Thought I’d share some of the pictures I’ve been taking of things I’d like to paint.
Thought I’d share some of the pictures I’ve been taking of things I’d like to paint.
The verdict on my back is that surgery can wait for now. Basically, because I can walk around without excruciating pain searing down my legs (and I’ve been there) more surgery might do more harm than good. And the procedure would be a lot more complicated, with longer recovery time and more opportunity for infection, etc. Waiting is okay with me. At least now I know.
The doctor told me to stay active, but not to overdo anything. “Arthritis is a disease of motion,” after all, although stopping all motion is not the way to treat it, either. So I guess I’ll keep walking. My new pedometer measured my favorite route this morning at a little over two miles, and said I burned around 230 calories (that’s a Klondike bar!), so I see no reason to try and go farther. I may find a pool where I can swim a few laps a few times a week. I’m not a very efficient swimmer, and can probably burn up plenty of calories flailing from one end of the pool to the other.
But the trail at Park Hudson will be my primary workout. There are more trees, hence more shade, than the “Mile of History” walk at Veteran’s Park, which borders a bunch of soccer fields. And I can go earlier in the morning, since Veteran’s Park (which has gates) doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. when it’s already getting pretty hot around here. Plus, more squirrels for Junior to try and chase.
After last year’s exceptional drought, we have finally been getting substantial rainfall in this part of Texas. It may not last – but we’re all hoping we will continue to at least get a normal year’s worth of rain this year. Weeds in the yard have been flourishing – especially the ones with spiky leaves and ones that will produce burrs later in the season. And the yard has been wet. Sloppy, splashy, puddly wet.
The Puppy is not pleased. I was actually hoping that over the long dry spell he would lose his terror of wet grass. Ha! His name might as well be Elphaba.
His looks are so eloquent when he sets foot on something wet. “OMG it BURRRNNNS!! Melting, melting, melting! NOOoooooooo!” And he never learns that the faster he takes care of his “business,” the sooner he’ll get to go back indoors. No. He would rather wait until I bow to his wishes and move to the Atacama. I’m sure he would be perfectly happy there, however, I don’t think he can “hold it” quite that long. I’m sorry I ever mentioned the place to him.
There’s a color that shows up every spring — the first green the trees put on — that I just love. I glows. It lights up the countryside. Otherwise drab roadsides come alive and fairly shout with green. They almost don’t need sunlight to glow, but seem lit from within — these first leaves of spring. But on a bright day they can be almost blinding.
Later in the season as the sunlight gets stronger and hotter, leaves add thicker layers of waxy cuticle to hold in the moisture. The green turns darker and more business-like. The leaves get to work turning those light waves into plant food and oxygen, and put away the party colors until next year.
I often wonder if the paler, more tender spring leaves are better able to absorb the less intense early spring light. But not being a plant biologist, or intensely curious enough to try and find an answer, I content myself with thinking how lovely that an adaptation that helps the plant also delights the eye.
Well, they didn’t specify whose home to take a picture of, so I chose one of my backyard Purple Martin condo. One of the not-so-many good things about living on a semi-bald prairie.
I have high hopes they’ll do the same this year. Early last week a couple of males, accompanied by one female, did a couple of fly-bys, and landed on the roof a couple of times. Now if I can just keep the starlings from chasing them off. It might be time to get a starling-eradication device.
Turns out the martins haven’t actually left the area, they just moved out of the house. On reflection, it seemed like a bad time to migrate south — it’s still winter on the other side of the equator. Plainly, I don’t know as much about purple martin migratory habits as some people. I seem to remember my mom saying that they arrive in this area around Valentine’s Day, and leave again on June 15th. That’s pretty specific. But she must have meant that they leave the nest on June 15th. Or thereabouts. We didn’t get the house up until late February, and I didn’t see any martins around it until mid-March. Both families of martins were still using the nest a lot on June 15th. But now I see one group of four (mom, dad, two kids) fly over the house once in a while and never land on it. They hang out on the telephone wires out by the road. I’m sure there’s still plenty of good grasshopper hunting in the area. It just goes to show, you should never stop observing, and you’ll probably never be through learning.
The martins are gone. No goodbyes. No forwarding address. They just took wing and flew away. Their house looks a little forlorn, with just a random sparrow or two perched on the porch railings, where a few days ago the two pairs of adult martins and their well-grown offspring had all been jostling for the best perches on the roof. It made for a busy scene as one or another bird got edged off its spot and flew out and away and up and around and back, all the while chattering in their distinctive purple martin language. It had lifted my heart considerably to have them back after an absence of several years.
But let me back up a bit. For starters, my yard is ideal purple martin habitat — a flat, treeless plain. With plenty of weeds. Grasshoppers like weeds. Purple martins like grasshoppers. For breakfast, lunch and supper. When my parents moved onto this spot after several years in a fairly woodsy location at Hilltop Lakes (where they spent a lot of time watching deer and other wildlife visit their back yard) my mom decided they should have a martin house. A lot of people (like my mom) think martins eat mosquitoes, but they don’t. Other birds might, bats definitely do, but not martins. Still, having a little extra help with grasshopper control is good, too, whether you’re aware of it or not — which my folks weren’t, but that’s beside the point.
