White fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus
Every time I look back at photos from last year I can’t believe I never wrote about hikes or trips here on the blog. Burn out was flaming high and the only way to tame it was to lay low and focus on other priorities. Thankfully I’m getting back into the writing groove, especially since today is meteorological spring! WAHOO! Which means that this coming week or so of warm weather will definitely awaken the plants and it will be grow-grow-grow from here on out. Thank goodness!
So, today we’ll look back at a few highlights from last Easter at one of my favorite state parks in Texas, Mission Tejas. And we’ll start with the glorious white fringetree, a species that should be in more understory plantings all over its range. It is so underutilized and would be a great replacement for the crammed in tract homes that get built when they try to put in the illogical two live oaks in every front yard—at least that’s what they do around here!
Chris and I were stumped a good while on this tree, trying to figure out what it was. It resembled a magnolia in some aspects and now I can’t even tell you what we decided to call it. Ok, so I looked it up on iNaturalist and we called it a shagbark hickory, Carya ovata.
I’ll be sharing a few more photos from this trip soon, though those will be focused on the Davy Crockett National Forest nearby. And all of the spring flowers are going to propel me to finish editing Arkansas photos and write up some reports from there, too. Plenty to write and to share! Sending warmth to anyone still tucked under snow!
I know we’re about to get really going with spring and all that it has to offer but today we’re going to go back to October and into the Big Thicket with a jaunt along Beech Creek in the Beech Creek Unit of the Preserve. Lobelia cardinalis was the star of the creek, the only brightly colored species blooming along the bottomlands here.
I was particularly enamored with the mossy trunks of the trees and the ferns surrounding it, wishing I could prop up a chair and paint the scenes for the afternoon. I didn’t have a good travel watercolor setup at the time but I’ve since put something together and I’m hoping in the future I can do something like that when I come across these quiet landscape scenes.
I would have loved to have followed the creek throughout the entire unit of the Preserve. I did end up seeing someone else has followed the creek quite a ways further than we did when I saw their entries on iNaturalist. I’m sure hunters utilize this area at times but I don’t think there are many intrepid folks other than nutty plant people and hunters getting out to explore this portion of the creek.
A veilwort vignette, Pallavicinia lyellii. I love coming across liverworts and it is always a delight to see them! Usually you know you are in some quality and interesting habitat when you do see them.
And a few videos to absorb more of the ambience!
With Spring knocking on the door, I’m looking forward to caterpillar season once again. I’ve seen a few inchworms lately, dangling from their silks in the middle of the trails at Kleb Woods, but no gregarious species are out yet that I’ve noticed. Soon, though. Until then, let’s enjoy this lovely tussock moth caterpillar that I found among the leaf litter at the Big Thicket last October. The bright yellow knobs are called verrucae and while I can’t find that this is a venomous species (all those hairs!), I am reading that they can cause skin irritation, which is why I generally approach any of these fluffy caterpillar types with caution—you just never know! Definite tussock moths are not very common in east Texas or the deep south and are much more prevalent starting in the mid to upper south and on into the mid-Atlantic states. I’ll count myself lucky to have run across this caterpillar!
Saturday was one of those February days that lets your know that spring is indeed on the way. Despite all of the rollercoaster temperatures, warmth is coming. We’re going to rollercoaster down once again later this week but for now we’re enjoying the high point of the rollercoaster, getting a look out of the landscape around us and knowing that the the growing season is coming.
Chris went and got the final load of compost for the edible garden beds and I filled up my remaining bed, he topped off one of his, we piled on some cypress needle and oak leaf mulch, and then installed the trellises at the ends of those beds. We’ll wait for this round of cold weather, scope out the 10 day forecast, and hopefully start planting tomatoes. Chris tempted fate and sowed some bean seeds—I decided to hold off until I get the tomatoes planted. But as I was tinkering around, pulling some weeds in the pots on the potting bench and surveying over everything that I need to do, I could feel happiness seeping again. I mean, I’m happy, but it’s been a while since I’ve been “gardening happy”. I even usually do a bit of a cleanup in January every year but haven’t felt the call to do that this year. Now that warmer days are more frequent I need to get on top of it!
We saw a few butterflies this weekend, a red admiral and another that wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to verify Chris’ goatweed leafwing ID. The birds are more active, too. The Chickasaw plum has a few buds beginning to thicken and I’m keeping an eye out for new growth on a lot of different plants. Chris has started the forms for the perimeter beds so we can start pouring concrete for those. I’m hoping by early summer that project will be complete and I can get some things planted in those areas, too.
