Monday, November 26, 2012

What is going on around here?

Something is going on around here. I'm not sure what it is. Something is different. Hmmm.

Flame-leaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) is - well - flaming.
Fall-blooming Copper Canyon daisy
(Tagetes lemmonii)
Let me lay out the clues for you.

Strange colors have appeared out in the yard and woods. The normal greens have been interrupted by occasional oranges and yellows. Very odd.

The wicker rockers have disappeared from the porch. I've so enjoyed rocking in those chairs these past few months - feeling balmy breezes on my bare arms while gazing out at my colorful domain. The rockers have been replaced by a wood rack half-stocked with oak and cedar logs. This is not near as comfortable for domain gazing. Sort of knobbly. Strange.

My laundry has become bulkier, recently populated by sweatshirts and blue jeans, instead of t-shirts and shorts. Bizarre.

Here's the real kicker: it is cooler outside than it is inside. I know! What the h-e-double-l is transpiring here on the hill?

What? Fall? You mean, autumn? That elusive season that sometimes appears after the marathon that is summer in Texas, and before the sprint that is winter?


Never mind.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
is going to seed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In the woods

This was the tallest tree we tackled.
Sunday we spent some family time in the woods. We were doing a job that I enjoy, that exhausts my husband, and that really annoys the children:  slaying cedar.

Technically, we weren’t slaying cedar (Ashe juniper is its correct name), as they were already slain – laid low by that terrible foe, the drought of 2011. A belt of trees were geographically challenged in their quest for water, and a number of them – Ashe juniper, live oak and yaupon – perished. This left an unsightly mess next to the driveway.

And according to our calendar and much to our dismay, it will get cooler here soon and the firewood supply was perilously low.

And it's down, destined for firewood.
It was time to take action. We donned long pants and boots, and gathered chain saw, fuel, bar oil (or as my husband says, bahr awl), gloves and loppers, and ventured out solve two problems at once.

My boys were enlisted to drag brush frequently when we first bought this land, and it was a battle every time. Now they are out of our clutches, and we have shifted our sights to the little daughter. She has begun exhibiting the same reluctance her older brothers did. On Sunday I heard things like, “I don’t have any shoes” and “Can I make a pie, instead?” No.

Iris the dog is site supervisor.
I set her to using the loppers to break off dead branches and cut small cedars; she prefers this to dragging brush. Dan wielded the chain saw, while I stacked firewood and piled up brush.

In addition to the reward of how the area looks when we are done, we usually find a few surprises or treasures to make the job more enjoyable.

The first thing we saw was a giant pink and cream lantana, escaped into the woods and twining up through a cedar tree. It is far from where I had planted one in my garden. The thing is at least six feet tall!

Green tree frog and daughter's hand against
freshly cut Ashe juniper stump.

A while later, Dan called our daughter over. As he was prepared to take down a dead cedar, he discovered a bright green tree frog on its trunk. My daughter was entranced, of course, and carried the frog back to the house where she constructed a home for it near the new pond - deluxe accommodations that I’m not sure it will appreciate.

(Have I mentioned how much I love having a daughter who is not afraid to pick up a frog or toad?)

Tote that wood, sister.
It was a productive day:  dead trees cleared away, firewood stacked, brush pile created (which may be chipped sometime, but until then will be home to sundry critters), unexpected plant found, frog examined and relocated, fresh air taken in, muscles used, pre-teen ejected from the house, sense of accomplishment felt all around.

The finished-for-today product - more dead trees remain for another day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fall beauties.

The white mistflower (Agaratina havanensis) is blooming in my garden, in a profusion not seen here before. The mistflower is native from Central Texas south into Mexico. In and of itself, it is beautiful when in bloom. But when butterflies flutter all around it, drawn by its heady fragrance wafting on a breeze . . . well, it becomes sublime.

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
is the most common visitor.
I've never seen this butterfly here before;
it is a bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia 
adjutrix). The adjutrix  is a Texas subspecies.

I have spent time the past two days sitting on a pile of rocks next to this bush with camera in hand. I can’t really describe how fabulous this is: perched two feet away from buzzing bees and fluttering butterflies, including some new-to-me types, all so intent on this little bush with its multitude of tiny white blooms that they quickly forget I am here.  They are busy harvesting the last nectar of the year before cooler weather arrives.

Queens (Danaus gilippus) are frequent visitors on our blue mistflower; guess they like this, too!
This was one of those transcendent natural experiences.

Well, I'm not sure but I think
this is an American painted lady
(Vanessa virginiensis).

The Texan crescent (Anthanassa 
texana) is new to me, also.

Have you ever had one of those experiences? While outside somewhere, you happen upon something so cool, so beautiful, so interesting that you will never forget it? For me, it usually happens when it is very quiet and I am alone.

Twenty years ago we lived in the middle of a 10-acre hay pasture. Bluebonnets covered the pasture in the spring; it was absolutely beautiful. One quiet day in early summer I stepped outside and heard the oddest popping sounds all around me. I stopped and looked around, trying to determine the origin of the sounds. I saw nothing, but quickly realized that I was hearing bluebonnet seedpods popping open all over the pasture. I stood there listening with a big grin on my face, looking over the pasture in amazement. Yes, I still remember that moment.

My first i.d. of this one, too:  pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos).
This tattered fellow appears
to be a variegated fritillary
(Euptoieta claudia).

This memory of communing with and observing butterflies on the mistflower will stay with me, also. When I’m looking out the window on a cold gray winter day, wishing for summer, I will unpack this memory, and relive those joyous moments, sitting with butterflies under a warm November sun.