Monthly Archives: May 2012

Flora funeral: Silphium and Liatris

The pews shine with furniture polish as the funeral ceremony approaches all too soon, I am afraid.  We have read the obituary either on the internet or in the strange pulp we call newspaper.  There was an accident, no, that’s not quite correct.  There occurred an intentional erasure of a Silphium and Liatris beside a highway as the road expanded to carry cargo from Cathay to London and places in between.   They had to go, making way for trucks, cars and commerce.  In another county, these two species of wildflowers were literally mowed down to accommodate fields of bermuda grass for cattle grazing.  Man and his machines with an ideology of progress cut these plants from our world.

At the flora funeral, I settle in the pew, way at the back because I want to leave as soon as the sermonizing begins, for I know that in some corner of a county road, a cemetery, an abandoned field, there are survivors and I want to find them and stand guard against their enemies.  The parson begins, “We come here today to honor two beautiful friends, Silphium and Liatris, that unfortunately were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  He continues and I slip out the back….

I shall find Silphium’s relatives, the kin of Liatris, somewhere on the back roads of America.  I know I will discover them, for mankind cannot be so cruel as to grind under every beautiful blossom in the name of progress.  I will, and many others will, stand as sentinel, protecting their existence from unthinking blades of technology.

* * *

For several years, Aldo Leopold monitored a tract of Silphium near a Wisconsin graveyard as mowers came closer and closer, year by year, eventually cutting it down.

Silphium

Every July I watch eagerly a certain country graveyard that I pass in driving to and from my farm. It is time for a prairie birthday, and in one corner of this graveyard lives a surviving celebrant of that once important event.

It is an ordinary graveyard, bordered by the usual spruces, and studded with the usual pink granite or white marble headstones, each with the usual Sunday bouquet of red or pink geraniums. It is extraordinary only in being triangular instead of square, and in harboring, within the sharp angle of its fence, a pin-point remnant of the native prairie on which the graveyard was established in the 1840’s. Heretofore unreachable by sythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or cutleaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.

This year I found the Silphium in first bloom on 24 July, a week later than usual; during the last six years the average date was 15 July.

When I passed the graveyard again on 3 August, the fence had been removed by a road crew, and the Silphium cut. It is easy now to predict the future; for a few years my Silphium will try in vain to rise above the mowing machine, and then it will die. With it will die the prairie epoch.

The Highway Department says that 100,000 cars pass yearly over this route during the three summer months when the Silphium is in bloom. In them must ride at least 100,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise. If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weeds, he would be amazed and uncomprehending. How could a weed be a book?

This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the floras of the world. Mechanized man, oblivious of floras, is proud of his progress in cleaning up the landscape on which, willy-nilly, he must live out his days. It might be wise to prohibit at once all teaching of real botany and real history, lest some future citizen suffer qualms about the floristic price of his good life.

 — Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac (1948).

* * *

Elaine Lee, a friend of mine, wrote me about Liatris, her narrative quite similar to Leopold’s Silphium, as you can read for yourself:

Purple Gayfeather, Liatris

Just this morning as I was driving to work I noticed about 150-100 yards west of the abandoned oil storage tank east of Putnam, there is a field full of purple flower spikes.  I think, just from seeing them while driving eastbound, that they may be purple Gayfeather, or Liatris.  The only other time I have seen Liatris in the wild, it was called to my attention by a Texas Master Gardener and she was doing her best to protect a very small stand in Clyde, near the cemetery.  According to her they are not extremely common in this area.  I had never seen them before, but I think the purple color of these plants, plus the fact that it was after many other wildflowers had bloomed that she made me aware of them and this particular field could be the same.  If so, it is a very large cluster in a good-sized field.  The habitat was very similar to that of the small cluster I saw in Clyde — an open field, not attended, and not plowed or mowed for probably many years.   Just the right amount of sunshine and rain coming at just the right time.

— E-mail of Elaine Lee to Jack Matthews, May 21, 2012.

