Saturday, December 5, 2009


As much as we disparage extremes in weather, seasons are good for us, reminding us that time is not a man-made construct but a reality, experienced by all living things. Escaping the fate of the morning glories and lantana, these entities are living in a little piece of Florida – AKA the pop-up greenhouse.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Finishing Tract A

It’s hard to believe it was a week ago when I got up way too early and drove thru a thick fog to BCP Tract A to finish a job that started back in the spring. The job is covering virtually every square inch of a few acres of land in search of invasive plants. Once the invaders are found, we log the GPS coordinates, take a picture, and fill out a data sheet. Then we keep walking. But sometimes it isn’t just walking. Sometimes it’s climbing, hanging onto branches, grapevines, or whatever we can grab. Sometimes it’s sliding down hillsides or negotiating dry creekbeds. Our goal last Sunday was to finish Tract A before winter, before the leaves fell off the China berry trees and left us with naked, unidentifiable branches. Another motivation to wrap things up is that the city hunts wild hogs out there and getting shot is something we definitely want to avoid. We’re hard core and all but not crazy.
I met Gloria Blagg and Jan Hanz at the parking lot off Jester Rd. We carpooled to the site and headed out for the last known coordinates, in search of the last patch of Tract A that had not been covered. Although it is work, it’s a naturalist’s dream to have these un-peopled acres all to ourselves. This tract doesn’t even have what anyone would call a trail. The closest thing to that is the creekbed and a few narrow deer trails. We’ve seen amazing spiders, insects, endangered birds (Golden cheeked warblers), and more plants – good and bad – than I can begin to name.
It was chilly Sunday morning and we had had some rain so the moss and lichens were soaking up nutrients and sun probably ”knowing” on a cellular level that winter is on its way.

On one of trips I had missed, the group had run across some black, star shaped things. They picked them up and wondered what they were. Well, Sunday we solved that mystery. We found several little objects that looked like an acorn had fallen smack onto a mushroom.
But on further inspection we discovered that what looked like an acorn was actually a little puff ball of some sort. A little research netted the info that it’s called an Earthstar. I snagged this info from this site: “Earthstar Geastrum saccatum. How to identify it: Star like appendages, often curled under with a puffball-like spore producing body in the center. These odd mushrooms resemble cookies, laying scattered on the dark forest floor. Like the puffball, when ripe, the center sac gives off a puff of spores when poked.” Here's what they look like after they have popped and dried up.
We ran across some pretty pink flowers that we could not identify.
We found what we think are coyote tracks.
And of course no hike is complete without a gnarly tree and various holes.

Jan managed to go the entire four hours without falling. I was the first to go, much to Gloria’s delight. She laughed and poked fun at me, only to fall in the exact spot not ten seconds after I fell. The amazing thing is we’ve never been injured, snake bit (in fact I’ve seen more snakes in my back yard than I have on BCP lands), or even gotten a rash from the ubiquitous poison ivy. We have a great time learning as we go. We have catalogued a number of invasive plants like nandina, china berries, ligustrum, and Chinese tallow.
Here we are after we finished Tract A. We celebrated by going to Waterloo Ice House and having lunch. The church crowd looked askance as we made our way to the table with scraggly hat hair and dirt on our jeans. But we didn’t care. We raised our ice tea glasses and toasted to a season of hunting invasives as we await our next assignment in the spring.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fall report