Whatever we all had at the end of January has lingered with us the entire month of February. I tend to think it may have been RSV. We are coughing still, hacking up phlegm, and blowing our noses. I’m pretty sure I was made of equal parts Robitussin and Mucinex last week. So, that has left us laying low most weekends and not even leaving the house to do any hiking despite our desires to get out and see some early spring ephemerals. I’m hoping we’ll manage to get over whatever this is before the trees let loose their pollen in mid-March and that we can get our spring break trip in without any of us toting around Kleenexes constantly.
But for now, I am searching for more signs of spring.
Winter means that my studio is too chilly for me to work in usually, and so I have been making do with watercolors inside the house. I keep several sketchbooks and now some watercolor postcard paper on my desk and have been working away these last few weeks on small art pieces that I am mailing out to folks. I’m trying to do monthly themes, January’s was orchids, as you can see. February is currently abstract and I think March will be native plants or spring. All of these are taken but when I have others in the future I will share them here and if you want a little mail-art sent your way you can snag one! I’ll put a stamp on it (or maybe in an envelope, I’m tentatively thinking of sending them inside an envelope so they aren’t destroyed in the mail) and send them along.
I’m really attempting to stay away from trying to use my pen on my watercolors and try to let the watercolors work for themselves but I’m still struggling with that. Watercolors are hard, too, because I am better at acrylics and further back into the past, oils, and I prefer to glob paint on and work thickly. Which, sometimes I’ve been experimenting with that in watercolors as well. It works better with gouache to do that, though.
So, clockwise from the top left: Dwarf buttefly orchid, Prosthechea pygmaea; an unknown Phalaenopsis orchid; an unknown Cattleya orchid; and the always lovely ghost orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii. I’m thinking of doing a series of just ghost orchids, too!
So, that’s what art is looking like for me right now. I’m also trying to get into just sketching but find it frustrating because I want to make things perfect or a finished product instead of just looking and practicing lines. Which is the point—I know! I am still keeping up with a perpetual nature journal, though I sometimes have to do a couple of weeks in one sitting because time gets away from me. I’m really loving the practice of doing this, though. The ritual of sitting down, taking the time to document something that was interesting from the week. Ideally, I would like to draw from life but I am usually drawing from photos. Somehow I need to make the drawing from life aspect more of a practice, too.
Happy Monday, friends!
I am signing out of January by reemerging from some rando upper respiratory virus that Forest brought home last week. Last Monday we were all almost ready to leave the house to go to work and school when Forest decided to cough and sound like a barking seal. We stopped in our tracks, looked at Forest and made a beeline for the bathroom and some cough medicine chased by an at-home covid test. The test was negative but knowing how those tests can be negative despite actually carrying the virus, I rearranged my day to grab my laptop from work and work from home. Covid or not, he was sick. The rapid test at the pediatrician was also negative but we ran a pcr as well in addition to flu and strep, the last two which were negative as well. We didn’t have the pcr results until Thursday but by that time I had developed symptoms as well as Chris’ mom who had come down to visit on Sunday for a few hours. I took a rapid test, which was negative and ended up taking a pcr on Thursday which came back negative on Saturday and Chris’ mom’s was also negative. We had eliminated covid, which I was thankful for because I already felt bad we had accidentally gotten her sick. No one had symptoms on Sunday! Which just goes to show…
That said, it was a rude awakening to remembering those pre-covid winter upper respiratory viruses that would knock you out for a week. Between muddling through with some work, attempting to nap, taking care of Forest, and mostly lounging on the couch watching Netflix and Amazon, I did not do much. I had hoped to read some books but didn’t do a lot of that. No focus. And of course there were days it was gorgeous outside but I did not feel like partaking in the great outdoors. Finally we are turning a corner and this week starts off with rain and flood watches and ends with some hard freezes. Thankfully we are out of the range for freezing precipitation this time around but I do question the state’s power grid because central and north Texas are supposed to experience some snow and ice and if theirs’s goes out, will ours too?
January and February are my least favorite months in Texas, though at least February will try to grace us with some early spring tree blooms. I’m just hoping to make it through the middle of the month and then maybe we can be home free and on towards warmer weather once again. I’m ready for some movement outdoors, getting back into some creative habits, and shaking off the winter hibernation mode.
Hope all is well with y’all out there!
One of my more spectacular finds this last summer was finding a goatweed leafwing (Anaea andria) chrysalis tucked up under some croton (Croton lindheimeri) that had come up in our front right-of-way over the summer. I had noticed some leaves curled up on the croton but could barely make out the caterpillars, only knowing by feel that they were inside. And then I found the chrysalis!
