Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Stills: Old Churches and Graveyards

This morning it was misty, which set an ethereal background for photographing our local cemetery, which dates back to the pioneers that settled this area of the Southwest Texas hill country in the mid-1800's.

Perhaps you can tell something about a town by its graveyard. Our ghost town, population 49, has more dead than living. As a rural ranching and farming community there isn't a lot of money for fancy edifices. Some graves are incomplete but not forgotten.

This is my good friend Geno's grave. He and I shared a pet coyote. He lived a healthy lifestyle and could ride a bicycle 50 miles a day, but liver cancer took him unexpectedly and too soon. We buried him on what would have been our (Farmer Rick and I) wedding day. Farmer Rick and I sang Ave Maria at the grave site. One day I will put a marker up with a bicycle or coyote. Or both.

The wind and animals scatter the fake flowers. Many wash down the creek and end up at our place. They seem to symbolize the impermanence of a human life.

Some people decorate more than others. Anything goes. It shows the diversity of this small populace.

I dedicate this post to my mother whom I buried 34 years ago today, and to Laurie, the former owner of my house here for 31 years. She was buried in this cemetery a couple weeks ago in an unmarked grave decorated only by a cross made of white and purple flowers.

For more images of old churches and graveyards, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Farm Friend Friday: Creatures are stirring

 Bruno Bratanter on the gate
With the daytime temperatures back up into the 70's all life was stirring again. I felt like I was coming out of hibernation this week, slowly resuming life as we know it. The chickens were glad to be back outside scratching in the creek.

Bruno is our only rooster that can fly to the tops of trees (and has on occasion required me standing on the top of a tall ladder to retrieve him at nightfall). His beak is in need of a trim. I love his black 'beard' and mullet like 'do. The Brabanters come from Belgium and are very personable. The hens fly to my shoulder when I enter the coop, and would happily ride around there like a pirate's parrot all day if I would let them!

This week I noticed one of the neighbor's Mallard ducks sitting in the hedgerow not far from our front door.

Farmer Rick was certain it was just a bag that had blown down there. On closer inspection, we were both correct: It was a tan plastic bag neatly camouflaging a female mallard presumably sitting on eggs.

You can't see me! (Click to biggify!)

Last year one of the ducks hatched 19 ducklings in a flowerbed closer to our driveway. This nest is just a few feet from our door!

I also noticed the bluebird nest box in the Short Grass Prairie has a bluebird nest in it. They are unmistakable, made of soft green moss lined with feathers. I've seen her going in and out, so hopefully I will be able to photograph the babies soon. It's been a couple years since we had bluebirds; last year the box was home to Tufted Titmice.

Tiger Girl

The beautifully marked wild cat Tiger Girl showed up to accompany me on my walk. She's a good mouser and I hope she will make this her home. We see her once or twice a week, and have not found anyone who claims her.

Moon over the prairie

Interestingly, the honeybees have been making a beeline to the 5 gallon buckets filled with coffee grounds I pick up at coffee shops in town. They must be getting some sustenance out of it. Or a buzz! Will our honey be caffeinated?


Patches, our resident armadillo has been out and about snooting through the grasses and digging for grubs. I was able to follow him at a close distance in this video taken a couple days ago. You'll see early on he detects me by smell, but continues about his business. It is only at the end I crunch something underfoot that he goes bounding away.

I felt like an armadillo paparazza! This week I've also potted up hundreds of Salvias, Mulleins, Jewels of Opar, and Coneflowers and moved them from the propagation room into the greenhouse. There are so many more still to do! Here's a photo of the greenhouse at night, glowing like a beacon.

For more views of farm life, visit Farm Friend Friday!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nature's stamp of approval

 Beautiful stained glass lobby window portraying the Alamo

Last week Farmer Rick and I had the pleasure of attending the largest music educator conference in San Antonio, Texas and hearing the Swingle Singers perform. I remember hearing them on the radio when I was growing up in the 1960's, and was delighted to know the a capella vocal octet--now with much younger members--was still around.

Their performance was probably one of the top one’s we’ve ever heard (and we’ve been to a lot of concerts). If you want to hear what eight people can do with their voices (including making all the instrument and percussion sounds in addition to complex harmony) check out this music video.

