Tuesday, July 31, 2012


My sis-in-law and I went on a Yarn Crawl on Sunday. She crochets, but I do not, although I have been thinking about trying my hand at crocheting for awhile.  The Yarn Crawl was Friday - Sunday and about 12 stores throughout the metro area participated in the event. For each store you visited, you got a stamp on your Yarn Crawl paper and a free knitting or crochet pattern. When you visited 6 stores, (or more) you could turn your paper in for a raffle for all kinds of prizes.

Since I was new to the yarn scene, just about everything was a novelty. For example, all the stores had buttons in tubes with a button glued to the lid. I liked the button display at this store 

And look how the yarn was set up in this store!

I've already had 2 impromptu lessons since Sunday and not only can I create chains, but I can do the single crochet! My sis-in-law gave the lessons and I appreciate her patience in teaching someone who is not only left-handed, but sometimes has the attention span of a fly.  Right now I'm just practicing the single crochet stitch. I'm still working on my form and stitch uniformity. I've also been practicing with different hook and yarn sizes. The thought of trying to create something from a pattern is still intimidating.

Once I master the single crochet, I'll move on to the double- and triple- crochet and then maybe try a scarf pattern. But I also need to learn how to keep my yarn away from furry paws.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Digital Photography: A blessing and a curse for my obsessive tendencies

It started last month when I decided to go through all the photographs I took with my film SLR camera. I had 3 boxes and probably a dozen more envelopes filled with pictures. This activity in and of itself is nothing new.  I will pull these photos out once in awhile in search of a specific picture, or just to reminisce. But something clicked, or went haywire in my brain because I decided right then and there that I needed organize the photos, ALL of them, including the digital pictures stored on the computer.

Sorting through the paper photographs was simple enough, but I got vastly overwhelmed after an hour of looking at my digital photographs. Do you realize how many digital pictures I've taken since 2002? THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS. When I realized I had photographs stored in 3 computers and 2 laptops (the photos from the various computers/laptops were stored in an external hard drive) I stopped sorting. I had to come up with a more specific goal than sorting just for sortings sake. What did I want to do with these photographs? Did I want to print them? Share them as gifts? Sell them?

 I could begin with the 2 empty photo collages I had stashed in the bedroom closet. But how in the world could I pick 2 dozen photographs from a selection of thousands? I got stuck here for at least a week before finally deciding that each collage would have a theme. Coming up with a subject  for the first collage was easy; I would fill it with the photos from our 2010 Alaska trip. Done. The subject for the second collage frame eluded me for a few days before I settled on birds. At least 75% of my photographs are birds and I had only 9 slots and another week passed before I picked the winners for the collage.

Once the collages were finished I decided to create a website to share my photographs and perhaps even sell a few. And that is where I am now, sorting, organizing and deciding on which pictures will go on the website. Every day I spend about an hour (sometimes more) picking photographs from the various folders, touching them up and posting them on the website.

Each folder is similar to unwrapping a gift because there are so many pictures that I forgot I had taken, or I revisit some photo and decide it's not so bad after touching it up. Through the photographs taken over the years I have seen my skill improve and presently I realize that I experimented a lot more then than I do now (which needs to change). I've taken photographs of breathtaking vistas in the Northwest and Great Plains, snapped pictures of the smiling faces and laughter of friends and family, captured the beauty and grace of captive and wild animals and the quirks of family pets.

So much beauty, so many memories, so many pictures.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Sanctuary

In case you didn't know, it's been hot here in the Midwest. Triple digit hot. My city has been breaking temperature records just about every day for the last week, and that is no exaggeration. I've been so obsessed with watering my plants daily that the plant watering invaded my dreams last night.

I've also been so worried about keeping my plants from wilting that I haven't stopped to enjoy the burst of activity the sprinkler brings, until today.

I turned the sprinkler on in the backyard and when I returned inside, I noticed a young Eurasian Tree Sparrow hanging out on a branch that was in the path of the sprinkler. I watched it for a moment before grabbing my camera.
I will insert the disclaimer that I took all of these photos from inside the house through the sliding glass door, where the glass is filthy. I cleaned up the images in Photoshop as best I could, but some of them are still icky.

  Not long after the Eurasian Tree Sparrow flew away, a pair of House Sparrows landed on the branch and either leaned into the oncoming water or bent down to drink from the droplets clinging to the twigs and bark.

