Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Old McDonald had a...?

Here's an unusual sight I caught on the way home from a client meeting. The Scimitar Oryx once occupied the entire Sahara of Africa, but were hunted for their horns and are now considered extinct in the wild. The largest population--around 2,500--of this endangered species now live in our area's hills.

Before the adjoining ranch changed owners they used to graze along my fence. They seem like a docile lot, even though their horns look like good weapons. Occasionally I hear one off in the distance around sundown, a sound that can only be described as what I imagine would come out of the mouth of something being eaten alive. A sound that would make even a peacock's song sound soothing. I have grown used to it. But it tends to rattle our guests.

They are able to survive several weeks without water, so they must feel right at home here. I think the idea is they will one day be reintroduced to Africa. But as long as there is hunger people will eat them, endangered or not. Lucky for me, this herd was not too afraid when I stopped to photograph them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Riverwalk Lights

The San Antonio Riverwalk is always lovely, but the day after Thanksgiving it is transformed by lights into something even more magical. The river taxis become floats carrying gingerbread houses, choirs, and even Santa and Mrs. Claus. It has turned into quite an affair since I last attended the event fifteen years ago, and traffic was unbelievable.

Since Thanksgiving was my birthday, we took the day after to celebrate in the city. First, we visited the McNay Art Museum to see the exhibit of kinetic sculpture by George Rickey. The outdoor pieces were large, geometric forms that moved with the wind creating tension with the landscape. The indoor pieces were more intimate, smaller in scale, and set in motion by fans or people blocking the fans as they moved through the galleries. One reminded me of how waves move across the surface of the ocean. Another was entitled "Machine of Undetermined Use".

Next, we went to a nursery that was tucked into an old southside neighborhood, consisting of many old buildings. It had been recommended as a place to buy a cold-hardy citrus tree. There I chose my gift trees: a Satsuma orange and Santa Rose plum. It seems many of the Texas citrus trees that survived freezes were grafted into stock in Georgia, where nurseries offer them as cold-hardy Texas citrus trees. The only problem is you can't import citrus back into Texas. It was much harder to locate Texas citrus trees for sale in Texas. Now I am hoping that I will also get two large holes in the ground to plant them in!

The finale was an exquisite dinner at Biga on the Banks, on the Riverwalk. I found this upscale, contemporary cuisine restaurant through Local Harvest because they specialize in local foods. We felt right at home with their gauzy curtains with vegetables as a motif, and room dividers of large gourds. We enjoyed speaking with chef Bruce Auden about the local food movement and some of our mutual friends. The food was superb. A birthday to remember!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Phoebe loses an eye!

This morning when I went out to feed, I had a few treats for Phoebe--the ends of carrots and broccoli left over from last night's dinner. Finley, her son, won't touch them, so that means more for her! While she was searching my hand for another morsel I noticed a trickle of blood running down her face, and then--in horror--I noticed her right eye had ruptured! I won't describe it, but let's say it was not very pretty.

She was blind when we rescued her off the highway two years ago this month, but we thought she had shown some light sensitivity in this eye. This appeared to be her better eye, at least the one that was not entirely cloudy. I have to take her to the vet this afternoon, who is working us in, so that it can be surgically removed under general anesthesia. Poor Phoebe!

From her dreadlocky wool, battered horns, misshapen hoofs from walking in circles, and forever snotty nose she already has some huge challenges. And now this! She is one tough old sheep, that's for sure. What's also certain, is we will love her just as much, if not more. For Avo her rooster, love is truly blind.

Send us healing thoughts!

Early courtship of Avo and Phoebe, before the birth of Finley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Crop Circles

While my husband worked on the well house door, I started my own project.

As many of you know I am going to experiment in growing small patches of grain in 2009. I say experiment because I've never grown cover crops or grain before, we already ascertained the prairie was not too fertile from this year's no till tomato project, nobody else around here grows grain anymore (although the pioneers did), there's little planting data for my area, and I don't own any special equipment for processing grain. Other than these few shortcomings, it should be a breeze...right?

