Fire Ants, Fauna, and a Magic Wand

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

4/19/17 – 4/22/17

The Fire Ant Gauntlet

Watch this if you dare:

Want to guess how I got my ruler back?
Now let me tell you that three feet beyond this fire ant hill is another just like it, and then another, and another, and more–yes, truly–and this video was filmed not in the Central American jungle but in a trendy section of west Little Rock. About twenty of these giant nests of aggressive ants exist on both sides of a street directly behind a posh shopping center. I don’t like being gloomy but the truth is, that street has ‘way more than enough fire ants to kill a human, or dog, or whatever happened to be there and become incapacitated.
Fire ants haven’t always been in central Arkansas; only since the early 1950’s. They are invasive, and now inhabit the southern two-thirds of the state. For how they got here and why we can’t get rid of them, here is an information source:
http://www.aad.arkansas.gov/imported-fire-ants1
I wondered, Do they bite, or do they sting? I found out the answer is both and now I like them even less.

Creatures More Pleasant: Three-toed Box Turtle Terrapene triunguls
The charming box turtles are out of hibernation now, basking in the spring sun and foraging for berries, flowers, fungi, insects, worms . . . This little one was in the middle of a city street today, haulin’ ass fast as her wee three-toed feet could take her. I was in the car with a friend and we stopped and picked her up and took her away in the direction we hoped she was intending to go–they are determined about their chosen direction–and released her in a safer place. She’s one of the smallest I’ve seen.
I had not realized until today that I’ve never seen any really teensy baby box turtles. The reference below says the babies are secretive and rarely seen, and are something of a mystery to science. Also I learned they can live 50 years.  http://www.herpsofarkansas.com/Turtle/TerrapeneTriunguis )
Several different people have told me they had a box turtle take up residence in their yard that stayed for years and became a pet. In my yard they make it plain they’re just passing through. I’ve tried to please them into staying, but no luck. Maybe I’ve had too many terriers in the past. Their little shades are still here, the terriers, I almost see them frequently.

It’s Planting Time . . . Isn’t It?  Watch Out for Adages
We should question adages. One that comes to mind this time of year: The time to plant beans is when the oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear. What exactly kind of oak tree? We have 31 kinds. Some have leaves twenty times as big as others. And all kinds of oak leaves develop in fast forward; at my age, the blink of an eye. ‘Way too short a window of time. I don’t just stand by, shifting from one foot to the other, waiting to plant beans. I have to think about it first. And then untangle myself from other business, then go get some beans from the Farmers Association, and so on. The winky time period applies also to the other adage we  have here about beans: Plant beans on Good Friday. One day? And by “planting” do we mean “starting seeds indoors” or “transplanting seedlings outdoors”?
Forget the adages. There is help for off-and-on gardeners like me: there is the OLD FARMER’S ALMANAC. Online! Free! http://www.almanac.com/
If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you can quickly pull up a lovely simple planting chart customized to your location. Here is a clip of it. It will show, in little colored graphics, the time ranges–yes whole ranges of time–for when to sow what, indoors and outdoors. And then it will show when you will be able to reap what you sowed. It includes about 30 favorite vegetables, and uses historical data from your local weather station to calculate your best range of planting dates. This first class website also has heaps more interesting information, which I’ll leave you to uncover for yourself if you haven’t already.
Here in Enchanted Habitat we enjoy an enchanted gardening climate:  just about any vegetable you could want will grow except, sadly, avocados.

