Thursday, June 30, 2011

Midnight Snake

Still up at 1:30 a.m., trying to make June last as long as possible, and was surprised to find a visitor in the dining room, specifically on the dining-room floor. This is a baby blacksnake, about 8 inches long. As far as I have seen, young blacksnakes can be gold or silver and they have thin stripes around their necks. Snakes are rare indoor visitors here, but usually appear in the house a day or two after heavy rain, possibly displaced from their cozy nooks by water, or they are hunting spiders or other crawly creatures already in the house.

Do creepy-crawlies bother me? Not really. I once kept company with a herpetologist who was very thin and when he got angry wanted to bite things, no lie. I preferred my own company. Large snakes make me catch my breath, and I am not exactly pleased finding five-inch wolf spiders inside my stereo speakers, but otherwise I accept them, except for ants in my kitchen. They get doused with vinegar or bleach.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Secret Glade

LaBarque Creek Conservation Area off Doc Sargent Road now has a well-marked, three-mile "primitive" "moderate to difficult" loop trail. That's putting it mildly. Be prepared for lots of uphill, carry a hiking staff, and bring water because the loop will take two solid hours. But halfway along the trail, high up, is this marvelous secret glade, and being there was worth all the slogging and sweat.

What's a glade? It's a rocky clearing or "outcropping" you'll find up in hills or mountains, home to spring wildflowers and water features like this basin. Because there's mostly rock and little soil, few trees grow in glades, so it's open to sunlight, and I even found a few prickly-pear cacti. A lake up in the mountains always seemed impossible to me, but this little one in the conservation area is a scale model of how it's done. The water runs from here into a pretty little LaBarque Creek tributary, arched over with trees, that forms one border of the conservation area.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Butterfly: Zebra Swallowtail

Not found often, and not in all Missouri counties, my first Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) is enjoying the Butterfly Weed (Ascelpias tuberosa) in the Divine meadow. The white wings with their pale-green undertone, and the bits of red markings above the tail, and the long, long swallow tails, positively identify it out of the lineup that includes the yellowish Tiger Swallowtail and the Pale Swallowtail. I hope you see your own divine Zebra Swallowtail soon.

Hitching a Ride

The Shaw Nature Reserve is 3000 acres in the next county over, and today I renewed my membership there and went for a camera hike. Walked an hour and a quarter just to get to my planned starting point, the picnic shelter, then down the bluff to the gravel bar on a bend in the Meramec River (above). Enjoyed my visit. Hiked back up the bluff to the shelter. By then I had been walking for three hours and was worn to a thread. After drinking water and resting I faced the hour-and-a-quarter walk back to my car, in the noon sun. For once I didn't relish the thought.

Somebody else was up there in the shelter, a staffer, packing up his janitorial stuff and getting into his Shaw Nature Reserve pickup truck when I got inspired (or desperate) and called to him, "Can I have a ride?"

He said, "Why, sure!" And he cleaned off the passenger seat and, hallelujah, I got a ten-minute ride back to my car.

My escort was Mr. Thurman. He said he'd never cared for flowers or gardening until he visited the fabulous Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis. Next day he dug up his back yard and planted roses. He'd worked 27 years in a factory, quit, found this janitorial job in the paper and worked it full-time. Turns out he also rescues people: moms with double strollers who've miscalculated how exhausting it would be to push the kids around 3000 acres, and he looks for and gathers up hikers from the trails when a thunderstorm threatens. And grants rides to tired middle-aged lady hikers wearing dumb-looking sunhats. And I learned I hadn't had to walk that first hour at all. Mr. Thurman said visitors could drive up to the picnic shelter Mondays through Thursdays, and start from there.

He took me straight to my car and waited until I had my keys in hand. Priceless!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's in My Road Shoulder

Thunderstorm this afternoon as the public-works mowers along the highway were working. They left in a rush in orange trucks, parking this mower right in our road shoulder by our mailboxes, probably returning tomorrow to finish the job. Having a John Deere mower left on my property doesn't happen daily so of course after the storm I went down to inspect it. Looks a lot like a Model T Ford if you ask me. I like the sunshade at the top. Missouri summer sunshine can wham you on the head like a cast-iron frying pan, and almost everyone wears headgear so they don't get heatstroke or sun poisoning. I got mildly sun-poisoned once and had to sit out a day of my life in deep cool darkness till I felt better.