This crop circle (along with several others) is approximately 20 feet in diameter and was mowed out of native speargrass receiving almost full sun last weekend and seeded with a cover crop of red clover from Southern Exposure this Sunday. The methodology was primitive: land was scruffed using a dirt rake, seed scattered heavily by hand, and stomped into contact with the earth in sort of a spiral dance until the tiny furrows made by the rake's tines could no longer be seen. Water from a circular sprinkler will be applied to keep the soil moist until the clover sprouts.

Investment so far in Crop Circle #1:
a little gas for the mower
3 hours of time
$3 clover
a little electricity to pump the well water

So far, I'm planning hulless oats, sorghum, dent corn, and rice (in the backyard "paddy").

OK, I know you're thinking I'm nuts, but I tell you, this grain is going to taste SO good even if it turns out costing $99/lb...and I just get enough for one breakfast.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Well House Door

The original well house door was slowly decaying and finally fell off last year. Since this is the view from the window over my kitchen sink it had become a daily reminder of all that is desperately in need of repair around our homestead.

I'd picked up these great antique hinges about five years ago just for this day. I think they came off a Pennsylvania barn door. My wonderful husband made the new door over the weekend, and I think it looks great!

The well house actually houses our pressure tank. The pump is submersible, and the well is directly behind the building and covered with a large iron door. It was dug approximately forty feet deep through limestone in the late 1800's, probably by the blacksmith that first owned the property.

We are planning to use the storage shelving inside as a root cellar, and hope to expand the building to eventually cover the well. Since we live where the soil is very rocky, most of the pioneers built spring houses over their wells for just this purpose.

Now, we can move on to project #127...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Garden mimic

This beautiful toad was sitting under the garden water spigot. I don't recall other ones around here to be this exotic looking. Unfortunately, I don't know my amphibian species, one from another. I like the combination of the spots and stripes, how they might mimic pebbles or veins in leaves. I don't know if this creature has the ability to willfully blend its color into its surroundings as do the anoles, but as one who specs color as part of her living, this toad would be a pretty good Pantone match.

[Well, it appears my husband knows this as the Leopard Frog, and from some web sleuthing I would have to agree this does look like Rana blairi, a Leopard Frog. I see now how its legs are more froglike. Anyway, he gets a gold star for identification!..and I will stick to flowers.]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Indian summer is slowly turning to fall. I took this on Halloween on the way to the football game, just as the setting sun touched the hills. I love all the earth tones this time of year. Last night we camped out on our own land with Francisco, and drank in all the fresh air. He has never gone camping with us before, but he seemed to enjoy the experience.

There's a good crop of chilipequins this year. These peppers are 30,000-60,000 units on the Scoville scale (about eight times hotter than jalapeƱos) and are the only ones native to Texas. The birds plant them for us along the creek. We put them up in vinegar to add some zing to cooking.

We haven't had a real freeze yet. One night we thought we might, so we harvested the rest of the tomatoes green, and I've since made a green tomato chutney with them (five pequins to a quart give it a nice bite). When the weather cools down, I start getting into cooking mode again: this week potato and minestrone soups, and a sour cream orange cake with a Triple Sec glaze.

We've planted Chilean and Shantung garlic--some of which is already coming up--chard, several types of lettuce, and sugar snap peas. We usually eat well over the winter when most northern gardens are fallow. A hospitable winter is the one perk of enduring the summer.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Teddy Walks Again!

We found Teddybird paralyzed and dehydrated in the hen house on a hot summer day. Her belly was bright red and swollen. We quickly moved her into the house and fed her electrolyte solution through an eye dropper.

Although this revived her somewhat it was clear she couldn't move her legs. I cooled her belly every day by immersing her in cool water and then towelling her off. She refused to eat chicken pellets and rapidly lost weight. I decided to start scrambling and feeding her eggs and fresh garden greens, which she loved.

Once she regained the weight I started putting her on her back on a towel twice a day and working her legs as if she was walking. She enjoyed this, and would make a purring sound. Now, every time she sees me she makes this sound and I make it back to her. It's sort of an "I love you".

My vet says that when a chicken gets sick, it usually dies the next day. She hasn't laid an egg since, so perhaps she was egg bound and then got dehydrated. Or maybe she had a stroke? No one knows. Not many people would want a chicken taking up residence in their guest bath. Most people would have given up on her sooner. But I could see she wasn't giving up, so how could I?