Another Bad Adage
Before we forget about adages, there is a different one I especially caution you about because it could get you injured. Someone somewhere sometime once dreamed it that Cows can’t kick backward. Or maybe the airhead just assumed it. Cows can seem ungainly. Whoever fabricated this told it for a fact, and it then went the old timey equivalent of viral.
You can verify for yourself that this false belief spread and still persists. Do an online search for “Can cows kick backward?” and see what you get. When I was told it as a child, I believed it and remembered it. That’s because my very mother said it. Then long afterward I bought a little farm and soon a Jersey cow. I understood zilch about any of that in the beginning. Fortunately the cow was not only sweet but also smart. She knew right away I was just a doofus who would feed her a lot and let her darling baby suck all the milk it wanted. When I scrunched around  between and behind them in the close quarters of her stall, she didn’t kick me. Later, in the barn lot, I watched veeerrry thoughtfully as she aimed expert powerful warning strikes in the direction of the geese who were thinking about nipping her and her baby in the rear.

Cow Stick . . . or Magic Wand?
One thing does lead to another. Speaking of milk cows, before we leave the subject let me show you my mother’s mother’s mother’s cow stick. She loved her cows. (Somehow that trait skipped two generations and then came to rest in me. I also inherited her uncontrollable Scots-Irish hair.) Even when she was very old she still kept two milk cows. Every morning, rain or shine, almost until the day she died, she escorted them from their little barn into the woods-pasture to graze. In the late afternoons she went and got them and walked them home. My great grandfather whittled this cow stick for her. You can see by its size how mean she wasn’t. I figured out, you don’t actually use a cow stick, you just have one. It’s a metaphorical thing. This magic baton made its way to me. I employ it once in a while, although not to do with cows.
Here’s my great-grandmother, along with great-grandfather and their daughter who was my maternal grandmother.

Opulence in Arkansas

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

4/15/17 – 4/18/17

This was orientation day for Jury Duty
By 9 AM about 50 of us had made it past the Pulaski County Courthouse security scanners and gathered in the assigned room, where our judge, who is a woman about my age unless I’m flattering myself, addressed us. She calmed our jitters by explaining that maybe none of us would actually be called to duty because hers is a civil, not criminal, court, and most civil cases are settled before they reach the trial stage. She also said she forbids lawyers to wait until court day and then settle cases on the courthouse steps, with the jury assembled unnecessarily. By this time I was sitting on my hands to keep from applauding. This is somebody I really like! Next an uncle-like man with a deep voice who is the main bailiff taught us how to get in touch with him if we had a problem, and I liked him too.
As they were about to dismiss us, the door opened and a ditz came in. She said, in the way that only ditzes do, that it wasn’t her fault she was late. The bailiff took her under his wing and did not make the rest of us stay.

Photo above of Courthouse is from
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Pulaski_county_arkansas_courthouse.jpg

Outside the room I took my first good look around the inside of the Courthouse, which has been there since 1887, and where I have been several times before in my adult life without noticing its opulence. Today I was blown away. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and my lame excuse is, I guess I just hadn’t been ready to behold this ’til now. I wonder how many other people have been in there too busy and/or too stressed to look up and around. Starting from the top, here is its fabulous stained glass dome, and some of the marble statuary. There is more to it, of course, that I’m leaving out. I am in love with this building that was designed in an era when beauty could prevail over efficiency.
I do have one suggestion, though: Could they not put handrails on the outside front steps? I can’t trust my knees. My solution going in was to grab with both hands to one of the huge concrete pillars encasing the steps and plaster the front of myself to it, fingers searching out crevices, and crawl up sideways, using my hands and arms as much as my feet and legs.  Coming out, same thing only downward. The pedestrians in front of and across the street from the courthouse were treated to the sighting of an aged female rock climber.

Let’s Propagate at Ruth’s Place!
It isn’t just that the robins are contesting me to build their nest and raise their babies under the patio roof, it’s that the rest of creation would also like to reproduce in my yard.
I can’t even go to the compost bin. Last fall I opened it to put something in, and a mama wolf spider so big she was on the way to being a tarantula had dragged her egg sac in there and told me I was unwelcome.
I know they aren’t poisonous, but they will bite if they think they have to. I also know first hand they are athletic as hell. My thought at the time–after I got hold of myself–was that the weather was coming on to cold and she needed to be there for the sake of her kids. I haven’t been back there since. I admire wolf spiders and would like them if my brain stem would let me. Here is more about them.
http://www.livescience.com/41467-wolf-spider.html

