Sunday, December 6, 2009

This week was the first time this season that the temperature dipped down into the twenties. Around here that means it is time to drain the water lines. I was a rookie at outdoor plumbing fifteen years ago when we began laying irrigation lines here at Kalorama. Our friend, Rector, directed that project. It was his idea to put a drain in a box in the ground at the lowest points on the water line. The man that ran the irrigation supply store that I did most of our shopping at sold me drain valves that could be turned on and off with a special tool without having to get on my hands and knees and sticking my hand down in the hole. That is really a fine thing indeed, because critters love to hang out in those drain boxes. The last drain on the north side of the driveway has had a rough green snake living in it for the past two winters. A rat snake lived in it before that.

I gathered up the tools necessary for the job and along with Dixie, headed out on the BadBoy to drain the lines. Everything went just as planned, and the green snake didn't seem to mind being bothered, though it was way too cold for it to care. It had wrapped its tail around the valve handle, so I had to be careful to keep from pinching it. While we were out, I took a few pictures of what I knew would be the last of the pretty leaves.

The red leaves and berries on the dogwoods were spectacular this year. The little silver buds are next spring's flowers. The yellow-bellied sapsuckers are in the trees all the time eating the berries.

Early in December the first narcissus begin to bloom. I don't know the name of this variety, but it is the earliest of paperwhites. It is very white, and has a lovely scent. I have a lot of interest and help when I get down to ground level to take pictures.

The gingko tree was really pretty this year. It is one of the last trees to turn and is always bright yellow. The tree here at Kalorama doesn't have a great shape because it has grown up in the edge of the woods, but the leaves are especially pretty carpeting the ground.

Several years ago we planted a Witch Hazel tree behind the Visitors Center building. It is a fairly common tree of southern woodlands. It has pretty yellow leaves in the fall, and very interesting yellow flowers November through January. I discovered it was blooming the other day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

After Thanksgiving

It has been a long hectic couple of months. I got so busy and so tired that I completely forgot about my blog. October was mostly a blur. House training a puppy is exhausting. That is done, thankfully, and it was comparatively easy. There were still many nights of hyphenated sleep involved. Also mixed in there were my son and his wife moving nearby, my husband's cataract surgery, and both my husband and myself having some sort of respiratory infection or virus involving several days of high fever and lots of congestion misery.

One of the high points was Dixie catching her first mole. She entertained herself for quite a while playing with it. I think she finally moved it to a spot with a hole in the ground and it escaped. I did get some pictures. Since then, she has been looking for mice and other varmints when she goes outside, which is exactly what she is bred to do.

The fall colors have been spectacular here at Kalorama this year. There are still some lingering on the trees. The whole hillside glows golden when the sun manages to shine. I hope to get a few pictures before they are all gone.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


We have a new member of our household this week. She is an Irish terrier puppy we have named "Dixie." She is 9 weeks old. Terry and I drove to Little Rock Sunday evening in the pouring rain and spent the night with our daughter. Early the next morning we drove to southern Missouri to the breeder and picked her up. Why would you go to so much trouble for a dog, you might ask. Well, we didn't think it was trouble to drive to the southern part of Missouri this time of year. Actually, we made a similar drive last year, just to look at the fall color and wildflowers. We were a couple of weeks earlier this year and the wildflowers were much prettier.

We lost our beloved Sadie, a sharpei-yellow lab mix this year. She was a wonderful, faithful companion for 16 years. She lost her hearing a few years back, and in the past year had really developed problems with arthritis. It was pretty empty around here without her. Dealing with Sadie's sharpei-isms and lab-isms led me on a hunt for a dog about the same size as Sadie, without the shedding and allergy problems that plagued her and us all those years.

There were a handful of breeds that fit my criteria, with the Irish terrier having the least amount of health problems within the breed. Of all the breeds I pursued, an Irish terrier in southern Missouri was my closest option. We were not eager for a little puppy to housebreak but the IT rescue folks would not place an adult dog in a home with a cat. Our cat is not thrilled with the puppy, but at this point, she is larger than the dog. She has swatted her on the head several times when she grew tired of the attention. The cat loved Sadie, and missed her as much as we did when she died. We are hoping she will grow more tolerant of Dixie and appreciate the company when we are gone.

