Watersheds and Wrens

34.7º N 92.2º W. Little Rock, in Central Arkansas, in the United States

6/25/17 – 7/4/17

The Fourche Creek Watershed

I’ve lived my life in the midst of a natural wonder and never knew it ’til now.

Here is a bird’s-eye view of my new discovery, The Fourche Creek Watershed. (Fourche is pronounced fush, rhyming with bush.) Thanks to Audubon Arkansas for this map and the factual information about it. The annotations are mine. Click on it to enlarge it.

This map shows Fourche Creek and its tributaries, starting in Saline County, flowing east through Little Rock, and emptying into the Arkansas River.

This watershed covers 108,800 acres! About 73% of the surface area of Little Rock drains into it! During a typical storm it can store up to one billion gallons of water!

The city of Little Rock cites the economic value and savings from natural purification in the Fourche bottomlands to be in the millions of dollars. Wikipedia

The creek, watershed, and wetland areas provide water purification, efficient storage of floodwaters, urban noise reduction, air and water pollution control, and wildlife habitat within the city.

Fourche Creek itself is home to over 50 species of fish (one fourth of all Arkansas fish species). Also living there are three hundred year old bald cypress trees, other riparian trees, and a diverse population of permanent and migratory birds.

The tributaries include six third-order streams and nine primary tributaries.  If you don’t already know about stream classifications and are interested you can look here. I’ve been personally acquainted with some of these tributaries off and on all my life, and was surprised to learn about them: that they are tributaries, and how far they travel, and that they have been officially observed and classified.

I’ve heard the name Fourche Creek since I can remember, but it was a vague reference to a creek somewhere around here that nobody I knew was concerned with. If ever as a child I saw a sign designating Fourche Creek, I don’t know it. The term watershed I first heard at age maybe twenty, thirty. My elders had no call to use that word when I was a child, and the subject wasn’t in the curriculum in my early schooldays, nor did it appear in my higher education.

It was Audubon Arkansas that led me to the meaning–and the wonderment–of this watershed (and thus all watersheds). And here in my old age I became curious about exactly where within my native land Fourche Creek is, and what it is.

Within Little Rock’s city limits you can take a wildlife hike or float down Fourche Creek anytime you feel like getting away for half a day. How ’bout that for an Enchanted afternoon?

Unfortunately, not all of Fourche Creek is this pristine-looking. Thoughtless and/or ignorant citizens of Enchanted Habitat have dumped and littered Fourche Creek without mercy throughout the history of the city. Audubon Arkansas publicizes this pollution, and has lead a volunteer cleanup campaign for the last ten years. The volunteers have removed tons of dumped tires, bottles, and general trash, and will keep going. Unsung heroes.

If you want to know about the different kinds of volunteer opportunities sponsored by Audubon Arkansas, you can start here.

Also Audubon Arkansas wants us all to know that anything that flows down a storm drain goes untreated into the nearest waterway. Their efforts toward discouraging dumping in storm drains includes a drain sticker program and an artists’ competitive drain-painting campaign to attract attention to the problem: Drain Smart.

I came back from my fact-finding forays about the Fourche Creek Watershed with a sense of thankfulness and a beginner’s appreciation for this great resource hidden in plain sight.

I hope our national elected officers will reverse the present trend of devaluing the environment and will instead increase funding to help our local people rescue and preserve it. What example of worth could be plainer than the Fourche Creek Watershed?


What We Do for Love (of Carolina wrens)

In a recent post I related my friend’s contest with a Carolina wren who was determined to homestead in her house or at least near a door. We left the tale at the stage called “it’s a draw”, with the bird nesting in a hanging flower basket on the covered back porch.

Chapter Two begins with my friend’s realization that new babies are in that flowered nest, and that she herself must give up her own lovely mini-vacations on the porch, on the chaise, in the shade, drinking tea. I interviewed her about this experience.

She said, “The parents fuss and scold, but I could tolerate that. It’s that they stop feeding the babies while I’m there. I can’t enjoy my time out there because I keep knowing the babies are hungry. They peep regularly.”