Chinaberry Trees – Melia azedarach
These are blooming all over town. Wikipedia says some people also call them Persian Lilac. If so, that’s probably to inflate how beautiful they are, which they’re not really. In bloom they have a vague purplish color, and sort of ornamental silhouettes. Here, people (especially those my age or older) don’t tend to be euphemistic about nuisance plants. Plain old “Chinaberry” is it. They are one of the trees I find it hard to favor. Photo below and other references are from:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melia_azedarach

Here is the roster of Chinaberry trees’ bad behaviors. First, beware, their leaves and berries are toxic to dogs, cats, horses, humans, and probably lots of other creatures. Supposedly they can kill. But not birds. Birds can and do eat them and excrete the seeds (see, none of this is pleasant), and the trees are hardy and bad to spring up everywhere, and they grow fast. Third, each tree then bears thousands upon thousands of green berries that stay on the tree until they turn yellow and mushy and yucky and then fall off, and that makes a huge mess, and when I was a girl . . . well, I’ll just tell you the worst of the story: When I was a girl there were no adult-planned entertainments for children. We shuffled around the yard and entertained ourselves. It was a challenge. My little brother, when he was about five, entertained himself by stuffing his bluejeans pockets with over-ripe yellow mushy Chinaberries. I was the oldest child, and a girl to boot, and guess whose job it was to prep the laundry and empty the boys’ pockets. In my whole life it was the worst job ever.

Yea Bunnies!
I do like the rabbits. They appear in the open from about twilight to who knows what time in the morning. I’ve never gone out and looked after 1:00 AM.  But now we come again to the subject of the compost bin. If The Dog knows what she’s talking about, a rabbit has dug under the bin and either has or is making a nest there. The good news is, The Dog is not gifted in physical skills and has never caught anything. (Bird, squirrel, chipmunk. Rabbit.) I suspect she doesn’t think of creatures as prey.  She thinks it’s a game that ends when whatever-it-is is gone. In her eyes there does not come that fire of maniacal intent. So I’m holding hope in my heart. But somebody tell me, who is the patron saint of baby bunnies?

Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn

 

The Gem and the Setting

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

4/10/17 – 4/14/17

You are Here
Thanks to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism for this nice map of Arkansas which shows the special placement of my homeland.
https://www.arkansas.com/maps/
There are other maps with somewhat different boundaries, but this is representative enough. We are in the middle of five other regions, each with its own different nature, and we exchange influences with all of them. We are more than a melting pot, we have our own nature, but if any one of the regions is likely to have something in common with every one of the others, it’s us. I can drive less than an hour west or north and I will still be in my region but will be going up and down foothills. Going east or southeast I’ll be in flat plantation land.

Bayou Bartholomew
My house is in the middle of a metropolitan population of about 300,000, but the second-most biodiverse stream in North America originates less than 45 miles away: the great, historic Bayou Bartholomew, the longest bayou in the U.S. It is home to 100 aquatic species. It flows 350 miles southeast in the state and on down into Louisiana, virtually separating the Timberlands from the Delta. It has an interesting story, past and present. Here are two info links.

Photo of The Bayou close to its headwaters, near Pine Bluff, AR.  Photo courtesy of Keith Yahl – Flickr: Pine Bluff Arkansas, CC BY 2.0

Grandmotherly influences – it goes both ways
One of my grandmothers was from the Ozarks, and the other was from deep in the state’s Delta. When they were young adults they each came to live here in the middle. I picked up a lot from both of them, fortunately. The two of them not only talked differently from each other, they cooked and ate differently. Neither of them had a recipe book that I know of. They had it in their heads. Nor did they write down how they did it. An odd thing is, I don’t need to refer to anything when I cook something the way one of them did. And rarely, just rarely, in what I like to think of as a stroke of genius, I change something in one of their non-existant recipes. For instance my Hillbilly Grandmother never heard of cheesedip, and it’s just great to put on grits ‘n redeye gravy!

