A few weekends ago we drove to Nacogdoches to attending the SFA Spring Plant sale to pick up some native plants we’ve been wanting for a good while. We had gone once before, I think when I was pregnant with Forest, so considering that was 8 years ago, it has been a bit since we’ve attended. We had some time to kill between the sale and getting lunch in Lufkin before we headed into Angelina NF to do some botanizing, so we dropped by the Mize Azalea Gardens to walk around. Since everything was a bit delayed this year we really caught the azaleas as a good time. Usually they are already winding down by the time the plant sale would have been going on so it was a delight to get to enjoy them this year.
So, this is really just a colorful azalea appreciation post! The color combinations and light were hitting *just right*!
I think we’re due for a weekend in Nacogdoches sometime soon to explore the other gardens that the university has, plus to get out and see some other areas of Angelina NF that are nearby. If you ever find yourself in the area, definitely stop by the gardens, they are free to the public and there are several parking locations to easily access them!
We drove up to DFW for Easter this year. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve done that, instead opting for camping during Easter. But a variety of reasons had us without a reservation for a campsite and we opted to spend some time up there this year. I snuck away on Saturday afternoon to go check out an empty field down the street from my parent’s house. Well, truthfully, I had steps to get in for my FitBit challenge so that was a major reason, but I had driven by earlier that morning on the way to the grocery store and decided it needed to be walked through for some iNaturalist botanizing. The field has been a field since I was a kid, tucked between a bank and houses. As I’ve seen the other empty fields turn into houses in the last decade, I figured this one was living on borrowed time. Surprisingly there were some lovely prairie remnants left and of course a few invaders, too, but otherwise it was a nice way to get some steps in and take in some pollen-filled fresh air.
Zizotes Milkweed, Asclepias oenotheroides – I knew there was milkweed in this field because I’ve seen it blooming during the summertime but I always thought it was likely to have been antelope horns, A. asperula but I was wrong!
The allure of the area around Apalachicola is that there are so many public land recreation opportunities that you really can’t go wrong with just about anywhere you decide to go. Our first full day of Spring Break we opted to start out our explorations at the Apalachicola River WEA because it had both car and trail access, plus a boardwalk out into Apalachicola Bay at the south end. A note, if you do decide to visit, know that some areas may be impassable with a typical car and many trucks during certain times of year. Water covers some of the more remote roads and it forced us to turn around and even Chris’ truck wouldn’t have managed those. Bring a swamp buggy! (I’m only half joking!)
It was quite early in the season yet, even for Florida, but we were instantly greeted with White Wild Indigo, Baptisia alba not very far into our drive. This started the in-and-out of the truck rotation we continued throughout our entire drive through the WEA. See something interesting? Jump out and fawn over it and other plants, get back into the truck and drive 100 yards, wash, rinse, repeat.
I happened to find this empty polyphemus moth cocoon when I stopped to use a cabbage palm tree and empty my bladder. I looked down to swat at some mosquitoes and there it was! The benefits of peeing in the woods…finding moth cocoons?? haha!
At the end of Sand Beach road there’s a parking area for the tower and a short trail that winds back into a cabbage palm forest adjacent to a wetland. Back when we started our drive two FWC employees had come by and mentioned that they were going to have some kind of festival out there soon so they were out checking on the trail and driving around to see what needed to be addressed for maintenance. We talked to them for a few minutes and they took our photo but I never did figure out if they posted it anywhere! But the two ended up walking along the trail later to do some minor cleanup of overhanging cabbage palm fronds and such. The trail is not that well visited, though it is well-marked. I don’t know if I would go down it in the summer with the mosquitoes but for spring it was worth it!
Forest really enjoyed this large palm frond that had been cut down.
Even if you don’t do the trail and you make a beeline down Sand Beach road for the tower area, it is worth it. The views along this area of the bay are sweeping and gorgeous. It was quite windy while we were there but on a calmer day this would have been a good place to set-up for some plein air landscape painting.
A few years ago I heard about pitcher plant mining moths on a podcast, probably the In Defense of Plants podcast but I can’t figure out which episode, and I’ve wanted to see one ever since. We’ve been out to the pitcher plants at Watson Preserve and the Pitcher Plant Bog in the Big Thicket several times but I’ve forgotten to look at them. Chris recently learned about them too and was interested in trying to find them while we were in Florida but there weren’t really many new pitchers growing yet out in the bogs so we didn’t see any moths. Last week, however, he was out in the field in the east Texas and came across a small bog and managed to find a moth in a pitcher plant. He texted the photo to me and of course I was very jealous about this sighting! Luckily we were heading out to Angelina National Forest to do some hiking and plant exploring over this last weekend after we attended the SFA Plant Sale in Nacogdoches, and we had the opportunity to see them–if we found a bog. We found a bog and we found the moths!