I love how this little bird is LEANING into the sprinkles. She did that repeatedly.

I watched the birds for awhile before turning the sprinkler off and going to the Historic Society to, *ahem*, water more flowers. It was already close to 100 degrees when I left for work at 10am.

When I returned home, I sat near the sliding glass door that leads to the backyard and continued observing the life in my backyard. I felt my worries drifting away as I watched the bumblebees work on the Purple Coneflowers, the butterflies flit from flower to flower, the wasps hover around my tomato plants and the birds feed from the feeders and drink from the bird bath.

A pair of young Eurasian Tree Sparrows seemed to enjoy the space under the BBQ grill on the patio. They were using their new found foraging skills, pecking at the leaves and twigs, perhaps even finding an insect hiding under the detritus.  From time to time, an adult would land on the patio and the youngsters would rush the parent, wings furiously flapping as they begged for the tasty morsel in the adult bird's beak.

The hummingbird feeder had at least one repeat customer

And the Goldfinches were frequenting the thistle feeder.

When he wasn't feeding those hungry youngsters, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow paused for a drink at the bird bath.

And a Gray Catbird jumped in to cool off and drink from the bird bath as well.

I often complain about and feel self conscious about the state my backyard is in. Today it struck me that I subconsciously view my backyard as an extension of myself. I'm hard on myself and constantly find fault; I'm not smart enough, popular enough, my house is a mess, my yard is a mess, the list here goes on and on. 

After watching all of the activity in my yard, I decided to cut myself, and my yard, a little slack. Yes, the yard is a disorganized mess of honeysuckle, rose of sharon, poison ivy and a plethora of other unwanted plants, but I'm in the process of organizing and weeding (very much like in my life too) and I've planted flowers that are attractive to wildlife. The very core of the backyard is fulfilling its purpose of being a sanctuary in an urban setting. It's a place for the winged things to come for shelter, food and water. Life out in the wild is hard and I want my non-human friends to have a safe place to make their lives easier.

So yes, I am disorganized, messy, and battle my emotional demons, but I would like to think that my friends, and maybe even colleagues and strangers know that I'm an okay person and can offer comfort from the harsh realities of life. But most importantly, I need to see these things in myself, love my inner core and take refuge there when life stinks.

We, the garden and myself, are a work in progress, but in the meantime, visitors are welcomed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Plastic litter rears its ugly head

I was checking nest boxes this morning at the Ecology Center where Eurasian Tree Sparrows are the dominant, if not only birds using the boxes. Eurasian Tree Sparrows are orb weavers that nest in cavities such as trees and nest boxes, gathering grasses, feathers, horse hair and even bits of garbage to create a glob of a nest with a short tunnel leading to the a hollowed center where the eggs are laid and chicks raised. Checking the boxes entails me blindly sticking my hand in through the grasses to feel for eggs and chicks. If there are only eggs or the chicks are small, I leave the nest as is and refrain from pulling the contents out. However, if the chicks feel big in my hand, I will carefully pull them out with as little disruption to the integrity of the nest as possible, to see if they are big enough to band. Usually by the time the chicks are big enough to be banded, the nest is pretty much a wreck with their movements and probably the parents feeding as well.

This morning I came across a pair of chicks entangled in plastic. They were bound together and attached to a mess of nesting material.

 It took me several minutes just to remove the nesting material from the tangle of plastic line before I could make sense of what was going on with the young birds.

One of the birds only had plastic wrapped around its foot, but the other chick had the plastic crisscrossed across its back and around its neck.

The plastic removal went uneventfully and I didn't realize I was holding my breath until I freed the last chick. Once I returned the chicks back to their nest, I sat down and examined the offending material.

This was rather flimsy and made me wonder if it was part of a shredded plastic bag.

This was the plastic bit around the neck and back of the chick.

This is what the plastic looked like stretch out. I have NO idea what it was or where it came from, but it was pretty sturdy.

A creek runs through the property of the Ecology Center and upstream there is a golf course and countless retail stores and other businesses. It is not uncommon to find quite a bit of trash in the creek and on the banks after a good flood. There's no telling where the adults found this "nesting material".  But I suspect the chicks grew into the offending nest material and I'm not sure the chick with the plastic across its back would have survived to be banded (The chicks were too small today to have bands placed on their legs).