This is a sight you'll see only in the country. This picture was just so Green Acres I had to show you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ebony Jewelwing

A stunning sight: blue/green titanium body and black velvet wings. It's not a dragonfly; it's a damselfly, Calopteryx maculata, the Ebony Jewelwing. First saw it in the jungle-like road shoulder a few days ago. Recalled a short course with a professional nature photographer, who said, about photographing wildlife, "If you've seen it there once, wait and it will come back." So this evening I took the camera, but thought this elegant insect was too amazing ever to see again. Saw it, couldn't believe my luck, eased myself down into the road shoulder, promptly slipped in the water at the bottom and fell and scared the thing off. Waited quietly about a minute, and it did come back.

How to tell dragonflies from damselflies: Dragonflies at rest extend their wings to the sides; damselflies fold them on their backs, as you see. I feel truly privileged to have spent some time on earth with this lovely creature. Its beauty and getting to share it with you is worth all the gasoline in all the commutes I have to make because I live out here, and it is worth the time the car slid off the road in the snow, and worth an uninsulated bedroom that tops out at 50 degrees in winter, and worth hornworms eating my kale and ticks and chiggers up my pant legs. I hope you understand me. There are some things money just can't buy. The Ebony Jewelwing is most often found in the Ozarks. How lucky.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Life Among the Tree Nymphs

The pear tree in the Divine yard had pears on occasion, usually no bigger than an inch long and never edible. Planted in the yard's unfriendly soil, most of it pure clay, the tree never thrived and never grew any taller. Then two years ago my friend Ace told me to prune the suckers, meaning the branches growing vertically from established horizontal branches. I pruned the suckers I could reach. Darned if the tree didn't grow a couple of feet in a year, large enough to cast shade. Again I pruned as far as I could reach. This year, pears. They'll probably be pecked and wormy before it's time to pick, but they are beautiful and this is progress.

This is the only fruit tree on my 100 acres. The Dutch couple who lived here before me planted it. Europeans are genetically wired to plant fruit trees. My father had a plum tree and nearly threw a party when after three years the skeletal thing produced one plum. Demetrius, who lived here, planted an apple tree in the meadow where it only encouraged Oak Apple Gall Wasps and was eaten by deer. Obtaining a baby nectarine tree, like a crazy man he dug a pit for it in the clay near the house. After four years this tree maxed out at a couple of twigs about knee high. Now and then it put forth a leaf, as if shyly waving hello to a hostile and uncaring universe. I left it in the yard to remind me that Demetrius, like all gardeners, was a person of hope. Then, about two weeks ago, mowing the lawn I accidentally mowed it over and wrecked it utterly. So ended its unlucky little life. I heard Demetrius shout abuse at me from beyond the grave.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who Was Here? What Did He Eat? Did It Taste Real Good?

Someone with a picky appetite dined here on the concrete block right in front of the propane tank, dining on a nice fresh lawn mushroom, but didn't finish it, and instead of just leaving it nice on the plate, flang it hither and yon. Probably a frustrated squirrel, from the mess of it, and it's pretty clear that raw mushroom is not his favorite meal. That's just too darn bad. It's going to have to eat what the rest of us eat, or it will be sent to bed without supper--or it will be shot, depending on my mood.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bars, Fried Pies, and Stuff

New businesses are sprouting in the area. Good to see there's still small-town business and the owners think there's consumer demand and are giving the people what they want. I'm a mite concerned as to what we seem to want. New businesses:
  • Bar
  • Motorcycle shop (the town's third)
  • Fried pies
  • Gun shop
  • Dialysis parlor
  • Car-window-tinting service
  • Calorie Comfort ("indulge and beat the bulge")
  • 2 "urgent care" walk-in facilities
Says something about the way we live now...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Lives Here? What'd She Eat? Did It Taste Real Good?