I will seek out the Liatris as soon as possible, photograph it and write about its presence in west Texas.  I don’t like going to funerals and neither do my friends.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

Excerpt of Aldo Leopold from: http://gargravarr.cc.utexas.edu/chrisj/leopold-quotes.html

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Fogfruit or Frogfruit: Art and whimsy

On the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, botanists answer questions from the laity — you, me and other interested observers of things botanical. Wild Bill of Wild Ramblings asked me where the common names, Fogfruit and Frogfruit, emanated. For the moment, Wild Bill — and others –, this is the best answer I found. Yet, the question of origin requires more research.  The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a good first start.

The OED cites:  ‘1866   J. Lindley & T. Moore Treasury Bot.,   Fog-fruit, an American name for Lippia nodiflora.’  I will have to go to the university library to find The Treasury of Botany, but at least I have a title to search.  Nineteenth-century newspapers and periodicals probably have notations about common names, so I better dust off my microfilm reader at the office.  Oh, Bill, why did you have to ask that question?

33. Texas Frogfruit or Fogfruit

Common names are curious things.  While no one would bat an eye about a paper dissecting some arcane point of minutiae regarding Polygonum orientale, it’s difficult to imagine a crotchety old botanist standing before his peers at a professional conference and delivering a serious exposition on “Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate.” Where botanical names are all about science and rules, common names are about art and whimsy.  Botanical names are about the sharing of information; common names are about conversation and pleasant communication.  Botanical names are neat and orderly, law-abiding citizens; common names are messy, free-wheeling, teenaged scofflaws.

All of that is a way of saying that “frogfruit” and “fogfruit” are like the old chewing gum ads – they’re “two… two… two mints in one!”  OK, Phyla nodiflora is not a mint, it’s in the Verbena family, but both common names are commonly applied to that species and several others related to it.  In fact, fogfruit probably even predates frogfruit as a common name by about 100 years (early 1800’s for fogfruit vs. early 1900’s for frogfruit).  Most likely, frogfruit arose as a common name from a mispronunciation or misspelling of fogfruit. I have in my mind the scene of a copy editor looking at “fogfruit” and saying, “That can’t be right!  What the heck is a fogfruit?  It must be, oh, I don’t know, maybe frogfruit!  Yep, that must be it.  Frogfruit makes a lot more sense!  Set the type, boys!”  Even today, if you do a Google search for each common name, you’ll get more “hits” for fogfruit than you will for frogfruit.  Neither common name makes much sense to me and I’m still looking for a good (non-fanciful) explanation for the origin of either one.  My personal preference is for the common name, Turkey-tangle, but that’s another issue altogether.

—  Joe Marcus of Lady Bird Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

For a full explanation see:

http://www.wildflower.org/expert/show.php?id=4265

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Well, I declare!

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Well, I declare!

I open the valve on the far-field water trough and I nonchalantly look around the ground, thinking, There are no new wildflowers about.

I am wrong.  I see three new wild flowers.

Well, I declare, my Aunt Lennie used to say.

__________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

Mandala56 posted this comment: ‘What’s that blue one called? When I was a kid we called it “elephant’s ears”.’  I replied that I did not know — yet.  I was in the field when I published the post.

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Well, I declare! Post 1

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Well, I declare!

I open the valve on the far-field water trough and I nonchalantly look around the ground, thinking, There are no new wildflowers about.

I am wrong Three new wild flowers come to my view.

Well, I declare, my Aunt Lennie used to say.

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Turkey Tangle Fogfruit: Flowers of Flying Hat (32-38)

In my continuing project to photograph all different species of flowering plants on Flying Hat Ranchito during 2012-2013, I give you seven more Flowers of Flying Hat (32-38).  Please correct my identification if I make an error, for I want my cataloging to be accurate.