I looked for more and found an empty one and never did find any other chrysalides later on in the summer so either the caterpillars I later found never pupated or they crawled off elsewhere to pupate.
I’m hoping the croton will reseed and come back in that area this coming year, maybe get a chance to have more caterpillars. I never saw the adult who laid eggs, I didn’t even realize they were utilizing the yard! A lot goes on under our noses in nature if we’re not looking close enough. We did get new neighbors on that side of the ROW and they seem to be much more involved in their landscape than the previous owners who we rarely saw and sometimes didn’t even know if they were still living there. The place has been empty and for sale since late last spring but we came home from Christmas and it was evident the house had been sold. They’ve since mowed their ROW which I had kinda used as a bit of a buffer and enjoyed some of the plants that came up there and now I don’t think I’ll get to do that. Their house is set back far off the road like ours with a wooded area up front so it is easy to feel like it’s separated but they did mow too close to our daffodils that we had planted and I’m a little miffed about that. So, I can’t expect any nice croton meadows beyond our ROW this coming summer which means I’ll be tending to our little patch and hoping for a repeat of caterpillars to enjoy.
With my blogging taking a significant hit over the last year mostly due to a lack of desire to write, I now realize I have a lot of things I can post about now that the desire to write here is back. With that, today I’m going to share some random nature bits from the last year, mostly from my yard or neighborhood but also some other areas around the state! Let’s dive in!
First up is a spring ephemeral that comes up in and around our yard (and the state), scrambled eggs, Corydalis sp.. There are a couple of species and this one is likely to be aurea or micrantha, likely the latter.
A newly emerged pipevine swallowtail that I moved from the door to the man cave where the chrysalis had been. I had caught it mere moments from it emerging and it was barely clinging to the door and chrysalis. I went in to grab my phone and by then it had fallen to the ground so I moved it where it would better be able to dry its wings.
Wand blackroot, Pterocaulon virgatum, a not super common or well-known native. I’ve seen it a few times but spotted it in the neighborhood this summer and grabbed some seeds which I am trying to grow out now.
Achemon Sphinx, Eumorpha achemon, a lucky find I spotted near our dam one evening. It was happily munching away on peppervine. I tried to find it again the following evening but had no luck. Hopefully it managed to pupate and will live a second life as a moth.
Black-blotched Schizura moth, Schizura leptinoides–this was an interesting find in our yard. We were working on the edible garden beds and I was wheeling some dirt or debris to the burn pile one weekend morning and happened to look over to a hickory tree and saw the caterpillar. Forest and I oohed and ahhed for a few minutes before putting it back onto the tree.
That’s it, a bit of nature to get your day going! I’m doing my best to get back up and running here with multiple posts a week, so stay tuned!
On Sunday we made a trek to southeast Houston to Maas Plant Nursery in Seabrook. Unfortunately the trip was a bust, a lot of plants weren’t out quite yet for spring and their native plant selection was lower than it has been in years past. We’d promised Forest a trip to a playground and just down the street is Pine Gully Park, a park I’ve seen for years during our trips to this plant nursery. We opted to poke into the park and see what it looked like and luckily enough there was a playground to go with the hiking trail that I had seen. But before either of those, we were all enamored with the fact that the cold front that had blazed through with strong winds the previous day had pushed out the water in the bay several hundred yards. This meant fun exploration for the three of us and the many groups of people up scattered up and down the beach. A quick search of this park online shows that the water is indeed usually up near the rocks that reinforce the shoreline. I had hoped there’d be a few more interesting tidbits that the low water would reveal, but only a few shrimp and jellies that didn’t escape as the water was swept out were what we primarily found, though Chris did spot this live shark’s eye, Neverita duplicata near the waterline.
Afterwards, Forest played at the playground and we watched as a tanker left the Houston Ship Channel heading for the open bay and beyond Bolivar Roads, the Gulf of Mexico. It was a gorgeous day to be out on the bay and if we would have had lunch with us we would have stayed even longer. It made me miss the water and wish I had more time to sit and stare at the ocean.
*I mentally waved at you Linda as we passed Shoreacres!*
Last year I read 60+ books (not counting the ones I read with Forest) and I keep tabs of it over on Goodreads. Feel free to friend me over there if you’d like! By far the heavy lifting of my reading last year was audiobooks and I have significantly replaced podcast listening with audiobooks over the last two years. If you keep your audiobooks to 10 hours and under and listen at 1.5-2x speeds then you can easily read an audiobook every few days or so. I listen while I work most often but I have tasks that don’t allow me to focus on two things at once so I don’t listen straight through.