She went on to say, though, that she finds giving up her comforts to be a fair trade-off. I asked what she is getting in return for her temporary loss. She said, “Every time I go in and out my back door I get a little gift. The babies (there are either two or three) don’t know to shut up when I’m out there. I hear their little voices get stronger and louder every day. I can go on down to the yard and sit (in the hot sun) and watch the crafty parents feed the babies.

“They approach one at a time. They rarely fly directly to the nest. They light under the porch. Then hop to the railing on the steps. Then the top rail. They take a good look around and then hop up to the nest in the hanging pot. The pot swings, the luckiest baby gets a bug, things are quiet for a few seconds, then the parent perches at the edge of the pot and takes another look around before hopping off and swooping away. During this process, the second parent has usually taken up a waiting position, then takes its turn when the other is finished.

“Why is this so magical? It’s a process that is going on everywhere and is not unusual. But these little birds—I’m getting to know them so well. They are so keen and clever.

“We are living in the same space. I know I probably irritate them, but they get a tradeoff, too. Their comparative tolerance of humans and our ways means that they can get some protection in the little bubble around my house where other wild things are reluctant to come.”


Guest Artist

Applause to Patricia Ryan Madson, my friend from the Etegami Fun Club, for this beautiful melon card and message. Posted with her permission.


Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn 

Image credits as noted

Wild Berries, Peasant Bread, Hillbilly Bruschetta

34.7º N 92.2º W. Little Rock, in Central Arkansas, in the United States

6/4/17 – 6/10/17

 

The Berries are Ripening Here!

Do you like blueberries? Blackberries? Both? In Enchanted Habitat you can be very happy soon.  My Good Gardener Friend keeps me informed of her blueberries’ progress from green-ness through peachy-ness to indigo-ness. This sketch was their state two days ago. I love looking at them better than eating them: my true love is The Wild Blackberry, and those are getting ripe too.

It’s hard for me to write about wild blackberries without getting excessive.

The best way to eat blackberries begins with picking them yourself. Find a wild patch on your own, or ask people until you find someone who knows. Folk who know are the kind likely to share the treasure map with you. (No one is likely to give you actual berries they’ve picked; we are mere mortals after all.) Prepare against chiggers and snakes, put on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and a straw hat for sheer effect, hang a bucket in the crook of your arm, and wade into the thorny brambles to where the best ones are. If you have scouted out a good patch, when you finish your fingers will be punctured and sore to the bone, your skin ripped in several places along with the so-called protective clothing, you will itch in unscratchable places, and you will take home a third to a half bucketful of berries. Wash them gently to get the occasional bugs out. Put a handful of the berries in a single-size bowl. Pour a little genuine heavy cream over them. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar on, and stir to dissolve it.  Dive in. If you are of my spiritual clan the pain in your fingers will transpose into a set of wondrous sensations at the back of your tongue and also you will forget every other trouble you ever had.

Your brain will recognize the distilled flavor of the cosmos itself, from the moment of The Big Bang until now.

If I’ve made Wild Blackberry Eating sound like the quest and finding of the holy grail, it just about is.

Commercially grown blackberries are a step down, and it’s an exponential step, but if I can’t get the real thing I’m not too proud to eat bought ones. They don’t cause me to rhapsodize though.

 


Roadside Wildflowers

While you’re at the roadsides looking for blackberries you may notice that the crimson clover is out of season now and gone, replaced largely by Queen Anne’s lace and black-eyed Susans.  Thanks to the U. of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service for this photo of the prolific Queen Anne’s lace, with elegant flowers that actually do look like exquisite handmade lace and are sometimes the size of saucers.

The black-eyed Susans are the perfect visual complement to the Queen Anne’s lace, in color and in shape. I will leave you to look below and imagine that their petals are yellow-orange and their centers are black-brown, and that they are  contraposed against their  companion “weeds”.


Hillbilly Bruschetta

The first of the homegrown tomatoes are coming in at the farmers’ market! If I made it sound like wild blackberries are my favorite food–they are, and so are homegrown tomatoes. One way I like to eat good tomatoes is: bruschetta on homemade bread.