Terry and I are getting a whole lot more exercise, walking a puppy every hour. Right now she gets tired way before we do, but it won't be that way very long.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

From Mammals to Reptiles

The morning after in the pantry, I affixed, with nails and screws, the panel that blocks access to the area below the afore-mentioned stairs. I finished off the edges with caulk and Great Stuff (spray foam). Then I put everything back in the pantry. The cat is no longer interested in the pantry. Good sign. However, last night early in the evening, I heard mouse sounds on the other side of the wall when I was standing in the hall. I called out to the miscreant that I hoped it was gnawing on the tasty poison bar I had placed in there the day before. I have decided to clean out the other pantry to make sure it is still mouse-proofed. I am glad I live in the country and only have to deal with little mice. I have had to deal with rats once, when we lived in a subdivision in town. Rats are much more of a town problem. They got after the dog food in our garage store room, and transferring it to a metal can they could not chew through discouraged them enough to move on to greener storerooms. Rats are high on my icky list.

The title implies there were reptile encounters today, and there certainly were. I had a garden club come to tour the grounds today. They arrived around noon. I spent the morning doing the last minute stuff to get ready. I began by fogging around the Visitors Center building for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes love the Visitors Center building, with all the porches and the deep entry. After fogging I went off to do something else while it did its work. I returned an hour later and immediately spotted a medium sized speckled king snake up near the front doors of the building. I studied the situation and realized it was small enough to make it through the crack at the bottom of the door into the building. I really didn't want it in there. Too many hiding places. I tried scaring it away from the door on the inside, but it wouldn't move. I ended up with a broom, trying to encourage it to go out into the flower bed in front of the building. It really did not want to go. It fought me out the whole way, coiling and striking at the broom over and over. It was so determined, that for the rest of the day, I kept peering into the entry way to see if it had returned. I knew it would not be popular in there with the garden club ladies. Fortunately, it stayed out of sight, and I didn't tell them about it.

After snake wrangling, I wandered around on fire ant patrol, waiting for the ladies to arrive. Much to my dismay, I spotted a very large piece of scat, freshly laid, right up there by the building in the middle of the driveway. It was clearly from a large canine. I grabbed a shovel to dispose of it, wondering what on earth thought it needed to mark the driveway right there. Moving it, I noticed that there were some persimmon seeds (they are fairly large, so easy to spot) in it. I figured it must have belonged to a coyote. They have done that before in the driveway.

My husband had a more exciting encounter at work this morning. His secretary opened the back door to the office, saw something, and called him to come quickly. There was a live alligator, about three feet long right out the door. Someone had to have put it there. They called LDWF to come remove it. He said it was injured, like it had been run over or something.

Sorry I don't have pictures to illustrate all these encounters. I was really wishing I had my camera with the snake. It had recently shed its skin, and was very bright and colorful. I wouldn't have posted a picture of the scat, probably....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mickey & Minnie

This past week I learned that I have a mouse problem in the house. Last Wednesday night, our daughter came in from Little Rock to leave for the wedding in College Station the next day. After she moved out, I transformed her upstairs bedroom into my sewing room, and I still had some pre-wedding sewing going on when she got there. She decided to sleep downstairs in her brother's old room. She was upstairs in our room sometime after 1:00 am that night telling me there was a terrible noise downstairs. Once I was awake enough to respond, I called the cat's name. She was nearby; not downstairs making noise. I scooped up the cat and went downstairs. I heard a noise in the wall between the back staircase and the hall to the downstairs bedrooms right away and knew it was mice. The cat perked up because she heard it, too. I put her down and she walked up and down the hall sniffing the wall, but couldn't do any more than that. I couldn't do anything about it because we were leaving the next morning. Now, I assumed this was a new event, with the temperatures about to change. We don't get evidence of mice every year in the fall, but it has happened often enough over the years to be half way expected. It is a big, country house on piers that turned 80 years old this year. Sometime over the four days we were in Texas for the wedding, our son and his new bride heard the story and chimed in with their own versions of hearing the mice while staying downstairs. I was appalled that it had been going on for that long and nobody had mentioned it. Can't fix it if we don't know about it.

