Ice, Ice, Ice

First of the year freeze has come and gone.  Almost, like clockwork, every January, there will be ice in the northern half of Texas.

With just mist in the air and a few drops of rain, ice formed on almost every surface outside, except for concrete areas and roadways.  The grass, Algerita bush, and the evergreen Blue Juniper to the left have ice crystals on them.

The branches of the huge Live Oak behind the backyard are weighted down with ice.  Although we have officially never had this tree examined to determine its age, it’s estimated to be over a hundred years old.

I always worry when the branches touch the ground, fearing they will break.  But, fortunately, the ice usually only lasts a couple of days.

Ice on stems and leaves of dead Cannas becomes a work of art.

Frozen water in a bird bath gives the edges of the concrete a pearlized look.  The glass knob-looking item in the center is actually an antique electrical insulator from a telephone pole.

Thin stems of Gaura are encased in ice.

Green leaves of Desert Bird of Paradise enveloped in ice.

Edged in ice, this trellis has a sophisticated, lacy appeal.

With its multiple tiny stems, a rose bush creates the most fantastic ice sculpture.

Mexican Feather Grass.

Dried Blue Mistflower stems.  Can you tell I’m enamored with the ice?

It’s surprising what lives with freezing temperatures.  These Four Nerve Daisies still have flowers.  What hardy natives they are.

Copper Canyon Daisy ice sculpture.

Pokeweed in a pot.

More rose bushes.

Not sure what this plant is.  Love the look.

Since we only have ice once or twice a year, it’s a real novelty.  So I get carried away with taking pictures.

“One kind word can warm three winter months.”  Japanese proverb


While our yearly rainfall averages 27 inches, rains in September, October, and November this year have totaled 19.93 inches.  So far the total for 2018 is 28.71, which isn’t that much over the average, but is enough to make us happy.

All this rain has resulted in rutted roads and high water levels on low water crossings.  But the blessings have far outweighed the inconveniences.

Copper Canyon Daisy, a native of the Sonoran desert of Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona, normally blooms in August, when the temperature is the hottest.  But even July and August were rainy, so it finally flowered in late September.

The smell of this stinky plant is not noticeable outside, but is overwhelming in confined spaces.  Pretty flowers at the tip of long stems gracefully wave in the wind.

The color on the ridge behind the house is stunning.  The green of the cedars, the local name for them, make the other colors pop.   These are actually Ash Juniper, post cedar, or blueberry juniper (Juniperus ashei),

Native to Northeastern Mexico and south central U.S, the largest coverage of Ash Juniper is in Texas.  They are a bane to property owners, who push them up with bulldozers because they are so prolific, cover grassland, and draw up water needed for other trees.

The positive aspects are erosion control and shade for wildlife and livestock.  Look closely at the middle lower part of the picture and you’ll see some of our wildlife – a deer.

Some other green is provided by our native Live Oaks.

Looking another direction shows how cedars grow in large expanses.  The birds eat the berries and distribute the seeds a la mother nature’s way.

In the yard, a Red Oak provides bright color.  Another Red Oak, which I neglected to get a picture of, was dark red.

A flock of Robins dropped into the yard this morning bobbing for worms.

This is like one of those puzzles sent on Facebook.  Can you find the robin in this Chinese Pistache tree?  Look to the middle of the picture on the left.

Always enjoy these visitors running to and fro and taking to the air at the least noise or movement.

Hope your autumn has been full of delightful surprises like our rains and beautiful sights.

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”  William Cullen Bryant

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.


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

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.


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

Dry, Dry Winter

Those few days that are warm enough to take long walks this winter have been a treat.  Of course, our bodies are not acclimated to the cold like those souls in our northern states.  We are accustomed to the long sizzling hot summers.

blahwinter2The dry fields seen from above take on a golden cast, but they are dry and dusty.  The predictable green comes from our ever present Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) or Texas mountain cedar.  Getting rid of these water guzzling cedars has been our mission since we moved here.  Our long sunny days and rocky, limestone soil is an ideal hothouse for them.

blahwinter7While looking for green and art shots, I take this picture of a hunter’s feeder.  Not sure if this counts as art.

blahwinter6For those unfamiliar with feeders to draw deer to a certain spot, the seeds or dried corn fall down into this motorized disperser on a timer that spins out the feed in a wide circle.  The cage protects the mechanism from four legged creatures.

blahwinter4Talk about sad and drab, this old hunter’s blind with its dry curled wood epitomizes our winter without moisture.

blahwinter5A little bit of fluff from some weeds flapping like a flag blown by wind.

blahwinter8Another attempt at an art shot; but it just reveals the bareness of dead grass and weeds with a pile of rocks thrown in.

blahwinterOne living plant that can be always be seen here is Prickly Pear Cactus.  The beautiful blooms will come in late spring and into early summer.

blahwinter3The creeks are so low that algae grew in the fall.  But it’s green.  Although the definition of a creek is a small stream, it’s mostly called a creek here in the southcentral and southwestern US.

blahwinter9Surely this twisted metal counts as artistic form.

Can you tell that I’m eager for spring.  But then I guess most everyone is.

“To shorten winter, borrow some money due in spring.”  W. J. Vogel

Land and Traditions

Some scenes out here make it so tempting to wax poetic about the wild old West.  Novels and movies have romanticized that life so much that the reality of real ranchers and their harsh existence has been lost.

Living in West Texas was like standing in a wind tunnel with sand constantly swirling around you.  It still is in some rural areas.  Yet, the early Anglo settlers came with Stephen F. Austin seeking a plot of land.  Then boatloads of German immigrants were practically dumped into the waters along the Gulf coast.  The swamps and mosquitoes drove them inland to the parcels of land they had purchased sight unseen.  Many Chicanos already lived in areas closer to Mexico.  All these people stayed, or at least most did.

