Christmas 2020


Our Christmas was quiet this year. Christmas Day is always quiet and then the day after we typically pack up and head to DFW and spent the next 5-6 days visiting 3 different groups of families. This year none of that was happening. We did a modified Christmas with one group via Zoom and I called my parents on Christmas Day and had Forest open his presents from them while they could watch. It was a bit somber and sad to think about missing out on holiday goodies and hugs and time with the family but I know it was for the best. Since seeing reports of record travel at airports since March I’m glad we kept it low-key.

We were given the week off between Christmas and New Years and last week we decided to go camping Mon-Wed, coming home on Thursday evening (as in, I should be in a tent tonight instead of typing this out). Of course as the weather forecasts came together later last week, it appeared that Tuesday into Wednesday was going to deteriorate and now it looks like Thursday is going to be a bit rough too, so we cancelled our plans. Today we adjusted and went to Galveston for the day. Forest and I dropped Chris off at San Luis Pass so he could wade fish in West Bay all afternoon and then we bopped back down the island to a couple of beach access points and Galveston Island State Park to hike and play in the sand/splash in the intertidal zone. We picked Chris back up at 5pm and just got home a bit ago. It was nice to get on the beach again and it not be crowded. I’ll write separately about the beach soon.

Otherwise we’re mostly laying low around here. Chris has been working on the attic, getting it ready for insulation. He’s been trying to do as much electrical work as possible before he puts the insulation in there because it will be hard to move around after. Earlier this year he installed recessed lights in our upstairs living area which greatly improved visibility up there. And we’ve finally spruced up the balcony outside our bedroom and he installed a ceiling plug in case we ever need to use electricity up there. So, between lounging and other projects around here, we will keep occupied. I’d like to get some gardening in tomorrow before the storms come Wednesday and Thursday in hopes of maybe getting some mulch this weekend. It’s time to think about our yearly mulching sessions again and I have two beds that are practically ready for mulch and maybe a little work done out in the edible garden on the paths and that will be ready for mulch. I still have work to do in the other flower beds before I can think about mulching those again.

For New Years we’re planning another trip down the coast for the day, hopefully to see some whooping cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. It will be chilly but I think we’ll have fun.

I’m due to do some kind of yearly wrap-up post here so maybe I will get to that as well. Plus, the bazillion posts I’m backlogged to write here and maybe finishing up my Alaska photos? Maybe??

Here’s a few photos from Christmas:

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A few from Facetime…
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Escaping the House to Lake Creek Nature Preserve


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On Saturday Forest and I escaped the house for a short hike. We had actually first escaped mid-afternoon on Thursday for a wonderful, warm and sunny hike to another nature preserve after a very frustrating online school morning. But otherwise we’d mostly been clinging to the house from online school to work, and if the weather was nice we would go out and wander the yard a bit. Chris had gone to Mississippi the Sunday before and I was single parenting it for the next week+. And by the end of the week my mental reserves were gone and getting outside was needed. We hadn’t been to Lake Creek Preserve since early 2019. I just went to look for a corresponding blog post but apparently I didn’t write one? I have a Flickr set here that includes those photos from that first trip, though.

It was close and wild enough to get some time outside.

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Forest thought this mossy tree was a cozy place to pretend to sleep.

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One thing this park boasts is a lovely older community of dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor. Most dwarf palmetto I see growing are not all that large but these had some taller trunks that were reminiscent of saw palmetto, Serenoa repens.

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Lovely autumn colors in the floodplain forest.

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I was happy to see more concrete blocks and the like in some of the muddier sections as they weren’t there the last time we visited and the trails can be pretty messy during wet conditions. I was actually nervous they would be this way on our visit because we’d just had some rain but they weren’t bad at all.

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A lot of lovely, quiet scenes. It isn’t far from a major road so you do hear traffic and there is a subdivision to the north but it is a nice reprieve into nature.

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We made it down to Lake Creek with only seeing a small handful of people, two women, two dogs, and a baby on their way out near the beginning, and one other woman who went down a side trail just as we were approaching a trail junction. Despite the location and easy access, it wasn’t crowded. I think the overcast skies and slightly chilly weather was a deterrent.

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Overall, Forest had a good time and it was short enough (1.5 miles) there was no (well, not much) complaining. And it quenched my need to get out of the house and see something beyond our walls and relieve a bit of the stress of parenting, online schooling, and working! I do think we should hit this park up a little more often than once every nearly two years, though! It is easy to access and diverse enough in habitat that you could encounter some interesting things in a variety of seasons.