As usual, we stayed at one of the participating conference hotels downtown, which are usually nice but generic. We had no idea the one we were booked at had formerly been the opulent Alamo National Bank.

 Every inch of the building had elegant detail seldom seen in architecture today

It was 25 degrees which is very unusual for this city. Sadly, many of the mature tropical landscape plants along the Riverwalk had been killed by the extended Arctic temperatures.

The Flowerweaver bundled up!

During one of the business meetings I decided to escape to photograph the Convention Center’s plaza—one of my favorite landscapes created by humans—to share with you. It connects up with the famous Riverwalk.

Not only is it a delight to the eye, and a pleasure to experience with all the gurgling and rushing sounds of water, but the attention to detail and craftsmanship is incredible.

Entrance to the plaza

You see, all these ‘rocks’ are hollow concrete forms that perfectly mimic the limestone—both the solid bedrock and the permeable conglomerate—of the Texas Hill Country where we live. It’s like faux bois only faux stone.

 Human-made creek of faux stone in the plaza

 Whoever designed and created this has spent a lot of time in the area where we live!

 Plaza waterfall--click to biggify!

This time I discovered two white egrets hanging out there! (If I hadn’t seen them land I might have thought they were faux birds). That says a lot when you can design something so natural as to attract this kind of wildlife to a Convention Center.

Egrets at home in this urban landscape...

unfazed by the passing river taxis

Looking back at the Convention Center

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all cities had public spaces this close to Nature?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Stills: Spring Preview

Preview?! Nope--our first flower of Spring 2011 opened up today! No need for digging in the archives.

Last year the Wind Flowers (Anemone heterophylla) opened eight days earlier. Perhaps they have been waiting out the extreme cold temperatures we've been experiencing. Usually around eight inches tall, the lack of winter rains has cetainly stunted these, which barely have stems!

The Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) which usually begin blooming around the end of March are dwarfed as well. They should be at least three times this size by now. It doesn't seem to matter how much I water them, only a good rain will make them grow!

This week in an effort to create more positive drainage (not that we get much rain), the county road workers scraped about 2-3 inches of topsoil, wildflower sprouts, and the wildflower seed bank from in front of our house and all the surrounding areas.

Of course all of this makes me worry about my honeybees, seeing their list of future provisions reduced. One of my goals this year is to propagate 10,000 flowers for them! I've already started 700 Salvias, Mints, Coneflowers, Mulleins, and Lavenders from seed.

Aren't these Fearnleaf Lavenders cute? I hope your Spring is not long in coming, and I'm happy to say Spring officially began here in Southwest Texas today! For more previews of Spring, visit Sunday Stills.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Farm Friend Friday: Some Serendipitous Finds and Farm Style

Isn't he lovely?

A few years ago I saw a precious vintage rooster tablecloth on eBay, but the bidding got so high I had to let it go. It was The One That Got Away.

So, fast forward to Tuesday when I was in the Big City on errands with a few minutes to spare. I spied a thrift store I'd never been in, and --like any frugal farm girl would do--I went in. There I discovered four curtain panels and two valances in the exact pattern of The One That Got Away for the mere sum of $1.50!

Something to crow about!

Not only is our kitchen this color of split pea soup on a cold Winter's day (aka 'Avocado' in the 1970's),  I've been looking for two window coverings for this room!

My painting 'The Emerson' above the sofa with potential dog bed material

I also found a bedspread and two pillow shams of a wonderful Jacobean print in all the oddball colors I'm using in several other rooms: coffee brown, mint green and persimmon for $7. Jacobean prints with their bold branches, fruits, flowers and birds remind me of the kind of in-your-face nature I experience on a daily basis. I've been looking for something from which I could make several dog beds. (Why is it all dog bed manufacturers assume hunter green and navy will work with everyone's decor?)

Although my style sensibility (if you could ever call it that) is best described as Atomic Ranch meets Martha Stewart Living at Pier One--and would likely give an interior designer nightmares--Farmer Rick and I are at home with this kind of eclecticism.

How about you? What's your farm style?