First, I could see signs of her trying to balance, and when one leg was weaker I worked it a little more. She started being able to grip my fingers again with her toes and push back when I applied resistance. I'm hoping she will make a full recovery and walk normally again.

Last week was the big moment...I took her outside with some food and she waddled to me! We were amazed and are happy to be part of her healing journey. The lesson: don't ever give up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Someone Loves My Blog!

Well, I am quite honored to see my blog friend Dana over at The Cabin Chronicles has sent me the I Love Your Blog badge to post. Dana has a lovely little cabin up in the Ozarks of Arkansas and we have discovered our living rooms look almost identical. But that's not too surprising considering our similar interests in almost everything. If she hadn't already received this award, I would have sent it to her. Be sure to check out her other blog, too, Calico Cat Press.

She is so inspirational to me: her love of the natural world, inquisitive mind, choice of simple living, the way she moves seamlessly between artistic media, her willingness to share ideas and techniques, and positive outlook. I am one of her biggest fans!

I am going to pass this on to my dear friend The Crazy Sheep Lady over at Punkin's Patch who I've known for twelve years. We actually met backpacking alone in the wilderness with our beloved dogs and corresponded for years through letters (remember those?) until I could convince her computers were pretty cool. The next thing I know she's designing web pages and maintaining an online business dedicated to everything Sheep.

She delights us with her (often comical) tales of running Equinox Farm and the joys of wool. She's a spinner, weaver, and knitter who creates the most wonderful felted sheep you've ever laid eyes on. Check out her gift selection in time for holiday giving! I admire her adventurous spirit, earth stewardship, kindness to animals, and artisan talents, and appreciate her friendship!

Friday, October 17, 2008


Today's photo is of the galls found on the underside of our live oak leaves. At this time of year they are blushed with pink and look a lot like berries. They will grow into large woody structures and rain down on us eventually.

I've been told they are created by wasps stinging a cell in the leaf and laying eggs which develop into some form that eventually bores its way out of the woody gall. Often I've thought they would make good beads, being round, lightweight, and already having a hole in one end from the creature's escape.

I have no idea what the fuzzy one is all about.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Once I Was an Acorn

Here's some tree huggers (us!) hugging in front of our resident Big Tree. Wishing everyone a nice weekend!

Friday, October 3, 2008

You Made My Day!

Four years ago I saw my first Zebra Longwing floating over the garden and was inspired to use it as the subject in a Japanese woodcut printing class I attended. Through the gruelling removal of wood with hand chisels to make the printing plates, I developed a sore wrist, an awesome appreciation of woodcut artists, and an obsession for this butterfly.

It doesn't seem to flap as much as other butterflies, but uses its long wingspan to glide around. Often when you see it, the thing is overhead and you are looking at the underside with the light coming through.

According to official lists it's not supposed to be seen in my county. I've come across one in my garden each year but as soon as I run for the camera it has disappeared. Except today! This one was so busy feeding on the Frostweed that I was able to get many good images. It made my day!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Spot Watching

Today I went out looking for something new to photograph, as I'm tired of thinking about the economic collapse of America, and needed a break from my work. As you may have noticed, lately I have been enjoying finding the abstract in nature with my camera.

Our ponds are so small and shallow compared to our neighbor's that they mostly attract butterflies who need shallow water to drink safely, birds for bathing, and some frogs. But today I spotted this lovely dragonfly, common to North America, but not seen at our pond before. It is a male 12 Spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella. Females do not have the white spots. I know in botanical terms pulchella means pretty. There's almost a mauve glow to his body.

Our English peas, Yellow Indian Woman and mothe beans are up in the garden. Now that the wildflowers have finished blooming, the sheep are grazing the short grass prairie. This makes them very happy. Phoebe becomes much easier to handle as if the prairie is a sedative, and Finley just boings around until he takes on the shape of a blimp and they are led back to their pen. The cusp between summer and autumn is just so beautiful. The 12 Spotted Skimmer perches on a twig, exhibiting calmness and fearlessness as I snap away. His ups and downs are far removed from those on Wall Street.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Waltzing Matelea

It's a rare day you will see one of these. Otherworldly, sparkling like a faceted garnet, it beckons from my front porch with sort of a lipstick seduction.