Finding Bartonia texana aka: Texas screwstem


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The last two Octobers we’ve tried to find the Texas screwstem, Bartonia texana. And we had no luck finding them. But this time we were successful! Actually, Chris was successful because he went out a day before and spent more time looking and expanded his search zone and came home to tell us he had found them! So we made a backpacking trip out of it and stayed out there for a night so we’d have time to take photos and relax a bit for all of the effort bushwhacking to this location involves.

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A faded luna moth returning to the soil of the forest.

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A three-toed box turtle, Terrapene carolina ssp. triunguis, friend on our way into the area. You definitely don’t come across these very often!

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Entertaining Forest was going to be the biggest deal while out there so I brought some art materials for him and of course that handy, dandy digital device, a pad.

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We arrived mid-afternoon on a Saturday and packed some drive-thru food for dinner and made our food situation out there easy since it was a simple overnight. Our weakest link in the food department for any camping trip is always Forest because of his pickiness so I tend to pack more than we need so he has more choices.

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Spread out in the Forest while Chris went out to take photos that afternoon.

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And there it is, the Bartonia texana! Unless you are looking for it, you wouldn’t even notice it. Plus, it is in the seepage swamp and very few people are tramping through there.

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Every time I go out I’m most enamored with the veilwort, Pallavicinia lyellii growing on the small rocks just above the water line.

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Netted Chain Fern, Woodwardia areolata

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Northern Bluethread, Burmannia biflora – We found another patch of these. Last year was the first time we had come across them.

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This gives you a bit of perspective on how small the flowering spike is on the screwstem. They barely pop out of the leaf litter a few inches.

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Also, another perspective on how close you have to get and how awkward it is to try to photograph these.

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I love the quirky, twisty nature of this particular flowering spike.

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Forest donned his boots and we took him out to see them as well. He wasn’t too impressed! Haha!

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And finally, a Liatris elegans flower on our way out of the area.


And I put together a video you can watch as well!

I love the area this particular group of plants are in and would love to explore a bit more of the area next year. And hopefully find some in other seepage swamps in east Texas as well!

Life Lately | December 2020


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Thinking:
Wow, I haven’t written one of these up since August! It has crossed my mind a couple of times to sit down and write one but I never made the space to do so. So, here I am, sitting down in the last month of this very insane year of 2020!

If you’d asked me in January or February this year what December would look like I would not have said, “Sparingly going places, thrilled to go to the grocery store as an outing, wearing masks like nobody’s business, and pondering a very different Christmas season than is typical.” And here we are. We’re on the home stretch but what is that home stretch going to look like? Three more months? Six more months? A lot of folks seems to be getting excited for a mid-spring abandonment of masks and social distancing but truth be told, I think for the vast majority of us it will be late summer or early fall. I hope I’m wrong and it is earlier than that but I did that little quizlet in the New York Times, Find Your Place in the Vaccine Line and as I already knew, I was near the bottom. That said, I’m very curious how this is going to shuffle out in reality. Are people going to get notes from doctors saying it is ok to get one or everyone is going to line up and then get turned away when they are visibly 25 and healthy?

On other topics…about a week after the election I turned election and politics news off in my brain. I had to. I mean, I still have a finger on it but not two hands, two feet, and half my body pressed into it. It has been great to release some of the tension and I know things are still a disaster but I’m biding my time for January and we can focus on fixing the mess. I still wish I had representatives that actually took things seriously but Cornyn and Cruz will forever be asshats in that arena.

And after much deliberation, we decided to send Forest to face-to-face school in January. A few things pushed us over: the handful of online kids in his class was going to shrink as others went back, his teacher is doing face-to-face and online and the quality has diminished already which would get even worse if she had less online kids, and the district finally mandated masks for even elementary age kids and removed the stupid face shield allowance. The education issue isn’t necessarily the teacher’s fault, it’s a culmination of the policies of the district and the Texas Education Agency. And Forest has learned quite a bit this semester at home but he needs to be in a class with peers or we need to be doing some kind of better home schooling curriculum and we aren’t set up for the latter. We’ve done our best this semester adding in extra work for him to do by having him write words and doing hand writing exercises and I’ve gone through several extra workbooks with him as well. I’ll continue the workbook thing with him a few days a week and into the summer because it is good to keep that up but yes, time for school. None of this was without careful thought but we did take into consideration that there have been extremely few cases in elementary schools and most have been with personnel. The mask mandate made us feel better because otherwise most of the kids were running around without masks, as I saw in the couple of times we’ve had to go up to either of the schools he’s been going to this year (he’s enrolled in one but his online teacher is at another).