Today I bought a supply of mouse bait. This evening, I emptied out the floor of the food pantry that has an access panel to the area beneath the stairway. The cat and I had heard the mice last night. I pried the panel off and saw where the little beggars had removed some of the sealant I had plugged holes years before with and had gotten in. I was expecting to see a whole mouse circus set up under the stairs when I opened the panel. I was relieved not to see much of anything. I had cleaned behind it years before and it still looked pretty good. I called the cat to come check it out. She walked all around the area for 15 minutes or so, sniffing and investigating. When she was done, I tossed in some bait and closed the panel. I will re-seal it tomorrow. I left everything out of the pantry so the cat can patrol it during the night. I will toss some bait up in the attic and between the floors tomorrow and hope that will work as well as it has in the past.

On the outside, I was glad to see the hummingbirds are still here. Below are some pictures I took last week. They are all over the red turk's cap flowers. Gulf fritillary butterflies also enjoy the turk's cap.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Road Trip

Today my daughter and I drove from Collinston to College Station, Texas. It was a very long drive--387 miles in 7 hours, including a brief lunch stop, a gas stop, and an after lunch pit stop. The problem is you just can't get here from there. A further problem for me was that we had a very long stretch from Henderson to Buffalo and there were no interesting grasses, no wildflowers, and the only birds I saw were crows and vultures.

Somewhere along the way, I noticed that we must have crossed a "frost" line because the trees were full of ball moss. That is a close relative of our Spanish moss that grows in tight balls in warmer regions on nearly any aerial surface. I have seen it completely covering utility lines in southern Texas. It grows in the Baton Rouge area in Louisiana and places south of there.

We drove a short ways on I-45, from Buffalo to Madisonville. Texas Highway 21 from Madisonville to Bryan had beautiful roadside displays of grasses and fall wildflowers and almost no traffic. That's my kind of traveling!

It rained on us several times, and is raining here this evening in College Station. We were very surprised at how cool it was when we got out of the car at the hotel. It was in the mid-60's, and was down to 60 degrees when we got in from supper.

Our hotel is full of police and firemen from New York City. They have been here all week at some sort of training seminar. Strange hearing those New York accents in the elevator. A big group of them came in the front door as we were checking in. I couldn't hear their accents, but they all had a look about them. I asked the clerk if they were having a Bubba convention, and he told me who they were, and that they were leaving tomorrow. I guess they will be replaced by Aggie fans, as this hotel and all others in town are full for the weekend because it is a home game Saturday.

Tomorrow I will go visit the florist and do some last minute gathering up for the rehearsal dinner Saturday night.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Flowers and 'shrooms

I cautiously ventured outside yesterday, hoping the rains had stopped. I took along the fire ant poison, since the little devils were busy building up their mounds trying to dry them out. There were so many mushrooms popping up everywhere that I went back and grabbed the camera. Along the way I found a flower or two in bloom, and then got absorbed in watching the butterflies and hummingbirds on the turk's cap flowers.
This one, called Green Parasol, is newly popped out of the ground, and makes quite a show. They always come up in the same spots when it rains a lot and are highly poisonous. After a day or so, it grows in to a large flat-topped mushroom. The white skin pops open and begins to flake off.

I discovered these lavender colored ones today in the lawn. As best I can tell, they are Amethyst Laccaria. One book says, "edible, but poor" and the other says "harmless, but not worth eating." Don't worry, I won't.

Elsewhere out in the lawn I found Lady's Tresses orchid. They seem to appear overnight scattered in the lawngrass. Sometimes the spike will be 18" or more. This one was barely a foot tall. They are true orchids, as you can tell from the tiny flowers. The flowers are arranged in a spiral formation, which is noted in the botanical name, Spiranthes. It is a terrestrial orchid, meaning it grows in soil, as opposed to the common florist type orchids that have aerial roots and grow in trees.

Scattered all over Kalorama is this bulb which blooms every year in early fall, Zephyr Lily. I was taught that they were not native, but everything I have researched on them so far is stating that they are. My "last word" in botany is the USDA Plant Database web site. It has been so slow for the past month, that I have hardly been able to use it. All that aside, it is a lovely little flower and prolific, showy bloomer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More pests

I am happy to report that after setting the afore mentioned trap, we had an armadillo in it the next morning. I believe that may be the sixth one I have caught. I have a situation tailor-made for catching them. They like to root along the base of the front porch. It stays damp there from the run-off from watering the container plants on the porch. I place the trap parallel to the porch right up against the base and the armadillo, blind as a bat, just wanders in and trips the door. When I see the signs and put the trap out, I usually catch it the first night. If I don't, and there are new signs of digging in the morning, then I turn the trap around because I know he is coming from the other direction. I thought I might get a picture of the latest catch, because it was a big one. I set the trap on end and opened the door to look at it, and the smell was so foul that I shut it up and refused to open it again for a picture.