We didn’t have bruschetta here when I grew up. It’s an import. I discovered it well into my middle-age, and an old dog can teach herself a new trick. I first tasted it at the local Olive Garden. Their servings of it are sparing, which is what my grandmother taught me to say instead of chinchy or stingy. Also they drain the juice out of it, the best part. Like any born-and-bred woman of Enchanted Habitat, my initial thought was, “Hmm. This is pretty good but I could make it  better–and enough of it.” Here is the resulting recipe. Click to enlarge.

Now as to the bread– not that all I can think about is food–here is my favorite to go with hillbilly bruschetta.  I got this simple, superb recipe when a friend of 60 years re-posted it on Facebook. I don’t think I ever had the name of the woman who originally shared it; my hat is off to her. Below is my lift of the recipe. She didn’t name it, so I gave it a title.

Crusty Bread Baked in Cast Iron Pot


From The Creatures Gazette

Among our faerie folk here is a strain who masquerade as man-made objects.  They are usually motionless when mortals are around. One of them lives close to the door of El Porton restaurant in Little Rock, and the other day I may have seen him move.

 


Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn

Come Saturday Morning

34.7º N 92.2º W. Little Rock, in Central Arkansas, in the United States

5/27/17 – 6/3/17

Come Saturday Morning

It is the second Saturday after the schools let out for summer. The streets in my neighborhood are extra friendly to pedestrians and riders of non-motorized wheeled things. Pre-teen boys especially appreciate the locale, and I’m hoping some will ride by and grace the view out there. Last year a small group met up at the intersection near my house most of the Saturday mornings of the season. Boys of any age don’t much hold still, but I did manage to get this sketch of them.

Later I took a photo and did this painting of two of them who lasted as a pair longer than the others. They put me in mind of a song of 1970.

Come Saturday Morning

Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
We’ll Saturday-spend til the end
of the day
Just I and my friend
We’ll travel for miles in our
Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on
But we will remember long after
Saturday’s gone

(Music by Fred Karlin, lyrics by Dory Previn)

 


Two Rivers Park

Two Rivers Park, Little Rock, AR, USA

We of the county and the city where I live were blessed in recent years to have had governmental officials who cared about nature and beauty and about our citizens’ ability to access those. These good leaders took actions to turn visions into reality. One result is our county’s remarkable Two Rivers Park.

I live in midtown and I can get to the park in 15 minutes, thanks in part to a new pedestrian bridge at its eastern tip. You can see the bridge in the lower right hand corner of the photo if you enlarge this photo.

This huge (1,000 acres) park is a peninsula bordered by the Arkansas River on its north side and the Little Maumelle River on its south. The two rivers converge at the tip of the park; thus its name.

There are 450 acres of mostly wooded wetlands and 550 acres of open fields.

This incredible getaway place offers both paved and dirt trails for walking, cycling, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Also there are canoe launching, fishing and picnic areas.

If you want to have a big vegetable garden you can rent a tract there, and be in company with other community gardeners.

Deer live there year-around, protected. The haiga/haiku below was inspired by one of several encounters with the deer.

The deer will watch you calmly unless you come too close; then they magically melt away and become invisible in the high growth of the fields.

Hundreds of Eastern bluebirds are there sometimes. Can you imagine looking across a field and realizing you are seeing hundreds of bluebirds? And other wildlife of course. It is a paradise for birdwatchers, photographers, artists, and nature enthusiasts.

There is also an area that showcases native trees by transforming some of the fields into a walkable Garden of Trees.

The park is a connected part of the Arkansas River Trail, which is a fantastic story unto itself, a topic in a later blog post.

 


Speaking of Bluebirds

© 2017 dosankodebbie

One thing does lead to another. Serendipitously my friend dosankodebbie in Japan posted this photo of her latest etegami today. If you don’t already know about etegami, it is Japanese postcard art done according to certain guidelines. One of my favorite kinds of art to do, and to look at. There is a great Facebook Group, Etegami Fun Club, administered by Debbie. If you are interested in learning (free!) how to do etegami, go to dosankodebbie’s online summary.