If I wait for the time to write a long entry with profound insights, I will be too old to type. My goal is to just write things as they come – so here it comes. It’s been a busy fall, as I basically have a busy life. That’s a good thing as I see it. In September, Will and I vacationed in the Davis Mountains. When I am there, I feel like I’m at home. Being a reasonable driving distance from Odessa, it’s where my family would head out to on a rare family trip. I went to Girl Scout camp every year from when I was 7 until I was around 12 or so at Camp Mitre Peak. So the whole area feels comfortable to me, in a land embracing you kind of way. My friend Gloria and her son Eric were camping in the state park and my friends Beck and Anne were out there at the same time too. One afternoon we all happened to be at Balmorhea State Park at the same time. That was fun – to drive 7 hours and bump into someone you know one picnic table away from you. I took lots of photos on that trip and they can all be found on my Flickr site. But here is one that Gloria took of me showing off Mitre Peak.
Later in September I went to Odessa to meet little Jax and visit with his parents, his grandma (my BFF) and his great grandma. That was a super fun time full of babies, good food, laughter, and lots sweet moments. Those photos are also on Flickr except for this teaser here.
In late October I attended the Texas Master Naturalist state meeting. I was privileged to represent my local chapter by presenting a talk about our relationship with the Austin Nature and Science Center. I had a really fun time at the meeting. I met new people, learned new things, and had lots of laughs with my fellow Capital Area Master Naturalists. I forgot my camera so you’ll have to take my word for it that the trip to Mo Ranch, where the meeting was held, is one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever taken.
Back on the home front, I continue to tackle my yard. I fight back weeds, plant new things, and lately I put up a little plastic greenhouse shown here. Sometimes I take a book or magazine out there and sit. It’s like being a kid again and having a clubhouse. I’ll have to heat it when the temps drop down below 32 this winter but for now it’s quite pleasant out there.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How I spent the summer from Hell

I’m the first to admit that the subject of climate change is interesting, but I would rather read about what’s happening somewhere else than live through it here. We’ve had an entire summer of over 100 degree days. If you’re not familiar with Austin, TX, that’s hot even for here. Yes, it hits a 100 a few times in a typical summer, but this year has been brutal. I had so many summer landscaping plans that were dashed. I lived in denial the entire month of June, thinking, “Any day now, the mornings will be cool and I can get out and work.” By the end of June I was depressed. Yard work is therapy for me. I might not have the best looking yard in the world but I love puttering in it after a long day at the computer. In addition to the heat, the city is improving the street that runs behind my house. I’ve never lived so close to street work. The noise, the noxious fumes, the dust all over everything on the patio as they scooped up the old street and threw it into dump trucks - one after another, all the while beeping as they backed up –made for an unpleasant time. On the mornings it was cool enough to sit outside with the dogs and have my coffee, I couldn’t enjoy it because of the noise, smell, and dust. Late in June, I pulled myself together and turned my attention to indoor tasks – no big projects, mostly just keeping my house cleaner than usual.

I did manage to create this little flower bed out front

I did as much Capital Area Master Naturalist (CAMN) volunteering as I could. We got our new assignment in the Balcones Canyonland preserve . Walking through dense brush, falling on my bum, scrambling up hills by grabbing hold of any kind of plant available, really makes you feel alive. I volunteered for two of the Nature Smart Family events and had fun at both of them. My favorite moment was watching a 3 y/o observe a dragonfly larvae. He called him mom over and said, “Mom, look, a cinnamon-pede.” I enjoyed working with the kids and seeing them light up when they saw the creatures we found in the pond. Getting a fake insect tattoo with Cheryl was fun too. As was the beer and garden burger at Waterloo Ice House after a few hours in the heat with the kids.

CAMNers stalking invasive plants

Back on the home front, I learned to get up early and work in the yard for almost an hour before getting ready for work – at least a couple of days a week. I bought an ugly blue doggie pool. My dogs of course wouldn’t go near it but the birds used it to cool down, in addition to the regular birdbath and the small ones on the ground that the cardinals and the wrens like. I also discovered that the bees and wasps like the shallow water for their fill-ups. The mud daubers were able to make their little mud shelters for their offspring because there was ample water in the yard.
I was able to get a few yard-related things done, mostly hardscaping. Will pulled up 30 of the 2x2 pebble/cement pavers that were in the front yard. We replaced that with a nicer, more natural path from the sidewalk to the front porch by using flagstones and French drain gravel. We scooped up dirt and made a berm in the backyard for the rain garden. The berm is topped with Gulf Coast Muhley. The side near the fence has native cannas that Marie and Jerry gave me and I bought some Greg’s blue mistflower for the base of the rain garden. I’m sprouting some inland sea oats that will also go in the bottom. I got to test it out when we had a nice rain last week. Instead of running out under the gate, the water stays in the yard now, thanks to that project.