We Got There In Time!
I was afraid the Crimson Clover might peak and fade before I could photograph it, but thanks to the help of a dear friend who drove me there and kept me from falling down, I got pictures this morning.
Every year in late March to early April, the clover blooms in expanses on all four sides of the I-630 interstate exit onto Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. For a limited time only. To those of us who wait in our cars at the stoplights there, they are a wonder. And so that nobody else will be as ignorant as I used to be: clover that is the color pink is named Red Clover, and clover that is the color red is named “Crimson Clover”. Got that?

And not only the clover is there now: also there are stands of violet Vetch, and stretches of some small pure yellow flower I haven’t identified (it’s visible in the interior of the photo above). Here is a photo of the Vetch, which is growing there in smaller portions.

But spring will not be the end of this story of glory at the Interstate Exit. Different flowers appear here as the seasons change. I know I can look forward to abundant Black Eyed Susans, white Queen Anne’s Lace, and yellow Bitterweed–and more, but those are the ones that stand out in my memory.

And further still: Not shown in the photo is an area of land that belongs to the highway and abuts it, but is never mowed and is home to a beautiful tangle of trees and shrubby growth that flower in the spring and flame in the fall. This area has been let to return to a mini-wilderness, and due to the terrain it is almost marshy. It is home to many birds, and I especially see the male red-winged blackbirds there.

I found out that our state’s highway department partners with the parks and tourism department to do wildflowers in many places, and this is one of them. If what I learned plus what I deduce is the whole truth and nothing but, this little wild area at the I-630 exit is probably officially designated as a “Natural Zone”, bordered by the “Transition Zones” of wildflowers. I much approve of such a wonderful use of our taxpayer dollars!

The Cardinals
Three Redbirds are hanging out in the yard lately: two males and a female. I don’t know if it’s that the males are duking it out, or if the threesome is a ménage à trois. Cardinals adapt.Three years ago a pair of them had a nest that failed, and their reaction was to start feeding some nearby baby robins. They and the parent robins got along well and kept the babies worn out gulping all the meals, all the way through the growing-up process. The end result was fine in all directions as far as I could tell.

From today’s Creatures Gazette:
DOG CLAIMS, EATS ROSE
Last year the yard man cut down one of the rosebushes. I only realized it two days ago when I saw something red blooming a foot off the ground. The poor brave bush had produced a rose from its stock, below where the grafted hybrid used to be.  Roses are not my favorite art subject but this one deserved to be noted somehow, and I fetched my sketching bag and fold-up seat. It’s beyond me how some animals know exactly what you’re paying attention to, but I had no more than opened my sketchbook when The Dog softly, finely, pulled an outermost petal from the rose and ate it. And then another. I folded my arms and watched while she ate one more. When she noticed I was watching her and not the rose, she stopped eating. And started again when I stared at the rose. We played a few rounds of this game and then we left the bedraggled flower and went into the house.

Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Enchanted Habitat

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

3/20/17 – 4/9/17

Spring Equinox, and Storm Fronts

It’s spring, and I intended to begin this blog last night with images of new-blooming flowers that are everywhere and determined to be admired. But one of our dangerous spring storm fronts was approaching then, snaking a mean red line across the TV.  A characteristic line, but I will never get used to it. Not only our flowers demand attention in spring.

The bad news was, the storm front was coming fast. The good news is, it was then gone fast. Until next time. But if you live in a magical place is it not fitting there would be occasional terrors?

Now the weather has left us intact and and we have a new day.

Dogwoods

Here is the backyard dogwood tree this morning. Cornus florida.

Dogwood Photo 1.jpg

It budded and bloomed in the blink of an eye—or less than a week, however you count time. It’s probably 70 years old and it has character. Every three or four years a limb falls off for no reason I know. Dogwoods have to compete with the big trees for space and nutrition. The ones that have to be the scrappiest are the ones I like best.