Gardening:
Well, the cold weather has me hitting the wall out there. We had our first freeze earlier this week so much of the garden is now brown and in need of trimming back and some work done.

We’ve decided to upgrade the edible garden beds next spring through summer and into fall as beds become empty. The boards forming the beds are now 6-7 years old and are falling apart. We settled on concrete beds to replace them and will start building those as they become empty. For this reason, I think I’m going to skip tomatoes this years because they always take up multiple beds and I’d rather get the new beds built and skimp on one crop to get things going. Maybe we can get a tomato or two from the nursery later in the spring and put it in a bed we aren’t going to fix right away, but I’m eager to get the edible garden in a better situation than it currently is. With that we’ll bring in more soil to replenish the beds but also because Chris is going to make them slightly taller than they currently are.

Greens make up the main show out there at the moment, especially with the freeze. I had a surprise pumpkin vine take over and we have two pumpkins on it but the vine itself is mostly toast. The leaves are burned from the cold but the vine itself looks like it might still be alive so I’m going to leave the pumpkins on until the vine turns brown. We’ll see how long that takes.

Something else we will be doing this upcoming season is growing a bed or a section of the perimeter beds with flowers, primarily zinnias. Forest had fun growing them this year in his little garden bed section and I took a deep dive into some of the interesting varieties out there and bought several packets. The deer are too present in our yard to grow them in the flower garden so into the edible garden they will go. And honestly, most years we have space in many of the beds in the summer for this situation, to grow flowers, and we never take advantage of it. Next year I am!

Reading:
I’m on a pause with reading this last week but hope to ramp back up again soon.

A few I’ve read the last couple of months:
+First and foremost a huge shoutout to Patrice for her new book Between Each Step: A Married Couple’s Thru-Hike on New Zealand’s Te Araroa. We’ve been cheering each other on about our books behind the scenes for years and earlier this year Patrice signed with a hybrid publisher and got her book into the world this November! I loved Patrice’s writing and she really took you to the emotions and feelings of what it is like being on a thru-hike, particular when you are part of a couple/duo. If you want a well-written adventure memoir about a trail we don’t hear too much about here in the US, get Patrice’s book! You can buy it on her website or of course that big rainforest retailer online!
+ My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: This is a very dark book about inappropriate teacher/student relations and a coming to terms or lack thereof 20 years beyond the events. It is very well written and is fictional. It is set in Maine, which it seems every fiction book I’ve read set in Maine seems to be fairly dark. I do recommend, and last I saw on Goodreads, it was in the final running for best fiction or debut fiction this year.
+Rodham by Curtis Sittenfield: I started this in paperback but it dragged and switched to audio and it flowed much better. Downside is when I was reading the paperback I had Hillary’s voice in my head and then I had to listen to a narrator and it was hard to switch. The premise of the story is What If Hillary Didn’t Marry Bill? I’d say the first 2/3 are very good and it slacks off a bit at the end. But highly recommend if you enjoy alternative history and fan fiction of sorts.

I’ve read several other books but those are the best ones worth mentioning!

Making:
I haven’t been making much the last couple of months. I went back to the studio yesterday to clean up a bit and get some Christmas decorations and such out of the storerooms near my studio and looked at some of the pour paintings I did. I decided to gesso over a couple because I did not like the color combinations enough and will be re-doing those soon. The studio is now into the cold part of the years so you really have to bundle up to go over there. I’d like to get back to painting some flowers again soon.

Watching & Listening:
Since I haven’t done this in quite a few months there’s a lot to catch up with!
+The Crown: Binged over about a week. The seasons are picking up once again after a very dull Season 3. I still think Claire Foy could have pulled off a third season fairly easily. Do recommend!
+Grey’s Anatomy & This is Us is back—I expected Grey’s to be all COVID central but was hoping This is Us wasn’t because, ugh, don’t we get enough of that in reality? But it is working so far.
+Virgin River: I watched the first season early in the pandemic and loved it and was so glad to see Season 2 released about a week ago! I binged it quickly and loved it and it is a breath of fresh air because NO COVID TALK WHATSOEVER!
+Valeria: Earlier this year I watched Cable Girls on Nextflix, a Spanish show based on the late 1920s/early 1930s cable girls at a telephone company in Madrid. Well, apparently I’m now into Spanish tv shows because Valeria came up and I loved it! It’s a modern set show based on a group of women in their 20s living around Madrid and was originally (is) a book series. I enjoyed the show so much I wanted to read the books but they haven’t been translated into English from what I can tell. It’s very Bridget Jones-esque for young Millennials older GenZ if I had to compare it to anything.
+And another Spanish show, Velvet: This one is not bingeable as the episodes are super long, about 70 minutes each. I’m still on the first season and have been watching for the last month. This takes place in the late 1950s at a couture department store in Madrid where they make most everything in house and focuses on a love affair/triangle between the young owner who inherited the company and one of the seamstresses. There are side plots of course, too. This one is not dubbed like the other two I mention above so I have to read the screen but I will say I have been brushing up on my non-existent Spanish skills!
+Enola Holmes: I adored this movie on Netflix! Centered around Sherlock Holmes’ sister, there is of course mystery and intrigue along the way. LOVED IT and want an entire series for her!