I've tended this plant for about fifteen years and it has bloomed maybe five of those. Gonolobus (matelea) cyclophyllus is a rare plant in the Milkweed family found in Mexico. It attracts pollinators by smelling like rotten meat. Before you turn up your nose, I must tell all you chocolate lovers that the cacao tree is pollinated by tiny flies, so I doubt that its flower smells any better.

Another interesting thing about this plant is the caudex develops corky tubercles. Because it is capable of storing water in the swollen base it is considered a caudiciform. If you want to see other Dr. Suess-like plants just google caudiciform. I once had quite a large collection, and hope to again keep quirky flowering plants. That's one of the things that makes me the flowerweaver.

We have a couple of similar native plants. This one, Matelea reticulata, or Pearlvine Milkweed, is equally as stunning. Instead of a faux garnet it has a faux pearl for its center. Milkweeds feed many beautiful butterflies when they are still hungry caterpillars, and provide many of the phytochemicals used in medicine.

Can you see the similarities between them?

Monday, September 1, 2008

What is it and how can I stop whoever you are from eating it?

Wish I could tell you this was my latest fiber art project as the textures and colors are fascinating. It's certainly inspirational. Can you guess what it is?

Instead of being creative I've been trying to deter varmints from the cucurbit patch we planted across the creek in May. As soon as the vines began to sprawl we noticed a few nibbled off and instantly suspected the resident cottontail. My husband valiantly erected a knee-high bunny fence around the area in a day. The vines blossomed, and hordes of bumble bees arrived.

Each morning we would survey the patch with our coffee cups in hand, smiling over the beautiful melons, winter squash, and pumpkins that were forming.

Did you guess pumpkin? They are a French heirloom with a hard to pronounce name. Here's the whole fruit from which the detail was taken. These babies are really tactile and fun to explore with hand and camera! I just hope they taste good, too.

Back at the patch, we noticed something was now eating Hokkaido squash and Tigger Melons. We didn't think it could be the bunny, so we placed the half eaten orbs into a large Have-a-Heart trap expecting a raccoon. But the culprit(s) continued to feast in the trap without springing it.

The thief was obviously smaller. We pushed a Ketch-all into the mouth of the other trap, and the next morning we had the cutest, plump field mouse in possession. He/she was relocated across the river. We proceeded to catch two more, but unfortunately the fire ants found them before we did. If you have ever experienced fire ant bites, you will know this is not a preferable way to go.

The damage was continuing to increase, and we were running out of patience, ideas, and time. I remembered WalMart sells fox urine in its hunting department to mask the scent of sportsmen (or, at least that's what they claim). Wouldn't that smell deter a bunch of pesky field mice?

As we sprayed the patch I tried not think about caged foxes being fed diuretics whose urine was probably being collected in third world countries by children, now being sold by uninsured low wage American or illegal workers putting mom-and-pop fox urine stores out of business. When your pumpkins are being devoured, you might have to briefly turn a blind eye to political correctness.

My husband said he could smell it, but I couldn't. Apparently the mice couldn't either because they continued their nightly gorging. Somehow they knew it smelled of trickery. Too bad Bunny Foo Foo was not bopping them on their heads!

Then, something altogether unexpected happened....a grey fox showed up inside the fenced patch to eat the mice! We had all been tricked!

From the looks of the half eaten things, our cucurbits were ripe. This is what was harvested yesterday. Not bad for our first attempt at pumpkins even if we lost half to the wild residents. We just hope the fox does not discover our chickens.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Fraction of a Second Makes a Difference

The world watched swimmer Phelps become the greatest Olympic athlete ever, winning by fractions of seconds. That smidgen of time can make or break everything.

Yesterday I made a very bad mistake of forgetting to latch or improperly latching the garden gate--which also takes only a fraction of a second--and our dog Cody ran in and grabbed my beloved rooster, who never even saw him coming. The shaking was over with in a fraction of a second, and Apollo died of a heart attack in my arms. These days I seem to be a portal to the other world.

Our other dogs would have done the same, but poor Cody has been enabled to act out his instincts due to my stupidity on two occasions now. I realize I have never totally forgiven him for the death of my cat. He isn't innately mean or evil, and he started his life on a two foot chain in an asphalt parking lot having his hip kicked out of its socket as a puppy by his mean owner before I rescued him. I can only blame myself for Apollo's demise. I'm not angry at the dog, but I don't feel any love toward him. So I am weighed down with sadness.

