlesnake has potentially been extirpated from several northeastern states and is protected in others. The eastern diamondback is being considered as a potential candidate species for the USFWS endangered species list, and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake is also a federal candidate species.
I’ll leave you with the video of an eastern diamondback that I walked up on while on the Florida Trail in January of 2011 in Big Cypress National Preserve. Thankfully it let me know it was there and we stepped back and of course shot a video with zoom. I tried to find the video of another large diamondback we encountered in another area of Big Cypress but couldn’t find it. It was on a buggy trail then and a little more troublesome to get around, the first diamondback I’d ever seen. I remember it as being quite giant.
These last few weeks I’ve really been in my head and when I get in my head, as all introverts know, it can be hard to get out. And that usually translates into me not writing here. In my head, busy with life…I’m just quiet these days.
Then, a week and a half ago my mom called and told me my grandmother had contracted, once again, a bacterial infection she’d had a few years ago. This time around they weren’t sure if she would be able to beat it, especially in her weakened health. I wasn’t able to get up to the nursing home to see her until last Saturday and by that time she’d started going downhill fast. At this point she was still talking somewhat, though in a croaky voice, and was not moving a whole lot. Most everyone had been by to see her at this point and I was glad that I’d caught her before she’d slipped somewhere in which she couldn’t communicate. That place of non-communication came fast, by that evening when we saw her again after dinner, and then onto the next day.
On Sunday I stayed with my mom as we sat with my grandmother for about four hours in the morning before I had to leave DFW to come back home so Chris could drive to a field job so my time was limited. I didn’t want to leave. I knew that when I left that was going to be it. She wasn’t awake-awake, but I know she was there because she responded when I asked my mom when the last time she’d had water had been. And she responded when the hospice nurse came in to give to check on her and when the nursing home nurse gave her morphine. Her breathing at this point was becoming labored, long pauses between where my mom and I would look at each other and wonder if this was it…no, apparently it gets worse, as I learned from my mom on Tuesday when she passed.
Last year when Grandad passed, I knew the era of my having grandparents around was coming to an end. I have to admit, I’m lucky. I got to have two of mine for 32/33 years and many others don’t get them that long. It always seemed as if they would always been there, even my grandmother who’d had ill health for the last several years and kept on truckin’ along anyway. The last time I really saw her was on Father’s Day when was up there and even then she was still hoping and wishing she could get out of the nursing home and into an assisted living place.
My mom is having a difficult time, she was her mother. There are so many ‘Nanny-isms’, things we see and associated with her. My mom said something yesterday and I told her she had to write it down, whatever the saying was, so she could remember later on.
Anyway, I’ll be sitting with my Nanny’s memories for awhile until I can write more about all of those great things I did and enjoyed with her when I was growing up. I’d forgotten she’d played the piano once upon a time until the preacher at her service mentioned she’d played—and then the memory of the piano in her living room came into focus and I could see how everything used to look.
So, my head is a ball of yarn that a cat has tangled up, something I need to slowly un-knot.
In the meantime I’m going to attempt to start writing here again, though the only things exciting are keeping up with the summer garden and the fact our beehive has split!
Last week Chris and I drove up to Hot Springs, Arkansas to spend a few days at a house on Lake Hamilton with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their kids. It was a relaxing trip, not filled with going hither and tither but for the most part spent lounging inside in the ‘cabiny’ living room or in the slightly more formal and spacious adjacent living area that had near floor-to-ceiling windows, or on the deck outside. More of those photos later.
I sat a lot in the reclining chair looking out at the porch as you see here, flipping through magazines, watching whatever was on tv (Food Network or kid tv), watching the my niece and nephew play and fight and be goofballs, and just enjoying myself.
I also turned 33 while we were away. It is only just starting to bother me. 30 was easy, that was perhaps because I was backpacking on the Appalachian Trail and got to spend it in Vermont. And then I spent part of 31 telling people I was 32 and now here I am 33. 33 is just so close to 35 which is that point in which you are running full speed into 40. I know, numbers don’t mean much, but some years they do. I didn’t care for 28.
I’m definitely at a stage in which I feel like when I see a woman with kids I assume she’s much older than me when in reality she’s likely my age if not younger—-hell, she could be 23 for all I know. In essence, my brain is functioning as if I’m looking out from 20 and into the years ahead of me but I’m actually at 33 looking out and I can’t seem to grasp that yet.
Anyway, before I ramble on too deeply there…
Lots to catch up on here with writing. I got a new laptop for my birthday which means my old one is now the assigned write your damn book, Misti laptop in which I can leave it in my studio to write my Florida Trail book. It’s amazing the kinds of mental blocks we creatives can put up when trying to work on something and this book has endless mental blocks.
…don’t forget to change your blog feed reader service if you’ve been using Google Reader. It’s gone starting July 1st.
I’ve switched to Feedly and based upon Elizabeth’s review to Bloglovin’ as a backup. They both have platforms to import your current feeds, but you can also type in Oceanicwilderness.com into either and add me in or use this link for Bloglovin’. You can also copy in http://feeds.feedburner.com/oceanicwilderness to either of those services, or click the link, but it seems Feedburner has narrowed down their list of potential subscription services significantly. Email subscriptions still work currently with Feedburner so that is also an option until Google does away with Feedburner and then I’ll have to find something else.
