Thursday, November 17, 2022

Looking Up

Pelicans migrating over Cooper Lake, Texas, October 2022

As autumn progresses into winter, I spend a lot of time looking skyward. This particular photo was taken just as we arrived for last month's sojourn at Cooper lake, and we weren't really sure what we were seeing. The magnified version (taken on a newish iPhone 13 mini) shows them a little more clearly:


They were caught on the fly (ahem), so neither photo is particularly well composed, but I was happy to get them--especially after we asked the folks in the park office what we had seen. American White Pelicans migrate over and into Texas for the winter, and these were apparently making a flyover on their way to lakes south of Cooper. 

While we were scouting the South Sulphur Unit of the park for future stays, we caught some pretty interesting clouds and cloud-contrail combos overhead:




Back home, I caught a hot-air balloon on the camera for the first time this year. They're a fairly typical sight over this area during the fall, but iffy weather has prevented earlier appearances. The annual festival is held south of us, in Plano (quite close to where my kids were raised and The Beloved Spouse spent most of his teaching career) during the last week or so of September, but it's too crowded for us, so we have to make do with what floats north.  Our dog Arlo used to bay like a hound whenever they fired up their burners overhead. Nylah ignores them.


The tree canopy is still pretty thick over our little "farm," which means that our access to sky is still somewhat limited. But I did see some pretty stuff overhead yesterday while I was taking Molly out for an afternoon squirrel-stalk.


These days things are somewhat less dramatic than they were at the end of August:


While I was looking for the above, I ran across the first shot I got of our baby Mississippi Kite (the one who fledged and flew for my last post). I'm not terribly quick on the mark these days, but at least his (?) colors are showing.


In general, I'm in a much better mood than I have been in some time. The ticker is working just fine, and the elections turned out far better than we had even hoped (although Texas is--well, Texas). Feeling as though we have dodged a bullet, we've entered a stage of equanimity that's become rare and unfamiliar. It was good to see that the "Zoomers" are coming into their own. This is particularly reassuring, because they're the ones who're inheriting the world we've made. Here on the farm, we're trying to do what we can to keep things from getting worse, at least environmentally, but there's so much damage that repair will take far longer than I have any hope of living to see. 

Still, things are certainly looking up. And that means that my Skywatch Friday post this week is much more appropriate than usual. Have a good one, People. 


Monday, November 7, 2022

Not Dead Yet . . . Again

Sunset, Cooper Lake, 25 October 2022
Every few years (since 1995) I've been reminded of my mortality, and have managed to squeak through several cardiac crises. The most recent occurred a couple of weeks after my last post, and involved two visits to the heart hospital's emergency room (at the behest of my cardiologist's staff), and ended with a re-stent of the bypass that had been stented just as the world shut down with Covid 19. According to my cardio guy,  these things occasionally happen, and aside from some scary moments, I survived. Again. Despite my unfortunate genes, I've been amazingly lucky, thanks to exceptionally good doctoring and a rather moderate way of managing my be-ing. 

The upshot is that I haven't written much, and have spent most of my time cooking even more healthfully than I had been (even though my particular form of heart disease is little affected by dietary efforts), pottering about in the garden, reading, napping, and watching fall manifest itself. 

On our little half-acre, this often includes various droppings from: thunderstorms,  early leaf-fall, half-eaten pecan bombardments from the squirrels, or a misty icing of sap droplets from various trees (pecans, maples, hackberry). This latter phenomenon recurs regularly, but this year we got it far more heavily in the form of a pervasive, sticky glazing composed of what is essentially aphid excrement. Our local trees have all been stressed well beyond their usual tolerance, and the aphids arrived in a tsunami that feasted on sap through the leaves and proceeded to mist the air with their droppings. On our occasional trips away from home, we noticed that most of the trees in town looked as if they had been dipped in high-fructose corn syrup. 

Soon after, we started noticing ladybird beetle (ladybug) larvae everywhere, and soon after that, a proliferation of the lovely little spotted aphid-eaters. So for the last two or three weeks, we've been doing our best not to sit on larvae or pupae or adults. I spent considerable time locating the larvae from our backyard table to a nearby log, but could never keep up. One morning I opened up the garden umbrella over the table to see dozens of adult beetles busily running around on the underside. And even though the aphids (and their goo) have long since been washed away, the traffic still going on, albeit at a less frenetic pace. 

Ladybird Beetle larva, pupa, and various versions of the final product


About a week earlier, we had enjoyed a couple of days of kite-fledging. I managed to get a shot of the remaining "baby" as it prepared to leave. Not long after that, the distinctive "twee" of parent Mississippi kites abated, and then was gone. It was fun while it lasted, and I hope that old elm survives another winter, so that we'll be able to enjoy the whole process again. But we miss their graceful thermal-riding, and their attentive parenting; the absence of these behaviors is a reminder that we're moving on toward colder weather, with really no idea of what to expect. The shots below aren't particularly clear because of the fading light, but the first shows the last feeding, and the second caught the baby just before takeoff.



To celebrate the seasonal change--and The Beloved Spouse's 65th birthday--we spent three days at Cooper Lake State Park, which is only about an hour and a half away. It's also a designated Dark Sky park, which means that it's far enough away from urban light pollution for us to enjoy some pretty spectacular star-gazing. We camped at the South Sulphur unit, in a spot a few steps from the shore, and had got in some hiking and loafing, along with Molly and Nylah. Molly didn't venture far from our caravan, Porco Rosso, but Nylah was happy to walk along the lake. Water levels are low almost everywhere these days, and even though it had rained heavily the day before we arrived, the amount didn't change the shoreline much. The wind across the lake was pretty brisk, though, and produced whitecaps on the wavelets that first afternoon. (The opening photo was taken at sunset on the first night.)