Anyway, I thought I would highlight a few of my favorites from last year:
The Puma Years by Laura Coleman is my number one for the year. In 2008 Chris and I went to Bolivia with our friends Marc and Eliana to visit the country but also to visit a wildlife refuge/rehabilitation park that Eliana had found the year previously and had been taking veterinary equipment to them. Inti Wara Yassi exists to take care of wild animals in Bolivia that have been abused or sold in the markets there as pets—and as you can imagine, pumas and ocelots and monkeys aren’t good pets and therefore once people tire of them or they are confiscated by the government they aren’t usually able to be released again. Inti Wara Yassi is a non-profit and often operates on a bare bones budget and the kindness of traveling volunteers who live at one of the (once there were three) parks. We visited Parque Machía in Villa Tunari but this book takes place at Ambue Ari in a similar time frame as our visit. Laura had been traveling in the mid-2000s when she found herself at the park only intending to stay for a few weeks. She was given charge of Wayra, a puma (panther/mountain lion) who was on the friendlier side of what pumas can be but also also still a wild animal. Eventually Laura extends her stay for longer and the book details her relationship with Wayra, other volunteers, the life of living in the Bolivian jungle, as well as what is like to attempt to feed and care for animals, and live in this situation long term, including dealing with wildfires that destroyed rainforest habitat and often came close to endangering the animals themselves. Our stay was less than a week and I wasn’t even a volunteer but I could feel the sights and sounds and the feelings in this book very deeply because the park had left a deep impression on me for months after I came back. I wanted to go back and volunteer, too.
Coyote America by Dan Flores was a book that I wasn’t expecting to love so much but I came to really enjoy it and I learned so much about coyotes and their historical and expanding range and how humans over millennia have lived alongside these animals. I was disturbed at the historical and on-going coyote hate and how extensive the coyote poisoning and trapping programs were and how they were often tied to the extermination of the buffalo and in turn with the extermination of Native Americans. Dan has a couple of other natural history books that I plan to read in the next year or two.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson. I am not usually one to read celebrity memoirs but I had heard a lot of good things about this one. I listened as an audiobook and so I got to hear Jessica read the words herself which I think brought character to the audio. As someone who used be somewhat invested in the celebrity gossip of her and her first husband back in the early 2000s, I found it interesting to hear about some of the trauma that was going on behind the scenes in her life and how that was manifesting itself in the public eye.
Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees was one of the few fiction books I read this year. I tend to enjoy my fiction on paper or Kindle but am trying to open myself up to some fiction on audiobook. I had actually read (listened) a YA fiction by the same author called Witch Child and enjoyed that so I downloaded this on our drive across I-10 at Thanksgiving. Taking place directly after WWII, we get the stories of several women enlisted to work as spies in post-war Germany. The Nazi’s were scattered and the Allied forces were trying to track down the ones who were in hiding and Edith Graham has a history with one of the people of interest, though she didn’t know in the mid 1930s what his actually connecions to the Nazi party were. There’s intrigue, a lot of interesting history that I didn’t know about (Nazi’s being traded to the Americans or Brits instead of being tried because of what they could offer knowledge-wise to the countries) and of course some twists and turns along the way. If you like typical WWII historical fiction, try this early Cold War historical fiction!
Amazon Woman by Darcy Gaechter caught my eye while flipping through books to listen to while doing some walking this summer. Darcy is an expedition kayaker and has had an extensive career guiding all over North and South America with her partner. Then cue a client who wanted to kayak the Amazon from Source to Sea and this sets Darcy and her partner on quite the adventure! The book highlights the logistics of planning a Source to Sea paddle of the Amazon, a feat that only a tiny handful have even done or even attempted. This isn’t a Mississippi River Source to Sea adventure—this is multiple countries, disputed theories on the actual source location, crossing through tribal and guerilla territories, dangerous waterways, and well, I mean, it’s the Amazon! Darcy does not sugar coat anything—we hear about arguments between her and her partner, how frustrating their client is (who is not an expedition kayaker), and thoughts and feelings that arise while tackling this endeavor. Darcy is still the only woman on record to kayak the Amazon from Source to Sea. If you like adventure books, this is one to read!
That’s it, my top 5! I could have snuck a couple more in but let’s keep it tidy. The only one in this list I didn’t listen to on audio was The Puma Years and that was a paper book I checked out from the library!
Tell me what I should add to my reading list—what was your favorite book last year?