I think people are aware of the plastics that inundate our oceans and rivers, but give little thought to the garbage that floats in creeks or blows across the parking lots to end up in someone's yard. Of course that same litter on the street and parking lots is easily accessible to birds and other wildlife, who will pick it up to use in a nest or ingest it, thinking the trash is food.

The moral of the story? Please don't litter. Most businesses have public trash cans and at the very least, keep the trash in your car until you get home and then throw it in the garbage can. But I imagine I'm preaching to the choir if you're reading my blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I am nothing but a pawn in her rise to domination

Life is rarely dull in a house filled with cats, especially when 2 of those cats have strong personalities and are constantly vying for the role as head of the house.  For the longest time, Samantha, cat #2, was queen of the house and everyone knew their place. But the balance was upset 6 years ago with the arrival of cat #4, Olivia. In April 2006, a feral cat gave birth to kittens in our backyard. I rescued the litter of 2 and set to taming the kittens when they were around 4 weeks old. I found a home for one of the kittens but when the home for Olivia fell through, we decided to keep her.

Olivia is a little spitfire and from day one she has challenged my authority and Samantha's role as queen. But when Olivia pushed for Samantha's top spot she quickly retreated when the older cat put her in her place. The fragile balance was upset with Amelia's (the oldest cat) death. It's an upset I don't understand because Amelia was an easy going cat and Olivia more-or-less ignored her. But there has been a noticeable shift in the cat family and I've become a pawn in Olivia's game.

Both Samantha and Romeo (cat #3) became a little more clingy after Amelia died and were constantly underfoot or on my lap. Olivia is a smart little cat. Too smart for her own good. When I'm in the office, she sits behind my chair or in the doorway so the other cats have to pass her to get to me and when they try to pass, she tries to start a fight. When she sees Samantha or Romeo near me, she jumps on my lap. The domination game between Samantha and Olivia is near constant now and I've noticed she's back to challenging my authority again.

She's not a bad cat. She has her moments of being adorable, funny and sweet. She's just a cat with a very strong personality and it seems like no matter what I do, she refuses to see me as an authority figure. I'm just one of the cats...and a pawn in her game of household domination.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weeding and transplanting, in that order

Today I had the day off and I didn't know what to do with my time. I ran errands, did the dishes and spent waaay too much time on Facebook before I decided to go out in the jungle known as my yard to transplant several young plants and weed the ever growing honeysuckle that was again encroaching into the sunny areas of the yard.

When we bought our house I made the conscious decision to buy only those plants native to my region. I don't have a green thumb, mostly because I do not have the attention span to remember to water regularly  Plants native to your region are used to the climate and rainfall and don't require the same amount of care that non-native and exotic plants need.

Fortunately, I don't have to buy plants unless I am looking for a specific species because every summer the Ecology Center gives their leftover plants to volunteers and staff. Unfortunately my backyard is almost completely shade and most of the plants up for grabs at the Ecology Center require full sun, although they do have a small number of shade-loving plants up for grabs. I hit the jackpot earlier in the week and got my hands on Rose Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua), Hairy Wood Mint (Blephilia hirsuta) and Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and a bit of Sedge, although I do not remember the specific species.

I spent yesterday and today weeding and planting those young plants in a flower bed over run with Rose of Sharon . UGH. I HATE that plant. It is EVERYWHERE in my yard. In fact, the Rose of Sharon is almost as bad as the honeysuckle and winter creeper in my yard and is more prevalent than the grapevine that climbs across my trees and taller flowers. But I digress.

I'm not very organized with my gardening. I don't spend time pouring over plant books, or sketching my yard on paper ahead of time to figure out flower placement according to height, flower color and bloom time. Any prospective plant needs to meet only a few requirements: the plant needs to be a native, attractive to butterflies and birds, and love the shade (since I filled my sunny slots).

So here is my newly weeded and planted flower bed. I placed little flags around the new plants to remind me what not to pull at the end of the summer when the bed is again over run with weeds and I cannot remember what the newer plants look like. There is still some weeding to be done. I didn't pull all of the clover and the back half of the bed is still filled with Rose of Sharon plants. It will remain so until I can get more shade plants.