Forest had been having a rough morning, looking for plants in rare habitats was very boring to a 7.5 year old and there was a meltdown at our first stop Sunday morning. He perked up a bit when we got to the bog and Chris showed him how to find the moths, as you can see in the first video above. You have to be careful not to tear the tops of the pitcher plants but you can peer into the plants to see the moths fairly easily. I used my phone to take these photos and videos. Next on my list is to see the caterpillar of the moth! You can read more about the moth here, which has a much better write-up than I could possibly do here on my blog.
You can see a lovely caterpillar and some other photos from the Florida panhandle via Lilly Anderson-Messec below.
A few years ago I regularly did Monthly Book Reports but that fell by the wayside. It’s hard to believe it has been so long but I think I’m going to bring them back in the form of quarterly updates with my favorites from the previous three months. For the first quarter of the year I’ve read 19 books. Some were great, others I muddled through, and I abandoned one or two. It has been good to see so many people talk about abandoning books that you can’t get into because I was a former “finisher” and it is something I still cling to and am working on. Sure, it is great to say you’ve finished a book but when you start reading and realize it wasn’t what you thought it would be, you don’t like the characters, or maybe it just move too slowly for your reading life at that point in time, abandon it! There are too many good books out there to be suffering through a book that you don’t love. My to-be-read (TBR) pile is ever growing and will only continue to grow, so unless it sticks, it goes into the abandoned pile.
Here are four books I loved this past quarter. Also, I’m making note on how I read them, audio, kindle, or paper.
The Seed Keeper by Diana Wilson – Audio
Taking place in Minnesota, we see Rosalie Iron Wing, an indigenous child make her way from growing up within an indigenous community only to be thrust into the foster system when her father dies. She loses a lot of her community and family members and even loses touch with some of her friends. Eventually she marries a white man who has a farm and Rosalie eventually gives birth to a son. She becomes interested in gardening and in writing and starts writing for the local paper. It weaves in Big Ag and the clash between a white world and an indigenous world and circles back around towards the end of the story. Really a lovely read, a bit quiet, and delves back into some of Rosalie’s family members before they were moved to reservations.
The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget – Paper
This is a juvenile fiction also based in Minnesota that I randomly picked up while at the library getting books for Forest one day. It focuses on 11-year old Fern and her impoverished family who struggle to make ends meet but supplement that with foraging and hunting on some land around where they live. It interweaves the stories from her friends, one from an immigrant family and another who is in foster care, and how they come to save the land from a fracking venture. I really appreciated the diversity and inclusion of so many relevant topics. Excellent for any 9-13 year old but also any adult who likes to read outside of a genre box!
Saints of Old Florida by Melissa Farrell – Paper
I have wanted to read this book for years, since I found out about it when it was published. I hesitated to buy it and now it has become very hard to find. Luckily, I found it at the beach house we stayed at on St. George Island a few weeks ago. Saints of Old Florida is a beautiful coffee table book that showcases all of the “Saints” along Florida’s Forgotten Coast, from Port St. Joe to St. Marks. It encompasses narratives from local fisherman, folks who came to visit on vacation decades ago and stayed, locals who grew up along the wilds of the region, and inserts beautiful photography and recipes into it all. A gorgeous book!
Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women, #1) by Evie Dunmore- Audio
An absolute fluff romance taking place not in the typical Regency period we see so many romance novels doing right now, but a mid-Victorian era England when the early suffragette movement was trying to get off the ground. There’s a middle class bluestocking woman attending Oxford and an aloof Duke and well, it’s a floofy romance and a perfect book to escape into! Thanks for my friend Michelle for recommending it!
Now, what is everyone else reading? What should I add to my ever growing TBR pile?
I thought I’d share a few short videos I took from our first day in the Apalachicola Area. Rain had moved through the day before so the area was quite soggy and water was moving through the area quickly. I wish I’d taken a few photos at least of the very flooded areas there was no way our truck was going to make it through.
