Monthly Archives: March 2012

Yucca morning

Pale-leaf Yucca on Terraces with Fog, Flying Hat Ranchito, March 30, 2012

In walking down to the stables to feed Star this morning, I paused and looked towards the east, the rising sun flared by fog, and I shot this photograph of yucca, fog, dew and a couple of blossoms of verbena (click the photograph to enlarge). Three terraces gird the ranch house and each level has families of yucca that hold the soil about the landscape and prosper in well-drained soil for their health.

The temperature briefly holds in the middle 60s as I look at this scene. I dwell on it as I write this post and think of the moisture upon green grasses and yucca.  So different from this time last year as fires broke out across Texas, consuming dried grasses, brittle brush and wildlife unable to flee.  Today is different, substantially so, with recent rains and low temperatures. The fire ban is off for Erath County. I see an abundance of wildflowers and I inhale the air suffused with humidity and perfumed with fresh grasses.

This ‘yucca morning’ will last in my senses for a long, long time, and I possessively want the moment to stand still as I look east towards the rising sun, flared by fog, that shall warm the day and send fresh grass shoots skyward.

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Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Succulents

Vacation chores

My Spring vacation ends today.  Tomorrow back to work, teaching.  On the list of chores for ‘vacation,’ several tasks were accomplished, some were not.  I changed the flatbed tire, carted the Case DX-55 for repair and managed cleanup in the corrals.  The tractor remains in the shop for repair.  The barn alleyway remains unpaved with rain coming tomorrow.  I shall have to wade through mud after the rain.

The unexpected came up.  I shopped for a lower-gas-mileage car, preparing to trade in the white F-250 (I’ll be left with Old Bull, the gray 2002, F-250).  Shopping for a new car ate up two days of the seven-day vacation.  Is that not the norm?  I did not purchase a new vehicle.

* * *

I spotted a male Western Bluebird yesterday perched on a yucca-flower stalk, occasionally turning around on the dead pods, flexing its wings.

This morning I saw two monarch butterflies, one in the grove and one near the house.  They fly higher than treetops.

* * *

Spring arrives in a couple of days.

* * *

I have continued to photograph each new flower I see on the ranchito.  I’ve not identified all of them, but they have been photographed.  Yellow predominates as blossom color.  Here are clover with yellow blossoms and a pale-leaf yucca whorl.  The pale-leaf I am confident in identifying, but as to clover, have you ever looked up how many clovers there are?  There are several genus and species listed on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website.  This clover abundantly erupts on the ranchito.

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Succulents, Wild Flowers of Texas

Why I wrote, ‘The fox, the hare and the chef.’

As benchmarks go, I have one coming up.  My blog will surpass 100,000 hits sometime today or early this evening.  That’s not like a seventieth birthday or turning twenty-one, and it will not be chiseled on some rock for passersby to see on the road to Samarkand.  It’s a blog thing, don’t you know?

Whether many or most people have read entire posts or have glanced and surfed on, I have no way of knowing.  What I do know is that one of my posts, ‘The fox, the hare and the chef,’ March 30, 2011, has continued to rack up over 1,000 hits a week for several months.  If I am to be known by one piece of writing in my life, this is the composition I desire that to be.

I want it remembered because with beauty comes violence, and, as human beings, we attend that performance in reverence — or at least we should.

‘The fox, the hare and the chef,’ was written in one, long sitting, but I had thought about the content and structure for a long time.  To be quick about it, I had wanted to write about Thomas Keller, the chef of the French Laundry in California, not because of his fine cuisine, but because of his full experience with preparing a rabbit dish, from slaughter to the pan.  He vowed not to waste that rabbit he had personally slaughtered.  This young man in learning the skills of his trade, to become one the world’s most heralded chefs, had insight of  a Socrates in the backyard of a restaurant.  He would not waste the life he had taken.

I nearly always seek humor in writing about nature and our relationship to our good earth.  That’s hard to find these days in the midst of waste, tar pit oil and needless consumerism, but it is there to alleviate the anguish of what we see and read about.  My post, ‘The fox, the hare and the chef,’ however, had no humor, no comedy and it just, frankly, turned out that way.

The humor in ‘The fox, the hare and the chef,’ is not evident, but it is there.  When I started to raise a beautiful herd of Angus cattle in 2007, I was going to be an impersonal cattleman — no affection or emotion for the heifers and steers, all business, no silliness or attachment.  Well, was I ever caught asleep.  In caretaking the Angus, I was shot twenty-seven times by cupid; for in each of the twenty-seven cows I raised, I found myself seeing personality, behavior patterns and sociability I never thought existed.  I walked among the creatures, just to be with them.  Go figure, I fell in love with a herd of cloven-hoofed beasts!  Impersonal?  Heavens no!  I took care of those cattle like they were my own offspring.  Funny, but also quite serious.

So, when I loaded the twenty-seven Angus in the stock trailer to take them to Carter Cattle Company for transport to Perryton, Texas, the cleanest feedlot in the state, a part of me went with them, and I knew that their rearing to that point had been the best around.  Whatever table they came to, I wanted people sustained with a healthy product and a sense that the great chain of being continue with a reverence for the gift of life on their plate — like Keller’s little bunnies.  Don’t waste the cattle I tended with love, and don’t waste your own life in boundless folly, for that does not honor the life in front of you — or on your plate.

With beauty comes violence, and, as human beings, we should attend that performance in reverence.  That is why I wrote, ‘The fox, the hare and the chef.’

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Thomas Keller, The Importance of Rabbits,‘ The French Laundry Cookbook, New York: Artisan, 1999.  See page 205 for the essay, recipe on page 207.

The fox is beautiful to behold, but it will take its cut in the barnyard and in the field — beauty and violence.

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Cedar of hope

I have a cedar chest in the living room, placed between the sofa and the armoire.  I store Pendleton blankets in it now, but it was my mother’s cedar chest or hope chest as it was sometimes called. Opening it up the other day, I came across the trademark on the lid with the scientific name of the red cedar used to construct the chest: Juniperus virginiana.  I don’t recall ever having seen that before.

I find it quaint, old-style, to burn the imprimatur into the lid.  Frankly, I am not one given to hope, but rather working for a desired outcome seems to pay off better than wishing.  Cedar chests, however, were storage boxes of blankets, sheets, pillowcases and fine dresses for young women in the 1920s and 1930s in Texas, my mother being one of those hopeful for the ‘right man.’  The Lane Company that manufactured cedar chests went out of business in 2001, after having started constructing ammunition boxes for the U.S. military in The Great War.

As I open the cedar chest today, the red cedar smell permeates the blankets and handkerchiefs I store.  The scent of cedar brings back the vignette of my mother leaning down, opening the lid of her hope chest and caressing white sheets and pillowcases as I sat on the bed and read comic books as a boy.  Cedar is a tree.  Cedar was hope.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

As the contents of such a chest would primarily be linens, construction in moth-repellent cedar, or at least a cedar lining, was popular. The Lane Company of Altavista, VA (1912, closed 2001)[4] were a notable maker of cedar chests. After developing production-line techniques for making ammunition boxes during World War One, they turned these production techniques and a patent locking-mitre corner joint, into vast numbers of chests. This was aided by strong advertising, using a teenaged Shirley Temple as a model, in a campaign targeted at GIs and absentee sweethearts of World War II. They were particularly well-known for their practice (since 1930) of distributing miniature (12″ long) cedar chests to high-school girls as advertising gifts.[3] The Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) is the “cedar” used in making moth-repelling cedar chests and drawers, as well as pencils.

‘Hope Chest,’ Wikipedia, accessed March 15, 2012.

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Filed under Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966

Broke Tree Corral antics and Flowers of Flying Hat (9): Blueish Ground plum

At the beginning of this Spring Break I set out to accomplish several chores:  Construct dirt foundation for alleyway and stalls, change tire on flatbed trailer so I can haul tractor to repair shop, take tractor to repair shop and return, shred mesquite sprouts and replace rain gauge.  The list changed.  No surprise there.

Putting more of a fine gravel foundation is delayed because stalls and the alleyway are still wet.  I have changed the tire on the flatbed trailer and will load the tractor later today.  Before I can hitch up the shredder, the linkage to the power train operation must be repaired.  So, the list has changed and I have conducted manure management tasks before I take the tractor to Stephenville — muckraking with tractor.

As I worked on cleaning the corrals, I let my gelding, Star, out for a browsing and to visit his friends over the fence, like neighbors chatting across the hedge in suburbia. When I went to halter him and bring him back after two hours of browsing, he bucked and snorted on halter like a rodeo horse. He wanted to remain out and become satiated with grass to a point of sleepiness. I can’t let him do that since he is laminitis prone, a condition that requires close monitoring of green grass consumption. Star entered Broke Tree Corral and continued to act horsey with bucking and running. What a day he was having!  Here is Star munching on grass about an hour before the rodeo began.

My morning had a few Kodak moments — no more Kodachrome, I know.  Digital rules.  The Bluebell bell flowers opened up with the few minutes of sun this morning and I brought the camera down to the pasture before I started cleaning the corrals.  Bluebell flowers erupt all over the two front pastures.  Where I had one patch of bell flowers a couple of days ago, now the flowering occurs in multiple patches.

The final photo in my continuing year-long goal of photographing the different species of flowering plants on the ranchito is another Ground plum or milkvetch, but with a different color, a more blueish hue to the blossom. I’ll go ahead and give it a different number because of the definitive difference in color.

9. Ground plum, milkvetch (blueish-violet blossom), Astragalus crassicarpus?

I will take some photographs of the namesakes of the corrals. I have had to give them names because Corral No. 1, Corral No. 2 get lost in the process of giving directions to cowboys and haulers.  I end up saying, Put the horse in the corral with the broken tree in it!  I have no signage for the place, just naming with visible, easily identifiable attributes (broken tree, well house, pecan tree). Nothing like trying to identify a sparrow these days, a process we are all still involved in as the attributes continue to be noted.

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Sparrow with Bluebell

The proper identification of this red-headed or rusty-headed bird continues to churn me, not only in my daylight hours, but also as I lie awake at night.  For the moment, the species identification includes: Rufous-winged Sparrow, Field Sparrow, immature White-crowned Sparrow.  (Probably another possibility looms in the Peterson’s.)  Factor analysis must wait, however, until I get some chores out of the way today. I will, however, cease all toil if I see these guys again so I can focus.  Thanks to Caralee, Rubia, Montucky and others that have further focused my attention on identification.

Here is a closeup of the Bluebell bell flower.  I discovered a patch thirty-by-twenty feet in size, east of the barn.  Walked right over the patch without noticing at first, saw this flower, bent down and looked around and there was the patch of bell flowers.  I wanted to get a closeup of the flower, so here it is.  I have seen field biologists on their hands and knees with a camera, snapping pictures.  Since I have this goal of taking pictures of every species of wildflower on the ranchito for one year, I best start kneeling with knee pads on?

Below is a wide shot of the Bluebell bell flower patch I discovered.  As you can see, the flowers are quite small, barely discernible in the photo as they are in the field.  You will have to click on the photograph to enlarge in order to see the flowers.  Looks like a lawn of sorts, but it is not.

I am off to the barn and field. I will be looking for the sparrow and flowers. The sun is shining and the temperatures are forecast in the upper 70s, lower 80s.  I shall pace myself.

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Filed under Birds, Flowers of Flying Hat

Yes, I know it’s a sparrow, but what kind?

Of course you know how it all starts out. Going to do one thing, then end up doing another! The rain ceased today, this morning actually, and I walked to the pond the see if it was overflowing (it was, but that’s another post). As I walked by the brush pile I had stacked for several years, I saw these birds flitting in the old mesquite stems and thorns. I thought: Ah, more white-crowned sparrows. I know you. I see you all the time.

Wrong.  I got back to the house, downloaded or uploaded the pics and they aren’t white-crowned, they have rufous coloring on their top.  How did I see white in the field?  Okay, I was mistaken.  Not the first time, nor the last.  Fair enough, I go to the Peterson’s.  There are several species of sparrows!  I knew that, but what rufous is it?  Ruffous-crowned, Ruffous-winged?  I finally broke down and went to the photo editor that I have, the Hewlett-Packard all-encompassing uber-editor to enlarge the photo and get some closer definition of attributes.  I take photographs with the full pixel rating: seven, eight megabytes of pixels so I can enlarge and view detail.  Yes, I know.  I am running out of space on my desktop after three years of blogging.  And, this is what I enlarged:


I go back and forth in my Peterson’s looking at all the sparrows, even the larks for goodness sakes. Tail is rounded, mustache? What’s a mustache on a bird?  I go to my Audubon field guide, but it does not even list any rufous sparrows. Oh, it’s an eastern region Audubon.  Figure that, will you?

I getting really frustrated not finding any attribute that is a definite signature until I look at the beak.  The beak.  It’s pink or brownish and the identity is finally achieved.  It is a Field sparrow with rusty cap, pink bill — a Spizella pusillad.*  It’s note is a tsee, having a ‘querulous’ quality.  Thanks to Peterson’s, I am relieved of puzzlement and doubt.

Starting out to check the pond, I end up spending time identifying a bird.  You know, the one with a pink beak and querulous quality to its note.

*Notes, corrections and additions:

For possible error in identity, please see the comments from Caralee and Rubia below.  The link provided by Caralee shows the Rufous-winged Sparrow in several colored photographs that correspond to my photographs of a ‘Field sparrow.’  A factor analysis is in progress to resolve identity.

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Filed under Birds, Field Sparrow

Rain comes, chores follow

For the last two days, rain has fallen, perhaps as much as three inches.  My rain gauge cracked and I estimate the amount cautiously.  Replacing the rain gauge is a task ahead of me.  Weather forecasters — I listen to the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC television station — say the rain will stop by tomorrow.  My water tank appears up by several inches, although it is too muddy to trudge down to verify.

The plow follows the rain.  That’s an old adage.  Here’s another one: Chores follow the rain.  Right at the top of the list of my chores is to perform foundation dirt work on the alleyway and barn area.  Water runs off the barn roof and into the alleyway and horse stall.  In addition, I have to transport my Case DX-55 tractor to the repair shop to fix the linkage to the PTO (power train operation) so that I can do another chore.  I have to shred some sprouting mesquites in the fields with the tractor and shredder.  Until the rain subsides and sun dries the soil a bit, I am at ease in the ranch house.

Here is a photograph of rain puddles in front of the barn.

Here is the rain runoff in front of barn. Notice Star on the right side of the tack room.

The runoff from the barn roof floods the alleyway. This is a chore to follow the rain.  Notice the green trees and grass in the background.

The alleyway and stalls will need more foundation after the area dries.

This next week is Spring Break.  I’ll be marking a few tasks off my list.  My list of chores is not long, so maybe I will put one chore on a page rather than list the whole congregation of tasks on one page.  That way I can see one task at a time, or one task on one page at a time.  Pace myself, as my step-father used to say.  He did not say much, but that was an ‘adage’ I remember he said.

The list:

1. Construct dirt foundation for alleyway and stalls.

2. Change tire on flatbed trailer so I can haul tractor to repair shop.

3. Take tractor to repair shop and return.

4. Shred mesquite sprouts.

5. Replace rain gauge.

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Flowers of Flying Hat (6-8): Sow thistle is not a weed.

Far field clouds, March 2012.

6. False Garlic, Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve), March 2012.

This False Garlic flowers early and there are several colonies clustered together throughout the ranchito.  This False Garlic is closed and due to the rains and cold yesterday and today, I do not have an open flower to illustrate — but, I shall.  This is found in the lane to County Road 114, and other colonies are about the gate between the arena and the grove pasture.

7. Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper), March 2012.

Sow Thistle appears to be a weed, but it is not.  Authorities claim the milk of this plant relieves eye ailments.  I wonder if I could apply this to my left eye?  I think not.  I’ll rely upon Dr. Callanan, but then again…. This appeared one afternoon and then its flowers have closed.  This Sow Thistle inhabits the disturbed soil underneath the live oak tree to the southeast of the house.  I have read much about the categorization of ‘weed’ versus ‘plant.’  The term ‘weed’ seems culture-specific, a term of dislike, marginal.  Goats, sheep and cattle eat this with relish.  To them, it seems, this is a plant, not an obnoxious weed.  One person’s plant is another person’s weed?

8. Unknown.

These little-bitty guys erupt on the top terrace and emerge as small, almost unnoticeable flowers. As of today, I have failed to find their name, and I also need a closeup to gain greater resolution of their attributes. Today it is raining and the blossoms are closed.

More Violet ruellia, violet wild petunia (Ruellia nudiflora).

This is a another photograph of violet wild petunia, previously identified.  It has erupted in large numbers along Interstate 20 from Mingus to Abilene.

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Flowers of Flying Hat (5): Ground plum, not yummy

Yesterday evening as I came back a different path from the barn after feeding Star, I discovered this flowering plant, the Ground plum, milkvetch.  I spent over an hour perusing field books until I identified Ground plum.  I nailed the identification when I corroborated a field book description with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website.  Depending upon the species of Astragalus, some members are poisonous, but this species is not.  Even so, Ground plum is not a yummy plant although its fragrance is lovely — somewhat spicy I believe.

5. Ground plum, milkvetch (Astragalus crassicarpus?). March 3, 2012, southeast second-level terrace. See: http://www.wildflower.org/gallery/result.php?id_image=9002; Wills and Irwin, p. 138, especially.

I discovered a new link for plants: University of Michigan-Dearborn Native American Ethnobotany.  You must check this out for medicinal uses of plants.

This medicinal use of plants starts me thinking.  I may set aside an area in the barn to harvest some of these plants.  I already have a request for bull nettle to be sent up to Wisconsin for an indoor greenhouse.  Don’t let the bull nettle go outside!

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