Probably the best part of the trip was being able to see the Milky Way, due to a new moon, which enhanced the clarity of the abundant visible stars. Our last visit to a Texas Dark Skies park (Copper Breaks, near Amarillo) occurred during a full moon. We got to see it rise, but it was too bright for us to see much more than the usual culprits.  

This experience wasn't as intense as it can be in the Owens Valley in California--where we'd traveled after Copper Breaks--but pretty satisfying, nonetheless. Living in the Dallas 'burbs offers little in the way of astronomical observation opportunities, so the highlight of the Cooper Lake trip was the discovery that there is a place to go to enjoy meteor showers and other events we'd thought we'd have to travel much further to see. Camping mid-week meant that things were quiet and the Bright Star campground was nearly empty. Just what we needed. Tonight there's another full moon, and the promise of a total lunar eclipse early tomorrow morning--if today's cloudy skies manage to clear in time.

Daylight Savings Time has just ended, which makes little difference to us, but is yet another sign that the seasons are moving on. We don't really have to adjust to anything, since we're no longer governed by clocks anyway. Any television we watch can be streamed whenever we want to watch it. We'll still get up when the cat tells us to, but that doesn't really depend on clocks either.  Our annual get-together with my daughter and her partner and friends at Thanksgiving is the next event to look forward to--but even that is "come when you can get here." I will have to start thinking about making the cranberry sauce (my only job, now that I've been retired from hosting duties) . . . but I've still got time.

The most impactful event to take place this season, however, happens tomorrow. We've already voted, but will be watching clocks as election returns start coming in. The future of our democratic institutions may well depend on what happens, and I'm trying to be sanguine. But the unimaginable happened in 2016, and I've learned to temper my hopes.

By the time I post this to Skywatch Friday, we'll have an idea, if the anarchists don't have their way and we end up with more chaos, perhaps even than what we suffered on January 6 of last year. May rationality endure, and may our better selves prevail.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Welcome Relief, For Some of Us

A resident Mississippi Kite near its nest
Biblically large weather events are becoming the norm, it seems. But for once, our little corner has had some respite from the very hot and muggy, but otherwise very dry days we'd been experiencing for over a month.

The weather that caused the "thousand-year flood" that hit Dallas the other day produced drenching but moderate rain for us, and the soil was able to absorb it without causing any damage to the Farm. The nandinas that I thought I'd lost have greened up, and the grass has needed mowing twice in the last two weeks (after not growing a smidgen for the previous month)--which is about normal for fall. So maybe that's what's going on now. The windows are all open, and we haven't had the A/C on for three days, even at night. The animals (especially the Great Hairy Beast, Nylah, who has shed an entire coat's worth of fur this summer) are coping well. It's still muggy, but cool and breezy enough to keep things relatively pleasant. Especially compared to recent days.

Our mornings out of doors have included entertainment from a couple of Mississippi Kite pairs who've built nests in the same elm tree. We're not quite sure what we're seeing, because we didn't realize that there were probably young ones involved until recently, but we haven't been able to spot a fledgling. So we could just be seeing fledged babies hanging around and testing their wings (and making lots of noise) before they migrate south. There seems to have been another crop of bunnies as well, and a faithful new hummingbird or two, so our efforts to sustain them all appear to be paying off. It's actually been cool enough that the squirrels have stopped spending all day splooting and have resumed their mad scrambles across the yard and through the trees.

Because this is Texas, we have learned to enjoy good weather while it lasts, so I'm not going to count on many more days of this, even though more rain is forecast for next week. [An aside: is anyone but me bothered by the fact that a couple of my weather apps, including the one that comes with the iPhone, have started saying "forecasted"--as in, "more rain forecasted for this afternoon"? Ack!]

Once again, though, even our spate of uncomfortable weather needs to be appreciated with some gratitude for not being even hotter. I do hope that the experience will encourage folks around here to take advantage of upcoming assistance with upgrading to more efficient appliances, electric vehicles, and the like. We will be looking into replacing our gas furnace with an electric heat pump, even though it will be more expensive to do so. But we've been trying to reduce our dependence on natural gas for some time, and although the monthly energy bill will likely go up, we should at last be able to afford the shift. 

TBS's fondest wish, an electric vehicle, is probably not on the menu, however. We only have the one car now (a Jeep Gladiator for pulling our travel trailer), and since we don't drive much at all anyway, we'll wait until after the household energy situation has been modified. When Chevrolet launches its new electric Silverado, though, and if the range is good enough, we may well trade in the Jeep. And then we could use the truck as backup during blackouts. Our portable power station worked well during the heat wave, when we lost electricity for a couple of hours, but one of those trucks (Like the Ford F150 Lightning) can power an entire house for a couple of days. One of the favorite television programs around our house is Fully Charged (also available on  YouTube), where up-to-date, accurate information is available for anyone interested in the whole question of rethinking our grid.

Mind you, my technological skepticism drives me toward more traditional mitigation efforts--like window coverings, water-saving and reclamation efforts, and energy conservation. But as careful as we have been to reduce our use of air conditioning and other efforts to lessen our impact on the grid, we were pretty restricted in what we could accomplish. And we're retired, with no real travel obligations. And some of our food is delivered every week. So we don't have to get out much. Folks who have more energy-demanding lives have been facing enormous utility bills, without many options. Clearly, alternatives to the status quo will need to be explored by lots more people, and not just aging hippies like us.

The end of August is upon us. September is often our hottest month. We'll probably spend the rest of the month, if it stays cool-ish, getting done what we've been putting off--like getting some fall "crops" in. But we're not particularly hopeful that our good fortune will last, so we'll relish the respite while we can. Stay cool, People. Peace out.