After the rain we got earlier in the week, I decided to work on reducing the fire ant population. They respond to heavy rain by building up their mounds in the days after the rain, which makes them easier to spot. I have a wedding coming up in a couple of weeks, and I have been trying to be very careful to avoid any sort of bruises, scraps, or other assorted wounds that I seem to collect on the job, especially on my feet and ankles. Most years I manage to get by with only one or two ant bites, but these past two weeks I have collected more on my feet than in my entire life!

I found that if I patrol for the mounds in spring and fall, I can pretty much keep them subdued. I have learned the high and dry places they like best on the property and I aggressively seek them out and destroy the mounds. I felt like that would be a safe, injury-free task for me to do. While out pestering the ants, I noticed quite a bit of damage being done in an area by an armadillo along the edge of a bed out on the grounds. He had been working in a straight line where the pine straw met the grass. I thought I could put the trap out in the line and I just might catch him. I have never had success away from the porch getting an armadillo in the trap. The trap had been sitting near the back door on a couple of flagstones. I didn't want to put it up until I was sure there was no fresh damage in the front flower bed. I picked it up and set it on the back of the BadBoy, and immediately felt something stinging my feet. Much to my dismay, I discovered that in the short time the trap had been sitting there, a huge fire ant mound had been constructed under it and around the flagstones it was sitting on. Now there were fire ants everywhere--all over the ground, the trap, the BadBoy, and the water hoses that were also on the vehicle. I dusted it all with fire ant poison and went in the house thoroughly disgusted with burning feet. I put some ice and water in a pan and soaked my feet until the burning stopped and pondered the situation.

One of my sisters introduced me to ichthammol, or black drawing salve when we were in Costa Rica last Thanksgiving. It is primitive stuff--the active ingredient is shale oil extracted from somewhere on the planet. It works pretty well, but smells like tar, and is mixed with mineral oil and petroleum jelly. I had never tried it on ant bites, but thought this might be the time, to see if it would lessen the damage. I am very pleased with the results. It works much faster than baking soda and I had much less inflammation from this round of bites, and I really think they will be long gone by the wedding.

I never have gotten the trap back out. I am really sort of fearful of doing anything out on the grounds, though I know with all the rain we are getting, there will be mowing needed shortly. I guess I could start wearing my tall rubber boots all the least until after the wedding.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

'Possum in the trap

After the cat episode several days ago, I left one of the traps out. It was one of our wooden box traps. Several years ago an aggressive raccoon began visiting the bird feeders. It was large, and would get on a feeder in the daylight and hunker down over the feed and growl if I walked out on the porch. It also destroyed a couple of hummingbird feeders. I tried catching it in a wire trap like you can buy at the hardware store. The old coon was so big that when the door came down its back end kept it from closing, so it got the bait and backed back out. I called the LDWF and asked for the trapper to make a visit. He came along in a couple of days, pulling a trailer with an ATV with several dead beavers strapped on the back. He had been at the country club trapping beavers on the golf course. He listened to my tale of woe and said he had a trap that he thought would work and he would drop it by in a few days. Sure enough, he came by later in the week with a fine trap made of plywood. I was very impressed with it and asked if I could take it to my carpenter and have him make me one. He said, "Certainly, a woman like you needs a couple of them." He went on to explain that one 4 x 8 sheet of plywood would make two. In the meantime, I set his trap that night and caught the large raccoon. Terry hauled it off to the swamp so it could become king or queen of the jungle.

Since that time, I have caught a whole bunch of critters in my traps, mostly armadillos. I didn't catch a cat in it, but set it up on the front porch, still set, last week. In the meantime, we are being visited by a third cat, about the same size as the other two. This one is black and white and comes up on the front porch every evening. Our cat has made watching for this cat a ritual, and lets out a true caterwaul every evening when it appears. It runs when we appear. Well, the weather was lovely this evening, so Terry and I ate our hamburgers he grilled for our supper on the front porch. At some point I noticed the trap was tripped. I figured the stray cat had bumped it. I was pretty sure it wouldn't go in since there wasn't any bait in it. I picked it up and it felt kind of heavy. I turned it on one end and peered down in it, surprised to see a young 'possum playing dead in the bottom. I had notice that an armadillo had been digging at the edge of the porch, so I dumped the 'possum out(it refused to crawl out; insisted on playing dead) and set the trap again, placing it parallel to the porch in hopes of catching the 'diller. Or 'dillers.