Sedge Plant

Rose Turtlehead

Hairy Wood Mint

After transplanting, I went to the back half of my yard to weed and check the progress of my growing flowers. I pulled some vagrant goldenrod, honeysuckle that refuses to die, even after the stump was sprayed with Round Up, winter creeper and grapevine. Last fall I planted several flowers that are about to bloom.

I have 2 mystery plants. I have NO idea what they are. 

 I'm fairly certain I did not plant this. It popped up this spring after I removed 2 large honey suckle bushes. It is very small. No more than 1 foot off the ground.

I planted this last fall. I don't remember what it is, as I did not place a sign with the plant.  The orange flag kept me from pulling it.

I have 2 sunflower plants growing alongside the mystery plants. I feed the birds Black Oil Sunflower seeds but I thought those seeds were sterile. Is it possible that a fertile seed escapes the fate of sterilization and a bird's beak?

I planted lots of Cardinal Flower in the back half of the yard. I can't wait to see them in bloom.

The portion of the backyard closest to the back door is in sun for most of the day and I crammed it with
Gray-headed Coneflower

Purple Coneflower

Swamp Milkweed that is about to bloom.

And Common Milkweed, that refuses to bloom after 2 years.

My itty bitty tomato has gotten a bit bigger and has a little tomato brother now.

Stay tuned for more blooming events in my backyard.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And I complained I had nothing to write about

Earlier this morning I was going to go Sheldon Cooper on someone's a$$. I found a new arch nemesis and it wasn't Will Wheaton but the people who mow the grass at the Ecology Center.  This has been an off-and-on battle of wits and aggravation for the last 4 years.

As you know, I mist net on Mondays at the Ecology Center and there are several components to my weekly enterprise. There are the nets, the poles that hold the nets, and then the pvc pipes or rebar that anchor the poles in place.  The pvc pipes are in the ground long term. They are in place so that I do not have to hammer rebar in every week.

The pvc pipes are OUT of the pathway and on the edge in the tall grass so that they are out of foot traffic and avoid getting run over by lawnmowers. But somehow, from time to time, the guys run over the pipes and shred them up. THEY are deviating from their path into the tall grass where they are not supposed to mow. Over the years, I've spray painted the pipes and placed flags around them and yes, they still get shredded up. But I will say last year the lawn service managed to avoid hitting my pipes. That was the first time in 3 years, mind you.

But already this year, one of my pvc pipes got hacked right to ground level. So I replaced 4 of the pipes. Here is another, recent attempt at making these pipes highly visible.

There is supposed to be grass around the area of the pipes. The guys have a path to mow that does not involve this weedy area. I still don't know how they manage to hit my pipes.

Then I have 2 nets out in the prairie and for those I use rebar. The rebar stays in the ground and is removed at the end of the season when the staff does a prescribed burn on the prairie. They are on a trail and for that reason I place the rebar as close to the prairie without actually putting the set up in the plants. The reason I do not put the setup in the plants is that the nets would not be able to touch the ground, or come close to the ground and I would most likely do unnecessary damage to the plants.

This is a little more tricky in terms of seeing the rebar.  The lawn service managed to avoid hitting the rebar last year so I thought I would be ok. This year, to be on the safe side, I placed 2 flags around each bar but refrained from spray painting the rebar. I thought you could see the rebar reasonably well (although in this picture one of my flags got mowed down) but I was WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Imagine my dismay when I went to put my nets up this morning and found one of my net lanes destroyed. The flags and both rebar were BENT.

I was so mad. I'm glad I set the nets up ahead of time. Hammering the rebar into the ground and erecting the poles takes time and if I was to do this Monday morning, I would have been eating up precious time. Well, no actually that net would have not been put up because I did not have spare rebar.  I made a trip to Home Depot and bought 6 extra rebar, reflector tape and spray paint. I spray painted all of the rebar but held off on using the reflector tape.

This is the finished product. I was a little dismayed to see how much the rebar still blends in with the plants. I'm thinking the reflector tape is going on at the top and bottom of the bar.

I'm at a loss over how to make these stand out. I do not want to pull the rebar out after every session. That means a lot of unnecessary and unsightly holes in the ground and contrary to what you may believe, hammering rebar into the same hole continually makes the hole bigger and therefore unusable. I'm not sure the Ecology Center would allow me to place a laminated sign on or near the rebar because there will be kids coming out for camps and adults coming in for seminars. But it is a possibility. Pvc pipes are an option, but would need to be removed before the prescribed burn and the lawn service would be more likely to hit the pipes more frequently, forcing me to replace them when damaged (and the pvc pipes are more expensive than the rebar).

