Sunday, July 31, 2011

This Way to the LaBarque Conservation Area

From this sign it's about a mile down Doc Sargent Road to the LaBarque Creek Conservation Area, consisting mainly of a mountain that rises from creek level at 500 feet to the peak at 800 feet. That's a 300-foot vertical climb and you will feel it. A 3-mile circuit hiking path, rated "difficult," pretty exciting, leads you to the top and back down. A while back I showed you the secret glade and water basin at the top.

Let me point out that the cardinal sitting atop the sign isn't alone; to the left, above the arrow, is his wife. And also that some fools around here use the conservation sign for target practice. Cowards, they shoot and run. Looks like some BB, some .22 and at least one .38. That's why I didn't put my Hughesnet dish on the cliff top. This sign was first put up in '09 and has already been replaced once.

I bid goodbye to a beautiful July, maybe the most beautiful ever, but lonely; thanks for visiting. I know y'all just loved that crocheted tire cover earlier this month.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can You Say "Drought"?

That's LaBarque Creek at the lowest point I've seen in four years. I've heard the word "drought" pronounced:


I say "drowt," but any way you say it, it contains the word "rough" and it tips this whole world over. Turkeys, deer, snakes, turtles, and bunnies move down to the creek edge and stay there, making a weird new city of animals and leaving my meadows empty. Tree leaves and cornstalks droop. Branches moan and break from dead trees. Hummingbirds vanish. I pour water in the birdbath at night and somebody drinks it all before dawn. It's so dry that the roadkill skunk dried out before it could stink much. Because I can't deeply water anything -- the water table's too low for the pump to work more than 10 minutes -- I have to decide which kitchen herbs are worth carrying water for. Usually the basil and rosemary. Because it's been so unrelentingly hot, with record-hot nights in the 80s, the parsley and cilantro have bolted anyway. The sage curls a little, but it ends up fine no matter what. And somebody ate every pear off the pear tree. Ten days ago it had two-inch pears high and low and now there is not a single one left, nor are there cores or scraps around the tree trunk. Squirrels chew things rather than eat them, so I bet the beneficiaries of the pears are the pair of obese raccoons.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Daily Delights and Ecstasies

Started this blog in June 2007 because my housemate moved to the city in '06, and what I missed most, and still miss, was someone to call to, or to grab, and say, "Look! Isn't it amazing!" "Listen, a whippoorwill!" "OMG, the first hummer of the year!" "The blacksnake!" "'Jack Frost' was here!" "Oh, come see this!" "Stop the car; I want a picture!" "Let's look this up!" "Oh no, I think they ran over it!"

As a city dweller I feared the night, rode bad public transportation, and if I saw a bird it was because it hadn't been suffocated by fumes from the coal-fired power plant, and if I saw a live fish it was in a tank in a therapist's office. Kept my eyes mostly on the sidewalk because some folks got mighty riled if you looked at 'em. Life here, although harder, colder, buggier, lots of work, and sometimes isolated, is better. Daily something delightful appears or happens. It is said that a friend doubles every joy and halves every sorrow. You are my doubler and my halver.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Wealth of Blue Wildflowers

Love blue flowers, most people do, and on one walk in July in rugged rural Missouri I saw seven kinds of blue wildflowers. Have no idea how they will show up on your screen, but the three-petaled ones above right, with hairy centers, are Broadleafed Spiderwort; the three-petaled dewy one with the green bug inside is a Hairy Wild Petunia; the spectacular flowery stalk at left is the American Bellflower, which likes shade and water; the blue explosion bottom is a Downy Skullcap (Scutellaria incana), mint family; and the other small photos are of Mist Flower, Dayflower (the lone flower with the asphalt in the background) and chicory (you knew that.) Clicking on the photo enlarges it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