Anyway, my dad being my dad, he built the house for the martins. He didn’t go half measures, either. The house had 24 apartments, and was attached to a post that could be lowered every winter and the house taken off, cleaned out, and put in storage until spring. This was all to keep the pesky sparrows and starlings from moving in and making the place their slum. After my mom died, in 1989, the martin house never came down again. And the sparrows and starlings started taking over.
When I moved back home in 2002, I saw no martins move in the following spring. There were no vacancies. The place had taken on the appearance of a shabby old tenament, with faded, peeling paint, and last season’s nesting material overflowing out the doors. Pitiful.
Oddly, even though the upright had taken on a bit of a warp, and as a consequence the house leaned a bit to the south, it withstood our brush with Hurricane Rita in 2005. It came down that winter, all on its own. The upright failed under the weight of all that accumulated sparrow and starling crap one stormy night. It made a sad sight lying broken in the middle of the yard. By then my dad was past knowing or caring about it, so my brother and I just quietly cleared away the debris and dug up the foundation of the post.
I looked at martin houses on the internet, and couldn’t afford any of them. I knew I’d never get my brother to build one, so I just kept shopping around whenever I thought about it. I didn’t want to give up, because purple martins in this part of the country don’t even look for natural nesting sites any more. So many generations have been raised in artificial nests that they have come to depend on us to provide them. Finally, last year, I found a house I could afford at the local Tractor Supply center. It’s made of the same kind of plastic that a lot of dog houses are being made of, so it’s lightweight. And it has swing out panels on both sides so it’s easy to clean out. We just happened to have an old T.V. antenna pole just the right height and diameter to attach it to and set it up in about the same location as the old one. Disappointingly, no martins moved in. I wondered if our timing was bad or if for some reason martins disapproved of the material the house was made of. Maybe it smelled funny. The sparrows and starlings didn’t seem to mind, and several of them moved into one or another of the 12 apartments. When cold weather came on, though, we took the house down and I cleaned out all the old nesting material.
Whether spending a year out in the elements made the house lose its plastic smell, or we had better timing in getting it up this year, I was delighted to see the first pair of martins that did a fly-by wheel around and fly in for a closer look. By mid-June, I was pretty sure there were two pairs raising babies in the house, and they didn’t seem to be bothered that they were sharing the building with some sparrow families (I never saw any starlings around).
Before long, the young were all out of the nests, and the whole gang of them would try to perch on the same corner of the roof during the heat of the day. It made for considerable shifting and jostling around, and there was usually a bird or two in the air trying to fly in and land on the favored spot. Hopeless. I was glad, however, when I remembered that they would be leaving soon to migrate back to their winter range — it had to be getting scorching hot sitting on top of that house out in the middle of the prairie in the full sun. If they are going someplace even hotter, I wish them well. But now the Mexican Free-tailed bats are here, and if I remember to go outside right at sunrise and sunset, I can watch them skipping through the air chasing things I can’t see — hopefully mosquitoes. Now if I can convince my brother to put up a bat roost…
I can’t tell you how nice it was yesterday to be able to put the dogs out in their yard and not have to run right back out and bring them in. As rough as this summer has been with the prolonged triple digit heat wave and the drought, I got spoiled. My dogs love heat, and although I worried about the Old Guy being more stressed by it and brought the boys in for frequent cooling-off breaks in the air conditioning, I was able to put them back out as soon as they started bugging me were comfortable again. Rain is a whole other country. And we have gotten some rain this past week.
As I’ve said before, Basenjis don’t like wet things, like grass. They hate to get their feet wet, they don’t like raindrops falling on their head, none of that stuff. So we all have to stay in the house, except for those essential trips outside for potty breaks (which, of course, are more frequent for the Old Guy). Fortunately, the rainfall was fairly light and broken up with occasional lulls, so I was able to take him out long enough to do all the required business (no trail of turds around the house this time), with only a couple of bladder accidents when the rain’s timing was bad.
I was hoping that the long dry spell had somehow dispelled the Puppy’s traumatic association with wet grass, which I have no idea how or where he got. If it wasn’t so maddening, it would be comical. He’s absolutely petrified of walking in wet grass. Like it’s gonna jump up and bite him. I don’t know if I’m ready to give him credit for being able to make the connection between wet weather and his itchy-skin fungus breakouts (which, of course, are aggravated by almost any change in weather conditions, especially changes to damp), but it’s possible, I suppose, that he’s thinking, “NOOOOOS! If I goes out in wets grasses and gets my feets wet, boogie monsters will try to eats my skins off!”