So…don’t forget to fix your subscriptions by the end of the weekend!
Some songs that are reminding me of summer, particularly of walking along the mid-Atlantic and New England states three summers ago.
This feels like it will be a very enjoyable, full summer. I feel like I didn’t get a summer last year with the move to the house—the unpacking, the flooding, the constant barrage of things to do. Now I’m just trying to keep up with the garden and yard every evening, sweating through my shirt before I work fifteen minutes. The frogs on the pond get so loud sometimes I can hear them inside the house. It’s almost like camping.
I went to a community meeting for our little town a couple of weekends ago and the council mentioned that they’d had problems with beavers in the past and that we should mention if we saw any on the pond. My hand shot up so I could mention that we’d scared something off the banks of our property on our pond the night before. Chris has long thought we had nutria or maybe otters on the pond but we’d never really had a good look.
Then a couple of nights ago Chris saw one up close and called it a nutria and then he went off to Lowe’s to get something for building the deer fence. I went to the pond to poke around and see what was going on when I heard a noise. The sweetgum that fell after the pine tree landed on it six or seven weeks ago is still in the pond. Chris was able to cut up most of the pine tree this week but wasn’t able to get as far as cutting up and pulling the sweetgum out of the pond.
After I heard the noise I eased over and sure enough I saw the animal ripping bark off the tree and chowing down for dinner. A limb just under the water provided the perfect bench for sitting while it munched away.
Even that evening after I went up to look up nutria and beaver differences I was still thinking it was a nutria because the teeth in the photos appeared orange like the descriptions were saying. But as I sat down to write this post I went and looked again, particularly at this resource and determined it was really a beaver that was in the pond and not the nutria that Chris thought. Taking a better look at the nose and the lack of white on the mouth of the face, it really defines that this was a beaver. I know this might seem silly to some people, but I have not seen a lot of these animals in my life, mostly on the Appalachian Trail and even then those were far glimpses. If I’d seen its paddle there would have been no question, but other than that I wasn’t so sure.
Now that we are aware there’s a beaver in the pond we’re taking a few precautions around some of the trees we planted down along the shore. This morning Chris put wire mesh around two young cypress trees we had planted. He actually thought they had already been devoured but I found them being swallowed by the emergent vegetation. Time to trim that down I suppose.
I was going back through the photos we took on one of the visits we had to our house when we were contemplating making an offer on it to look at a tree Chris thought was leaning a lot more than when we moved in (it’s not, it was leaning just about the same then) and found the photo of the driveway and front of the house and knew I had to take a photo of how it looks now to compare.
It is hard to see all of the changes but the most evident is that the grass is so much greener this year. I noticed that in other photos we took around the yard as well. Part of it is that we’ve had more rain this year and part of it is likely we’ve been taking better care of the yard—we don’t weed and feed the yard though. It’s a mix of grass with other herbs and weeds. We’ve also cut down some trees that were dead, and most recently the oak that was leaning over the powerline on the right side of the driveway. We also removed the crape myrtles; they were nice but ill placed.
Looking at the photos helped me realize just how much progress has been made on the outside of the property. We have some work to do on the inside still but hopefully this Fall we can work on those items.
Two years ago I embarked on this experiment of going full on vegetarian. Initially I thought I’d just try it for a few months but then I chose a weird time to do it, jumping in when Chris and I went and did field work for three months. Not exactly an ideal time I came to find out once I started eating at restaurants. My delusional idea was that it would be easier to try this without cooking….boy was I wrong! Restaurants are the most difficult place to be vegetarian.
Well, here it is two years later and I’m pretty much a committed vegetarian. I’ve dabbled in the not-so-healthy vegetarianism too, loading up on cheesy, greasy items, probably eating too much rice and pasta, but I’m working on cleaning that up. Pairing the clean diet I’m trying to get back into a regular workout routine. Going from being extremely active to sitting for 8+ hours a day has not been good.
During these two years I’ve read and listened to a lot of food and foodie related items. I’ve learned a lot about our food system and have committed to being better about buying locally at two farmers markets that are near my house when I can’t grow something or for eggs (now I’ve been getting coffee too!), and attempting to buy organic or in season as much as I can at the grocery store. Now, not everything is organic or in season but I do my best. Chris and I had a discussion in the middle of the store back in early December about some butter. I wanted the organic store brand butter and he wanted the brand that said “Go Texan” which is a symbol for supposedly locally made products. I definitely agree that sometimes local might be better than organic being shipped across the country but once I got online I found out that the final product butter *was* made in Texas but the brand itself was owned by a conglomerate and likely received shipments of milk from all over the southeast. Chris attempted to get more information from the manufacturer but I don’t believe he ever heard anything back.
Now that’s a little bit off the vegetarian thing but what being vegetarian has done has really just made me think about food and where it comes from even more. I watched Forks Over Knives and it hit home for me because heart disease is prominent in my family and I hope that being vegetarian will help me in preventing any problems that could be lingering down the road for me.
