Morning Snow

Early this morning I stepped outside on the front porch to photograph the snowfall.

snow4The cold wind kept me close to the front door.  Snow had dusted the leaves of a Live Oak.

snow5Probably less than an inch fell, but it’s such a rare event here that it’s mesmerizing.

snow6The rays of the rising sun swept across the trees.

snow7The Chinese Pistasho had a golden glow from the sun.

snow9During the night strong winds formed small snowdrifts with shapes that reminded me of White Sands in New Mexico.

snowaIn the distance the Blue Junipers looked like Christmas trees.

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snowcA snow mound formed over a flowerbed.

snowdDead leaves still clinging to a Red Oak.

snow1The side yard as seen from the back patio revealed snow on only one side of tree trunks.  Maybe it was the wind that woke me at 4 this morning.

In the foreground is a Yaupon Holly.  To the right is a bare branched Red Oak.

snow8One bush beyond the yard looked like white lace.

snowSnow on one side of the Cherry Laurel tree.

snow3More Live Oaks.

snow2Cotton ball snow on tips of Sedum Brilliant dried flowers.

snowfSnow covered Autumn Clematis, which is evergreen.

snowgNice to look at, but not drawing me out into the weather.

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” Dr. Suess

Fall Color in All Its Glory

The conditions for leaves to turn color in the fall involve the right temperatures at the right times and the right amount of rainfall at the right times.  In the fifteen years that we’ve owned the property, there has been some color, but nothing like this year.  Just spectacular.

autumncolors3This first group of pictures were taken from a state highway as we were driving home from town.  Don’t you love the quaint setting?

autumncolorsSumacs are clustered close to the shed.

autumncolors1Old buildings pose questions to me.  I wonder about the people who lived there – their joys and sorrows.  They represent someone’s life.

autumncolors2All these buildings were on an old homestead.

autumncolors4This next group of pictures were taken on our county road.  All pictures in this post were made on a cloudy misty day.

autumncolors5For a half a mile, this road is flanked by dense trees and vegetation.  It feels like driving through a tunnel of trees.

autumncolors6Not sure if the red leaves are Red Oaks (Quercus texana) or Shin Oaks (Quercus sinuata).   Shin Oaks are also known as White Oak, Scrub Oak, Scalybark Oak or Bigelow Oak.  They tend to be low growing, about 3 to 5 feet tall, and grow so densely that they become a thicket.  They are native to areas that have hard limestone.

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autumncolorsaShiny from the moisture in the air.

autumncolorscThe thin yellow leaves are Prairie Sumacs (Rhus lanceolata) with clusters of berries that the birds love.  They turn red first and fade into this paler color.

autumncolorsdThe trees thin out on this part of the road, partly because they have been cleared by county crews.  I think these are both Red Oaks.

It seems like the colors deepen and change daily or least weekly.

autumncolorseNow we are a mile from our gate entrance.

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autumncolorsmThese photos are made from our front porch.  It’s raining a little harder now.

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autumncolorsiA Chinese Pistache (Pistachia chinensis) in the yard is framed by a native Live Oak.

autumncolorsrIn the distance is a Lombardy Poplar tree in front of a stone cabin on our property.  We use it for extra guest space.  Poplars always seem old fashioned to me – probably because as a child I saw them on farms of relatives.  This tree was here when we bought the property.

autumncolorsjThe best view is from the back porch.  There are several ridges all around our land.  This fence is just around our house and barn to keep out cows and deer.  But everything shown in these photos is on our property.

autumncolorskA Red Oak in the side yard.  The trees in the yard are only two to ten years old.  We chose a building site on a level, raised area up from a creek because we wanted the view.  We’re so glad that we did because the creeks do rise when we get three or more inches in a day or so .

autumncolorsnThe ridge colors are more dramatic than the pictures show.

autumncolorslTo the left in the yard is a small Lacey Oak (Quercus laceyi or Quercus glaucoides).  Other common names include blue oak, canyon oak, mountain oak, smoky oak, and rock oak. Most of these common names refer to the tough conditions in central and south Texas where this species are native or are related to its blue–green foliage.

autumncolorsoThe views from inside the house let us enjoy each moment of this wonderful color.