It’s hard to explain, but as we drove around all I could think was, “Yes, this is how it should be” because this is what we did in Florida—drive around various public lands to go and explore. It also reminded me a lot about my job there, too. All in all, a good day on Florida public lands!
The garden was a bit slow to get going this year for some reason and others around the state have noticed the same. A few folks are relating it to drought conditions that are plaguing various parts of the state to differing levels. We are not nearly as dry as areas west of here but we certainly aren’t nearly as moist and up to normal conditions either. Rhododendron canescens finally got the notice to start blooming, albeit a few weeks later than usual, but I always look forward to this native azalea.
Our patch of Texas ragwort, Senecio ampullaceus, has expanded this year to my delight. I’ll have to share another post when they are all blooming here soon. Most are sending up flowering stalks now. This is Bernadette, the largest plant in the group. Yep, I named a plant!
The grow out area of various seeds I’ve got going. The front is our native snapdragon vine and the back is I think Arnoglossum or Giant coneflower—both have similar leaves and I’m growing both but I can’t remember which side of the snapdragons each one is located!
So much is going on in the yard I’ll be sharing more garden photos soon!
Eventually I will get around to editing photos and once my phone photos finish uploading to Flickr I can do more detailed posts, but for now I’ll highlight a few items from our week in Florida.
As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, it was quite chilly when we arrived in Florida. Certainly not south Florida winter weather where you can go to the beach and feel comfortable this time of year. But Forest braved the water and played in the sand when he could and we even saw that one washed up horseshoe crab. I was a little disappointed that the shelling wasn’t better than it could have been but at least it wasn’t riddled with pieces of plastic like our Texas shorelines seem to be.
Before we left I came up with a list of plants that would be blooming or at least up this time of year that I wanted to try to find and Gulf Coast lupine was one of them, Lupinus westianus. It’s relatively rare and specialized in the Florida panhandle but we came across our first one randomly and then found several other patches in Tate’s Hell State Forest. Unfortunately we were too early for blooms but at least I can claim to have seen it!
On one of our days driving around Apalachicola National Forest we caught a glimpse of a controlled burn up the road. We had noticed it earlier that morning and it had slowly progressed closer to the road and firebreak. I’m sure that area will be looking great in a few months!
I’ll share more photos of this area eventually, but visiting the dwarf cypress boardwalk in Tate’s Hell was one of the top things I wanted to do in the area. It was so odd to see this swath of cypress trees amidst the more flatwoods habitat of the rest of the forest. Well worth the detour off the main roads if you are driving through the area.
Chapman’s butterwort, Pinguicula planifolia, another one of the species I wanted to see! Oh, and let me tell you, I am *in love* with my macro attachment for my phone.I kept it in my pocket and used it constantly throughout our time and it captured the details I needed really well!
We had great view from the tower at Sand Beach Road on an FWC Wildlife Environmental Area. A really neat area—too bad some of the roads were flooded or else we would have explored more. You definitely needed a swamp buggy to traverse some of those areas!
That’s it for the snippet—more plant delights and adventures soon!
*Stretches and yawns*…oh boy, now to get back into the swing of things again—hello! Last week, well, actually a week and a half ago, we headed east down I-10 to Florida’s Forgotten Coast and spent a week on St. George Island. Annoyingly, we changed time zones and lost an hour of time and then lost another hour two days later with the Spring Forward time change. Hence all the yawning around here! And I say we spent a week on St. George Island but in reality we were traipsing around Apalachicola National Forest, an FWC WEA area, and Tate’s Hell State Forest, a place I had always wanted to visit and finally got to!
We were about a month early for a lot of the really great botanical stuff but we made the best of it and managed to knock off some life-list species and to get out and do some hiking. Sadly, being that the panhandle of Florida is at about the same latitude as Houston, it certainly wasn’t quite warm enough for the beach even though we did brave it a few times for Forest to splash around in the water. Needless to say, we did not come back sporting suntans but we did bring back a new addiction to WOYS 100.5 FM aka: Oyster Radio where you can get all of your Forgotten Coast news and a great mix of music to boot.
I have a lot to share and will start writing up some posts later this week! We’re battening down the hatches tonight for our first big spring thunderstorms—tornadoes, hail, flash floods have all be forecasted. Could be dicey! Meanwhile, spring is waking up the plants in the yard and I’m looking forward to getting some gardening posts written as well!
Hope all is well out there dear blog readers!