32. Tall Coneflower, Rough Coneflower, Giant Coneflower (Rudbeckia grandiflora)

As the Tall Coneflower matures, it loses the green-gray cone, becoming brown.  These are immature, but mature Tall Coneflowers erupt throughout the ranchito.  These immature coneflowers suddenly sprang up after the last rain along a terracing ditch for stock ponds.  The large spindle-like purple flowers in the background are horse mint, previously photographed.

No. 32 Family of Tall Coneflower

33. Texas Frogfruit, Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Frogfruit (Verbena family), good nectar plant for butterflies, bees

No. 33 Sprawling Texas Frogfruit

This odd-named plant is a host to several larval: Phaon Crescentspot, Buckeye, and White Peacock butterflies.  I find butterflies and bees abounding on its blossoms.  The sprawl is located in front of my C&C livestock trailer and my Big Texas flatbed.  It is flooded and dried by the sun, time and time again, and still remains robust and flowering.  Frankly, I nearly passed over the blossoms for they are quite small — about 1/4 inch across –, but decided to go back this morning and photograph.  Upon looking up its characteristics, I am impressed with its connections to bees, butterflies and larvae.  I wish I knew how Frogfruit got its name.  And it is Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, not Frogfruit, in case you are interested.  Fogfruit, Frogfruit — what nomenclature our ancestors tagged on flora.

I can’t wait for someone to ask me down at the barn, What kind of plant is that?

My answer, Why don’t you know?  Everyone knows that’s….

34. Tasajillo, Christmas Cactus, Christmas Cholla, Rat-tail Cactus, Pencil Cactus (Opuntia leptocaulis), edible fruit

If I have been stuck by this cactus once, then it is for sure at least a hundred times more over the years.  I may have been bucked by a horse long ago into a bunch of these Christmas cacti.  I have eaten the fruit carefully.

35. Coreopsis, Golden-Wave, Tickseed, Goldenmane Tickseed

I went down to the Grove this morning to see if the Wine Cups blossom in cooler temperatures — 70 F.  The Wine Cups were gone, but these Goldenmane Tickseed had sprung up about the area where the Wine Cups had erupted.  Fair enough, I think, for the soil is rich, the shade is cool by the creek, and there is room for several blossoming plants.

36. Soft Golden Aster (Chrysopsis pilosa)

37. Texas Thistle (Aster family)

38. Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus, Aster family)

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Pink Rain

Pink Rain, Caralee Woods, Kanab, Utah

My last post, ‘Cloud Portal to the coast’, prompted Caralee Woods of Kanab, Utah, to send her ‘Pink Rain’ photograph with this appended message,

For some reason your photo reminded me of a different kind of rain photo I took sometime back here in the desert, right out my back door.  The sun was setting and shining through some virga–rain that doesn’t reach the ground.  I thought of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain‘ and decided to call this one ‘Pink Rain.’  The photo wasn’t enhanced, and I like the fact that the sage seems to glow.

Caralee resides with her husband, Jimmy Henley, in Kanab, Utah, where they are building a strawbale compound a few miles from the town.  Jimmy and I have been friends since elementary school in the 1950s.  In the 1970s, I met Caralee when she was a book representative for Harper & Row publishers.  She came into my office at Amarillo College and called me, “Little Francis,” a nickname I had not heard since high school — courtesy of Jimmy, my old school chum.

Their website has several photographs of the guest house, main house foundation and walls, strawbales and their garden:  Building Our Strawbale Home!    The coloring treatment of their floors is fantastic: a dark copper, desert brown.  Caralee and Jimmy established a compound that is off the electrical grid, using solar and backup diesel generators for energy efficiency.  Visit their website also for the landscape vistas in her photographs.  One of these days I hope to visit them again and see the progress they have made as well as gaze at the glowing sage and pink-virga rain.

