Richards Loop on the Lone Star Trail | Sam Houston National Forest


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We have been meaning to get out for a short overnight backpacking trip the last few weeks but our initial weekend in October didn’t work out—I think rain was forecast. Last weekend we had it pinpointed once again but cold air and rain was a factor. As the weekend loomed closer it appeared it would be a great weekend for a short overnight hike. I looked up the Lone Star Trail maps with an eye on an hike I did with our friend Red Hat (trail name) when she still lived in Texas back in 2011/2012. Sure enough the Richards Loop looked like the length we were looking for–about 6 miles, half of it on the official Lone Star Trail path and the other half on a portion of what is the Little Lake Creek Loop. Topo map of interest here. We’ve done other portions of both trails over the years.

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Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes cernua—the trail side was dotted with orchids the entire way! I mean, not lush beds of orchids, but enough where you saw handfuls of them every quarter mile. A highlight for sure!

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A red-cockaded woodpecker nesting cavity. There was bird activity around but I didn’t get a photo of them. RCWs are listed as endangered.

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Chris searching for the birds as they flitted from tree to tree.

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Because we’d planned to go hiking a few weeks ago I’d already picked up a meal from REI and we didn’t really need to put much together. All of our backpacking gear was together and so we pulled it out Saturday morning and shuffled things in and we were set to go. Much easier than packing for a car camping trip!

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The trailhead was rather full with cars when we arrived. It being a pleasant weekend plus hunting season, there was quite a bit of activity. That said, we didn’t encounter huge crowds of people either, certainly nothing like people out west deal with. But a few folks here and there as we made our way down the trail and then after a certain point it was pretty quiet.

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Downy Lobelia, Lobelia puberula

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Milkweed seeds ready to take flight on the wind.

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Elegant Gayfeather, Liatris elegans

Peak fall wildflowers was about a month ago out here as evidenced by most plants having gone to seed. That didn’t stop it all from being gorgeous out there—the sunlight in the woods shining down on the seed heads was pretty spectacular.

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The main color was the deep crimsons from the winged sumacs along the trail. Soak it in!

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Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium

The little bluestem was the highlight of the grasses out there. My favorite, the bushy bluestem, wasn’t really all that present but the little bluestem made up for it.

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Shades of color on the sumac.

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Narrowleaf Silkgrass, Pityopsis graminifolia

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Whiteleaf Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum albescens

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This pond a little over 2 miles or so down the trail was the main source of water along with another pond on our way out the following day. I hadn’t really thought to check the water reports because we’d had some rain recently but it was definitely not enough to fill up any of the creeks out there.

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Calico Aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum maybe???

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Late Purple Aster, Symphyotrichum patens

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St. Peter’s Wort, Hypericum crux-andreae

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Woolgrass, Scirpus cyperinus

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Looks like a trail but this is actually a creek! Dry, dry, dry!

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Chris did end up finding a small puddle to filter from, though. So, heads up, water out there is slim.

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Prairie Blazing Star, Liatris pycnostachya

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We found a flat area about 50 yards or so off the trail and set up camp for the night. Lots of great light in the area and plenty of interesting plants to poke around and take photos of.

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Can you imagine what this liatris patch must have looked like in full bloom? I want to revisit it next year just to see the flurry of insect activity and get some photos.

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Indigo Milk Cap, Lactarius indigo

Chris found a large patch of indigo milk caps which made me happy. They are my favorite mushroom!

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It was a long night in the tent as we got in not long after dark and though we tried to play a few rounds of Uno, we quickly wanted to lay down and rest. I was coming down with a cold, too. I played an audiobook for Forest as I read my e-book on my Kindle and after Forest rolled over and fell asleep I read for a while longer. Sometime around 4-5 am someone walked by the tent. I noticed the flashlights beaming on the ground. They faded into the distance only to come back 20 minutes later. I’m sure they were hunters but it was still a little nervewracking. There was no evidence of them in the morning.

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We were up early because we’d been in the tent so long, but it was chilly. And we aren’t used to sleeping on our pads so we generally slept terribly. Both Chris and I forgot just how much our arms go to sleep when we’re in the backpacking tent.

