Monthly Archives: November 2010

Magpies Coming Day

Magpie photo by Martin Meyers of

COMING DAY.  A favorite among Fort Belknap Indians is Coming Day, who in 1937 was more than eighty years old and still maintained his reputation for fearlessness.  In his prime he rode joyously in the white man’s “devil-bug,” that sputtered and smoked and traveled like the wind without the use of ponies.  In August 1936, he boarded the white man’s “thunder bird” during the reservation fair and waved gaily to his quaking comrades.  When the plane was at an altitude of several thousand feet he exhorted the pilot in the Gros Ventre tongue to go higher.  “As yet,” he shouted scornfully, “we are not to the height where flies the common magpie!”

Montana: A State Guide Book, Works Progress Administration Guide Book Series (1939)

Fort Belknap sat on the lower lands of Montana, but the magpie inhabits the mountain, higher in elevation than the fort.  Coming Day spoke to that fact and more.  I have seen magpies at 9,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristos of New Mexico as I laboriously put one foot in front of the other, daring to the climb the Truchas Peaks.  The magpie is a creature of nature, the plane an invention of man, each finding ways to cut through air and soar.  Both bird and plane are worthy of praise, but for me and probably for Coming Day, the magpie will always fly higher.

* * *

Flying on an extended world vacation in the 1960s, Georgia O’Keeffe painted Sky Above Clouds IV after she returned to the United States.  It is her largest painting (8 x 24 feet) and is at the Art Institute of Chicago.  When I flew to France in 1996, I saw ice floes, glaringly-white, in the far North Atlantic that looked like clouds on the ocean, reminding me of O’Keeffe’s painting and stripes of white on magpie wings.



See also Archie Hobson (ed.), Remembering America: A Sampler of the WPA American Guide Series, New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

In this quote are themes worthy of extended commentary — technology collides with Native American interpretation, native language re-describes new technology in colloquialisms and the valuable capture of local color in the American Guide Book Series by writers in the 1930s.

The published Montana guide book did not have a description of the plane that carried Coming Day into the sky, but the Waco biplane inserted below would have been a possible aircraft  since the Waco was being built in the 1920s, a decade before the Gros Ventre fair of 1936.

Waco biplane photo by Mike Fizer (2003)



Filed under Nature Quote of the Day

Naturalist quote of day: Krakauer on Devils Thumb

John Krakauer by

All that held me to the mountainside, all that held me to the world, were two thin spikes of chrome molybdenum stuck half an inch into a smear of frozen water, yet the higher I climbed, the more comfortable I became.  Early on a difficult climb, especially a difficult solo-climb, you constantly feel the abyss pulling at your back.  To resist takes a tremendous conscious effort; you don’t dare let your guard down for an instant.  The siren song of the void puts you on edge; it makes your movements tentative, clumsy, herky-jerky.  But as the climb goes on, you grow accustomed to the exposure, you get used to rubbing shoulders with doom, you come to believe in the reliability of your hands and feet and head.  You learn to trust your self-control.

Jon Krakauer, climb on Devils Thumb, Alaska, Into the Wild, p. 142 (1996)



Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild, concerns the wilderness trek of Christopher McCandless into the Alaskan back country, ending in his death.  Krakauer, in the quote I have excerpted above, juxtaposes his own experience on the side of Devils Thumb with that of McCandless.  Krakauer came out alive.  Unfortunately, McCandless did not.

Addendum, November 27, 2010:  If you have not clicked on the hyperlink to Devils Thumb, do so because it takes you to the Google map in Alaska.


Filed under Adventure, Nature Quote of the Day

Naturalist quote of day: Aldo Leopold on danger of not owning a farm

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.  One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.

To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)


Winter by Joseph Fleck (Taos Art Museum and Fechin House)



Painting of Joseph Fleck associated with the Taos Art Museum and Fechin House.

See also Taos Painter Joseph Fleck.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Nature Quote of the Day

Listening to the Fredericksburg Cypress

Mexican Cypress tree on Thanksgiving Day (2010)

Earlier today, I wrote the post below about identifying the tree pictured in this post.  I have since identified it as a Mexican Cypress tree.  Brenda and I drove back to the tree before we had our Thanksgiving dinner at August E’s in Fredericksburg, and as soon as we rounded the corner, she said, “That’s a cypress.”  I snapped more photographs and have factored attributes so that I am reasonably confident that this is a Mexican Cypress.  Other exotic nomenclature includes Montezuma Bald Cypress, Sabino, Ahuehuete and Cipres.

* * *

On one plane, I identify the tree because it is scientific to do so, giving a living thing a name that can be recognized across the community of naturalists so as to place it, give it provenance.  It is curiosity that prompts me to go back to this living, breathing organism and know its name, history and classic place in the scientific literature.  I might, in researching, find that this Mexican Cypress has healing qualities from its sap, its perfume.  It may even be a thing I would lace about my neck so that its scent alleviates anguish, propelling kinship with an organism that does not march across Texas, but sits still, in the yard of an old German land grant, most patient, most alive and most still.