Thank you for reading to this point and letting me share some of the reasons we love living here.  It is a privilege to live in the country after many years in the city.  Of course, there are some inconveniences, like no quick runs to a store for a forgotten item.  But that’s minor compared to the pluses.

“Every time you feel yourself being pulled into other people’s drama, repeat these words: ‘Not my circus, not my monkey’” Polish proverb

Visit to Another Gardener’s Yard

It’s always fun to visit different yards and to get ideas.  The following pictures were all taken at the home of a member of our Garden Club.  This was the final meeting for the year since we take summers off.

mcglothlinyardssThe home is at the edge of Brownwood with a large lot – probably three acres.  This looks back to the street with part of the circular drive between the street and this metal stand.

mcglothlinyarduuThe front part of the yard is probably 3/4 of an acre with lots of native Live Oaks.

mcglothlinyardtyLove the flowers in the chair.

mcglothlinyardzThe front flowerbed against the house is a little wider than average.

mcglothlinyardyyLooks like a Norfolk Pine in the pot.

mcglothlinyardzzManicured plantings.

mcglothlinyardxxLots of container plants in the front and back yards.

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mcglothlinyard1The first impressive sight in the backyard is the huge Live Oaks.

mcglothlinyard3Geraniums, Crocus, Ice Plant, and something I don’t recognize in pots.

mcglothlinyard6I was also struck by the flagstone patios and walkways, making it easy to walk around.  Plus, the lush St. Augustine grass with no weeds was pretty.   I know hungry water consumers are not recommended now.

mcglothlinyard4Beautiful water feature.

mcglothlinyard5This shot makes the yard look cluttered, but it isn’t.  It has a spacious feeling.

mcglothlinyard8There are several seating areas.  In the background, behind a chain link fence is their travel trailer.  The field behind the yard gives a sense of country living.

mcglothlinyard9Lots of hanging baskets.  One of these has begonias.  On the ground is a Boston Fern.

mcglothlinyardaA Pittosporum or Schefflera in the pot?

mcglothlinyardb mcglothlinyardcOn this table is succulents in hypertufa pots.  I think the small pot has Dutchman’s Pipes.

mcglothlinyarddMany groupings of small pots are scattered everywhere.

mcglothlinyardemcglothlinyardfmcglothlinyardgThese pots of begonias are a good way to add instant color.

mcglothlinyardhThe plant in the water in the tub looks like water Iris.

mcglothlinyardjThe garden shed is an attractive design.

mcglothlinyardiA small rain barrel collects water.  Any amount of water collection is a good thing in hot, usually dry Texas.  The heavy rainfall this year is way beyond an anomaly.

mcglothlinyardkInside, the shed is filled with gardening gear.  Not much room to bring in all those potted plants.

mcglothlinyardlA hay container for cattle makes a nifty flower bed.

mcglothlinyardmLooks like some newly planted begonias.

mcglothlinyardnThis corner bed at the back of the yard has Gold Lantana.

mcglothlinyardoProbably another storage shed.

mcglothlinyardpPetunias in a stacked pot holder.

mcglothlinyardrThis is probably a playhouse for grandchildren.

mcglothlinyardsLovely hanging begonias.  Hanging baskets require constant watering in our climate, so I don’t bother with them.

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mcglothlinyardvThis is an understory tree and thus requires shade.  I’d love to have one but don’t have a place for one.

mcglothlinyardwWhat a chore it is to get ready for visitors to one’s home and yard.  Especially, members of a garden club.  There are many newly planted ferns, begonias, and other plants that will not survive the winter.  So they will either have to dig them up or just lose them.

Thanks, Debbie, for letting me take pictures for my blog and for hosting the club.  Everything looked wonderful.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” Corrie Ten Boom

A Walk Following Freezes

One sunny afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we took a walk through some pastures.

winterwalkLots of tall dried Broomweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) or Broom snakeweed to get through.  Fortunately, cows had made a passable path.

Bloomweed is a prenniel with small yellow flowers from June to October.  It can take over pastures preventing grasses from growing.