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It was a fairly steady walk back to the car with only one stop not that far from the car for Forest to rest. He was entertained by naming the different ‘lands’ we were entering as we crossed habitat changes or later any time we crossed a fallen log. This is his favorite, “Forest Beautyberry Land”.

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Lightning found this tree.

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The one creek that was actually running. Must be spring fed?

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The last half mile or so had us finding these blush colored beautyberries. We had talked about coming across the white variety but never saw those and instead just found these.

In all, we were back to the car by 9:20 that morning, leaving us with time to grab some donuts and kolaches on our way home. I’m definitely a fan of these types of hikes and camping experiences. You can put them together quickly and still have time to get some things done over the weekend. Here’s hoping we can get a few more of these in this winter!

Bushwhacking Sam Houston National Forest | Round Two


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A few weekends ago we went bushwhacking in Sam Houston National Forest again. You may remember our hike last year while attempting to look for the Bartonia texana. It was coming up on blooming season for them again and we hadn’t been hiking in quite a while (and haven’t been hiking since!) so I mentioned to Chris that we should try once more.

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This year the weather was warmer and the sun was shining. Forest was a little more upbeat for this hike than last year since he was already familiar with where we were going.

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Veilwort, Pallavicinia lyellii — always enamoured by the liverworts along this creek.

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We reached the creek and it was lower than last year. We could easily walk across the creek if we’d decided to as there was minimal water. Compare this year in this photo versus last year in nearly the same location.

Forest once again inched towards the water, peering in to see what he could play in. I wish I’d brought a change of clothes for him out there so he could have really just had fun along the creek. We had his mud boots but that was it so I didn’t want to risk him getting totally soaked.

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Some kind of chanterelle, Cantharellus sp.. The mushrooms were on point this year just as they were last year.

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Russula sp.

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The cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, was much nicer this year with better blooms than last year.

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I have no idea what fungus these are but this log was covered in them. They are very cool looking! I’m not sure if this is the end of the fruiting body cycle and they are flopping over or if this is their usual state. Someone advise!

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It was lunch by the time we had arrived at the creek so Forest and I found a log to sit on and enjoyed our Subway (me) and jelly bread (him) and assorted snacks to go along with it.

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Hygrocybe sp.

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Camphor-Weed, Pluchea camphorata

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What I love best about this boggy creekside are of course all of the mosses and ferns and tiny still-life scenes.

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The creek widens at one point and opens up into a marsh where you can see remnants of pine and hardwood trees that once dominated an area that was at one time drier than its current state.

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Chris and I had both been trying to poke around the creek edges looking for the Texas screw-stem, within eyesight of Forest sitting on a log up slope but Forest didn’t want me going too far so I came back to entertain him while Chris was looking around. The goal was to switch out every so often so we could search with fresh eyes and hang with Forest. While Chris was looking he found something else, a different plant that he hadn’t seen before but only knew about because a friend of ours in Florida had recently come across it. He wasn’t even sure if there was even a sighting here in Texas. Eventually the name came to him, Northern Bluethread, Burmannia biflora. I managed to find some signal and opened iNaturalist to see what the records said—three in Texas, 1 each in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and the majority (but still not a ton) sprinkled across Florida. Definitely a rarity.

That said, consider its size and habitat. I should have put something up for comparison but the plants were maybe 3-4″ tall and if they weren’t in bloom you would have just thought they were sticks of nothing. Chris found two clumps and he didn’t directly take me to them, only pointing out the hummock one of the groups was located on, and after my eyes finally focused I was realized you really had to be looking to find them to even see them. I never found the second clump even though he told me which hummock it was on! So, you have a diminutive plant residing adjacent to a creek in a boggy area that also includes hillside seeps—not really a place many people are hanging out to look for plants, right? So while the sightings may be rare there’s likelihood that this plant is more abundant than noted.

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While walking down to the northern bluethread location I stumbled across an orchid in seed, a Crane-fly Orchid, Tipularia discolor. I stuck a stick next to it so I would be able to find it when I came back up slope but of course it still took me a few looks to find the stick and the orchid.