Looking Forward:
+Christmas! Forest has taken to the adaptations we’ve made—no Christmas tree farm (Chris got a tree at Lowe’s instead) and no visiting Santa. We will write a letter to him instead.
+Spring Break! Chris booked and AirBnB *somewhere* (being vague on purpose) after we looked at a lot of state park availability for camping out in west Texas and realized everyone had already booked up, even though reservations had only been open for a week or so at that point. TPWD only allows reservations for up to six months in advance right now, which is ridiculous and frustrating. And because we have a dearth of state parks they fill up fast, especially now. So, we branched out and decided this would be a decent option and we could still stay away from everyone, despite traveling which we would have been doing anyway to camp. We still need to make some camping reservations for late winter and spring closer to home and also get some backpacking trips planned.

A Bit of Wildlife from the Texas Hill Country


While I get things together to write blog posts, here are some videos to entertain you!


First, Chris put together this video from the trail cameras. Lots of great animals to see and some LOLs at the 7 minute mark from some pigs!

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Some strong Texas leaf cutter ants at Guadalupe River State Park (Bauer Unit)

Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly
The western pygmy blue butterfly nectaring! I should have taken a longer video and taken it landscape but I was in get-what-I-can-get mode before it flew off.

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Some moving water scenes along the Guadalupe River on the Bauer Unit.

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And more moving water scenes from the Bauer Unit—this would be an excellent swimming hole in July—just gotta hike in 2 miles to get there! Or paddle upstream from the main part of the park further east.

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And a parting shot of the river at the Bauer Unit.

Until next time…!

Thanksgiving in the Hill Country


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Oh boy, it is only 6:36pm as I write this post up but wow, does it feel like it should be 9:30 and time for bed!

The three of us spent the last week camping in the Texas Hill Country, first to Guadalupe River State Park for three nights and then further west to South Llano River State Park for another three nights. Overall the weather was spectacular and only this morning did we encounter any rain and that was after we bolted early and hit the road by 8am, driving through rain on I-10 the entire drive home.

I was a bit skeptical if we should continue our trip that far from our usual perimeter for camping/hiking considering COVID cases but we planned as best as we could with minimal stops and drive-thrus for food if needed. I’ll write up more on all of that once I start sharing posts but in general I think we did a decent job of attempting to social distance, and of course re-thinking our practices as time went on. The big catch for us was the bathrooms, which ended up working out well at GRSP because their new bathroom had shower rooms separated individually and accessed from outside, whereas SLRSP still has the old style of combo toilets and showers in the same main room. And also a very different level of cleanliness at each—GRSP was closed twice a day in the middle of the day for cleaning and SLRSP didn’t bother to clean (barely) until Friday after we’d been there for two days. Also, I will say there was much more mask wearing than I had seen in recent weeks around here. Still some non-masked folks but much more masked than unmasked.

We had a glorious time and hiked a lot of trails at both parks. I did a solo mountain bike trek for an hour at Guadalupe River State Park and had hoped to get another ride in but didn’t get the chance. I haven’t biked off trail in years and it was quite fun, though some of the trails were rather rocky and required a lot of persistence. I’m hoping there’s a chance to do it again in the near future! I’ve been trying to encourage Forest to get the training wheels off his bike because then he will be able to go on trails and it would be a lot of fun to be able to bike and hike with him.

Wildlife was abundant and Forest had a lot of time naming any armadillo he came across. There was Dilly, Diggy, Far Away Dilly, Neary, Outhouse Biggy, and on! Chris set up trail cams at each of them and we didn’t know what it captured until we came home and found that the little spring he found off trail turned out to be the hot spot for wildlife—ringtails, gray fox, opossum, Rio Grande turkey, deer, wild pigs, raccoons, and several other species at some of the other cams. We had hoped for a porcupine or a bobcat but no luck on that end!

Alas, now I have to catch up on laundry and unpacking and getting ready for the school and work week! More soon…Oh yeah…! I found a western pygmy blue butterfly! Totally random and didn’t even see it on the plant I was looking at with other butterflies until I saw a ‘leaf’ moving. Kind of a lifer butterfly—the smallest butterfly in North America and one of the smallest in the world.