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Cloud portal to the coast

Thundershowers on either side of Interstate 20 west of Cisco, Texas, May 2012

Last Friday, May 11, 2012, I drove to Abilene for commencement at Cisco College where I instruct.  West of Cisco, on Interstate 20, I saw this cloud portal — at least that is what I call it.  I sped between the two thundershowers.  A few drops fell on my car.  The first couple of weeks in May is a time of showers and cool temperatures in west Texas.  That is not always true, for this time last year, I was busy writing about wildfires in my area.

I have a friend at Cisco College that teaches English and he traveled to the Oregon coast last year, staying near Seal Rock and Newport, soaking in cool temperatures and consuming seafood and local white wines.  He talks about moving to Oregon, selling his ranch and settling in the cooler climes.  I think about the higher altitudes of northern New Mexico around Truchas and Taos that have sharp winters and cool nights during the summer.

We both will probably stay put: he in Santa Anna, me in Mingus, for there are mild winters and days in May where thundershowers bring out the Cut-leaf Daisy, Fire Whorls, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Dandelions in brilliant colors while horses and cattle graze in lush Spring fields of gramma and bluestem.  I should like, however, to go to the Newport and Depoe Bay area of Oregon where my friend says, ‘There is a resident pod of whales for ten months out of the year about the coast.  You can see them surface and dive, surface and dive.’

I want to see that scene some day.  The cloud portal in the photograph above opens to the west, towards the Pacific, towards the whale.  And away from home.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

Depoe Bay was added as an additional site my friend visited.  It is a central location for beautiful scenery and whales.  The boating outing in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was filmed in the area.

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Orange milkweed, not globemallow

Please note the change of identification from 7:00 a.m. to 3:11 p.m.  I thought you might like the changing process of classification.

Composed at ca. 7:00 a.m. this morning, before field trip

The hunt is on again for identifying a wildflower, but this time the plant in question falls outside the ranchito and does not fit into my project of cataloging wildflowers on my land.

Yesterday afternoon at about Mile Marker 352 on the south side of Interstate 20, I saw a bush-clump of brilliant orange-scarlet flowers.  I have never seen such brilliance.  Hurrying to the ranchito and my office, I combed page-by-page my wildflower identification books and at least five websites that classify flowers.  I may have found the answer, but I cannot with a lot of confidence conclude the flowers to be the Caliche globemallow or Scarlet globemallow and I have had to reverse my classifications before — I once identified the Wine Cup as a Desert Mariposa — so, I must go up the hills to my west tomorrow and find the flowers again.  Elaine Lee and her mother have recently seen ‘neon-orange flowers’ near Putnam, Texas, on Interstate 20.

In reflecting on the Scarlet globemallow (?), I may have seen a family’s roadside memorial marker with orange plastic flowers wrapped around a cross?

Composed at ca. 3:11 p.m. after field trip to photograph

I combined a trip to the First National Bank of Santo at Mingus, Texas, with a field excursion up on top of Ranger Hill (Mile Marker 352) to photograph this flower.  I thought I had it down as a Scarlet globemallow even though I flew by the plant at 70 m.p.h.  I made two trips by the flower before I turned into the grass along side Interstate 20.  There was no access road nearby so I turned on my emergency blinkers.  I discovered five clumps of the plant and its blossoms as trucks shot by. 

Of course, I am self-conscious at the side of an Interstate taking pictures of wildflowers:  What the hey am I doing here?  A few truckers blow their horn.

I admit I am so curious about this plant and flower that I spend $8.00 in diesel fuel going up the hill from where I live to get close to this flower and photograph.  That’s ‘What the hey am I doing there.’  Secondly, what the hey is that flower doing there?  Too many questions with not enough answers, so I drive back to the ranchito, eat a ham sandwich and upload the pics and begin to compare the blossoms with Scarlet globemallow.  Totally different blossoms, totally different plants.

This search, I think, is going to go on for a long, long time.  So, I pick up my first manual, and on page 16 of Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller’s Texas Wildflowers is the Orange milkweed also known as Butterflyweed, Butterfly milkweed, Orange milkweed or Pleurisy root.  That was fast.