World-over, many species of dogwood are native to temperate climates, and we are especially blessed with them here in the southeastern United States. I like remembering they are sustenance for other creatures. The larvae of butterflies and moths feed on dogwoods, although I’ve never caught them at it. (Some feed only on dogwoods.) Birds eat the red fruits. The bark contains tannin, and back in the generations folk made a tea from it for pain and fever, and used the leaves as  poultices. Some of the old one-of-a-kind musical instrument makers used dogwood. They are lyrical trees, sometimes so poignant they are near heartbreaking. Here is a haiga-illustrated poem about those.

doogwood dwg & haiga.jpg

The Oak Trees—Quercus

Propagation is busting out all over. Last night’s rain scrubbed the coating of oak pollen off everything and floated it like a mustard topping on the streams going down and away. But no relief for allergy sufferers. Thirty-one kinds of oak trees live here, and they will get busier and extrude more yellow powder than was lost. Oaks have both male and female flowers. Their pollen producing behavior is in-your-face lusty.

The Maple Trees—Acer

Maple Seeds Etegami, “Children”

The maples say to the oaks, “You do it your way, I’ll do it mine.” Theirs is more elegant. This time of year the ten kinds of maples we have here clothe themselves not in leaves but in the glory of their countless seeds. This means spring maples decked out in literally indescribable colors: no words for those colors. Much more subtle than their fall colors. Then they release the millions of seeds into the storm winds.  Whirlybirds we call them as kids, and what kid hasn’t played with them? When I hold one of these exquisite and purposefully designed seeds in my hand and look at it, I am contemplating Mind.

The Robins 

The robins go besotted this time every spring. My theory is, on the tick of the Spring Equinox a switch flips in their brain and they are instantly hormonal and wacko. As I write they are fighting in the streets, causing near car wrecks. Every morning now at 4:30 one of them perches somewhere just outside my bedroom window and yells. Not sings, yells. Loud enough to wake me and keep me awake.They can sing, as we all know.

Today when I happened to step outside the back door I was hit by a disgusted stare from maybe that same bird. She had lit on the fence with a long string of golden dried grass hanging from her beak. She said with her look, “WHY NOW? WHY ME? GET OUT OF THE WAY!” I saw I was between her and her intended nest site, which was on the patio ceiling fan. Another strand of grass was hanging from there.

I said to her, “This won’t work. For several reasons. One of them gruesome. I remember that from last year, and I wish you did.” I pulled the grass off the fan, and as ostentatiously as possible I took it out in the yard and dropped it there. My thought was, maybe we could salvage that much at least, and she could use it somewhere else.

But no, The Dog had watched me too, and she went to the piece of grass and delicately picked it up and said, “This is mine,” and trotted away with it, around the side of the house.

Ms. Robin was still there, glaring. I said, “I kept the perfect nest y’all built last year. I put it in a basket to keep it safe. I sacrificed my hot rolls basket. Here . . .” and I got it out of the patio’s utility room and showed her. I said, “I may be the only person you know who has a spare robin’s nest. It would thrill me if you’d use it. I wonder if there’s any way.” By that time The Dog was back and said about the nest, “That’s mine too.” I just looked at her and she could tell that was all there would be to that.

I said to Ms. Robin, “It’s a great nest. Those three precious ugly babies loved it last year, until . . . well, never mind about that part. Y’all should not make these nest site decisions so soon after you go besotted. Wait until Second Nesting Season. It doesn’t matter how great a nest is, if its in the wrong place. Location, location, location. Anyway, no more heartbreak for me. You Shall Not Build Again Under This Patio Roof.”

I stood there with my saved nest, turning over in my mind what a shame to waste it. But I am older and wiser now (am I not?) and I let go of that notion. You can lead a horse to water, and you can lead a robin to a pre-owned nest, and you know how the rest of that goes.

Copyright 2017 Ruth Byrn