Here is a picture of one of the traps.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Summer Plague

August 28, 2009

I have a plague visiting Kalorama right now. It doesn’t seem to bother the visitors who come and go, but I assure you it bothers the curator on a daily basis. It is a tiny little flying insect called an eye gnat. It is actually a fly, and under close magnification resembles a tiny housefly. The males feed among the flowers. Pregnant females feed—warning, this is gross—on secretions of mammals. They don’t actually bite or suck fluids, but somewhere in their mouth parts there are some tiny little spines. Contact with those on the eyelids leads to conjunctivitis and is a common cause of pinkeye. They also seek out wounds and the base of hair follicles.

About the only good news about their habits and life cycle is that they do not lay eggs on mammals so we are not hosting their maggots. They lay their eggs in soil with rotting leaves and are especially fond of plowed or tilled soil with lots of organic matter. That means those armadillos that are plowing up the ground around the shrubs I am watering are catering to those flies. And the fly larva is doing a great service to the planet, along with the earthworms, breaking down organic matter.

This isn’t the first time they have been so bad. I have learned over the years that insect repellent doesn’t do much good. Glasses are somewhat helpful, until one figures out how to get behind them. Goggles are great. I have noticed that wearing a broad brimmed hat seems to baffle them, though after doing some reading on them, that apparently didn’t help the Lewis & Clark expedition. They were so bad yesterday that they were landing on my legs, arms, neck, and face. They impart the sensation of a single strand of hair on the skin and my experience is so bad than even inside, I am constantly aware of, well, the touch of a single strand of hair. So if you see me around town, well out of range of any eye gnats, swatting at myself, you know that I am having mental issues born of eye bug trauma.

Here are some recent pictures:

Spicebush butterfly on Butterflyweed. The butterfly lays her eggs on sassafras leaves at Kalorama.

This leopard frog is probably a parent to the tadpoles pictured in previous blog entries. It was hanging out in the top of a flower pot beside the fountain, very well disguised in the potting soil.

Gaura is a member of the primrose family. There are hybrid versions sold for summer landscaping that are much more compact and have deeper pink flowers than this tall, somewhat sprawling native. It is often infested with aphids which attracts smaller migrating birds in the fall. On hot days the flowers look like tiny white handkerchiefs draped all over the plant. Each flower only lasts one day.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cat Tales

Three weeks ago while enjoying dinner with friends and family, one of them spotted a cat on the front porch, right outside the dining room, devouring a blue striped skink. The cat was a gray tabby that looked to be about half grown, as in small, but past the cute kitten stage. It ran away when it noticed all the humans looking at it.

Outside cats are a no-no at a nature preserve. Feral and domesticated cats allowed to roam outside play a factor in species decline in songbirds and other creatures within their native habitats all over the planet.

Within a few days, I again saw the gray cat. Every time I would enter the garage bays where the equipment is parked, it would shoot out and disappear. Then, I realized there were two cats. Most times when I would go out the front door to replenish the bird feeders, a calico cat about the same size would bolt out of the flower bed. Within a couple of days, there were enough feathers under one of the feeders for me to conclude that a blue jay had been taken, and maybe something else had lost some feathers in a fight. We got the live traps out of the garage and I set one near the feeder and the other in the garage. We had eaten boiled shrimp that evening for supper, so I used the tails and shells as bait. I also put out some cat food in the garage in hopes of relieving the pressure on the bird feeder. The next day, the feathers around the feeder where the trap was indicated that a cardinal had also met its maker. I removed that trap out of fear that the cat had used the trap to help it reach the feeder.