I have Green milkweed on the ranchito, but no Orange milkweed.  I am curious as to the medicinal properties of the Orange milkweed.  And, what is pleurisy?  I remember hearing it as a boy:  I’ve got some pleurisy this morning, Little Jack.  I think it must be some sort of joint pain?  In any case, I am confident as to the classification and it is a brilliant, showy blossom known as Orange milkweed.

Many county roads meander about my area.  I think my next trip will be up the road for 15 miles or so where my mail carrier habitually sees a bobcat cross the road.  There be things to discover and photograph up the road, up the hill and into nature’s wonders.  I do believe it so.

 

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Wind, Yucca and Wine Cups: A Texas Spring

Two days ago I and the ranchito received 0.25 inch of rain, causing bees to work hard yesterday in the front yard, gathering pollen from an unidentified burst of small white flowers and residual Gyp Indian Blankets.  I have photographed the white flowers and will integrate them into the catalog of Flowers of Flying Hat.  Cool winds blew the yucca blossoms about and I took this video of wind blowing the yucca blossoms.

Rain fell this morning at the house and my commute to Abilene (87.2 miles) was tricky and slick in my large F-250 pickup.  A Federal Express truck with two tandem trailers went off the road west of Cisco on Interstate 20 and turned over.  From what I gathered, passing by in the rain, no fires erupted.  I hope the driver escaped with little or no injury.

Elaine Lee wrote about the Wine Cups in our vicinity.  She lives in Clyde, Texas, and drives to Cisco, Texas, every work day.  Elaine is a careful observer of flora and fauna along Interstate 20, including the ducks on Baird Hill Pond.  She has noticed, as I have, the large flock of wild turkeys that infrequently browse in the field south of Baird Hill.  Elaine writes of the Wine Cups,

I’m certain you are correct about wine cup not being present last year in your location.  This year, and never before, I saw wine cup growing along the highway edge in the Interstate 20 median.  They were growing just west of Putnam, TX and stretched for probably 200 or 300 hundred yards.  Of all Texas wildflowers, I have heard they are the most difficult to become established.  I don’t know if grassfire in the median caused the heat to break their seed covering or ground heat from the drought, but whatever it was, it created a very nice showing this Spring.  In years past I have seen them along the Interstate 20 frontage road not far from my sister’s house in Dallas, but never in this area.  However, I hope they are here to stay since they add another color dimension to the Spring landscape.

In researching the Wine Cup, I have found something quite interesting.  The Wine Cup has native distribution only to southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas, south to to Louisiana and central Texas.  It has spread to other states.  Flying Hat Ranchito is located on the western periphery of central Texas.  My mailing address comes out of Mingus, Texas, but the ranchito is ten-or-so miles southeast of Mingus, back in the hills, in Sims Valley, near Hannibal, Texas.  Hannibal now has one building that used to double as a general store with a Masonic Lodge on the second floor (don’t hold me too tight on these two historical functions of the building for I need to do more research).  The Wine Cups I photographed are six miles away from Hannibal, to the north.

My plans for the weekend include further observations of Wine Cups in the grove area.  At last count, eight Wine Cup blossoms erupted.  Of yucca, some one-hundred stalks abound on the terraces.  One hundred stalks times one-hundred blossoms per stalk equals 10,000 blossoms.  Of rain, 0.25 inch two-days ago, about 0.10 inch this morning.  Of bees and critters?  I will count them another day.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

From the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I quote,

Callirhoe digitata Nutt.

Finger poppy-mallow, Poppy mallow, Standing winecup, Wine cup, Winecup

Malvaceae (Mallow Family)

USDA Symbol: CADI2

USDA Native Status: Native to U.S.

