Tag Archives: Baird Hill

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.

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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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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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Interstate 20 Kestrel

Sparrow Hawk (Falco sparverius, from Peterson's Field Guide)

In my long commute to Abilene from Mingus, Texas (87.2 miles), I see flora and fauna of Cross Timbers and west Texas plains along Interstate 20.  The Clear Fork of the Brazos River is the major river in the area, meandering north of the interstate at a distance I cannot discern from the highway, but within sight of the wind turbines that I see turning swiftly with the wind.

Between Abilene and Clyde, Texas, I have seen for several years a particular type of hovering bird above the interstate that dives down, usually on the median, to take a field mouse.  The angle of the sun has not been right for me to identify the bird nor have I minimal traffic to definitely type the predator.  (Trucks carry a lot of cargo on Interstate 20 between El Paso and Dallas-Fort Worth and must be respected.)  Yesterday, however, at the same spot (about a two-hundred-yard splotch) that I have seen these birds over the years, I was able to identify a Sparrow Hawk (Falco sparverius), as my elusive companion for the commute.

The Sparrow Hawk or “American Kestrel” flashed a rufous back, wings spread with blue-gray color and a rufous tail, signifying a male, as it dove onto the median.  Returning home, driving east, the sun on my right side at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon, I saw brightly illuminated the plumage and color of this beautiful hawk.  The sighting occurred within five seconds, but I will remember this Interstate 20 Kestrel for a long, long time.

* * *

How can we ever think ourselves alone when in the absence of our own kind we have kestrel, oak and four-legged companions about?  But we do feel estranged.  I have and will feel alone again.  Yet, so, and despite it all, our senses become filled with flapping wings, stamping hooves and trees swaying in the wind among ten thousand sights and sounds.  Our yearning for connectedness disappears with a self-loss in nature’s rhythm, even along the interstate.  It is a kind of sacred hoop, Black Elk once said.

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Emergent Rushes on Baird Hill Pond?

I drove by the Baird Hill Pond on the way to work this morning in Abilene, Texas.  My habit pattern for eleven years has been to look closely at the pond’s condition and waterfowl that may be browsing.  The pond in the last two years has been devastated with unknown toxic runoff.

This morning, however, I think I noticed emerging rushes along the pond’s edges!  The water has appeared clear and a healthy-dark blue recently, so my first observation about new growth of rushes may be validated.  The pond is along Interstate 20 as you ascend the hill westward to Baird, Texas.  I shan’t get too excited until the sprouts I see emerge farther.

No access road beside the pond allows me to stop my pickup and look closer.  I will have to park about 200 yards away to take photographs from the barrier wall.

We shall see what we shall see.

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Yucca Meditation (Parachuting Cats)

Yucca Thoughts

This is Yucca Meditation.  Why yucca?  It’s an abundant succulent on our place here in west Texas and every time I look out from our porch to the southern skies and mesas, I see yuccas.  Yuccas here, yuccas there, yucca yucca everywhere.  I like yucca.  Surrounded by a lot of yucca, I think about many things.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The Pond on Baird Hill

I have written a post on the pond at West Cut on Baird Hill, along Interstate 20, near Abilene, Texas. The pond in the last two years has gone from a vibrant, lush pond of cattails and flora to a grayish-brown receptacle of run-off from nearby inclines.  Though my proof is impressionable and subject to further research, the most likely cause of the pond’s decline is water run-off from construction of power lines above the pond that transfer power from wind farms on the east and north side of Abilene.  I saw the construction crews and they did not run willy-nilly all over the ranch land.  From what I saw, crews behaved as stewards to the land.

These days, wind farm blades turn and electricity emerges from a green source, renewable and free by all accounts.  Even so, because of transmission lines, a pond declined in health, an impact unintended and unforeseeable.  This brings me to the cats.

Dayak of Borneo

The Dayak of Borneo (Imageshack, Asian Chat)

After World War II, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other similar agencies sought to eradicate the mosquito that carried the plasmodium of malaria.  DDT was the first insecticide applied in regions that had a high incidence of malaria.  In Borneo live the Dayak people, residing in large single homes or long houses of up to 500 people.   After the application of DDT to the mosquito population, malaria was eradicated and the overall quality of life and energy of the tribe dramatically increased.  The tribe’s health had never been so good (1).

Living in the long houses, however, were cockroaches, cats and small lizards — the gecko.  The cockroaches ingested the DDT and the geckos ate the cockroaches.  Normal pattern.  Cats ate the lizards, but the lizards had become lethal weapons through the eating of so many cockroaches laced with DDT.  The cats, unfortunately, all died from eating the lizards.  Not normal.

The unintended consequences of helping the Dayak people eradicate malaria did not stop there.  When the cats died, rats from the surrounding woods invaded the villages, bringing the sylvatic plague through fleas, lice and parasites rats normally vectored.  The Dayak missed their cats greatly.  The Royal Air Force (RAF) and the WHO met the situation in quick order.  The RAF parachuted 14,000 living cats into the villages to eat the rats.  I can see it now:  parachutes with kitty-cats in crates dropping from the skies.  I don’t think they would have harnessed the kitties with little webbings and ripcords, do you?

It doesn’t end there.

In the roofs of the thatched houses lived a small caterpillar that burrowed into the rafters and before the DDT spraying, caused little damage.  Parasites and predators of the little caterpillar had kept the caterpillar population in check, particularly the wasp.  The DDT killed the parasites of the caterpillar, the caterpillar population skyrocketed, burrowing deeper into the rafters of the long houses and single homes, resulting in the collapse of the huts and exposure of the population to the elements before repairs.

The Dayak must of thought the end of the world was near, seeing cats drop out of the sky and houses collapsing.  Oh, the evil WHO!