He Breathes Mercy

Love pitching my tent in the yard, after mowing to get rid of ticks and chiggers, and sleep in the tent on summer nights. I love to lie on the sleeping bag, through the ceiling net watching the stars chase fireflies. In the wee hours the slight chill makes me pull the bag over me, feeling ever so grateful for it. And when I unzip the tent at dawn I see this. Quiet, beautiful, fresh as heaven. While I took photos I heard an unusual bird call repeated and wondered, "If cardinals sing 'Cheer cheer,' what is this bird saying?" And the answer came: It says "He breathes MERcy. He breathes MERcy." And you know, as good as I feel, and because I'm still alive, I think He really does!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Town Meets Country

My friend Carmel, a city girl, in fact a ballerina, just bought a modular and 2 acres of woods on a little lake in Franklin County about 15 minutes from my place. Has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a nice deck, but she hadn't been in the woodsy part yet, so we explored. "Is that poison ivy?" she asked. I said, "If it's Missouri, it's poison ivy." "Eeeew," said Carmel. Her new neighbor's pit bull was running loose and while Carmel is great with dogs and this one (named "Loco;" mine are named "Osama" and "Sluggo") seemed friendly, she saw it had mange and warned me not to encourage or pet it, because "Eeew." And the same neighbor has adopted some Canada geese and you know what kind of "Eeew" they leave behind. I wanted a photo of her standing on her new property, the shady, snaggy end of the lake opposite the dam. I said she needed a johnboat because we could fish and gig frogs there. And maybe there were water snakes. "Water snakes! Eeew!" she said.

I said, "Carmel, if you're going to live in the country, the very first thing to know is that you have to give up saying 'Eeeew'."

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Beautiful Mistake

A treacherous stretch of rural Highway F ran in front of my house, and on slippery-weather days I eyewitnessed imprudent drivers skating their cars off the road, landing them upside down or sideways in the shoulder. For the first few I called the police. The cops wanted only to be called if there were injuries. The drivers, mostly kids and uninsured, wanted to see anybody but cops.

The turn from F into and out of my lane was entirely blind. Gathering courage, I would commit and stomp the pedal and by the grace of God was never hit. My neighbors at that time needed the firetruck and it could not make the turn. Thus in 2002 this section of F was raised and widened. This property lost an acre and some old sycamore trees, half the sandstone glade, a shady rill with a tiny waterfall in which birds bathed and drank. Blasters took great hunks of the cliff and pictures fell from my wall. This took two months. The road was closed just 600 feet from my house and for a month was impassable. Putting my car in my driveway required an 18-mile detour. The charming, crumbling one-lane bridge was replaced.

Before it was replaced, I went down to the creek edge and dug up some of the daylilies there that I thought were so beautiful, to save them. Fulvous Daylilies (Hemerocallis Fulva) are in fact invasive "junk lilies," botanical terrorists hated by gardeners and eco-people. I planted them next to my house, where they thrived and delight me every summer, spreading by runners, taking over the side yard and the soil clinging to the cliff top. Now I have several hundred. Each daylily blooms for one day. There's a message for me there. It is the most beautiful mistake I ever made.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cloud-of-the-Month Club

People talk about storing their music and photos in "the cloud," about sharing their files in "the cloud" and getting "cloud certification" in"cloud architecture." They explain that "the cloud is software as a service." And today, in the city, I saw the mighty cloud that they must be referencing. It was 102 degrees Fahrenheit in the parking lot where I stood, and within an hour the sky was raining and booming and steam rose from the sidewalks. July in Missouri? You betcha!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Does Suet Suffocate Birds?

I hesitated to feed my birds suet in summer because of rumors that hot weather melts the suet on their beaks, and could stuff up their nostrils so they'll suffocate (they don't have fingers like you and I would use). Researching several birdfeeding sites, I tend toward the conclusion that it is not true. The suet I buy melts on my fingers, which are 98.6 degrees. Birds' body temperatures range from 104 to 109 degrees. People do say what WILL suffocate them is peanut butter, denser and with a higher melting point. Just as gobs of it might get stuck in our own throats, they might get stuck in a bird's throat, any time of year.

Wild birds love peanut butter, but mix it thoroughly with suet or lightly frost a pine cone with it so they can get only bits each time. I assume the risk is low, or there'd be more dead birds in people's backyards, but you don't want to murder your birds by accident.