 


In the Green Cathedral

The butter lilies in the back yard have been coming and going for a week.

 Once again, great gratitude to the previous owner of this house. The lilies line the back fence. I’ve lived here about 20 years and they’ve never failed to rise up out of the ground and add their glory to creation.

 

 


Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn

Now the Green Blade Riseth

34.7º N 92.2º W. Little Rock, in Central Arkansas, in the United States

5/13/17 – 5/14/17

Plantain

 Now the Green Blade Riseth, Love is Come Again  

My ancestors called this graceful plant Lamb’s Tongue. It is Narrowleaf Plantain, Plantago Lanceolata, aka Ribwort Plantain, English Plantain, and maybe other names.

It has a close cousin which also lives here: Broadleaf Plantain. Much of what can be said of one is true of the other.

Lamb’s Tongue is newly up and blooming here in Enchanted Habitat, on the roadsides, empty lots, uncultivated fields, and unmowed lawns. It grows fast. Two weeks ago it wasn’t there at all, and now it is leafed out and in flower knee high. I love seeing it. (Broadleaf Plantain must come up somewhat later than its cousin; I haven’t seen it yet this year.)

This elegant plant is astonishingly durable and very friendly to humans. It is documented to have existed in what is now Norway 10,000 years ago. It can and does live anywhere from dry roadsides to places as wet as rain forests. The oval-shaped part at the end of the long delicate stem (named “the ovoid inflorescence”, I learned) is made up of tiny white flowers that produce one or two seeds each. The plant also reproduces asexually by cloning. Needless to say it is widespread in the world.

It is native to Eurasia and was introduced to the U.S. from the British Isles, and is so common it is generally classified as an invasive weed, which strikes me almost as a personal insult.

Older generations of folk ate the leaves of both Narrowleaf and Broadleaf Plantain for food and also used them for medicine.

It was probably a staple in the diet and pharmacy of any Stone Age people who lived where it grew. It is high in calcium and Vitamin A, and can be eaten similarly to spinach or other food greens: young leaves can be eaten raw, and older leaves cooked.

Medicinally, science has shown that plantain extract has a wide range of good biological effects including wound healing, reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and acting as an antioxidant; further, it is a weak antibiotic, it modulates the immune system, and is an anti-ulcerogenic agent. Our ancestors made a remedy tea from the leaves for coughs, diarrhea, and emotional trauma. Also the leaves, bruised, were used directly on the skin for infections and as a pain reliever for injuries, insect bites, splinters, boils, and toothache. It is known as a drawing herb, said to have the power to pull out toxins and foreign substances from the body. Some herbal healers have said it draws out bad emotions and soothes the mind.

http://wildernessarena.com/food-water-shelter/food-food-water-shelter/food-procurement/edible-wild-plants/plantain-broad-and-narrow-leaf

Wikipedia.

Here are photos of Narrowleaf and Broadleaf Plantain, respectively, thanks to Wikipedia.

 

 


 

The Green Cathedral

My backyard is “too shaded” because of many big trees on two sides. Its grass is thin in places and never thick in others. This non-lawn and the flower bed and the shrub bed that have both been there for many years are home to a sequence of flowering plants that wake up spontaneously every year and bloom in their turn as their seasons arrive, with no help from me unless you count admiration.

Some of the flowers are wild and some are cultivars put in as long ago as half a century by the house’s one former owner. I will be forever grateful to her.

So far this year the backyard flowers have been Carolina Spring Beauty–here is an on-site photo of those from this year– plus Jonquils, Dogwood, Dandelions, Azaleas, Fleabane, Iris of three kinds, Hyacinth, Henbit, Violets, Roses, and Wild Strawberry blooms.

And some mushrooms, always exquisite. I repeat, I did nothing to cause all this wonder.

The one dogwood tree is old and elegantly thin. Having already quietly bloomed and finished, it is putting out leaves. Companion to the dogwood is its contemporary, a crape myrtle with multiple trunks, each six inches thick. The color of the trunks is unnameable, a neutral soothing color. Two of them have twined around each other. They will put out their watermelon-colored blooms later in the year when the sun rises higher.  Four large oak trees survive to live inside the fence. A years-old thick wild grape vine has formed an arbor at a far corner.