It is also toxic to cattle, sheep, and goats.  So Broomweed is not a desirable plant.

winterwalk2Lots of dead grasses shine in the late afternoon sun.

winterwalk3An old plow use to till the soil.  I think.

winterwalk4Don’t know what decade this is from.

winterwalk5Garden chairs like this rusting one can often be seen in “antique” stores.

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winterwalk9This tiny Prairie Verbena still blooming was a surprise.  They are hardy, though.

winterwalkaA Live Oak that has succumbed to Oak Wilt.  A sad reality that is widespread in Texas.

winterwalkb Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) is an evergreen.  I recently read that it’s a good barrier shrub because it is so prickly.

winterwalkcAn overturned old deer blind lies next to a Live Oak.  The low sun provides interesting shadows.

winterwalkdAt the bottom of this dead oak is a deep hole – probably a fox lair.

winterwalkeOne area of our property has some Post Oak trees.  Those are not common here, so the soil must have just enough sand to suit their needs.  Post Oaks are finicky and don’t like human interference.  But their leaf production is prolific.

winterwalkiBare branches with a pretty form.

The small sign beside this tree is one of a Burma Shave style of old road signs.  Our group states that “Life is too short to live in the Metroplex.  Amazing Grace Ranch.”  Although we lived in the metroplex of Ft. Worth/Dallas for over 30 years, our personal lifestyle choice now embraces country living.

winterwalkhThis wagon is from the 1880’s.  Love to muse on where it traveled and what it meant to the survival of someone.

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winterwalkgThis iron brace may have been added later.

Beauty is all around us, even in stark winter.

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”  Doug Larson

Autumn Trees

When fall color is mentioned, Northeastern US is what comes to my mind first.  People flock there every autumn to soak in the beauty of bright oranges, reds, golds and every shade in between.  Surprisingly, we have some of that gorgeous color right here in our own backyard.  It may not be as overwhelming or long lasting, but it is inspiring.

falltrees2Prairie Flameleaf Sumacs (Rhus lanceolata) along the county roads are the first sign of cooler temperatures.  Their orangish red foliage and deep red brown berries signal that winter is coming.falltreesThe trees on the ridge behind our house can change color as early as mid October or as late as mid November.  This year it was late.  In fact, we wondered if there would be any color at all.

falltreeshThe red-orange color comes from Red Oaks and the yellow-orange from Spanish Oaks.

falltrees8Awesome.

falltrees6The lighter oranges or yellow trees are Mesquites or Elms.  Live Oaks and Juniper Cedars stay green all winter and provide a sharp contrast to the other colors.

falltreeskFrom the front of the house we see mostly cedars.

falltreesiThis huge tree is an example of why Texans love their Live Oaks.  The canopies spread out and provide needed shade.

For years, the county extension agents and aborists have recommended that only native trees be planted, with a strong emphasis on oaks.

falltrees5Here is a Texas Red Oak (Quercus buckleyi) that was planted nine years ago.

Red Oaks are in the red or black oak groups.  There are only 15 species in this group.  They typically produce acorns every two years.  Spanish Oaks are also in this group.

falltreescSuch beautiful color.

falltreesbThe brilliant golden red on this particular tree lasts for a good month.  But  we have another tree that was supposed to be a Red Oak that has no color.  The leaves on it turn brown early.  I now  suspect that it is a Pin Oak.  I’ve read that when young, it’s difficult to tell the two apart, and that nurseries often mislabel them.

falltreesfIn the early 1980’s the term Oak Decline took on a ominous meaning as groves of oaks died.  Since then, Oak blight or Oak Wilt has claimed thousands of trees in Texas.  So the powers that be have been recommending diversification.  They suggest planting other types of trees, even those that aren’t native, but have adapted well.

Oaks in the White Oak family have not yet succumb to Oak wilt, so those are still recommended.  The Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) in the above picture falls into that category.  Others in the white oak family that will grow here are Lacey Oak, Bur Oak, Post Oak, and Bigelow Oak.  Bigelow is known as Shin Oak locally and forms thickets that usually only grow up to 10 feet tall.

falltreesdThis is a different Chinapin Oak in our yard.  Notice that the leaves on both trees do not look like a stereotypical oak leaf.