I buy commercial suet, mixed with seeds. From experience I know it's much softer than natural or rendered suet. I also serve mixed dry seeds and fresh water daily. For the hummingbird feeders, weekly I use dish soap and water and scrub the drowned ants and mold out of them before refilling with fresh homemade nectar (1 part sugar to 4 parts boiling water, 3 parts if you want your hummers livin' large).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July Morning

With temperatures around 100 humid degrees at noon here in Missouri, the only time to go walking is before 7 a.m., when it's only about 80 degrees...down by where Doc Sargent Road intersects with F, right next to LaBarque Creek, it was all gold light this morning, with platinum mist and silver dew.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Many Moods of LaBarque Creek

A one-lane bridge crosses a one-lane LaBarque Creek up the road just a bit, and I sat on the railing and looked at the dreamlike water, usually crystal-clear but chocolate-gelato-colored because an inch of rain fell the day before, and watched it sparkle in a setting of ultra-rain-soaked greenery, and I sighed because I am so in love with it and it is all I have ever wanted, and because it looked almost like a Japanese painting. I wanted to capture that and show you. Here's also a photo of the little bridge's warning. I sometimes crawl down the bank and when it's passable go hunchback beneath the bridge seeking fossils and crayfish, which survive only in very healthy streams. And I did once scoop up a glassy little crayfish hoping to show it to a friend. With its little toothpick arms it defended itself, pinching the palm of my hand (ow!), making me drop it back into the water.

You can't imagine how as a kid of about eight or nine I pined to sit by streams, to study their creatures, to watch the light on them, to listen to them. Instead I visited a vacant lot and after rains watched a rill that ran into a culvert, and listened to its trickling, and hoped that someday I could have what I have now.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Great Spangled Fritillary

This baby (Speyeria cybele) stopped me in my tracks. Never saw this butterfly before, although it is said to be common in the central U.S. Elbowed through waist-high grass to get photos and video, earning me 60 chigger bites, welts from knees to armpits; the itching was cured only with applications to the skin of diluted laundry bleach (1 part bleach to 7 parts water). That was Reeve's advice. It worked. The butterfly was worth it.

Fascinatingly, the Great Spangled Fritillary's scalloped wings look different on each side: dorsal side brown with orange and yellow, pretty but nothing special (see small photo); the contrasting ventral side is silver spots on coffee-and-cream. No fabric like this has ever been woven by man. Prefers to drink from purplish flowers, and I caught this one on horsemint and, in a separate series of photos, also on coneflowers. Difficult to ID, but this website helped me and maybe you can use it too. The Great Spangled Fritillary: I couldn't have named it better. What's a fritillary? A butterfly with tiny front legs that have no claws. Everybody else's front legs have claws. If the photos are greatly enlarged it can be seen that their front legs aren't good for clinging to anything.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Three Cheers for the Blue

Hiking, tramping along, winded, hoping to find the trail's end soon, hating to stop and rest because only old folks need to stop and rest -- been hiking 40-some years now --and anyway I'm getting dehydrated and need to drink water ASAP (am lazy sometimes about lugging along all the water I might need) and so I asked myself,"What would John Muir do?" Dehydration disorients me, so I looked down at my feet to make sure they were moving. Right then I glimpsed something crisp and refreshingly blue in the earth right in front of me, and saw that a baby had been born. Looked hard to try to identify the bird, but many birds lay blue eggs. Because the egg is spotted, I count robins out, and because of the location in deep woods I count bluebirds out; both robins and bluebirds are field-loving birds. Possibly some kind of sparrow. I wished it a happy birthday.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Three Cheers for the Red

Crocheted tire cover photographed in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Eureka, MO. Don't that beat all. It's beautiful, too.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits

An old superstition says: On the first day of every month, the first thing you should say aloud is "Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits." This brings good luck. My rigorous testing has proved it absolutely true. This young bunny breakfasts and dines in my yard, and over the past month I have been trying to gain its trust, quietly inching closer to get better photos of it. Please, politely disregard the quite obvious fact that I have neglected to mow my yard.