I texted Stream Girl and she said she had an idea we could discuss tomorrow morning. I know I'm partially to blame for the rebar getting bent, but couldn't the mowers been a little more observant? I did have bright pink flags next to the rebar.

If there is no other solution, I suppose I will be hammering holes into the ground every week. I can't afford to continue to buy rebar and I don't want the lawn service to revolt because my little poles screwed up their mower blades.

I'm still mad about this.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

This city slicker would not make a good farmer: Tomatoes! part 2

If you remember in a previous post, I took some tomato plants home that Deanna was giving away at the Ecology Center. The tomato plants were small and honestly, I wasn't sure they were going to survive. 7 of the 8 plants have survived and flourished, even the plant whose stem I cracked upon transplanting . I just tucked the cracked part into the soil in the hopes that roots would emerge from the damaged part. That plant is pretty small compared to the others and still isn't out of the woods as far as I'm concerned, but I'm starting to ramble.

I confess that I'm outside almost daily, butt up in the air and nose under the leaves searching for signs of fruit. About 2 weeks ago (maybe 3, I don't exactly remember), I noticed a little yellow flower on one of my tomato plants. Could it be? Last week I found a little round green lump where the yellow flower once bloomed.

This is what the tomato-to-be looked like this afternoon.  And there are more yellow flowers scattered across the various tomato plants. I feel like a parent of sorts, comparing the development of my tomato plants to others and wondering if my tomato babies are normal. Are we running on schedule? Am I doing something wrong? Why isn't there more fruit on my plants?

Maybe it's because this is my first set of tomatoes, but I think the plants are beautiful. I love going outside, touching the leaves and smelling the plants. I'm obsessed with them. I worry about them.

With all the worrying and obsessing, I don't think I would make a good farmer. I'm doing this on a very small scale. I can't imagine worrying about hundreds of acres of corn, soybeans or wheat or whatever else is growing in the fields. But then again, I do worry and obsess over my birds at times and I manage to sleep at night.

If this goes well, I may make a garden bed in the backyard next summer. Danno is happy over that thought because that means less grass to mow. But how does one build a garden bed? You know, one that is slightly elevated. Are there books? Is there a website?

I shouldn't get ahead of myself. I only have one itty bitty tomato to show for my watering and obsessing.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Still here, just uninspired

Hi all. I'm here, lurking about in the shadows, reading blogs and trying to figure out what to write. I have writers block and my life is boring. Well, maybe not BORING, but I'm sure you people don't want to hear more about my work life. The eyes of my family and some of my non-birding friends tend to glaze over when I start talking about my prairie birds and the events going on in their feathered lives.  And there is some goings on in the avian community, but I won't bore you all with the details, at least, not yet anyway. I am actually holding my breath and waiting for something to happen with a pair of special birds in the prairie and once the summer is over, I'll write a big long entry over it, but until then, let's just say I'm waiting.

Had a physical Wednesday and I'm so not ready for hitting middle age. The doctor was discussing when I should have a baseline MAMMOGRAM done and steps I need to take for heart attack prevention (which is important, because there is premature coronary artery disease in my family. Apparently this is a real condition because my doctor mentioned it). And she asked me if I was having hot flashes. WHAT??? I'm not ready for that question!!! And NO, I'm not having hot flashes, thank you very much.

Drove down to Oklahoma and attended Nature Girl and Peregrinus' wedding in mid-May and last week went down to Texas to go to Texan Gurl's high school graduation. Texan Gurl is the daughter of my Soul Sista. Gosh, I remember when she was maybe 3 years old and what a little cutie pie she was growing up. Just one more thing to remind me I am approaching middle age.

So yeah, now that I'm sitting here typing this, growing older has been on my mind quite a bit the last few weeks and I just don't want to talk about it.  Maybe my preoccupation with growing older is giving me the writer's block.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Deanna at Adventure Farm brought several flats of heirloom tomatoes to work on Tuesday. She told me she was trying to give them away, otherwise they were going into the compost bin. I decided right there on the spot to try my hand at growing tomatoes. Don't you just love my spontaneity? At the moment of my decision, I had no previous experience with tomatoes (other than eating them), nor did I research how to grow tomatoes. I just had a vague recollection that you were suppose to stake the tomatoes and where in the hardware store to find those stakes.