We like to consider ourselves part of the hill country.  But we would have to stretch a long ways to touch it.  We do have some small hills,  some of the same rocky soil, and some of the same vegetation.  But in reality, we’re more a part of the west and the cowboy traditions.

oleander4An Oleander bush (Nerium oleander) stands behind the remains of an old hitchin’ post.  Dead Cedar seems to last forever, so it’s been used for fence posts for about a couple hundred years.   Cedar posts standing upright with barb wire dangling are remnants of old fences on this property..

oleander2Oleander not only is hardy but is really pretty when it’s had some water.  The fact that all its parts are poisonous makes it undesirable where cattle and other livestock roam.  This is inside a fenced area.

oleanderRecent rains have given new life and bright red flowers to this Oleander.

mexican hatsThe Mexican Hats are common wildflowers in these parts.

mexican hats2Their names obviously come from the sombrero shape of the flower and the festive colors.  Many Texas wildflowers have names reminiscence of the Indian and Chicano cultures.

horsesEtched into the cowboy culture are ranches and horses.  These horses don’t belong to us and will probably be moved when the grass gives out later this summer.  But doesn’t this picture conjure up all sorts of images of cowboys?

claw2This may be a Devil’s Claw, but the leaves don’t look right or the shape of the pods.  So, for now, it’s a mystery plant.

clawIf it’s prickly, it seems to grow here.

What has drawn people to this land?  First, the vastness of flat land just west of us takes your breath away.  It’s history and the stamina of the people is humbling and fascinating.

“Just because you’re following a well-marked trail don’t mean that whoever made it knew where they was going.”  Texas Tex Bender

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.


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

Winter Fields

Recently we took a walk just looking at the property to see what was going on.

cedarsOne scene we will always find is cedars or Blue Junipers.  They range in size from those just coming up to tall mature ones that are about 12′ tall.  As soon as they are cut down or pushed over, roots and all, others will spring up.

The only good thing about them is that they are green.  Also, the birds like the berries.  See previous post about junipers.

cactusAnother constant is the Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia phaeacantha).  They sometimes are massive.  This one just reminds me of a rabbit.

creekOur trek takes us across a bare creek bed.  In the distance you can see a small muddy pool of water.

creekrocksThis picture should have been shown on Valentine’s Day.  Wonder how long it took for these rocks to get this smooth.  The water has not  been high enough or strong enough to accomplish that since we’ve had the property.

treesOn the other side of this creek bed is an area of cedars and Spanish Oaks.

deerblindAt the edge of a field backed up to Live Oaks is a hunter’s blind.  This is Texas, after all.

tankThis is the largest pond or tank we have.  The water is the lowest we’ve seen it in 12 years since we bought the place.

deerlick2In an earlier post,, I showed pictures of old rusty salt licks that were used years ago.  This is an updated model made of polyurethane.

deerlickThe principal is the same.  Salty brine is poured into the large basin.  Then the cows lick this rotating wheel that picks up the salty mixture as it spins.

ladybugFocusing on the ground shows a surprising variation of plants and insects.

sweetwilliamEven in rocky caliche, sturdy Sweet William or Prairie Verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida) pops up before spring. See Prairie Verbena post.

These pictures give a glimpse of the plain and the pretty.

“Joy is the feeling of grinning inside.”  Melba Colgrove

Last Hurrah of Autumn

This week our temperatures have been in the low 20’s and the highs in the 40’s.  So winter is officially here.  Of course, there is no guarantee that it won’t warm up again.  Still no moisture.

This picture was taken from a ridge on our property on one of the last warm days so far this month.  To the right of the road is a caliche pit.  The county crew dug it because we allowed them to use this caliche for county roads.

viewfromridge Most of the green in the dry fields is cacti, cedars, or Live Oaks.

treecactiPrickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia phaeacantha) can grow into large colonies that are 15 to 20 feet in diameter and several feet tall.  They are a nuisance but difficult to eradicate.  I have to admit that their flowers in the spring are a gorgeous sight.
cedarberThe Ashe Junipers are full of berries in late fall.  They are another problem because they suck so much water from the ground.  Many folks spend much time and effort pushing them up with a bulldozer – roots and all.

These berries account for the proliferation of these cedars, as they are known locally.  Birds love the berries and deposit their seeds over a large area.  So even though many are dug up, more new seedlings replace them.

Allergies to the pollen causes many people grief.

burrI’m really not sure what this prickly plant is.  It’s common for plants in arid climates to have this type of burr for survival.  They catch on animals’ fur and are carried to another spot to generate a new plant.

Update – a reader suggested it is a buffalo bur.

dry tankAt the end of a hot summer, a dry tank is a common sight.  This could be called a water hole.  But when they are dug by bulldozers, everyone in Texas refers to them as tanks.

Our drought has hit 65 days in a row with no rain.  I’m hoping we don’t hit a new high.

drywillowHere’s a native willow in a dry creek.

nestBird’s nest easily seen in a leafless tree.

oaktreeLive Oak and some cedars up close.

poisonoakPoison oak vine growing up a tree trunk is mixed in with other dead vines.

topilloIn the spring purple and white flowers with prominent yellow stamens will replace these yellow pods on the Trompillo (Solanum elaeagnifolium).  This is also known as Horse Nettle or Silverleaf Nightshade.  The pods last for months.

As a child, my sister and I gathered these and mixed them with other weeds to make what we called “chow-chow”.  I don’t even know if we had ever eaten that relish or not.  I think we just liked the name.  Do kids today do that kind of make-believe playing?  Does that question make me sound like an old fogey?  That’s just rhetorical.

“Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.”  Dr. Seuss