Heavy sigh. I wonder how long he could actually “hold it” if I didn’t drag him out into the yard and stand there looking daggers at him until he pees. Who could not love one of these dogs? Seriously. Because you are so bowled over ecstatic by those fleeting moments when they’re good!
It RAINED! Here. Yesterday. In my yard. On my crispy, crunchy grass. It rained hard, then tapered off, and was over after about twenty minutes. My roses loved it. They’ll be happy for days, maybe even put out some new blooms for me to smell. My brother may have to mow the lawn this weekend. Maybe he’ll remember how to start the mower. But I will be hauling the hose around tomorrow morning once again to soak my beloved crepe myrtle, and the two baby trees in my front yard. The grass can dry up and go to hell, for all I care, but I need those trees.
We all need trees. That’s why it always blows me away when we get into drought conditions, to see people wasting water trying to save their lawns, and ignoring their trees. Stupid. Most grasses are annual plants, if my memory serves, which means they grow fast — they can be easily replaced after they die off for whatever reason. On the other hand, how long does it take for a live oak tree to get big enough to provide enough shade for a house to lower the cost of keeping the air conditioner blasting all the time? And after it dies, how long to grow another?
I recently helped my brother put some blow-in insulation into the attic of a house in College Station where the owners were having a hard time keeping the house adequately cool in the recent/current heat wave. At one point as I was feeding the shredded phone books and what-have-you into the blower hopper, I noticed a rough looking place in the front lawn. A circular, disturbed bit of ground, just the right size to have been the base of a large, shady tree. A tree that would have blocked the entire front of the house from the brutal mid-morning sun (which was about to give me a heat stroke). No wonder they were “suddenly” needing additional insulation.
I am in no way implying that the home owners killed their tree through neglect or anything like that. Trees die, after all, and I don’t know how long those people had lived there. But while I was pondering the fate of that tree, the sprinkler heads popped up in the yard next door and started spraying water around the lawn, and into the street, and into the bright sunshine where it could evaporate before hitting the ground. And sprinklers are in no way adequate for watering trees unless they are set up to deliver the equivalent of an inch of rain per week. It’s better to just shut off the sprinklers and set a hose at the base of the tree with the water running at a gentle trickle for an hour or two. When watering bans go into effect, they generally don’t include woody plants like trees and shrubs. City officials and water treatment plant staff have information on what can be watered and when if restrictions get serious.
We need to keep our trees alive. Screw the grass.
There’s no getting past it. It is officially summer in Central Texas. It almost always gets here well ahead of the “calendar” start of summer, on the solstice. Some years it starts in March. I kid you not.
The temperature has been 95 degrees or higher (that’s Farenheit) for over a week, and at night it only gets down into the mid 70′s. That qualifies as summer. I don’t mind as much as I used to. Before I lived in Kentucky for 14 years, I thought I wanted nothing more than to live someplace cooler. Of course, Central Kentucky gets as hot as Central Texas, just not for as long. I discovered living there that it’s just as uncomfortable to deal with bone-chilling cold for nine out of twelve months as it is to put up with scorching heat for that much of the year.
At least the dogs like it. Basenjis are heat-seeking missiles. Four of mine learned to listen for the furnace to turn on every winter in the mobile homes we’ve lived in, and then curl up on top of the floor vent to soak up all the hot air. My first female, at age fifteen, sat too close to a space heater and scorched some of the fur off her back. Fortunately, I saw her butt smoking and made her move before she got burned down to the skin. She had a thick undercoat of a much lighter color than her outer coat, and had a “brand” of alternating black and gray bars on one hip for several weeks.
So the boys are happy out in their sweltering yard. They do nothing but lay in the shade and sleep all afternoon. I make big ice cubes by freezing water in large yogurt containers to put in their water bucket every afternoon. I doubt if it keeps their water cool for very long, but at least I feel like I’m doing something they like. I know I would like someone to bring me ice cubes — or popsicles in my case. But I have opposable thumbs, and I can get them out of the freezer for myself.
I have normally spent a lot of time in summers past putting up a tarp across part of the dog yard to provide shade. It’s a pain in the ass. If I leave the tarp in place for very long, the winds eventually rip it to shreds, and I have to go buy a new one. Or I can put it up and take it down every day, or every time the wind gets too strong. Problem with that was that if it was real windy, but also sunny and hot, taking the tarp down meant no shade for the dogs, so I’d have to bring them in the house. And every ten minutes they’d be bugging me to take them out…until they got outside and discovered that “hey! it’s hot out here!” and the dry grass would poke their feet and they’d want to turn around and come back in.
Now they have this nice plywood shade roof/Puppy sundeck that doesn’t flap in the wind. I made another shade awning for them using plastic garden fencing and shade cloth. I wanted more of the yard to get some shade in the late afternoon, because there are no trees anywhere near the west side of their enclosure. The wind mostly goes through it, and rain will too (if it ever rains again), so I don’t have to take it down until winter. Yay. It’s the little things, you know?