Lining the outside of the fence on two sides and part of another are tall oaks and pines growing in the neighbors’ back yards and overhanging my yard, and behind those trees are more big trees, altogether creating almost a forest around me.

Leading out from the house into all this (and back in) is a short stretch of flagstones with moss of a refreshing lime color that couldn’t live with more sun.

I like it that the yard is “too shady”. It is very green out there, the kind of green that can become part of you, the same as your breath, to renew and reassure you. I am put in mind of a song from high school glee club, the music and the words vibrating through us.

I know a green cathedral,
a hallowed forest shrine
where trees in love join hands above
to arch your prayer and mine.
Within its cool depths sacred,
the priestly cedar sighs
and the fir and pine lift arms entwined
unto the clear blue skies. 


Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn


Uppity Women and Mystery Guests

34.7º N 92.2º W. Little Rock, in Central Arkansas, in the United States

5/5/17 – 5/12/17

Intrepid Inhabitants–The Laughing Ladies

 Uppity women are everywhere in Enchanted Habitat. I know their number is disproportionately large here. I can’t prove that because the Census Bureau doesn’t ask the right questions, but there is plenty of evidence. Examples shine out among just my limited circle of personal contacts. To wit: The Laughing Ladies.

This is a friendship group of four who range in age from approaching senior to unmistakably senior. They are all breast cancer survivors. They decided to raise money for the fight against breast cancer, and to do it in some fun way. (Uppity women never act for one reason only. They make everything count at least twice.) So they thought up what they wanted to do: raft rivers. Yes, really.

Then they did it in spades.  They named their project 4 Survivors, 4 Rivers, 4 a Cure. Their first river was in Colorado, in the Rockies. They whitewater (whitewater!) rafted the headwaters of the Arkansas. This is a photo of them there.

They also found their name in Colorado.  The Laughing Ladies is an historic name.  It was originally the name of a good times establishment during the frontier days, and yes, that means what you suspect.

After the Arkansas River exploit they rafted the Buffalo in Arkansas, the Roaring Fork in Colorado, and the Colorado in Utah.

They elicited from their sponsors thousands of dollars to give to the Arkansas Affiliate of Susan G. Komen. This Affiliate is a standout among worthwhile nonprofit organizations: you can bet on it that The Laughing Ladies would know where the money should go.

At the end of the fourth and final rafting trip they created and performed their finalization ceremony. It’s one of a kind. I’m pleased to make you privy to its content, with their permission.

The Ceremony of the Dime on the Colorado River was this: The four uppity rafters stood together on the bank of the Colorado. Each threw a dime into the river. They chanted in unison

We had a dime-good time

But we dime sure don’t plan to raft again.


The Ruby Crowned Kinglet

Six years ago this charming tiny bird alit like a grace note near me as I was sketching on the shore of Lake Maumelle.  It was about 4″ long. I did my hasty best to capture on paper something of its shape and markings and its posture, and how it caught the light, and I made some notes in my head about it, and then too soon whit!, it was gone. But thankfully there remained the thorn bush it had been in: something simple (and still!) that I could draw in surety to add to my sketch. Nature often lends a helping hand to try-hards. 

The time was mid-September, and later when I identified it in in the NGS Field Guide to the Birds of North America I learned that Enchanted Habitat is in the northern part of its winter range.

 

Here is a photo of the ruby crowned kinglet courtesy of Steve Creek, wildlife photographer par excellence of the Ouachitas. His blog is a must-see.


From the Creatures Gazette

Dog is not a Terrier:
Mystery Guest Remains Unidentified

 


The Baby Racers

In my friend’s fenced-in garden, which is on a slight slope and drains well, and where almost no other person ever intrudes, the baby racer snakes are awake from their winter. We’ve had frequent rains lately, and the snakelets have been wishing we had fewer wet days, and more of the new spring sun to bask in.