Hope everyone had a relaxing and safe Thanksgiving!

Eclosed on the Chinquapin Trail


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A few weekends ago for Halloween we went camping at Huntsville State Park. On one of the days we were out we hiked the loop around the lake, the Chinquapin Trail. It’s one of the most popular trails and was very popular that gorgeous weekend.

Out on the berm that creates the dam to Lake Raven is a grassy area. Being as it was a warm day and a few autumn blooming plants were still providing late season nectar, the butterflies were fairly active. Gulf fritillaries were the primary butterfly I noticed but there were common buckeyes as well. Chris and Forest were about 50 yards ahead of me because I was the slow poke taking butterfly photos. First, I happened to notice a gulf fritillary chrysalis that appeared to have holes in it from some kind of predation. That was interesting enough! But then a few feet further I was stunned to see a butterfly just eclosing! Maybe if I hadn’t paused for the other chrysalis I would have seen more of this emergence but as it was this was a very fresh butterfly!

I stopped for several minutes as the wings uncrinkled and began drying. This butterfly wouldn’t be flying for a few more hours and I hoped it wouldn’t be disturbed any unwitting hikers. As much as I have watched butterflies emerge in my own garden it is still miraculous to see, especially one in the “wild”. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen one eclose outside of my own garden so I don’t take this moment for granted.

I walked on down the trail a little bit brighter from the experience!

Along the Sandy Creek Trail


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Auricularia sp.

In early October we headed east to Martin Dies Jr. State Park for our first car camping trip since late February/early March. Our plans when we made reservations back in the summer were for three nights out there as it was a long weekend for Forest from school. But Leo was still around at that point and we knew we could not be gone for more than one night with him, even with the pet sitter coming by. Plus one of the myriad of tropical systems we’ve had this year was coming in along the Louisiana border once again and that thwarted our plans as well.

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We found the park busy but not crowded when we arrived on Sunday before lunch that weekend. Navigating camping during COVID was also new for us so we were glad that it wasn’t a completely packed park and our spot was spaced with plenty of room that we wouldn’t have to worry about someone being on top of us, so to speak.

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It was a bit of a wonky camping trip as even though we’d had some cooling down by that point it was basically summer-lite that weekend and the humidity was up. And Chris somehow managed to bring the wrong air mattress, a twin mattress we had bought eons ago by mistake but have kept around because it could come in useful. So he slept on the ground and Forest and I tried to sleep on the mattress. And then ants managed to get into our food bin so that was fun to deal with. Thankfully not a lot needed to be thrown out but we had to maneuver everything off the ground for a while. Needless to say, a few rough patches but we had a good weekend.

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Marsh Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes odorata

Our main hike that weekend was down the Sandy Creek Trail, a trail we hadn’t visited on our last trip there, which was somehow two years ago! Our first trip there four years ago we did hike this trail and had come across the marsh ladies’ tresses and being as it was the same time of year they were blooming last time I wanted to head down and see them again. They are easily viewed from the boardwalk on that trail so keep an eye out for them.

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This trail connects all the way to a US Corps of Engineers park down to the south. Four years ago we walked about half of the trail down there before turning around. This time we continued on, stopping to take a break for a few minutes at a campsite at the park while we were eaten by mosquitoes. Needless to say, we didn’t linger long.

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Horned Passalus Beetle, Odontotaenius disjunctus
Chris turned over a log along the way and found this beetle. I love finding them since discovering who they were a few years ago.

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The magnolia cone mushrooms, Strobilurus conigenoides, were also abundant along the trail, another recent favorite sight over the last several years.

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I’m unsure who this pretty purple bolete is but it was lovely!

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Long-tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus

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Swamp Chestnut Oak, Quercus michauxii

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Fragile Dapperling, Leucocoprinus fragilissimus

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Though it was only one night, we had a great time! It is annoying to car camp for only a night with the amount of packing and unpacking but it is always worth it to get out and into a tent. Since then we’ve camped at Huntsville State Park and have another trip coming up soon.

I will say, even though signs are posted about wearing masks in bathrooms and other buildings, of course very few are following that. That’s probably my biggest complaint but so far I think camping feels fairly safe. I do have some thoughts about a hike we did at Huntsville SP but will keep that until I write that trip up.

Halloween Weekend at Huntsville State Park


A short video I put together on my phone from a camping trip last weekend. I figured out iMovie on my phone and so expect more short videos in the future! Of course I’ll do a proper post eventually—probably February at this rate! haha!

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