After I started putting food at the shed, I didn't see the calico around the front yard anymore. One day when I put food out, I called, "kitty-kitty," and the calico came running, mewing, and wrapping itself around my ankles. That confirmed what I already had figured. Someone had "gifted" us with these two cats. Yesterday, I discovered the trap at the garage was tripped, and sure enough, the gray cat was inside. I didn't know what I was going to do with the cats. Neither one of us has what it takes to terminate them. I didn't know anyone that wanted them, and I did ask around. I put some cat litter in a pan, and some food in a big pet cage and called the calico cat and put it in. The gray cat was not at all disposed to be friendly, but its situation wasn't friendly, so I didn't hold that against it. When I tried to empty it from the trap into the cage, it managed to escape. I was so aggravated. I am sure I will never catch it again. Unsure what to do with the calico, I finally got a hold of my friend who works with the humane society and she said I could bring it. Mind you, I told her it was a half grown kitten because I didn't know otherwise at the time. This morning I got the pet carrier that I use to take our house cat who is never allowed outside to the vet. I placed the calico inside the carrier, and began walking away from the garage toward my car. Now I have a pile of pine knots beside the driveway in front of the garage. The calico was very vocal the whole time, and as I started down the driveway, three tiny white kittens tumbled out from under the pine knots headed straight for us. Aaaargh!!!! I checked the calico, and sure enough, she had been nursing. I caught the kittens and put them in the carrier with her, and she immediately began licking and tending to them. I called my friend but couldn't get her. I headed in to town to the cat shelter where they seemed happy to take them. I gave them a check, too. So far today, I have not seen the gray cat, nor has any of the cat food at the garage disappeared. I am hoping it was so traumatized that it has left us for good. And I hope that the speckled kingsnake that lived in the garage has survived the cats.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chesney Prairie


Tonight we are in Alma, Arkansas. We drove up this morning with a good friend to explore some prairies. Our friend had heard a report of bright yellow goldfinches feeding on ashy sunflowers on the Chesney Prairie Natural Area just west of Springdale. We drove up, stopping at the two largest prairie natural areas in Arkansas on the way. We reached Cherokee Prairie and the almost adjacent H.E. Flanagan Prairie right after lunch. We had clearly missed the bloom there, and only heard one goldfinch, so we headed up to the Chesney. Though relatively small (84 acres), and visited by the aroma of a chicken house on one side and a dairy on the other, it was full of ashy sunflowers and yellow goldfinches. There was a butterfly or two hanging around, too. Also, bobwhites were calling constantly. We were never able to get a good sharp picture of a goldfinch. They were not nearly as bold as they are at our bird feeders in the winter time, but I have included some anyway. The sunflowers are Helianthus mollis, called ashy sunflower because they are covered in grey hairs.

The plant with the round white balls of flowers being visited by a monarch butterfly is called buttonbush. It is a very common shrub in the south almost always growing in water or areas that are flooded part of the year. The airy-looking grass is switchgrass. The orange butterfly on the ashy sunflower is an American fritillary. The rosy pink flowers with a monarch butterfly is some sort of milkweed. It was quite tall and full of flowers. I have not researched it's name yet.

We don't know where we are going to visit tomorrow, on our way home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hungry animals

We have had some interesting animal behavior around here today. My husband noticed a dead armadillo by the driveway when he came home for lunch today. It wasn't there when he left for work this morning, so we assume someone hit it on the driveway between 7:30 AM and noon today. He had hit one a few weeks ago on the driveway late one night. Something obliged us by carting it off after a couple of days. This new "driveway kill" was still there when I returned home from Baton Rouge this afternoon. It is being guarded by a lone buzzard. I am hoping something will haul the carcass off during the night.

Later on during the afternoon, my husband spotted three deer grazing out beyond the house. We watched them for awhile, and I got the binoculars and studied them. I never could determine if they were does or bucks, but they did seem thin and they ate like they were hungry. We are used to seeing deer grazing on the grounds all the time. They take a couple of bites and then look around. They also keep moving as they graze. These three grazed like cows with their heads down, chomping away without looking up or moving around except to move a bit for more grass. Clearly they were hungry. It is hard to understand skinny, hungry deer with a large green pasture and hayfield a few hundred yards away, and thousands of acres of corn less than a quarter of a mile away.

Right now some of the prairie areas at Kalorama are in full bloom with Liatris, also known as Blazing Star or Gayfeather. It is one of the showiest of all prairie species and is wildly attractive to butterflies.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fountain wars

In the past week, I have been engaged in a skirmish with the fountain at the patio. Without going into lengthy history at this point, I will just say that when I came to Kalorama, the fountain, which was constructed by Mr. Nathan Bolton in the 1950’s, was in terrible disrepair. It was a rectangular shaped concrete pool, 6 X 16 X 2 with a cast metal statue standing on a pedestal at one end. I believe it originally functioned as a goldfish pond. I resisted doing anything with it other than cleaning out the leaves for several years. However, because of its location, the pressure was there to do something with it. Also, every once in awhile, a small child would manage to jump in, fall in, or otherwise worry me with their activities while near the hole. I ended up creating a shallow stream over gravel with a waterfall into a reservoir that proved wildly popular with the birds.