There is a new set of wee ones every year in that mid-town garden. I wonder if there could be a generational memory about the place being a safe and nurturing one for these babies. They apparently love wintering-over in the abundant insulating mulch my friend puts down, and they stay on into the warmer weather. Their gardener has also made them a rock pile nearby because snakes like warm rocks at certain times of the year, and because it gives them a perfect place to hide. If you want some tips for reptile-friendly landscaping and gardening, go here: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/snake_landscape_brchr.pdf

When the racers are young they eat mostly insects and larvae and moths. The are nice pest eradicators to have in a garden. Later they go for larger meals such as rodents. They grow fast, and when they get bigger they move on.

They are nonvenomous, of course. They can get as long as five feet or so. Racers are common in Enchanted Habitat and throughout the U.S. They come in several kinds and colors: brown, black, gray (or “blue”) and shades in between. As adults they are notably fast in getting away from whatever might be after them; hence the name Racer. If you want to know more, here are a couple of good links.
http://www.herpsofarkansas.com/Snake/ColuberConstrictor
and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coluber_constrictor


Beadwork You Won’t Find Anywhere Else

Here are some examples of the work of an Enchanted Habitat bead artist. She says these pieces are circa approximately 1980.

First, a beaded strip containing the symbols of the ancient elements: Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. (A clue: earth is the brown strip that envelopes the others.)

 

Next, a beaded pouch, front and back. Note also the jingle bells.


Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn

Pecans and Pictographs

34.7º N 92.2º W. Little Rock, in Central Arkansas, in the United States

4/28/17 – 5/3/17

Pictograph Writing Lives Again.  Thanks iPhone!

My friend who lives in Mexico is the sister of my friend who lives in Enchanted Habitat.

Mexico Friend emailed to her sister, “There was a long #*&@^$# scorpion in my mop this afternoon. Stomped it when it fell out. Horrid thing. UGH!!” Local Friend replied by emailing the affirming dual pictogram, finger-drawn on her iPhone, shown here. Sisters have their own ways of communicating. Now we know the origin of prehistoric drawings: sisters leaving messages for each other. How nice to be able to write this way again.

Thanks to both sisters for letting me share this.

Enchanted Habitat does not have long #*&@^$# scorpions. We have wee little ones and I think they are cute, but I know I’m in the minority. Local Friend told me, “The one time I saw a scorpion, it came out of my flower bed onto the sidewalk, which was flooded. It. Was. Pissed. It was not cute. I was taken aback. The idea that it had been living in my hostas did not sit well with me.”

Ours are the Striped Bark Scorpion, the most common kind in the U.S.Scorpion enchanted.jpg, and the only kind in Arkansas. They are indeed small, about 2″ to 3″ long. Image by Charles and Clint via Wikipedia.

Their sting hurts ‘way worse than a bee’s, I can vouch for that. I was eight. I was barefoot. I was at summer camp. It was as if lightning struck my big toe and stayed there for twenty minutes. But their venom is not deadly unless you are supersensitive and/or allergic. I didn’t tell my camp counselor because I thought she might keep me from the boat ride. Over the years I came up with the theory that the unforgettable sting was somehow good for me, body and soul.

Our scorpions don’t go out of their way to sting. They are brave and stick up for themselves, but are not warlike. Living here all my life, much of that outdoors, I’ve been stung only the once. They eat insects, smaller arachnids and babies of their own kind, and are eaten by birds, reptiles, some mammals and large spiders.


The Local Turkey Vulture

Our subdivision of the city has a resident turkey vulture. In the daytime we do. At night, the references say, they congregate together in safe areas for sleep, and daytimes they go out individually on their own. Hunting, but not in the ordinary sense, you know. Let’s say they neaten the neighborhood.

I first noticed him or her last year. I was driving home, and there it was in the middle of a street beside a small dead thing.  I thought, Dang, a chicken! . . . No, a buzzard! After that I’d see it once in a while in the nearby streets, unhurriedly eating, and cooperatively lurching out of the street if I needed to get by. If I was away from the neighborhood and driving back, sometimes I noticed it up to the sky over our location, soaring around, waiting.