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Later, I went walking further down to another area and found this fading plant. I thought it was a tiny stick stuck in the moss but I tried gently tugging on it and it was definitely a plant of its own. A bluethread that’s faded? Something else? I’m not sure.

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A fertile frond of the netted chain fern, Woodwardia areolata.

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A fading earthball fungus.

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While Chris finished out the last bit of time searching for the screw-stem, Forest and I trekked up the side of the hill a bit to the rocks we found last year. I checked on the ebony spleenwort and of course Forest found the rocks to be excellent climbing and jumping structures to play on.

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I think this is some kind of bedstraw, Galium sp.. It was clinging to the dirt caked into the rock and dangling from that.

Another bushwhacking trip in the books but again, no Texas screw-stem. Though, finding the northern bluethread was a good highlight and something you don’t come across every day.

BONUS MYSTERY PLANT
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What is this? It isn’t in any of my books and iNaturalist isn’t suggesting anything viable. I feel like I’ve either seen it before (probably out here) or have once known its name. HELP! I may have to try to roughly key it out.

Thunderbird Falls Trail | Eagle River, Alaska


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Jumping ahead in our Alaska adventures (mostly because I wanted a simple set of photos to edit. I looked at Denali photos and the billions of bear photos and thought that was too much at the moment!) we’re going to hike on the Thunderbird Falls Trail just outside of Anchorage in Eagle River. We’d arrived in Anchorage that morning via the Alaska Rail into Anchorage, rented a car, checked into the hotel, and headed for a few hiking adventures on the outskirts of Anchorage in Chugach State Park.

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Since it was Labor Day, the trailhead was rather busy. In my assessments online it seemed like this was in a quieter setting but there were some houses abutting the forest at the beginning of the trail and due to its proximity to Anchorage, the trail was quite active. And you could tell the trail got a lot of use by the packed dirt along the way.

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Looking back now at this first week of September when it felt like autumn in Alaska and now comparing it to this first week of November when we’re dipping between autumn and early spring like temperatures here in Texas, it is a little jarring to see where we were a few months ago. I think this beautifully red shaded bush is squashberry, Viburnum edule, but I’m not completely certain.

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There was an initial rise from the trailhead along the trail and then a descent towards the falls. Leaves were coloring the path as we walked. Forest enjoyed running full-force down this hill after a morning of being confined to a train and car.

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Peering down into the Eklutna River gorge via the first overlook.

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Touch-me-not Balsam, Impatiens noli-tangere

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I’d love to be here right now.

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Our short walk lead us to an overlook of Thunderbird Falls, where we oohed and ahhed for a few moments.

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I’m semi-ok with the love lock phenomenon in places like Paris but I’m really annoyed when I see them in places like this. And even cities like Paris are removing them and trying to stop the practice. So, don’t leave a lock on a gate like this, folks!

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I wanted to drink in all of the green, green, green surrounded by deep yellows and oranges in the forest up here.

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From the main trail there’s a smaller, more eroded trail leading to the base of the falls and Thunderbird Creek (which merges with the Eklutna River back downstream a bit).

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Several people were cautiously rock hopping around the end of the ‘beach’ area to get a better look at the falls, or just braving the chilly water and wading in. Chris was one of those people, taking photos and opting to spend some time fishing.

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Forest and I stayed back; I took photos and Forest found ways to play on the beach and push boundaries about getting his shoes wet.

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It was great lighting for portrait photography. I wish I’d had my 50mm.

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Eventually Chris came back to show us a fish he caught (sorry, not sure what it is at the moment—will have to edit this when I ask Chris).

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And the warmth we’d felt as we’d hiked along the trail started fading as the sun went behind the clouds and the canyon cooled down. We wanted to sneak in another hike before we had to meet our friend Eliana for dinner and do some chores in town, so we said goodbye to Thunderbird Falls and hiked back to the trailhead.

Post Early Freeze In The Garden


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Eastern Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica

Last week we had our first freeze, about a month earlier than is typical. Last year we had a mid-November freeze, which was also early and then we warmed right on up again through December and didn’t freeze again until January, I believe. Some years here we freeze in December, one year I remember not freezing until January. I liked that year.

But this year we got it early which meant Chris shuffled his orchids and bromeliads in and I moved a few plants from the potting bench to the back porch. I didn’t bother covering some things in the edible garden and it looks like the gourds are the only things that truly suffered, though there’s some mild damage to the squash and a few other things. The peppers didn’t bat an eye and the okra look like they would keep on producing if I’d ever actually pick the pods. I need to go through and take some stuff down later this week.

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Forked blue curls, Trichostema dichotomum — I forgot I pulled a few seedlings from our ROW and put them in the flower bed. I’m glad I did!

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Frostweed, Verbesina virginica

The frostweed is bending over heavily after blooming this year but it is another plant I’m glad I nabbed seeds from and threw into the beds. The pollinators have been loving it.

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I came across this interesting insect in the garden over the weekend and it is a relative of another I found back in September in the edible garden. On first approach it appears to be an ant but after putting it on iNaturalist it appears the concensus is some kind of Broad-headed Bug, Family Alydidae. Would be great to get an actual identification at some point!

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The blue curls were looking too lovely in the light beams that I had to get my reverse macro mount out and take a few photos. It was tricky as the wind was moving, I was kind of shaky that afternoon, and the flower was so small. But a few came out rather clear.

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I attempted the reverse macro again with the coastal germander, Teucrium cubense. We bought a container of it at a plant sale in the spring and it has flourished. I only recently came across it for the first time in the wild when we did some field work in mid-October.

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And the only hungry chompers I’m seeing right now are the orange dogs, the giant swallowtails. I remembered seeing one as I walked by the citrus early last week before the freeze and wondered if it would fare alright. Then, Forest and I were wandering the yard looking for cidada exoskeletons on Saturday and I remembered the caterpillars so we peered around and found a few. They managed to make it! It should warm up rather well for them in the coming week which will hopefully let them finish their cycles and get into a chrysalis.

I’m just starting some gardening cleanup and maybe I’ll manage to sow some more edible seeds. If not, I’m allowing myself to just take it easy this winter in the edible garden, do a few chores and focus more for spring if that’s where I end up heading.

Life Lately | November 2019


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Thinking:
How about a short series of photos from the last month??

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Of course there was Halloween last week. We kicked off with our tiny community’s hayride event, which Forest went dressed as a dinosaur! I tested out my feeble face painting skills and T-Rex got 2nd place! Well, we actually kicked off the night before at a fall festival at his school where there were games, food, and friends. Then there was a Halloween party at school and Halloween night trick-or-treating as well. For both of those he wanted to dig out his almost-too-tight costume from last year and be Spider Man again. *shrugs*

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Chris started working on the fort once again after a summer hiatus. It’s coming along now. I’m going to make it Mom’s Reading Cave (shhh, don’t tell Forest!)

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I’m trying to get my camera out more often in the house again and take photos like this once more.

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When I had my girl’s weekend Chris and Forest went to the air show and the beach!

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Last weekend we attempted to go the zoo late morning but found insane traffic to park and when we looked for a spot it appeared the lot was entirely full, which meant you’d have to stalk anyone leaving which we didn’t have the patience to do. Forest cried and we decided to go to the aquarium in downtown instead. He’d gone this summer with school and had fun and I knew it wasn’t anything spectacular like a major aquarium but we had fun!

Gardening:
I’m finding my energy to get back out there once again. I started working on the flower paths and cleaning up some general debris on the garden this weekend. We really need to mulch the beds before winter (but we just had our first freeze almost a month early so, whatever, winter is here) but I’m not sure I’m in the mood for that yet.

Loving:
During my weekend with my friends we played some cards games. It spurred me to get into playing games more with Forest and so I bought a Go-Fish deck and we’ve been playing during the week. Now he’s getting more interested in games so I’m trying to make time to play for 20-30 minutes a few nights a week with him.

Reading:
Currently reading Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah. I’m also listening to The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Stephen L. Brusatte which might sound like a tome but it is actually written well for the non-paleontologist. And the narrator has charisma so it is an enjoyable listen. Plus, he’ll mention a dinosaur and I’ll be like “Hey, I know that one!”–helps to have a dino obsessed 5 year old. There’s a few others I’ve finished lately and am in the middle of reading as well.