For more Farm Friendly features, visit Farm Friend Friday.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Stills: Emotions

This Sunday's challenge is an image that's supposed to evoke an emotion in the viewer. It's very gusty here today and I liked the way our colorful flag was backlit by the sun and blowing in the wind, seemingly reaching up towards the trees and sky while dancing in and out of the shadows. It struck me as a metaphor.

It brings out a lot of different emotions in me. It reminds me of my father's life of service to this country, and a beautiful land that is being damaged by big ag, fossil fuel consumption, and rampant development. It reminds me of the many freedoms I am privileged to enjoy and yet my frustration with a political system of two sides always fighting each other. It reminds me of the foods, songs, and culture uniquely American and also our need to teach tolerance of others different than us and seeing ourselves as citizens of Earth.

For more emotional images, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Farm Friend Friday: After the Freeze

Amy over at Verde Farm is starting Farm Friend Friday. I became acquainted with her when we both participated in National Hug a Sheep Day hosted by my friend Sara over at Punkin's Patch at Equinox Farm. I've been looking for something like this to feature our small farm.

She says "Farm Friend Friday will be about: house, cooking, crafting, animals, gardening, photography and more. It will be a great way to meet new farm friends and see lots of different views and perspectives on farm life." How cool is that?

If you've been watching the strange weather (which I call Wonky World Weather) you'll know that Texas has been briefly plunged  back into the Ice Age. Even down here in the semi-arid desert Southwest, an hour as the crow (or, in our case, the Cara Cara) flies from Mexico, we had three days solidly frozen at 12 degrees.

 Ribbons of sap being extruded from our Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

I'm sure to many of you this doesn't sound so terrible as you deal with this every Winter. However, we live three months of the year over 100 degrees, even attaining 117 degrees one day last summer. Truth be told, in our diurnal climate Winter consists of freezing temperatures most nights, and 60 plus degrees each day. You could say Winter only comes at night--the rest of the time we are running around in t-shirts!

The things we call coats most people would probably consider windbreakers. We have been wearing three at a time just to stay warm in this old farmhouse. Built over 70 years ago--before air conditioning was the mode--our house has little insulation and is 50% single pane glass operable windows for catching those breezes.

 This Fall photo gives you an idea how much glass we are talking about.

Fortunately we have a fireplace, because Wednesday our electricity (and thus our heat) went out for the arctic day! Living remotely as we do we are in an electric co-op. Mostly we experience outages from electrical storms that come in more temperate seasons and those don't generally last more than a couple hours, if that.

Farmer Rick took the tractor down to the creek to load kindling, but the icy hill proved too steep for traction and the wood had to be carried armload by armload. While he was laying in firewood, I made the decision to move all the seedlings from the rapidly cooling greenhouse into the living room.

Living room scene on a 12 degree day with no heat.

So, snuggled around the fire with us were four dogs, four cats, one rooster (Junior's been recuperating) and 439 plants! I feel bad that I was unable to bring in the remaining 49 chickens who usually stay warm with heat lamps, but that would have been total chaos. Unfortunately several of our roosters in Coop Two appear to have suffered some frostbite. (This morning it's looking a little better--fingers crossed).

Marco Marans showing some frostbite on the tips of his comb.

Finley the sheep is lame in a foreleg. I suspect he's been watching me break his trough ice with the sledgehammer and has perhaps tried this himself.

But I don't like snow cones!

Amazingly our lettuce which had been covered with clear plastic withstood the ordeal.

Butterhead lettuce makes it through!

I'm sure there were some losses among our honeybees, but the good news is today it's warmed above 50 degrees and the girls are coming and going from both hives and doing housekeeping.

Workers carrying out the dead after three days of freezing temperatures.

What is this object you say? Why it's a frozen cylinder of coffee grounds! No, no, we don't drink that much. We are fortunate enough to have connected with a local coffee shop and are able to compost all their grounds!

Cafe glace!

It's time to take advantage of the sun and get outside to cut back the asparagus. The first spears were already peeking through this time last year. (I hope they held off). We'll be looking forward to eating it soon!

For more farm fun visit Farm Friend Friday. (Say that ten times!)
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