A Law of Unintended Consequences

DDT has now been discredited and is not used widely, if at all.  The initial application of the chemical was intended for good effect and that was attained, yet the unintended consequences were disastrous for the Dayak, and, we know today, bad for many organisms in the food chain.

The correlation of DDT and the effects of wind farm construction occurs only at the juncture of unintended consequences.  DDT has been completely taken out of most systemic plans for public health.  Wind farms will remain and should remain.  The West Cut Pond on Baird Hill will probably renew itself and ducks will arrive in October and not leave until March.  In comparing the degree of damage by DDT and transmission line construction, there’s no balancing of the equation.  Wind farms should stay.  DDT needs to be tightly regulated.

In the beginning, the application of new technology usually promises much: efficiency, improvement of health and speed (automobile vs. horse and buggy).  The continuing use of technology, however, reveals unintended consequences that may be destructive in a large sense (collapse of long houses) or small.  The decision arises as to whether to keep the technology, drop it entirely or regulate its use.

In my yucca frame of mind, let’s keep parachuting cats to a minimum and be careful, very careful, about the destruction of water habitats.

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Notes:

1.  See Harrison, Tom, 1965, “Operation Cat Drop,” Animals, 5:512-13 as quoted and utilized in the article, C. S. Holling and M. A. Goldberg, “Ecology and Planning,” pp.  78-93, in an anthology by Daniel G. Bates and Susan H. Lees (eds.), Contemporary Anthropology: An Anthology, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981.

A blog post similarly composed is Planninga from Nanninga that has a parachuting cat cartoon and commentary on unintended consequences.

See also “Parachuting Cats — A True Story.” The cartoon illustration in the post is from this article.

Malaria cases in the U.  S. are minimal (1,200 cases a year), due to the previous use of DDT.  Malaria, however, appears in central Mexico today and is gradually coming northward to the U. S.  The application of some form of insecticide in the coming decades will be needed to eradicate the vector mosquito.

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Baird Hill Ducks and Mount Kilimanjaro

[I wrote this post on November 3, 2009.  I have been writing about the Baird Hill Pond lately and decided to bring this forward to the front page and make it public.]

This morning at about 7:15 a.m. CST, I spied a flock of ducks on the Baird Hill Pond.  This is my first trip by the pond since last Thursday (no ducks then) and with daylight savings time over, the dawn’s light illuminated the pond.  From my pickup, I saw a flock of about fifteen ducks, paddling in the middle of the pond.  Their presence shows that the pond sustains life.  Whether or not the pond gains additional flocks remains to be seen, but the pond may be reconstructing itself.

Mt. Kilimanjaro snow cap is melting fast.  Whether this is the result of global warming is unknown, but suspected.  Arctic Ocean is opening up, Antarctica’s ice shelves are breaking up, and second homes (MacMansions) disturb the Taos Indian annual rabbit hunt.  Baird Hill pond is losing its vegetation, but ducks are there today.  How many more canaries have to die before we stop the misuse of our resources?

New York Times article on Mt. Kilimanjaro

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Notes:

Photo by Stephen Morrison on European Pressphoto Agency, as cited in The New York Times link above.

I think it was Borges that wrote once that a dead jaguar was found way up the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, beyond his or her range by several thousand feet.  Why?  What so possessed the jaguar to seek the mountain, going beyond what was familiar?  Borges or whomever it was wrote a short explication of their theory.  I have mine and I shall post about it one day.

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West Cut Pond on Baird Hill

Since 1998, I have looked at a beautiful stock pond along the West Cut of Baird Hill, on Interstate 20, near Baird, Texas, as I have driven to work in Abilene from Mingus, Texas.

The pond has deteriorated in health.  It was a pond that had rushes of cattails, deep-green sturdy stalks, three to four feet high, lining the pond all the way around except for a few places where cattle could water or a tree had fallen.  Ducks would fly in at the first cold snap in October and not leave until February or March.

The pond is set among hills on three sides, a spring-fed creek empties into the pond.  The interstate highway at the West Cut blockades the downstream portion of the pond, creating a kind of highway dam.

Last year and the year before, power poles with transmission lines as big as your arm were erected above the pond and on the hills to the north of the interstate in order to carry electricity from wind farms on the north and east side of Abilene.

When the transmission lines were nearly constructed, all the the green rushes along the pond died.

The pond lost water and is down about a foot or two.  At first, I speculated that the reeds had died as the result of some natural cycle, but that was not correct.  The rushes died because of contaminants from the transmission line construction, road construction for the power lines, the wind farm construction, or a combination of all three factors.  I did not take a water sample.  Not my land.  But, the owner of the ranch was just as surprised as I was about the change in the pond.  The reeds have not reproduced.

So, we have more electricity that is suppose to be clean.  It is.  But, in the method of setting up clean energy, nature is destroyed.  The pond is dying.

I will continue to observe the pond and will take photographs from the highway.  Hopefully, nature will resurge again along the banks of the pond.  And, I wonder if the ducks will stay long?  Will they even stop?

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Notes:

July 25, 2010, update: The pond has remained unchanged.  The color of the water has deepened to a blue-green and is not brown or brackish any longer.  The reeds still have not replenished.  I will attempt to take some photographs from the interstate for the record.  To connect the transmission line construction and the death of the pond is correlative.  I may be completely wrong in my hypothesis about cause and effect.  More proof is needed.

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No Ducks Yet on the Pond

There have been no ducks on the pond as of today.  There is a blue heron that comes every afternoon to feed at the pond.  The coldest front of the season is to drive temperatures down tomorrow night and Tuesday.  Perhaps, then, the ducks will fly in.

The photograph above, taken by Brenda, shows ducks in flight last winter.

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