Also, this article: The 2010s have broken our sense of time. This article reinforced my love for pre-2010 movies, or movies with flip phones only.

Making:
I’m still working on Forest’s rainbow afghan which looks really lovely but I haven’t been dedicating a ton of time to it lately. I’m pondering getting into a weekly or more than once a week situation with some nature sketchbooking.

Watching & Listening:
I just binged The Crown season 1 & 2 again in anticipation of season 3 here in a few weeks. I’ve been editing a lot of photos and working on that afghan so it has gone well together. I started The Good Place last night which is kind of funny and with short episodes. Works well for when you are half paying attention to something and multi-tasking. Other than that I’m only watching This is Us and Grey’s Anatomy on network tv.

Looking Forward:
Still debating driving to DFW for a couple of friends and family events here in a few weeks. Thanksgiving is this month and we haven’t made camping reservations yet. Not sure what we’re doing with that yet. Voting is Tuesday. I have jury duty the week after. Nothing terribly exciting on the agenda this month!

I’m enjoying this ‘extra hour’ this morning with a bit more lingering than I would be doing at this time of morning. Hope everyone is well out there in blog reading land!

Atala, Eumaeus atala | Wildlife Wednesday


Eumaeus atala

Eumaeus atala

Eumaeus atala

Eumaeus atala

Eumaeus atala

Eumaeus atala

Eumaeus atala

Eumaeus atala

Over the last week or so I’ve been deep diving in our backup hard drives. The goal is to look for certain photos for my friend Eliana but as I’ve been sifting through photos I’m finding all sorts that we never edited—especially photos Chris took. Along the way I’m shuffling over files that I want to edit but I know I’ll be going back through the drives to pick out favorites and revisit some items.

One of those sets were these handful of photos you see above of an atala butterfly and several larvae. We had seen them at Mounts Botanic Garden in West Palm Beach in March of 2008. I remembered visiting the garden and have thought about the place from time to time over the years but apparently we never edited photos and put them on Flickr—Flickr is basically my photo repository on the cloud at this point in time and I’m tied to it forever. Don’t ever go away, Flickr!

This feels like maybe the only time we came across an adult atala but I feel like we’ve come across other larvae on its larval host plant, the cycad coontie, but I’m not certain. So, the story with this butterfly is that in the late 1800s it was considered to be incredibly abundant in southeast Florida and a handful of Caribbean islands. The host plant, coontie, had been used by the various tribes in Florida for sustenance but considering coontie is a slow growing plant and already confined to certain habitats and locales, it wouldn’t take much for habitat loss and over harvesting to affect the populations of coontie. Well, while a balance had been struck between humans and coontie, that was thrown to the wind when Florida really opened up to settlers as the they also in time began to also harvest the coontie, without all the respect and balance for nature that the tribes had been using when harvesting the plant.

Subsequently the atala population plummeted and by the mid 1900s the butterfly was thought to be extirpated from Florida. Ah, isn’t this usually the story? Abundance and then something tips and boom! a species is now extinct. (See: passenger pigeons)

In the late 70s a population of atala butterflies was found on Key Biscayne, though in my readings it isn’t clear if this is a repopulation from butterflies in the Bahamas or hold outs from the original population that managed to survive. Either way, biologists began rearing butterflies on cultivated coonties and started reintroducing them across their native range. Then, as coontie began to show up in the nursery trade, the plant became more abundant in landscaping throughout south Florida, thus creating a different habitat for the atala larvae. Now a once potentially extinct species is considered to be somewhat abundant once again. It is still considered rare and vulnerable by various agencies due to general habitat loss and other factors that affect insects such as pesticides, but what a remarkable turnaround in 40 years!

I’m including some links below for further reading if you are interested!