On another plane, different and perhaps redemptive, is the search for connection in nature, in a world that seems so repelled by these things — trees, wild animals, un-managed waters — that all things wild are seen as a cropping, a harvesting opportunity.  I find that the cypress tree tells me something 1000 fathoms deep in the sea.  It says, I am the shade for your cattle, for your family reunions and my timber will eventually be your table, even your fire to warm you.  But, I will do those things only if you choose me to do so.  I will remain complacent and here until that day you choose to use me or ignore me in your work.

The cypress tree is named Mexican Cypress and is forty-feet tall, but it tells us something beyond the graph paper of science.  Are we listening?

The following photographs were snapped on Thanksgiving Day, my second effort at identification, giving rise to the above post.


The post that follows below was written earlier today.

Before identification, one of two photographs that started the identification process (photographed the day before Thanksgiving, 2010).

In 1846, German immigrants settled Fredericksburg, Texas.  They brought seed and domesticated animals, planting corn most quickly.  I am in the town — population about 4,000 — and have been walking through older sections of town and I came upon this tree, pictured above.  It’s a most unusual tree, but I live 180 miles north of here in another life zone, so I am unaccustomed to the botany here.  I will continue this post later today or early in the morning with more photographs, but for now I am stumped on the identification of the tree.  I only have two photographs and the above shot is the best and it’s not all that good artistically or for the field record.  It’s all I have at the moment.  I did not get stimulated to type this until I couldn’t find botanical attributes quickly.

At this moment, I have one possibility:

Montezuma Bald Cypress, Mexican Cypress, Sabino, Ahuehuete, Cipres
Taxodium mucronatum Description: Montezuma Bald Cypress is found from the Rio Grande River south to Guatemala, although it is uncommon to rare in Texas. The main difference between Montezuma Bald Cypress and Baldcypress is that Montezuma Baldcypress is evergreen and the male flowers are borne in long racemes, whereas common Baldcypress is deciduous and the male flowers are in short clusters. Since the extreme southern part of the state is the northernmost of its range, it has difficulty surviving winters farther north than San Antonio.

Fredericksburg is within the life zone for this tree.  What has me thrown off is the trunk of the tree that appears oak.  It may be a graft?

More later today.



Information from Native Trees of Texas, Texas A&M University, see link on my pages.

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Filed under Field Log

Nature quote of day: Navajo

Native American oration illustrates a thankfulness and recognition of nature: earth, sky, creatures of the water, winged-ones, two-legged ones and four-legged animals.  For this Thanksgiving Day, Navajo singing chants show admiration of Nature.

Beauty above me,

Beauty below me,

Beauty to the east, west, north and south of me,

Beauty all around me.

Washington Matthews, The Night Chant, Smithsonian (ca. 1900)



The Navajo rug pictured above is on display at Sagebrush Gallery in Nevada City, California. “Yei figures, Probably a mid-20th century rug.  This has a muted mustard yellow…Three figures with feathers. “

Washington Matthews translated many Navajo singing chants and ceremonies.  The night chant translation is my favorite.  Many years ago I bought the large and lengthy chant from the Taos Bookstore.  They found a copy of the rare book and it sits among other Native American literature on my shelves.


Filed under Nature Quote of the Day

Nature quote of the day: Annie Dillard


Annie Dillard (Photo by Susan Olding)

It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind.  Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go.  The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind.  Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)


Filed under Nature Quote of the Day

In the field with Ant Lions


After Ant Lions and the alleyway, a beautiful violet blossom of rosemary is seen before the cold winter blast tomorrow.

Yesterday, November 23, 2010, late in the afternoon, I wanted to walk into the pastures, grove and corrals and first observe, then photograph, then write a post.  Frankly, I never got farther than the alleyway between barn and stables.  Since my intent was to observe sentient creatures especially — invertebrate as well as vertebrate — there emerged enough activity that I did not even venture past the barn or first corral.

Between the house and barn is a distance of 300 feet.  The house is about fifteen to twenty feet higher than the barn, providing a panoramic view of our countryside — Sims Valley, Upper Salt Cove, Twin Mountains, Salt Creek and Barton Creek.  From house to barn, I see yellow butterflies feed on small white flowers.  Acorns from the Live Oak trees continue to fall on the ground, making a crackling sound, and on the slope down from the house the acorns are like marbles under my boots so that I step gingerly lest I slip and fall.  Small birds flit about the underbrush and yucca.  I walk into the barn alleyway and sit down on a step-up crate that I have to climb on — like a small ladder — to mount horses.

Sitting on the step-up in the alleyway, I hear a solitary crow, then see the crow fly west to east, towards our duck pond.  The crow persistently calls, but no reply comes from other birds and it flies towards Morgan Mill, avoiding the duck pond treeline and mesquite on the other side.  Ducks quack, but I decide against walking to the pond to photograph the noisy assembly.  A turkey vulture circles in the sky over Salt Creek.  Our two horses, Star and Lilly, are nowhere to be seen as they had sauntered into the Grove, perhaps down into the creek bed.