Deanna filled me in on the various species of tomatoes and which plants were determinate (bushy and producing only one set of fruit) or indeterminate (vine and producing fruit throughout the summer). She told me it was possible to grow tomatoes in containers and advised me to stake them fairly soon.

Stream Girl's mother was also present at my impromptu decision and successfully fielded my line of questioning on growing this vegetable that is really a fruit. She told me not to use twine or any other type of hard string because it would probably cut into and damage the stems and said most hardware stores offered a cloth type of string to tie the growing plants. She also suggested that instead of transplanting the young plants in the usual upright position, I should transplant the plant lengthwise and that portion of the stem covered with soil would develop additional roots. She reassured me the plant would straighten as it grew.

I finally got around to bringing the tomatoes home today.

I was so worried about planting them incorrectly that I planted a few horizontally and a few vertically. I've done a little reading since Tuesday and while I think I've got my bases covered, I'm still feeling very insecure.  I'm not sure these containers are big enough for the plants. If any of my lurker readers have tips/suggestions please speak up! How big of a container should I use? How many hours of full sun should they receive? How do I know how much water is enough? And does anyone have suggestions on how to keep squirrels and rabbits away from my plants?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Enemy Among Us: A book review

photo from amazon.com

Ever since I started volunteering at the Historic Society, I've taken more of an interest in books on local history. I'm primarily interested in western United States history and of the environmental impact man has had on the land but books on local and state history have begun to grab my attention. I plan to submit this review to the Historic Society newsletter but wanted to share it on the blog in case any of my readers are history buffs and I welcome comments and suggestions on this review.

The United States played host to German and Italian POWs during World War 2 and before the war’s end, every state except New York, North Dakota and Vermont had POW camps.  Local author David Fiedler covers the history of Missouri’s POW camps in his 2003 book, “The enemy among us”.  Through interviews with former POWs, camp staff, citizens, personal letters and newspaper articles, Fiedler recreates this aspect of World War 2 that occurred in our backyard.

Each chapter covers several aspects of a POW camp from the time it was on the drawing board until it was closed and disassembled.  From the military standpoint, Fiedler examines the risks government officials took in contracting the POW soldiers out to nearby farmers short on help, the pressures they faced maintaining the rules of the Geneva Convention’s treatment of POWs and public scrutiny in treatment of these prisoners, keeping order in the camps and educating the POWs on American democracy. Fiedler gives the viewpoint of the camp from the prisoner’s eyes, writing of the homesickness and worry for their families still in the war zones, their job duties at the camp, the tension and camaraderie between fellow prisoners and their US captors, and the dangers for the prisoners being confined with die hard Nazis and Fascists. Fiedler also covers the assortment of responses from the communities that ranged from gratitude for the employment the camps provided, fear of having POWs in their backyard, resentment over the treatment of the prisoners and the lasting friendships created. 

Fiedler does a good job providing an objective view while keeping the subject matter interesting.  The photographs and illustrations give the reader a good feel for what life was like during that time in history and it was interesting to note how many POW camps there were in Missouri (over 25). Many aspects of the war have been covered in a multitude of books: military, leaders, specific battles and theaters of the war, to name a few. Finding a book that covered how WWII affected the towns of Missouri brought the war closer to home and made the subject more interesting. A good book for WWII buffs and local history aficionados alike.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The entry where I compare myself to a cactus

It's funny where I get inspiration for a blog topic. A few days ago I went to the gas station and while inside, I got on the topic of cacti with the cashier. I have always loved cacti but could never quite put my finger on the exact reason why I loved this desert plant. I thought more about cacti on the drive home that day and finally figured out why the cacti family speaks to my heart.

This entry will be rather personal, but I will try my best to remain objective. Life isn't perfect. Everyone has their issues and obstacles. Right now, I'm going through a bit of a rough patch. So maybe my discussion with the gas station cashier was well-timed. I do love nature and always look for ways it can relate to my life. Writing helps put words to my emotions and sometimes helps put an end to the occasional self-destructive thoughts that spin around in my head.