I loved this chicken, probably second only to Avo. I wailed for hours. We buried him in a downpour, which seemed like the heavens crying with me because we've only had five inches of rain since the beginning of the year. This ruins our breeding program, too. I wish I could start yesterday over again, and latch that damn gate.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Frank's Fiber Factory

This is NOT snow, it's Frankenfur. Most people have dust bunnies, but we have dust buffaloes made of this. Most people have dogs, but we have a fiber factory.

Today was Francisco's day at the groomer and this is what we BRUSHED off of him. With this much fur, he was always carrying around sticks, leaves, entire ecosystems in his tail alone. It took us six hours (nine if you count breaks) and by the time we were finished we had enough fur to build a couple more dogs. If Aunt Sara can spin this, maybe I can knit an entire bed spread. (which is where it would have ended up anyway).

Frankie was an exceptionally good boy. Here's Aunt Connie with her infinite patience and tender touch. The last groomer I used sedated him without my permission. Connie doesn't use sedatives, she just charms all the dogs into thinking they are royalty and that baths are really fun.

Here's me and my big fuzzy who'll be a lot cooler this summer.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's Your Name?

Although I cannot claim to know all of the wildflowers of Texas, I know a goodly portion of what grows in the Hill Country by their binomials. The others are ones I once knew, like an old friend you see after some time and you can't for the foggiest recall their name.

So it's always exciting to run across a plant I've never seen before. I've been watching this one for two years and have not figured it out yet.

It's a small perennial growing out of a limestone slab in a dry creek, so it doesn't get much water. It's in dappled shade/sun and blooms in May as a greenish-brown flower with four petals. Last year I thought perhaps I'd missed the petals and was looking at sepals, especially since they are glabrous, but on closer observation this year this appears to be all it's got.

The most interesting thing about the flower is it only opens during a downpour of rain! It doesn't open when it's just cloudy, drizzling, or lightly raining. We're talking a sky is falling, cats-and-dogs drenching. Is there such a thing as pollination by heavy rain? I haven't seen any creature attempting to pollinate it. As soon as the rain ends, the flower closes again.

My friend Marshall Johnston (Vascular Plants of Texas) doesn't recognize it, and has suggested emailing BRIT.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

That must have hurt

Many people do not know that a hen will lay an egg almost every day even if you don't have a rooster. Many vegetarians known as vegans do not eat eggs because they considered them young chicken embryos. We are vegetarians but feel better knowing that no matter how long a hen sits on an infertile egg it will not become a chick. Unless a hen goes "broody" and refuses to leave her clutch of eggs (actually laid by several hens sharing the same nest box) most of them lay the egg and go on about their business with no further thought for the thing.

If you keep chickens you know once in a while you will find an unusual egg. Sometimes there's an anomaly in the color of tinted eggs. All eggs start out as white and get "colored" as they are extruded, so to speak. Sometimes they are asymmetrical. The smallish egg on the right is delivered by Stefania, a White Crested Black Polish. This is the size all young hens lay, the eggs increasing in size as they mature. Stefania seems to be stuck in puberty.

We suspect one of the Dark Brahmas laid the gigantic egg you see spanning my husband's hand. (And we have large hands.)

Here the big egg is in perspective with our normally large eggs. Ouch!

Monday, July 14, 2008

More about Asparagus Beans

The Red-Seeded Asparagus bean is a Chinese heirloom more closely related to Cowpeas than green beans. I've seen it in Asian and specialty markets sold in bundles. I got mine for $2 from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Missouri. You can visit them online at http://www.rareseeds.com/

You can pick them at 1-2 feet when they are still young--but I warn you they grow very fast! So sometimes we end up eating them when they are a yard long! The seeds inside are small and delicious and they do not get stringy as some beans do. Definitely a fun vegetable that should be on your list to try.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's not yarn

No, this isn't bulky yarn...it's a bean! Farmer Rick demonstrates the lengths our beans go to please us. This is our first year to try asparagus beans on the trellises. You don't need many to make a meal. They vine just like green beans and their flowers are a pretty pink. When the bean is young you might mistake it for stems of asparagus when cut up in the saute pan. However I think they are better tasting when they get longer and puffier and can absorb sauces similar to a good penne pasta.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Lack of sensability

Look who was nestled in an empty flowerpot on the patio! We relocated Mr. Black Widow spider to the woods along our creek where we are less likely to interract. You can recognize this spider's web as an erratic fiber construction, having little architectural sensability. Think of what Jackson Pollock might have created if he had been a sculptor instead of a painter.