In Texas there are 23 oaks in the white oak group.  These produce acorns annually.

falltreeseThe two Chinapins that we have are tall and skinny looking.  It has taken several years for their branches to widen and have a fuller look.  But I still recommend them.

The benefits of trees form a long list.  Their beauty in different seasons is just one that I appreciate.

“Anyone who thinks women talk too much has never sat through a six-hour Super Bowl pregame show.”      Nora Barry

Autumn’s Gift

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  The foliage colors have been the best this year.   The different shades of yellow, orange, reds… are everywhere.  I see them on the hills, in the pastures, and along the roads.

treescolorcHere’s a flash back to the 80’s:  a fad where ladies “had their colors” done.  It started with Color Me Beautiful by Carol Jackson.  The whole idea was to determine what season you were based on your skin tone and hair color.  The following is from the Color Me Beautiful website:

“Hello, Autumn,
Your natural coloring is fiery, earthy, golden and natural.  The Autumn palette is easy to remember if you think about a beautiful Autumn landscape.  You can wear both muted and rich warm colors like the autumn foliage or exotic spice colors.  You receive compliments in shades of the autumn season:  moss, rust, terra cotta.”

treescolor8Those are definitely not my colors to wear, but I love them in nature.

treescolor7This is the view from the back of our house.  On the hill, most of the reddish colors are Red Oaks or Spanish Oaks.

treescolor9The Elm, Hackberry, and Pecan trees have all been covered in yellow.  But I don’t think this yellow tree is any of them.

treescolorkThis a Chinapin Oak is in our backyard …

treescolor5and a leaf from a Texas Ash …

treescolor4and a Red Oak in the front yard.

treescolorgThe Sumacs are so vivid that they are like magnets drawing my eyes to them.

treescolortreescolor2More Sumacs with their seed clusters.

treescolor3A Chinese Pistacho in the front yard framed by a Live Oak behind it.

treescolorfA Shrub Oak along a county road.

treescolordThe whole color spectrum from red to orange to yellow dot the landscape.

I can’t stop taking pictures.  Everywhere I look deserves a photo.

treescolorzA yellow Popular forms an exclamation mark saying look at the beauty around you.

Okay.  I am forcing myself to stop.   This whole season has been such a treat.

“Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.”  Faith Baldwin

Cutting Cedars

This is a longer post than usual because I have a true tale to tell.

Before I get to the specifics, let’s go back to the beginning of time when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit.  Part of the punishment that God pronounced was:  “Cursed is the ground because of you; It will produce thorns and thistles for you.”

cedar11As soon as God spoke, don’t ya know that those vile, little cedar trees sprang up with a boing, boing, boing all over the hard-packed caliche land that would become central Texas.

cedar13Then birds ate the cedar fruits and deposited the seeds while resting atop one of the few hardy oaks in this dry, dusty land.  Those seeds, made fertile by their digestive system, fell to the ground and took root.   The resulting cedar trees formed a dense circular barrier around the trunks of the native oaks.  Eventually, the cedars spread all across the barren crusty land of Central and West Texas.

cedar7Now, here’s where I come in.  As city folks looking for a peaceful retreat, we discovered the remote place that would become our ranch.    It was raw, untouched land.  We had a house built and made the major move from the congested city to property that is 5 miles off pavement.

Enter the US government grant program.  I heard that the government was just giving money away for clearing cedars.  I don’t play the lottery, so why take this chance?  No sane, rational answer.

cedar2

Even the government knows that these cedars (Ash Juniper) deplete the land because each tree sucks up 16 – 30 gallons of  precious ground water per day.  If a person cuts the trees flush at ground level with no green left, they will not re-sprout.  And viola, the US Natural Resources Conservation Service will grant a contract to compensate for cutting or pushing cedars.

My husband continues to work for the same company he did before we moved, but here he works remotely by computer.  So when I suggested that we get this grant to cut cedars, and that I would gladly do the work, he thought it was no skin off his nose and agreed.