When I first fixed it up, water gardening was not as popular as it was to become, and a submersible pump large enough to push the volume of water the distance needed was not readily available. I began with an external pump that required that I prime it to get it started. I kept an adjustable wrench and small cup near the pump for that purpose. After several years, the first pump died. Someone gave me an ancient water well pump, and I rigged it up and used it for a few years after that. By the time that pump gave out, submersible waterfall pumps were readily available at the big box stores, so I decided that would be easier than priming it, and it would be much quieter, too, since it would be under water.

The new pump, which is the second or third submersible pump in the war is made to come apart into two pieces for cleaning purposes, I guess. It has three of those tabs and slots that line up and turn to hold it together. Something, vibration from running I guess, has caused those parts to break, so it won’t hold together anymore. I noticed one day the waterfall wasn’t falling. I could hear the pump humming, so I unplugged it and began my first assault, which was removing the rocks and apparatus I have rigged up to hide the pump. Because it was separated, the pump was completing its circulation cycle under the water. The outlet that sends the water to the fountain is on the detachable piece. I studied it, and determined that a couple of long nylon zip ties would hold it together under water just fine. I fixed them where I thought they would hold and put the rocks and stuff back in place. The following day, I was back into the battle again, as there was no water falling. I found some duct tape at the store that I was told would hold under water and was going to try that. I “dug” the pump out again and discovered that the ties had shifted so the part was loose. I tightened them down to the point that they could not shift and put it back in the water without taping. This time I left the rocks and stuff off a couple of days to see if it would hold. It has held for over a week now and I have high hopes it will stay that way until something else goes wrong.

When I first began this most recent skirmish, I noticed the water smelled pretty raunchy, so I pumped most of it out and replaced it. I was going to pump it dry and get the leaves and crud out of the bottom of the reservoir, but noticed there were tadpoles of all ages swimming around. After the last battle, I brought the camera out there and sat and watched for awhile, hoping to see a frog. No luck there, but a young female brown-headed cowbird came down for a drink. Also, on the water surface there were water striders. Those are fascinating insects, equipped to glide around without breaking the surface tension of the water. I got a picture of them, and then noticed the funny shadows moving around on the floor of the reservoir. They were water strider shadows, and were very cool looking, which were three circles in a pattern like a face. I have included a picture of that, too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

New York

I spent last weekend and half the week in New York City with my daughter. It was our first time to visit. She had to work. I played. I was asked before I left what plays I planned to attend. I made no such plans, and did not see any. I also did not visit any museums. It rained every day we were there, and due to our location and her working hours, there just was not time. Our hotel connected to Grand Central Station. That was pretty cool, and I enjoyed exploring it at different times of the day. The morning we flew out we went there for breakfast, as I did most days, and we got to see the thousands of people coming in from the trains headed to work. Watching that mass of humanity move through was fascinating for both of us. Just like rush hour on a freeway, everyone was moving at the same steady clip. I studied the flow for awhile and saw that the pattern of movement was just like water. If one person moved to the side to go around an obstacle like a kiosk or trash can, or take a short cut, others quickly followed, creating a new "stream" of humans. I liked New York, and would like go back.

Our last afternoon in New York we walked to Central Park. It was nice to see some green leaves and flowers. We actually bumped into a man from West Monroe while there. Our last evening we took a cab to Little Italy for dinner. That was an adventure. Elisabeth documented our trip in pictures here:

Back home on the hill, it is hot. My poor pot plants are all getting plenty of water, but it is so hot that some of them are getting their roots cooked. I am working hard at keeping those areas on the grounds watered that have promise of flowers to bloom, and those that have already bloomed, so I will be able to harvest seeds.

Tomorrow morning I will go in for a Bravo pH test set up. It is a high-tech method of monitoring gastric reflux. They tell me I won't feel a thing. If the same nurse puts the IV in my hand as last time, I know I will have a sore paw for a couple of days. Otherwise, I suspect I will sleep all day after Terry gets us back home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Road Trip & What's blooming this week

Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, is blooming around the house at Kalorama, and there was lots of it blooming on Texas roadsides this past weekend.