(Thanks to Steve Creek, wildlife photographer of the Ouachitas, for the reference photo for the drawing above. Do view his blog, it’s wonderful!)

Our vulture has returned this spring, I saw it down the street. A crow was there with it. The two of them were about ten feet apart, with a small dead thing between them, and each was hunkered down motionless with its head retracted into its shoulders. They were carefully not looking at each other. Stubborn was written all over both of them. I can’t tell you who won, because spending the afternoon waiting to see which one of them got to eat carrion isn’t my idea of a good time.

After the first sighting last year, I gathered some facts about turkey vultures. First, I had been ignorant, they are not buzzards and don’t appreciate being called buzzards. It’s vulture. When soaring, they can both see and smell their food below. Their amazing olfactory ability gives them advantage over the black vultures, who also live here and have to rely on their eyesight. Black vultures seem to be aware that that turkey vultures have this superior food finding sense, and sometimes follow them to the food. And of course, the easiest way to distinguish between the two, turkey and black, is that the turkey vulture has the red head. They don’t vocalize except for grunts and hisses; they typically raise two chicks a year; they have few natural predators; their range extends from the Canadian border all the way down through South America. It is illegal to kill them, thank heaven.


What Tree Is This?

If you took a fast look and said Oak, you can join me in the Erroneous Botanist Society. It’s a pecan tree, a young volunteer tree in a front yard in my neighborhood. It is “in tassel” now; I don’t know the terminology for that. Last fall it bore its first crop, two or three pounds of nuts, most of which the squirrels got. Whether it–or any pecan tree–will bear this year is complex question, and for that go to experts. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture

I didn’t know until recently that the pecan is a species of hickory, or that it can live and bear upwards of 300 years. I did pretty much know it’s native to the south central and south eastern United States and part of Mexico. Pecan trees like the climate in Enchanted Habitat. They grow cheerfully here individually and there are pecan farms here.

My personal experience at pecan orcharding didn’t last long. Years ago I bought some acreage, and someone gave me a dozen six-foot Stuart pecan trees. This person had always wanted a pecan orchard and was living vicariously, and did not offer to help with the planting. I already had a full list of manual work to do, to turn the acreage into a farm, but I stopped everything to plant the trees. I interrupted the fencing project that would have kept my new little herd of goats contained. If you know goats, you know what happened next. If you don’t know goats (obviously I didn’t know them well enough) I will tell you that I worked hard to excavate twelve deep wide holes in that rocky soil, and hauled in half a truckload of good topsoil, so that the saplings would have a good start. And as soon as I got the trees in the ground and went to the house, the goats tiptoed over and silently ate them every one. I have only myself to blame.

Enough of the bittersweet, here is the  sweet. This is my pecan pie, and my preference in how to alter the recipe on the Karo Dark Corn Syrup bottle:  Add about 1/3 more butter than called for, and add a double-pinch of salt; subtract about 1/4 the sugar.


Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn

You Win Some, You Lose Some

34.7º N 92.2º W. Little Rock, in Central Arkansas, in the United States

4/23/17 – 4/27/17

The Royal “Paulina” Tree

A block from my house is a flowering tree 60 feet tall of great beauty. I was alert for it to bloom this year, which it did and has just finished. Here are its blossoms.  Photo credit: By Famartin – Own work, CC BY-SA3.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33009600

Despite its size and beauty I only noticed it last year when it was in bloom, and I began asking about it. I’ve lived here all my life and have never seen one like it that I remember. I learned that we commonfolk here in Enchanted Habitat call it variously. Princess Tree, Royal Princess Tree, Empress, Royal Empress, Paulina, Royal Paulina, Empress Paulina, and so on. Mix and match, take your pick. Wikipedia names it Paulownia tomentosa.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulownia_tomentosa

Also according to Wiki, the Paulownia is native to China, and probably got to the U.S. in the late 1800s when its seeds were used as packing for goods shipped here. It likes the eastern third of the U.S. It can’t grow in the shade of other trees, but where it does grow it tries to take over and make a grove, multiplying by seeds and also sprouts on limbs and roots. Supposedly even fire and surface mowing can’t eliminate it unless repeated several times. If that’s true I wonder why we don’t have more of them.
The leaves are huge and are said to make good fodder for cows. The seed pods are pretty. The wood of this tree was and maybe still is used by Asian musical instrument makers. This fact reminds me of our own people of an older generation who used the beautiful dogwood tree for making fiddles and mandolins.