The wine cup is a perennial growing 8–20 inches tall, depending on moisture and soil, with gray-green stems. Leaves are alternate, basal leaves having stems about as long as the leaf; leaves are coarsely lobed or scalloped to deeply 5-lobed. There are few leaves on the upper part of the stem. Flowers have 5 petals, cup-shaped at first and opening out nearly flat as the flower matures. They are violet to red-violet, sometimes white, 1–2 inches across. The stamens and pistil form a conelike structure in the center of the flower.

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Wine Cup Clearing: Flowers of Flying Hat (25-31)

Wine Cup clearing

At 8:30 this morning, I walked and drove to the far field.  Smiling at wild mustang grapevines that yield monarch butterflies along the fence row, I hiked with camera in the grove along Salt Creek.  The creek runs water despite the lack of rain for over a month.  Squall lines last evening bypassed the ranchito, dumping hail and rain in Fort Worth, sixty-seven miles away to the east and in Cisco, forty-five miles to the west.  Wine Cup clearing, as I now call it, bears Wine Cups this Spring.  I saw none last year.  In the photograph above, the Wine Cups are on the right side of the clearing.  They have cool shade from the oak and elm and the creek runs nearby that brings the ambient temperature down a few degrees.

Names have been given, I am sure, to places on the ranchito before I came, but they have not been passed down.  (There has been only one owner previous to me besides the Venable family that settled larger sections of land in the surrounds.)  I give a name first by location:  near field, far field, arena pasture, barn pasture, etc., but then when an object or landform becomes prominent, like Pecan Tree or Wine Cup, I name the space, giving it animation and fixing the impression.  I have no crew to direct into the pastures, but when I refer to The Grove or Pecan Tree Pasture, friends and family know where that is, associating flora and fauna with location, and ambiguity disappears.

25. Wine Cup (Poppy Mallow)

Two-years ago, I discovered one or two Wine Cups in the grove, up from the creek, in a private place for this blossom.  Today, eight blossoms of Wine Cup or Poppy Mallow emerged from the same location.  Eight Wine Cups are not a bell weather of climate change, but rather, I suspect, a change due to fallowing, allowing the flowers to replenish.  Green grass and tall trees abound about the Wine Cup’s private place.  I find no Wine Cups at other locations on the ranchito although I continue to search.

26. Trailing krameria,Crameria, Prairie sandbur, Trailing Ratany

I find Trailing krameria or Prairie sandbur in only two places on the ranchito, both on the knoll where the house sits.  This is a delicate plant and can be missed and mowed under if one is not careful.  It lies along the fence line between the house and front pasture and, secondly, has emerged on a terrace  to the southeast.  I find archeological evidence of hearth and tool making about the ranchito and I wonder if earlier inhabitants or migrants  saw this plant.  I presume so and know it must have some medicinal properties?

27. Skeleton Plant, Purple Dandelion, Flowering Straw, Milk Pink

The stems of Skeleton Plant are rigid, attached at obtuse angles, like a skeletal frame.  The flower stalk and blossom are tall, some two feet.  These plants are more prolific this year than two years ago.  Here is a larger picture of the Purple Dandelion with yucca blossoms.  I cultivate neither.  Both emerge wild.

Purple Dandelions with yucca blossoms

28. Bull Nettle

In the far field I have Bull Nettle.  It has medicinal properties, but is quite painful to be brushed against.  As a boy, I got a painful lesson in ‘trying’ to pick its blossoms.  I have a collector in Wisconsin to whom I will send a few with warning labels this Spring.

29. Prickly Pear cactus

30. Coneflower

31. Common Yarrow

No. 31 is Common Yarrow.

The pastures are browning here and towards San Angelo and Mexico I am told by ranchers more desert appears.  Grass fires have been erupting this last week between here and Abilene.  Yet, the diversity of nature here on these 53 acres of my ranchito shows both browning pastures and a creek that runs water with moss growing on its banks.  Brown and green, primary colors of nature, intermingle and birds continue to sing despite the fear I have that a climate shift has come and the green will dwindle until next year’s Spring rains.  I may be right; I may be wrong.  As the ancients said, We shall see what we shall see.

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