A stern cold front is to pass through central west Texas tomorrow, putting the temperatures into the 50s F. for daytime, 20s F. for the night.  As I sit on the red-colored step-up, the temperature reads 80 F., the sun quite warm, the cold front a day away, the sky clear.  I look down at the ground in the alleyway and see small funnel traps, drilled by Ant Lions that throw dirt up frantically and then wait for ants and insects to kill and eat.  Of the ten or so dirt traps, three of those traps are being fussily arranged by bugs.  The sun beams down on their efforts and I bend down more closely to see if I could discern the sentient.  I could not, but the dirt continues to fly up over the one-inch funnel, prima facie evidence of invertebrate activity.  How fragile, how strong at the same time, life is.

As I lean over to see the funneling Ant Lions, I place my hand over a stable railing to balance myself.  The air is still, the sky clear to the south and east.  Then, quite discreetly a gentle zephyr comes through the alleyway from the north.  I face south and the cool air moves over my neck and hand grasping the rail.  The air is definitely cool and I look up into the sky and the clouds move across, northwest to southeast.  I know the cold front is a least a day away, but this is a prelude, an advance-scout for the weather change.  The clouds persist in clustering, the Ant Lions stop their funneling, the temperature falls a few degrees and I stand up, whistling for the horses to come to supper: long-high whistle followed by three short-low-toned whistles, a pitch change of about an octave.  Two minutes later, Star and Lilly emerge from the creek bottom and walk home to me, their grain and alfalfa.

I feed Star and Lilly.  I walk back up the hill to the house and pace the three terraces, looking for a possible photographic shot of an errant Monarch or striped lizard.  I find a small blossom of rosemary to photograph and by 5:00 p.m. I go inside the house to write of Ant Lions and alleyways.  I mince rosemary for our dinner.



After the second sentence in the second paragraph, I shift to present tense.  I had written this piece using past tense, but decided to change the tenses.  I like it better than past tense in this post.

The camera was in the pickup and when I saw the Ant Lions — Doodlebugs — I started to fetch it and photograph.  The wind — zephyr (I don’t get to use the word often) — came up about that time and I knew if I went to the pickup, I would lose my place in the alleyway and, besides, I could not capture on Kodachrome the wind passing over my flesh.  So, I stayed put and let things transpire.


Filed under Life in Balance

Nature quote of the day: Emerson

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature.  Most persons do not see the sun.  At least they have a very superficial seeing.  The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.  The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.  His intercourse with heaven and earth become part of his daily food.  In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through man, in spite of real sorrows.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay on Nature (1836)


Filed under Nature Quote of the Day

Sunset with monarch tree

It was about this tree, to the right, that a solitary monarch flew out in the warm wind today.

I had to mow the yards about the ranch house this afternoon.  Brown grass ignites quickly when the wind is strong and humidity low.  I leave strips of dead vegetation — grass, shrubs, even broom grass — for small birds flitting among the stalks and even a field mouse running through the arbor they find protective.

As I mowed about this live oak tree, pictured first and above, a solitary monarch butterfly came out flapping, perturbed it seemed at the roar of motor.  It is November 21, 2010, and the monarch needs to be across the Rio Grande!  Not here!  The butterfly flitted around the tree.  There is flowering verbena still in the pastures for their food.  I mowed around the patches of verbena this afternoon before I saw the monarch.  I hoped the monarch would go back and roost.  It was close to the sunset.

After mowing, I fed Star and Lilly and fetched the camera, hoping I could find the monarch and present incontrovertible evidence that they are still migrating.  The tree is relatively large and many options for a sleep-over are convenient for the monarch, and after searching for five minutes or so, I gave up trying to find the little guy and took a photograph of the tree, having to use the flash.  The monarch may be in the photo or it flew southward, to the left of the light, for Mexico and warmer climes.

The monarch would have angled far left of this sunset. Mexico is about 300 miles due south, but the standard roosts for the monarch are much farther.


Filed under Life in Balance

A good day with Vouvray

Lilly was at the gate with Star, waiting for their grain and hay.  They will go into the pastures, loafing and browsing, visiting their neighbors across the road.  She is having a good day.

The dogs have settled on their pallets in the living room, catching the sun’s rays through the windows.

We shall have a good lunch today in Fort Worth and a bottle of Vouvray or Bordeaux, depending upon our entree.  We will talk of our Thanksgiving plans, most likely traveling to Fredericksburg, seeing Christmas lights as only that city can do it.

Fredericksburg, Texas

Here on the Wesleyan campus, the church bells ring the hour and play music for a few minutes, arousing the students from their Saturday morning sleep.  It is noon and I will walk to the Science Hall where Brenda is advising young men and women to coursework and bright futures.

It is a fine, fine day.



Fredericksburg, Texas, photograph by:


Filed under Christmas, Life in Balance