Of course there’s the environmental issue, but even bringing together knowledgeable folks to weigh in their opinions, there’s plenty of discourse in that. I think what resonates most is eat whole foods and eat as locally as possible….organic if you can. Or you know what Michael Pollan said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Which brings me to ‘fake’ meats and the like. I don’t really buy them all that often. Sometimes we buy ‘beef’ crumbles to put into spaghetti or faux sausage for our Zuppa Toscana recipe, but in general I don’t buy it. Though I do have a weakness for Quorn Chik’n Nuggets and I think in the vein of fake meats Quorn products are far superior to any of the soy based fake meats. But I do treat them as junk food and don’t use them often, maybe once every few months. I don’t eat or like soy dogs or the soy lunch meats, they are pretty much disgusting and I don’t know any vegetarian who likes them (speak up if you do!). I’d rather just eat a veggie filled sandwich instead of fake meat, though I do like black bean burgers. Amy’s trumps Morningstar in this department. I have tried making my own, which means they don’t have soy protein isolates, but I’ve only done it once and I really need to spend more time and make more to freeze. Actually looking at Amy’s ingredients it appears they don’t use soy isolates/concentrates and instead use mostly whole ingredients. Anyway, that’s for the folks who get all woozy about soy…and I’m not even going to touch that subject because while soy is everywhere (oil, proteins, other weird things),and I tend to try to avoid it when it is added in things I don’t think should have it, I’m not against eating it in more whole forms.
As for taking it to the next level and going vegan, I don’t forsee going that route any time soon. I like cheese and I like eggs and I don’t have as much of a qualm about them as I do eating meat. I will probably try to reduce my cheese intake and would like to try to finding more organic and local cheeses, but since I can generally source yard eggs around here I don’t feel bad about eating eggs at all. Sometimes I’ll buy the organic eggs at the store if I can’t get to the farmers market, but that isn’t as common now that I found out I can generally get to a farmers market weekly.
I have eaten meat during these two years. Sometimes I order something and it comes with meat (damn you Mexican restaurants and your sneaky enchilada sauces or beans!) and so I eat it or give it to someone else, and of course I will look the other way for broths in soups if needed at restaurants. I also definitely look forward to my birthday because that’s my sushi day….mmmmm! And if Chris catches fish I will eat and appreciate eating the fish. I don’t miss meat on most days and I could definitely do without chicken for just about ever, but what tempts me most is ribs, pulled pork, and brisket. And sushi. Or turkey at Thanksgiving. Sometimes I have a bit or slice of something and then my taste is sated and I’m good for another year.
Will there come a time when I don’t do this at all? Maybe. I don’t know yet. This is a one day at a time thing for me. But what I do know is that I do appreciate the bountiful selection of vegetables that are out there and the different ways to make it into something delicious to eat for a meal.
Oh, one other thing, I don’t take supplements. I hate vitamins and they make my stomach upset, but I also believe in eating your vitamins through food instead. I know there’s the worries about B12 and while I haven’t had my blood tested, I don’t feel as if I am deficient in anything. I think I will try to get an updated blood test soon though as I haven’t had one done in many years. I guess this turned into a bit of a rambling post instead of the structured one that was going on in my head, but if you have questions or comments please feel free to ask away!
1 part steady downpour for several hours + 1 part super saturated ground = Sweetgum tree falling into pond with aid of pine tree.
So this flood event wasn’t nearly as bad as great flood of July 2012 and I honestly wasn’t expecting it to get like this. Thunderstorms moved through the area yesterday afternoon, we had some pea sized hail and steady downpours and then went to dinner with my parents and uncle who were in town for the weekend. When we came back we noticed the creek near our house was just below the bridge. Then we noted that the second pond in our little ‘town’ was up enough to be almost covering the platform in the middle of the pond. I knew we had to have some water in our yard but I really wasn’t expecting it to have what it did because it hadn’t rained as much as that day in last July. That day we got 14″ of rain!
But we got home and found the front yard was a giant swimming pool and then pulled into the carport when my dad pointed out at the sweetgum had fell into the pond. Well, I guess it was a good thing we didn’t pay to have the pine tree taken down (priced too much) but at the same time I wonder if the sweetgum would have been saved or it would have been stressed enough to come down anyway.
So, two trees down. Chris cut them up a little bit today but we need to burn our burn pile down a bit (too wet today to do it) and he needs to get his chains sharpened. So that’ll have to wait a few weekends at least.
If you see the duck box (which the ducklings hatched by the way!) and the small tree to the right, that tree is just barely in the water normally.
At least it wasn’t like July. I was worried it would be as we were supposed to have more storms last night but luckily all of the storms slid south of I-10 and stayed in Houston. Houston had its own battle of flooding too, so it wasn’t just us this time around.
Now though we’re in ‘get the water oak down’ mode. We have a large water oak that is already leaning over the powerline running to the house and I can tell it could go at any time. So instead of facing the wrath of that we’re just going get it taken care of now instead of later. Not only that, hurricane season is coming.