It sounded like a good plan.   So I got the forms, made the application, and received the grant.  A contract was signed.  A warning light should have flashed in my brain, but I just saw adventure.

cedarcutingdoorWe had already bought a skid loader and a Tree Terminator.  The terminator slices the trees off at the ground with giant scissors.  That is, if the trunk is 12” or less in diameter.  If it’s a wider diameter, then a process of slowly gnawing away at the trunk begins and continues for an hour or more.

cedarcuttingliftAfter cutting the tree off at ground level, the terminator has to be tilted to use like tweezers to pick up the tree and carry it to a pile.

Before we moved to the ranch, I taught in an elementary school in a low income, gang controlled area between Dallas/Ft. Worth.  It was stressful and not very fulfilling.  So here I was out in the fresh open air operating what to me was a big piece of equipment.  At first, I worked on week-ends before we moved here, so it started out in small doses.  It was exhilarating and freeing.

Then I retired, and we moved to the ranch.  The “contract” stated that the cedar cutting of 177 acres must be completed in two years.  Most of those acres were thickly covered with cedars.  Of course, we needed time to get moved in and settled, so I didn’t start right away.   And the vast expanse of 177 acres still hadn’t sunk into my smug little brain.

cedar10When I finally got serious and started to work full days cutting cedars, the enjoyment turned to dread. Hours spent up under an oak trying to reach the trunk of a cedar, whose branches reach out toward the sunlight, hacked away my enjoyment of the great outdoors.

The native oaks are super sensitive to oak wilt which is the most destructive disease affecting live oaks and red oaks in Central Texas. Oak wilt is caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum.  This complicates the whole cedar cutting process because  any oak branches knocked off by the skid load leaves an open wound on the tree.  These must be painted ASAP or sooner to prevent an entrance for the beetle that causes the fungus.

cedar Then the mishaps started.  First, the design of our skid loader proved problematic.  The ignition key was just inside the top opening of the cage right at the edge of the door.  The cage is the metal grid box we had built to protect the operator.

The problem became evident when I worked up under large cedars with long branches.  Many of the cedars were 14-15 ft. tall.  The branches would come into the opening above the cage door and snap off the key.  Then the engine would die, and the terminator would be left in that position.  The only way out of the cage was through the door, which could only be opened if the terminator was flat on the ground.

A solution had to be worked out after I had to crawl out the small opening at the back of the skid loader and twisted my foot and ankle falling 6 ft. to the ground.  That resulted in a hospital visit and x-rays.  So I began to carry extra keys and a pair of pliers to extract the part of the key left in the ignition slot.

Also, I carried a phone, but reception was unreliable.  Plus, my husband was on the phone with his job a good part of the day, so my calls weren’t answered even if my phone worked.  Then we decided that walkie talkies would fit the bill.

One time I called for help when I got the skid loader arms extended so far out in front that the whole vehicle tilted forward.  The back tires were totally up in the air and the cage door was about 2′ from the ground.  After trying for a few minutes to get it upright, I panicked.  Gravity had forced me forward facing the ground with my knees pressed up against the door grid.  This position became uncomfortable as I waited for my husband to find me.

My husband’s first words when he saw my predicament?  “What did you do?”  Very sympathic.  Plus, I’m sure I heard muffled laughter.

Then there were the broken cables, hydraulic hoses, and metal arms.  Each of these meant time lost waiting for replacement parts and sometimes hauling the skid loader on a trailer to a shop for repair.

The “contract” also stated that if the work wasn’t completed on time, 20 percent of the total contract amount must be paid to the government.  Forget any payment.  The 20 percent must be paid on what I would have received.  The “contract” specifically points out that this is not a penalty but compensation for administrative costs and technical services.

When the  deadline came, I figured that my compensation would equal to about five cents per hour.

Final verdict:  Thankfully, I was given a two year extension.  So I spent more time out cutting cedars and had to call in the big guns:  someone with a grader to uproot cedars for me.  That’s a much faster method.

Bottom line:  I did receive my check but didn’t have the heart to do any calculations about actual earnings per hour.

My question to Adam and Eve:   A piece of fruit.  Really, guys.  What were you thinking?

“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”  Jim Rohn