Here's the new path that replaced the pebble 2x2 pavers:

And then there’s the pond. I set it up in the early spring just to have some gurgling water on the patio. I used a washtub and plunked it on the patio. No liner, no frills, just gurgling water and 9 cent goldfish. Then came the baking afternoon sun and the algal bloom. Add in some snails and a plecostomus. After trying some unattractive methods of shading the pond from the afternoon sun, I put up a reed screen. That helped. Then the pond started to leak. So I went to Callahan’s General Store and got a 2x1x4 livestock tank. I lined it with pond liner, put in the rocks, set up the pump and filter, then added back in the living things. The big plant was a gift from my son who got it for me one afternoon while running around with my nephew. It still doesn’t look that great but I can see the fish better and everyone survived the move. I think the fish are actually getting bigger.

Original pond

New pond from beginning to end

The new tank

Up on blocks to elevate it

In go the rocks

Add the water, fish, pump, and plant

Put a reed border around it

Cool, clear water

And it wasn’t a total wash for the plant life. Yes, my tomatoes croaked but the prickly pear, the agaves, the yuccas, the flame acanthus, and the standing cypress all thought the hot weather was just fine. As did the avocado that sprang up in the world’s most neglected compost heap. I transplanted the avocado plant and it is putting on new leaves.

So most of us survived the summer, but I for one, am glad to see it come to an end. This morning, as I did my morning yard chores, a cool breeze whipped past me. The road construction crew was off for the day and, for the first time in months I thought “This summer might actually end.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Where did June go?

June started in Dallas. I drove up to visit friends. Shown here are Mary Ellen and Gail exiting Maryam's condo. Gail is doing the royal wave.

We headed over to the Dallas Arboretum and saw lots of pretty things like this walk thru a crepe myrtle canopy.

...and this fearless bunny that let me walk right up to take this picture.

We tried to beat the heat by choosing some nice shady paths.

We finally found the frog pond. Four giant frogs spray water onto a brass sphere.

Mary Ellen ran thru the water while Gail and I snapped photos of the event.

Back home I visited Marie and Jerry's yard and snapped this little butterfly. Jerry probably knows what kind it is. I however, do not. I guess I need to attend more Austin Butterfly Forum meetings.

I finally got a big tank for holding rainwater. 305 gallons!

The morning glories spang to life in June and are still producing although they're a bit limp in the middle of the day.

I did a little yard work and turned this parched spot into an area for draining overflowing rainwater from the barrel. I put in some drought resistant plants like big muhly and black-eyed susans.

And then the rest of June went like this:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Birds near and far

At dusk last night I was thrilled to see the cardinal parents feeding a fledgling out in my backyard. As mom and dad were seeing to her needs, three adolescent males - likely from an earlier brood - came to check out my flower bed and feast on lantana berries. They were a motley group, not fully red. They squabbled over the berries but they seemed to be evenly matched. Everyone got their share.
While this is happening here in Austin, 2000 miles away my ex-husband is hosting a robin's nest in the ficus tree on his back porch. She's not camera shy as you can see.
Mom picks the perfect spot

And lays her eggs

She patiently broods

The babies are here!

First meal from mom.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Eyes of Texas

It's Tuesday and that means class number three of the Sustainable Landscaping course I'm taking at the Wildflower Center thru their Go Native U courses. I was running a little late and rushed past the plants and ponds to get to the classroom. I stepped into the Visitor's Gallery and decided to take a couple of seconds and put away my keys and sunglasses. The Visitor's Gallery is a large room that is used for all kinds of things, like gatherings preceding a public speaker or silent auctions, as well as its day to day purpose - a place to display currently blooming flowers, and other functions. But as I stepped in this evening it was completely empty. I went about my busy-ness, mindless to my surroundings. Mindless until I heard The Eyes of Texas coming out of invisible speakers. I put everything down, took in the empty room, and listened to the entire song. When I turned to go down the stairs to the classroom, there was the photo of Ladybird Johnson. I am so, so grateful to her and grateful to be back in Texas.