I knew the spider was around, having seen the chaos of webbing the hummingbirds pull off my office window to use in building their lichen nests. Once I found a large female under my wheelbarrow in the garden, but by the time I came back with a ten-foot pole she had disappeared.

Wherever I have lived, I've cultivated a deep respect for spiders. I carry the ones found inside outside, and try not to disturb their webs. One summer I kept walking through a large (and beautifully architected) web that appeared across the kitchen door portal. After several collisions the spider redesigned the web with an arch to accommodate my head. We were able to coexist.

I have pondered how similar my beliefs are to Jainism. The Jains believe that all living beings possess a soul and thus great care and awareness is required in going about one's activities. According to Wikipedia "Jainism is a religion in which all life is considered worthy of respect and it emphasizes this equality of all life, advocating the protection of the smallest creatures".

The male Black Widow is much smaller than the female. He appears about life size on your screen. Both can be recognized by the hourglass icon that screams "danger!" In addition to a lack of homemaking skills, they are not too good at relationships either. I believe they get their name from the fact that after intercourse the female spider consumes the male. I will not judge them for what makes no sense to me, as I probably make no sense to them. Some days I don't even make sense to myself!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Water, clear as glass

Here's a vertical panorama (stitched together by my camera's software) of my foot three feet under water yesterday before sunset. Such is the quality of water here, both in the river and our pioneer well--a constant 65 degrees and clear as glass. In the daylight the Frio shimmers with a tinge of blue-green like the color of Coke bottles from childhood.

This 4th of July I am thankful for the river, and a life that allows me to visit it daily.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

As passes Spring, so passes two Golden Girls

She had been swimming with us a couple days before. We knew she was slowing down and attributed it mostly to arthritis and the searing 100 degree heat, somewhat unusual for this time of year. She was spending more time indoors, enjoying the air conditioning.

Tuesday my golden girl refused to get up and turned away from food, although she was still interested in drinking water. She'd been out a little longer the day before than we'd intended, perhaps she was suffering a heat stroke.

Wednesday morning there was no improvement, so we took her to the hospital and blood work showed her glucose way down and her liver enzymes higher than they'd ever seen. Her liver had stopped functioning, probably due to liver cancer. We brought her home and I held her in my arms. She passed at 3:40 p.m.

Utah was the last of my dog family representing my long life lived elsewhere. She was 13 years old. Yes, there still is the husky wolf who never fit into that pack. Our other two dogs acquired here miss her companionship. She got along with everyone. Memories come flooding in, too much to write here.

The heat has been getting to me, too. I'd been thinking about cutting my hair and letting it go grey in an acceptance of middle age. With the curls stretched out, it just made the 10 inches required for a donation to Locks of Love. I've only had really short hair twice, both as a form of grieving: The day John Lennon was shot, and the day of my divorce from a youthful marriage that wasn't working out.

It took about twenty phone calls to find a salon with an opening on Saturday afternoon, and it was two hours away. My husband was supportive. About two blocks from the destination, a huge lightning bolt zapped from the sky close to our car, which sent the traffic light into blinking mode. The salon was in darkness, and the stylist assured me she couldn't cut my hair in the dark. I reminded her that scissors weren't electric, and that I had made a half-day round trip just to get this done. Candles were brought out, like a solstice ritual. The ponytail was snipped.

It did not turn out like the picture I brought with me, but I'm glad it's gone. It's like feng shui for my head. I'm also glad it's going to be a gift to some child, who needs some gold. Gone is the tug of weight on the back of my neck. But now I feel like I have a hat on top of my head. Guess I'll get used to it with time. This morning my neighbor let out a gasp as I took off my hat in the garden.