As I stepped off the stone steps into my yard to fill the birdbath, I saw this tableau and it told a mystery story. Something had dug a three-inch-wide hole (measured it) beneath the bottom step. It wasn't there yesterday. Whoever this hole-dweller was, he or she was not in sight. But he or she got hold of an egg -- just one, and plain white without identifying markings (I scrubbed the mud off a piece of shell, using an old toothbrush, just to check) -- and had opened and eaten it. Or, less likely, maybe something had hatched here. Eggshell reassembled provided no more clues.

The prime suspect is the large blacksnake who winters beneath my kitchen floor and eats mice. Saw her earlier this spring, sidewinding toward the house then disappearing beneath it, smooth as liquid, right by the kitchen door. Turned up one of her silver babies when digging nearby in order to plant annuals. I know my blacksnake savors eggs. Once I followed a mess of turkey-egg shells to a nest my blacksnake had cleaned out entirely. She was still there and let me take her picture. But if this time it was my snake or any other (because, three years ago, I saw a milk snake curled around the flagstones right here) how did it carry the egg from the nest to its door? In its mouth? Why didn't it dine where the egg was found?

For sure: It must've tasted real good.

Friday, June 3, 2011

End of the Cicadas

Dying by the dozens already, they banzai and smear windshields, or lie on my doorstep writhing like gangster James Cagney on the church steps in The Roaring Twenties (1939). Or the cicadas simply lie in the road and expire. Last night at the community center I heard that somebody's dog eats them. (Eeeww!) And in my own lane this morning this Three-Toed Box Turtle (Terrapine carolina triunguis) sat on the asphalt munching away, the crisp cicada wings saved for last.

The turtle is likely a male, judging by the red eyes. Generally, females box turtles have yellow eyes. Surprised to see it has a pink soft fleshy mouth like the rest of us. I hope the cicada was a memorable meal because won't taste it again for 13 years. How'd I get this photo? Bend way over; place camera, set for macro, on the asphalt upside-down except for a finger on the shutter, as close as possible. (Macro can focus at 1.8 inches.) Risk annoying the subject while he munches. Keep snapping blindly and hope to catch an image like this.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That's Not Spit On That Plant

Looks like somebody spit on it, but at the center of the white foam seen in crevices of roadside plants like these is the "spittlebug," well-hidden although you can find him if you want to look through the spittle. But he's counting on you to pass by. What happens is that a spittlebug egg has overwintered in the host plant, has hatched and become a nymph which drains the plant of its sap. The nymphs create the camouflaging "spittle" foam and hide in it for up to seven weeks as they develop into spittlebug adults. Adults lay a new set of eggs so a new set of nymphs can come along next year, and that's God's truth and the way He made 'em.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Wal-Mart Weekend

Drove to Bentonville, Arkansas, original home of Wal-Mart, and ended up Saturday morning with the locals at the farmer's market on the quaint and very green main square in the town center, with its two-story monument to soldiers of the Confederacy. There was kohlrabi and chard aplenty, and buckwheat crepes, and musical entertainment provided by a hot duo called The Tin Pan Alley Cats (a cover of "Your Cheatin' Heart" that would do Hank Senior proud). But the big draw for all the out-of-state cars was the place pictured above, on Main and Central, the original Sam Walton five-and-dime store, seed for all the Wal-Marts that have taken over the planet since. People make "pilgrimages" to this place, honest Injun, and Wal-Mart is working on a Wal-Mart Museum and a high-end art museum that will bring the longhairs to town as well. I myself am a big fan of

My friend Reeve, after showing me downtown Bentonville, also took me to my very first Sam's Club. I'd never been to a Sam's Club; it makes no sense for one person to buy a membership and purchase in such obscene bulk as you can buy at Sam's Club, but this place was the size of four football fields and stacked to the ceiling with everything except "Soul Seasoning" in the spice section, which I use to season my greens. They just did not carry it. I was AMAZED that purchased items are not bagged and that you must hand the cash-register receipt to a person at the exit who checks your items against your receipt before he lets you go. I mean, you wait in LINE to get OUT of the store. It was so very East Berlin! Those Sam's Club workers were earning their money. The way the place was set up so diabolically clever, that everywhere you looked, you suddenly felt you NEEDED an above-ground pool, huge bags of dog food, gallons of shampoo: Reeve bought $87 worth of cheese in huge bricks you could build a house with. Why, my jaw hit the floor right there.