+The Coontie and the Atala Hairstreak by Roger Hammer in the FNPS The Palmetto magazine. I saw several references that mention Roger as the person who rediscovered this population but he doesn’t state that himself in this article. I wouldn’t be surprised that Roger found it, he’s a renowned naturalist in south Florida. It’s a great article worth reading.
+Atala History via the Atala Chapter of North American Butterfly Association
+Eumaeus atala via UF IFAS
+A Nearly Extinct Butterfly Makes a Comeback in South Florida via Entomology Today
+BAMONA Sightings—including two stray historical sightings in the lower and mid-south.
+iNaturalist sightings—far more are included here so you can see how widespread it is being seen now.

Time, Friends, and a Cozy Cabin


Girls weekend

We’ve been friends for 21 years now. As we sat around the picnic tables at Fort Boggy State Park, we reminisced about the past and how we met up on the T/S Texas Clipper II during the summer of 1998, trying to piece together the other friendships and acquaintances that led us all together. While our friend group is a bit broader than the three of us, over the last several years only three of us have gotten together to spend a weekend together. First we included all of the kids, five between us, and then we moved to an adults only weekend since at least two of us aren’t regularly away from it all.

Except for the bathroom situation, this year proved to be perfect—perfect weather, perfect cabin, perfect schedule (nothing). I managed to find a cabin at Fort Boggy State Park that looked enticing and it proved to be beyond all expectations. The bathroom situation was fine for me because of my already rustic nature but I was with two city slickers, however we all made do generally. Considering that we’re either 40 or nearing 40, health implications are ramping up–not just the thoughts about growing older but actual medical issues that I think we’re all trying to wrap our heads around. It’s easy for me to think that I’m still 30 and as spry as I was before having Forest but that is definitely not the case. And it isn’t just that, but knowing that I’m capable of more things than one of my friends because of her illness had it hitting home to not take for granted what I’m able to do at 39 and to keep the movement going, to stay active, to keep focusing on overall health and longevity. I’m sounding like I’m 60, but middle age is smacking me in the face soon. I’m also being deliberately vague here but I shed a lot of tears 10-11 years ago when we found out about my friend’s diagnosis and here we are, time passing us by and the effects a decade later also smacking us in the face. I can’t help but think in 5, 10, 15 years how we’ll be adjusting these weekends, because I know we plan on keeping them up (and maybe turning them into a week to some far-off place eventually) and we’ll be figuring out what we’re able to do together as a group.

Girls weekend

So, there was lounging around in pajamas, taking luxurious noon-day naps, slow meal times, and plenty of porch sitting. With no agenda, our only outing was to the Dollar General to pick up a few food items we forgot and of course we got distracted by the random junk we could buy ourselves and our kids. There was time spent down by the lake playing Uno and learning to play Skip-Bo, and now I want to bring cards games back into my life after a 20 year hiatus. I grew up playing Uno with my family and played cards in classes in high school after we’d done our work, and now I can’t wait for Forest to learn card games. I may have to find Go Fish to get him started. As I was driving home after the weekend my urge was to just sit and play cards, to have that chatter and game time to soak in the autumn sun and enjoy the afternoon.

Girls weekend

Saturday evening we managed to pull our assets together to build a fire. I’ve watched Chris build plenty so it wasn’t like I came into this knowing nothing but as I said, Chris makes the fires. One of my friends stepped in because she’d had some lessons from another friend of hers and together we managed to get the fire going long enough to roast ‘mallows and make s’mores. S’mores are the type of dessert that it doesn’t take long for the sugar overload to set in and after a few were made we opted to linger on the porch while the fire simmered. Eventually we were responsible campers and doused the fire out, though I could have gone for the simmering smells of a campfire all night long.

On Sunday we attempted to drag out the remaining hours together as long as possible, eating a slow breakfast and sipping coffee on the porch again. Time crept up on us and because we had a short walk to haul everything back to the cars and check-out we got our acts together late morning to clean up and leave the cabin. I realized that morning that we’d had a late breakfast and just because we had to leave the cabin at noon didn’t mean we had to leave the state park and so our card gaming continued at the picnic tables near the pond where we sat in dappled sunshine for a couple more hours. Eventually we trekked into the tiny town of Centerville, most famously known for Woody’s Smokehouse, an I-45 rest stop destination. Probably a bit eye-rollingly to them, twenty minutes south down the road from there is Madisonville and Buc-ee’s has opened a new store, and I suspect there are plenty of customers who have been swayed to change their mid-way Dallas to Houston rest stop. While Woody’s Smokehouse has great barbeque we opted for local Italian restaurant that had just wrapped up the post-church rush at two in the afternoon.