About a week and a half ago my brother texted to tell me that he and Zoe were coming down with her scout group to hike on the Lone Star Trail for a weekend and invited us to come out and hike. At first I thought we might only do a day hike but we decided to join the overnight hike and do the entire section the group was planning to do. It wasn’t quite a 12 mile loop but nearly so, combining the Richards Loop and the Sand Branch Loop from Trailhead 1 in Sam Houston NF.
We were supposed to arrive before the troop set out but apparently they rose earlier and got ready sooner than intended so we were behind them by about fifteen minutes. It was also a surprise for Zoe as she didn’t know we were even coming! We hoofed it out of the car and I sent a text to my brother after we passed the first pond to see how far behind we were and not long after we passed a hiker/hunter/old army guy who informed us that there were indeed a group of girls ahead of us. About fifteen minutes later we finally caught up to them! It wasn’t spectacularly hard to do with the train of girls stopping for various reasons from pack adjustments to water breaks. We made decent time, though, arriving to the campsite by lunchtime. We did end up coming across a still smoldering controlled burn. The trail itself wasn’t burned and was find to walk across and having walked across other burns before we knew it was likely safe to do so—and there were not closure signs on the trail head there at the road where we’d encountered it. A USFS vehicle was parked down the way but no one was inside it, though we did find USFS personnel on the other side once we’d finished the burn section.
The weather was sunny and warm and honestly, perfect hiking weather. Not too hot and not too cold. After sitting around at the campsite eating lunch we all set up our tents. The campsite wasn’t the nicest and frankly I was annoyed it wasn’t closer to or at the pond which was about a tenth of a mile south of the campsite. The pond was much more scenic. I mean, technically you could camp at the pond, there was plenty of space, but we all set up at the campsite anyway. The campsite was mostly socked in with yaupon and little tent sites had been cut away over the years further back, connected by various trails. It wasn’t terrible and worked fine, but certainly not high up on any list of “great backpacking campsites”, mostly utilitarian.
Several of the adult leaders had brought fishing poles knowing a pond was near the campsite and Chris kicked himself for not bringing the one he has for backpacking. Most of the group spent several hours at the pond, filtering water, fishing, and playing. I walked back and took a good nap in the tent for a while. Again, the perfect day for a nap in the woods! One of my favorite things is napping in the woods, whether it’s a mid-day lunch nap in some pine needle duff or tucked into the tent—either way, relish those naps. Chris and I switched out of on kid duty and he took a nap while Forest and I went back down to the pond to play, which is where you see some of those silly panoramic photos up there. It was also insightful and fun to listen to pre-teen and teenager girls and remember my own teen years. A lot of things change but many things stay the same!
Both Chris and I slept better than we did in December in the Wichita Mountains. Chris got a new sleeping pad, and I managed to sleep on my stomach, which helped a lot with my arms not going to sleep. Plus, it wasn’t cold! There was a slight threat for a light rain shower but it avoided us thankfully.
Everyone was sore the next morning and we finally managed to amble out of camp around 7:30. There were far more stops on the way back to the trailhead that morning, with the girls stopping for various reasons. Several girls weren’t doing great, one ended the hike in tears. Forest was pretty cranky too, complaining of sore feet and legs. I had to stop both days and give him liquid Tylenol along the way. He has done 5-6 mile day hikes with only minor complaints and 8-9 mile ones with a bit more complaints, but he was rather complainy on this hike. Needless to say, we were all glad when we arrived back at the car. I had a couple of blisters plus my arms had been rubbing against my straps on my pack, something I’ve had happen with this particular pack in the past but it seemed worse on this hike. I’m currently sporting a Band-Aid to keep it from rubbing on my shirts.
We were home by about noon or so and it felt like the perfect mileage to get out for a bit but also be able to get home and get some chores done before the week started. We were a bit early for many of the spring wildflowers and I was sad not to have seen any mayapples. They seem to be more prevalent on the east side of the forest than in this area. All in all, though, it was a good weekend hike and I’m glad we were able to make it happen! I don’t get to see my brother and niece very often, and while I didn’t get to socialize with my niece as I normally do because she was with her friends, it was still good to see her in her own element.
Here’s the map for this section: Section 1. We’ve hiked everywhere on this particular map and if you are looking for a good day hike, I recommend the Richards Loop in late April or early May for spring wildflowers or September/October for fall blooms. The North Wilderness Loop also makes for an excellent day hike.