So, two Golden Girls have passed...one to Rainbow Bridge, and the other into the next phase of life, whatever that is. At least hair can grow back. Utah, you hold a special place in my heart, and I miss you greatly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Chocolate's cousin and eat your greens!

Here's a sweet little flower that's in the chocolate family. It's called Mexican Mallow (Hermannia texana) although it's not really a mallow at all. It's an endemic, meaning it's found only in my part of the Hill Country. Actually, I've not seen it anywhere other than my own property. I love the bright orange petals, which never unfurl any farther than pictured, and the way they hang. The seed pod is very sculptural, too.

The flower seems to like the drought, and has proliferated in the short grass prairie, even sending some scouts across the creek into the oak-mesquite savanna. It's very interesting to observe our property divided in half by a creek, where each side has an almost entirely different collection of forbs. A visiting geologist once put forth the theory that the creek is actually a fault line.

We have been reworking our drip irrigation system to even out the pressure between the various gardens. The San Marzano paste and Chadwick cherry tomatoes are laden with green fruit, peanuts are up, and eleven kinds of melons and winter squash have a nice start. We have our first head of cauliflower and the blackberries are starting to ripen. The bok choy has taken a hit in the heat and will soon become salad for our sheep and chickens, but the amazing chard just keeps on keeping on.

I made a delectable dinner the other night for some friends of chard, raisins, and walnuts sauteed in brown butter tossed onto whole wheat linguine, and topped with Parmesan. I think chard has become tied with kale as my favorite vegetable. I am amazed at how few people (or restaurants, for that matter) cook greens which provide so many nutrients. Most people tell me they just don't know how to cook greens. The secret? Wilt them with garlic sauteed in some olive oil.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Loving what you have

Another flower abstraction for you. This is the lower half the the odd little Ratany (Krameria lanceolata) flower. Looks like an orchid, but is really small and prolific bloom on a sprawling mass that also likes the short grass prairie, especially our path where it has less competition.

It has elements of both Earth and Fire, and a wicked seed pod. I love the color.

Today we bought a small work truck for our farm and the entire contents of wood shop tools from a local friend that's moving to Seattle. It was an incredible win-win deal for all of us. Never mind we don't yet have a shop and are storing them in various outbuildings. It's another piece of our homesteading dream and will enable much future creativity.

With economic perils looming many of our friends are moving away for better jobs or to be closer to family. There are times we entertain the idea. But in reality we have a pretty sweet and ever evolving self-sufficient life here. It's all about loving what you have.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Prairie dance

I love the abstraction of flowers. The styles emerging from the anther tubes of this Skeleton Plant flower look as if they are involved in a dance. Lygodesmia texana gets its common name from the fact that the leaves are so small the plant has the appearance of being leafless. In my opinion, a terrible name for something so lovely.

On closer inspection, they are dancing with the ants. The Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies use them for nectar. Don't you wonder what a glass of this stuff might taste like?

These flourish in our short grass prairie, where the Earth offers up a seemingly inhospitable terrain of limestone crushed by the waters of eons past. They tower above the rest and give a good showing after a rain. Their seed head is much like a dandelion, delivering its progeny to the wind. According to flower essence theory, this flower would be categorized as exhibiting the qualities of Air.

My neighbor doesn't understand why I don't keep this remnant of 'weeds' mowed. Long ago he seeded his side with a monoculture of invasive exotic Bermuda grass and uses a lot of fossil fuel to keep it manicured for no apparent purpose other than he likes it that way. Many people don't realize that the American prairie is more endangered than the rain forests of the Amazon. Most of them have sadly been turned into subdivisions.

We celebrate diversity, and seek to make additions, not subtractions on our property. I'd rather dance than mow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Deep thoughts about nuts

Now it's not just the orioles and hummingbirds looking for a handout at my home office window. This little fellow peeking from behind my laptop had to hop over two large, obviously snoozing dogs to get my attention.

I've never seen a squirrel at my window before. They are usually content scampering around in the front yard trying to remember where in the lawn or among the potted plants they hid last year's crop of native pecans. I'm sure every one of our towering pecan trees owes its start to the forgetfulness of his ancestors.

I wonder if there is anything I will forget that has the potential to become something more beautiful in its forgotten-ness than in its remembrance?
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