Bellies full, we said goodbye and departed ways, two of us trekking south via farm-to-market roads and one heading north via I-45. I know it gets said every time, “We should do this more often!” and I know we will try our best but life is full. I live about an hour away from one of my friends and we could easily get together for a few hours every couple of months with the kids. I do think we’ll try our best to make time for a second get together with the kids in the spring and then a solo weekend in the autumn, though. I wish there was an easy answer for how to make these things come together more easily and if you’ve got one, do let me know! It probably involves living in the same town, though!

I’m trying to find an eloquent way to wrap up this little essay but all I can come up with are the bundle of soft emotions I feel from a wonderful weekend with friends, thoughts that don’t exactly leap out easily in any firm linguistic context. Suffice to say, I love and miss my friends and we had a lovely, quiet weekend together!

Flora, Fauna, & Fungi on the Carlanna Lake Trail


Because I take too many photos these days I’ve broke down the Carlanna Lake Trail into two posts, with this one focusing on the flora, fauna, and fungi we found.

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This was seen not far from the trailhead parking lot and honestly, I’m not sure what it is. iNaturalist suggested cotoneaster and the closest one I think that would be is Late Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster coriaceus. It is native to China and so I’m thinking this is an escapee from the neighborhood nearby. Again, not 100% certain on the ID.

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Large-leaved Avens, Geum macrophyllum

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Slugs, so ubiquitous in the temperate rainforests–I think this one is an Arion sp.

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Oxeye Daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare, another introduced species. I saw this a couple of places in SE Alaska.

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Orange Hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiaca—and what do you know, another introduced species!

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Western Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanus. This one seemed familiar when I saw it as it reminded me of the skunk cabbage you see in the eastern US but I wasn’t sure if they were related. They aren’t the same genus but they are in the Araceae family so upstream a bit they are related. Very abundant in the streamside wetland areas here.

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A pretty little lycopodium, Huperzia miyoshiana.

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Since I don’t have a photo of the top of this fungi, I couldn’t figure out down to species but I believe it is in the Fomitopsis genus.

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Mertens’ Sedge, Carex mertensii—this one is really lovely. Would love to have it on our pond!

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Spreading Wood Ferns, Dryopteris expansa, among a few other ferns on the underside of this fallen tree.

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Devil’s Club, Oplopanax horridus. I would come to learn that this plant has a strong ethnobotanical tie to the area, represented in a lot of items for sale representing the local area—such as books, jewelry, postcards, etc—plus seeing tinctures, salves, and other medicinal products for sale in stores owned by members of the local tribes.

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Tree Lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria. Someone else suggested a different Lobaria species but it didn’t look that close to me. I’m sticking with this for now. Either way, I was enamored!

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Western Lily of the Valley, Maianthemum dilatatum. When I first saw these I thought they would be some kind of wild ginger (not the tropical one, the Asarum version) but nope, completely different. This one also has ethnobotanical uses.

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Bolete Mould, Hypomyces chrysospermus

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Deer Fern, Struthiopteris spicant

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Oval-leaf Blueberry, Vaccinium ovalifolium but also possibly Vaccinium alaskense according to someone on iNat—apparently the berries were darker and that’s usually a characteristic of this species. Again, up for grabs if someone knows better!

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Stink Currant, Ribes bracteosumAlso edible.

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Common Loon, Gavia immer —hah my ‘duck’ from the post prior to this one!

Ahhh, I wonder what the lake looks like now in mid-October?

Carlanna Lake Trail | Ketchikan, Alaska


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When we woke up on Wednesday of our cruise we found ourselves in Ketchikan. We’d been there for a bit it seemed though I don’t think we were supposed to have been there until 7am but we had clearly been tied up at the dock for a while. Though, as we came to find out when we left port later that afternoon, the crew had everything down to a science and we were out of port within 30 minutes of the final call to board the ship.