People who are against invasive non-native species don’t like the Paulownia; people who are into showy trees for ornamental landscape gardening, do. Chinese legend says the phoenix will land only in this tree, and then only if the current ruler is a good one. On both counts: I wish. When the time comes for her to land, I’ll be watching down the street.


The Hauling Garden
The moral of a story is more important than the story, right? So I’m giving you the bottom line first: If you want to grow vegetables that taste like anything, don’t grow them in potting soil.

Now the story.

My back yard has no place for a vegetable garden. It’s big, but shady. There are sunny spots but they only last half a day at most. Two years ago it came to me to create a moveable garden, a container garden on wheels, “So that the plants could follow the sun” would be the euphemism. Or in the vernacular, so that I could haul them around. I bought the biggest wagon I thought I could pull. It was black. It had deep sides. I bored holes in it for water to drain out. Here is how I envisioned the setup.

The wagon perfectly held the six huge plastic pots I bought. The pots held enough potting soil to exceed the remainder of the $budget, but oh well. Then I put in the seedlings. I thought, “And because the wagon’s sides are so deep, I can jury rig the supports these tomato plants will need.”

Of course tomatoes.

Vegetable=Tomato. Summer=Homegrown Tomato. Same as so many others in Enchanted Habitat and elsewhere: give me home-grown tomatoes first, last, and most of all. After I prioritized the list of tomato varieties I wanted, there wasn’t room for frills like beans or peppers. I rigged the supports. Store-bought tomato cages would not do for my tomatoes. I was sure they would be big. Scaffolding was what they would need.

And lo and behold, for once it looked like my actuality was turning out kind of like my plan. A little tweaking here and there as we went along, but after awhile there it was: prolific robust tomato plants eight feet tall, flowering and fruiting.
When I hauled them, it was one careful step at a time. The rig was heavy, and top heavy. The neighbors watched from their windows. But I didn’t care. The stink bugs loved them too, and I won that battle. Those tomatoes were beautiful.

But every one, of every variety, tasted like cardboard.

I stopped making myself eat them after they convinced me they were all only for show. Seeing them lined up on the kitchen counter looking like prize winners until they began to sag got to be more than I could bear, so I stopped harvesting them.
Denouement: For the last two growing seasons my source of home-grown tomatoes has been the Real farmer’s market across the river. So I have not been deprived of them, only the deep pleasure of growing them. And slowly I’ve been healing from my disappointment. By next year I might be ready to try the whole thing again with real dirt.


From The Creatures Gazette

Dog Rejects Insect

Anopheles, Aedes Return


Who Who Whooooo Left This On The Front Porch Last Night?
I believe it was an Eastern Screech Owl. It’s not a big feather, and they are the smallest of the four kinds of owls who are permanent residents of Enchanted Habitat. I found some nice information about our owls on this website. http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2013/jan/27/whooo-what-when-where-and-why-some-our-most/

The permanent owls in Arkansas are: Barn, Eastern Screech, Great Horned, and Barred. All except the Screech are big birds, 16″ to 22″ long. The Eastern Screech is only 8-1/2″, about the size of a quail. I’ve had only one opportunity ever to get a good look at a Screech Owl, and they are truly magical-looking little creatures. The one I saw came one night to sit on a wooden fence near the back patio of the house where I lived then. The night was dark, but there were yard lights, and the owl was sitting only about twelve feet from me. It stayed there for about fifteen minutes, apparently regarding me. It seemed very calm. If it was looking at, or watching for, something else, I was unable to discover what that might be. I was the only living thing out there that I know of. After a long time I decided to find out how close I could come to it. Moving slowly, I got to three feet away before if kind of shook itself and flew off. The next day I learned that something profound had happened to someone in my family.


Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn