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?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Birder, who me?

This part of the Hill Country is known for its abundance of birds, both resident and migratory, some even endangered. Birding this area requires field guides to both the Eastern and Western U.S. as many species overlap on my sliver of the world.

I suspect this is due to having the headwaters of many of the state's rivers originating within a few miles of our farm, the incredible diversity of terrain, and one of the longest county rosters of endemic plants (and there certainly are a lot of counties in Texas). Diversity begets diversity.

I know I post a lot about birds, but I'm not a birder, OK? By training, I am a botanist. There are many advantages. Studying plants does not require getting up at the crack of dawn, owning an optical bigger than a hand lens, or keeping a competitive "life list". Plants do not move around--you can usually count on them being in the same place tomorrow or next year.

As the years pass, I have to describe myself as a botanist (and a gardener) very interested in birds and butterflies. It's impossible to look past a beautiful butterfly or interesting bird to study a flower: they are all interrelated.

This week, there were two exciting bird observations at the homestead. First, I had just read in Sibley's field guide to birds that male hummingbirds do acrobatic airshow patterns to attract their mates, and the very next day I witnessed my first one. From the short grass prairie overlook to the creek, this little, determined fellow did several swoops back and forth, starting above the majestic live oaks and diving toward the limestone ledge and soaring to the other side above the trees.

Since then, I've noticed several of these performances each day. Some hummers make a "J" pattern. Each display is accompanied by a particular whirring sound. I realized that this has been going on around me all along, and I just had not been observant to what was causing the sound before now. I find that it is easier to bird by ear, even though I am a visual person. It helps me know what I'm looking for in the tree or bush.

The second observation was a male Hooded Oriole at the hummingbird feeder. I heard a ka-thunk and looked up from my computer work, and there he was trying to disassemble the feeder to get to the sugar water. I decided to help by unscrewing the top plate to reveal an open reservoir of nectar. Soon he and his girlfriend were taking turns drinking from the sweet fount and entertaining me with their antics. (Too bad our windows have screens as they blur the photography, although we appreciated their ability to keep out mosquitoes). These photos were taken a couple of feet away.

Before they land, they sing a couple of bittersweet notes, followed by some squawky chatter that seems to tell the hummingbirds to clear the deck, they're coming in for a landing. Ka-thunk! I've learned his song, and can now find him wherever he is on the property. This morning he woke us up tapping on the feeder and scolding because the feeder was dry.

I don't want to admit I'm a birder. No, I'm just a botanist willing to get up early on a weekend morning to make sugar water.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Here are the adorable baby wrens to the right of our front door the day before they fledged. I was able to take this photograph about four inches away while the momma scolded me. I have given up growing plants in this decorative metal hanging envelope planter as Nature sees it more useful for raising birds.

The momma bird built and used it last year, then took off for the summer. A large wolf spider moved in. By fall, the spider was gone and the wren was back. She spent the winter sleeping in it, head first. It is right under our porch light, so we could see her breathing in slumber.

As the nights began to warm in early spring, she took to sleeping in the pecan tree. We were able to use her to forecast the occasional nightly freeze--on those nights she was back in the nest as soon as the setting sun hit the trees. How is it that Nature innately knows what we must build machines to tell us? Living in the country I have begun to relearn what people have forgotten by living in cities.

We knew she was setting eggs when she started sleeping with her head facing out. She gave us an inconvenienced look every time we passed in and out, so we tried not to make eye contact. Complete strangers at the door, however, would be surprised when she escaped within inches of their faces. That's pretty neat that she knows and trusts us.

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