Our dock was just west of the main area in town and there were already tour buses ready for those who were preparing to go on one of those. We’d purposely not booked any tours for one town just so we could do something on our own. I’d looked at hiking trails in the area and had found that the Carlanna Lake Trail was a suitable option as it was near enough to town that a taxi ride wouldn’t be enormously expensive but it was far enough out that it would give us a remote feeling as we hiked.

There were several taxis waiting at the port when we arrived and because we had docked early everyone on board was still finishing up breakfast and not quite ready to get out and about. We ate breakfast quickly, packed up and disembarked, finding our way down to the taxis. The woman driving the taxi knew exactly where Carlanna Lake was and tried to give us local beta to access a waterfall that wasn’t on a map—which we ended up not finding. I think we should have gone another five minutes up the trail from where we turned around—oh well!

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There was one other person at the trailhead in a vehicle when we got there but otherwise we were the only ones out there at 8am. The air was brisk but felt perfect for a hike. There was an uphill right from the trailhead, a gentle and wide access road, but I knew that once we arrived at the lake that the trail wouldn’t change in elevation much until we were beyond the lake, when you get to an unimproved route into a chute and to another trail called the Minerva Mountain Trail.

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We found the lake to be very still and incredibly peaceful at that early morning hour. I was torn between the desire to just pull up a chair and sit all day while reading a book, pausing periodically to stare at the lake and our surroundings, and by the desire to poke around slowly at all of the mossy covered items lying in the forest.

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Does this scene not beg to be out the front door of your cabin, where you hold a mug of coffee, wrapped in a cozy cardigan on a crisp autumn day? *sigh*

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Along the main trail are several small side trails that lead to boardwalks to fish and sight-see. I spotted a ‘duck’ which Chris corrected me by saying it was a loon! I’d kind of forgotten about loons, those ubiquitous calls echoing over the New England lakes on the Appalachian Trail. Of course they were here in Alaska, too!

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Everywhere I looked I was reminded of our hike in the Hoh Rainforest—everything was moist, vibrant, and mossy.

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Somewhere along the trail it really hit me that, oh-my-gosh I’m in Alaska! And as much as I’d been enamored with and enjoyed the ocean portion of the cruise, this really hit home that Alaska was a Big Deal and Amazing!

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Stop and look up!

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Stop and look down!

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Of course the entire time I’m pondering what plants are what, trying to sort plants into Families so I can look them up later. A few plants I took photos of on my phone so I could throw them into iNaturalist when I had cell signal in town in order to get a quick ID.

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After we crossed the bridges for the stream we started slowly climbing up. We were supposed to be looking for little cairns or someplace it appeared a fairy would live and we thought we found that area and stopped to take a short break and eat a snack. Chris looked around for signs of off trail foot travel and we came across a piece of flagging about twenty feet off the trail. He bushwhacked down a bit and decided that it might be the trail so after our snack we all forged on only to wind up back on the main trail just about 100 feet down from where we’d began. Nope, not the right trail. If it had just been Chris and me we would have turned around and climbed back up to continue looking but Forest was already itching to return back to the trailhead and thus we continued that direction instead.

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The light, y’all. The light.

“We walked always in beauty, it seemed to me. We walked and looked about, or stood and looked. Sometimes, less often, we would sit down. We did not often speak. The place spoke for us and was a kind of speech. We spoke to each other in the things we saw.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

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Chris decided to head up from the creek a bit once we’d descended back down a little to see if maybe he could find this supposed waterfall. Instead he found a potential hunter’s camp and not much else.

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Meanwhile, Forest was finding fungus and sticks and having fun with the surrounding nature.

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We lucked out after we returned to the trailhead as another group had just been dropped off by a taxi. Chris had just called the taxi and they’d said someone was on their way—turned out they had already arrived—so it made the getting back to town situation a lot easier. I would 100% recommend anyone visiting Ketchikan stop by this trail if they are in for a short visit. I wish we’d had more time to head further up the trail or to check out the other intersecting trails. It was a first glimpse of how much I fell for Alaska.

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