Cacti are found only in North and South America. There are over 1500 species with most found in the drier, subtropical regions. Many species of cacti tolerate high temperatures and are capable of living several years without water. Most cacti have edible fruit and a few species have been used in the past to treat spider bites and diarrhea.

To put it simply, I didn't have an ideal childhood. It wasn't a bad childhood, but I had a father who was mentally ill and emotionally abusive. I'll skip the details but I will say, do not tell me his abuse stemmed from his mental illness. It did not. I've had years of therapy to sort through all of that and support my knowledge of that fact.  To make matters worse, I was also bullied in grade school.  I had no safe place, no shelter at the end of the day. I couldn't seek relief from the verbal or emotional abuse at home or school.

Cacti live in a harsh environment. Sometimes they receive no rain, or maybe just an inch of rain in any given year. As a result, these plants have developed amazing ways to hold on to the precious commodity of moisture. Cacti have a waxy exterior coating to minimize water loss.  Most plants open their pores (also called stomata) during the day for respiration, but to conserve moisture, cacti open their stomata at night for respiration.Everyone knows the cacti have the spines as a means of defending themselves against those animals in search of water.  However, the spines on a cacti are also modified leaves and provide a measure of shade which reduces the heat on the stem and again, minimizes the loss of moisture.


Emotionally speaking, there were times in my life, especially during my childhood, that I lived in a harsh, desert-like environment, devoid of the nurturing, praise and relief from hardships. Like my cacti friends, I developed my defenses and learned to survive in difficult environments. I made the most of what I had and eventually learned to create my own happiness and relief during the difficult times.

Some cacti have beautiful flowers that bloom in the spring and/or after a good rain. Many people will visit certain areas, such as Big Bend National Park (where I took these photos) during the spring months just to see the cacti in bloom. The cacti always make me think of the adage "Bloom where you are planted". It doesn't matter where you are, or what life has thrown at you, YOU have the means to create your own oasis in the climate of life's hardships.

Right now I am going through a difficult time. A few weeks ago I had to put my oldest cat Amelia to sleep. She was severely arthritic and had been in heart failure for over a year. I got her a few months after my sister died and that darling cat got me through some dark days of grief. Needless to say, there was a connection between Amelia and my sister. Losing Amelia was like losing my sister all over again. I've been quite depressed. Symbolically speaking, I'm in the middle of the desert, trying to cope with the blistering heat and no rain. My reserves are there; friends, nature, writing, and reading, but there is no joy or enthusiasm for the things I love. I'm going through the motions of doing the things I love with no interest or relief, but I persist because I believe on some level it's helping me. This will pass. I'll survive and bloom again.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Mayhem's weekend visit

Mayhem paid the Ecology Center a visit Saturday and brought severe storms along with it.  A thunderstorm rumbled through the area, complete with hail and strong winds. Some areas received baseball sized hail, while other locations only got pea-sized hail. My neck of the woods didn't see the strong winds, but the Ecology Center certainly did.

The Ecology Center has over 20 acres of woodland that borders a creek. Many big, old trees are within those woods: Cottonwood, Sycamore, Black Walnut, White Oak, Black Oak, Silver Maple and American Elm among many other tree species. Seeing the biggest trees down broke my heart.

Here are a few pictures of the same tree. This picture shows that the ground was pulled up, exposing the roots.

This is the other side of that big clod of earth.

And here is the tree that pulled the ground up when it fell.

I took many pictures of the damage Mayhem left in its wake and none of them do justice to the destruction.  The whine of chainsaws could be heard first thing this morning and I found a trio of men in hard hats working on the black walnut tree. It was a big beautiful tree too.

Snapped trees was a frequent sight all over the Ecology Center

And countless times I came across trees that had fallen across the trail, forcing me to create my own path. In this picture, the path is blocked by two trees.

Of course the first thing I thought of when I arrived were the chickadees residing in the nest box in the woods. A large part of a tree had fallen very close to the box, but the box and the residents within, were unharmed.

Over the last few years the Ecology Center has started planted new young trees within the woods. I know I won't see these trees mature in my lifetime, but it's reassuring to know that someone in the future will appreciate their beauty.

Mayhem's weekend visit has reminded me not to take all of the big, old trees for granted. When the sun is shining and the paths are cleared, I will go out and take more photos of those beautiful trees still standing.