Terry and I visited in College Station, Texas this past weekend. There is really no direct road from here to there, and we love to travel the back roads. After we left Interstate 20 near the Texas state line, I programmed our GPS unit to find the shortest route. That always brings up a disclaimer that there may be unpaved roads involved, but that was not the case this time. We did travel down miles of county roads that were in great shape and when the trees were not meeting to form a canopy over the road, the roadsides were covered with wildflowers that were thick and natural, not planted by the highway department. However, when folks asked us which way we came, we didn’t have a clue. I studied a map later on and tried to figure out our route, but was not ever sure about it.

I have spent every spare minute since we returned watering this hillside. The temperatures hovered around 100 degrees south of Palestine, TX. It was not that hot here, but it hasn’t rained a drop in weeks and it shows. I am leaving tomorrow for Little Rock to join our daughter on a trip to New York City this weekend and next week. It will be a first for us. She will be working most of the time, and I will relax and play.

While working around the garage and the fountain areas, I have found two resident speckled king snakes. Neither is anywhere near what I would call full grown. The larger of the two lives out at the garage. It was staying inside a roll of pond liner that had been lying near the garage. I disturbed it when I moved it to store it inside. The snake seemed quite confused when I moved the roll, and kept coming back to where it used to be. It finally moved on into one of the garage bays. I have not seen it in a few days. Today I discovered a slightly smaller one is probably living in the brick wall surrounding the fountain patio. It is very shy and races away into a hole as soon as I come around. I hope to get a picture of one or both. I have also seen a gigantic Texas rat snake around the garage. I always look up before I walk into any of the bays or rooms, expecting it to be hanging out in the rafters. The last thing I want is a snake falling on my head.

There are a few more things blooming this week, and most of the flowers from the past few weeks are still going strong. There will be even more things blooming in July.

Purple Coneflower,
Echinacea purpurea is just beginning to bloom.

Turk's Cap is a member of the hibiscus family. It is adored by hummingbirds and is one of the most dependable summer flowers there is. The little twirled petals always remind me of icing flowers on a cake. The pollen is magenta colored, and ruby-throated hummingbirds will appear to have bright magenta patches on their faces after feeding on a few hundred Turk's Cap flowers.

Prairie Coneflower,
Rudbeckia grandiflora, is yet another in the black-eyed susan genus. It is a more refined plant than the common black-eyed susan, but smaller than the giant coneflower in a previous post.

This flower also is called Prairie Coneflower, but it is related to Mexican Hat. This is
Ratibida pinnata. The ray petals are lighter yellow than the black-eyed susans, and the cone part starts out gray-green before the tiny brown flowers pop out. They always remind me of badminton birdies. These plants are from seeds collected around Olla and Urania, Louisiana on US 167 before the road construction to create a four-lane highway. There are some interesting plants and were some pocket prairies around there at one time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blog Slacker

What I feared would happen when I jumped into the blog pond has happened. I have become a blog slacker. I have been nudged twice this week about it, so here goes. My reason for not posting is that there was just not much going on.

I have been working hard at getting ready to leave home for awhile. It finally got dry and hot enough that I was able to get all of the grass mowed at one time. In fact, it was so dry by the time I finished that I was so covered with dust each time I got off the mower I had to hose myself down before entering the house. The last three days I have been working on setting up the automatic watering system I built last year for my container plants. I cobbled it together from parts I found at the big box stores and the irrigation supply in hopes that I could keep stuff alive while we traveled to Canada last July. It worked out very well, and I used it most of the rest of the summer when I went away for a few days, or when I would just get so busy I couldn’t maintain the hand watering on schedule. It is very important when temperatures reach the 90’s that plants in containers be watered every day, and at the same time of day. The pots need to be flooded with water, not sprayed at. It takes time and care to do it right, but the reward is fabulous plants.

On the wildlife front, I have seen some neat things, including more turtles going to and fro across the yard to lay eggs and returning to the pond. I have seen the juvenile red-tailed hawk out in the meadow near the old log cabin site. It is as big as an adult, and I have seen it hunting in the grass out there a couple of times. One time it caught a big green grasshopper, and then didn’t seem to know what to do with it. It is not cut out to run, but it did sort of lumber across the grass in search of something else it saw moving. It is too far away to get a picture, but the action is way better than a picture would be.

We discovered we have a young speckled king snake living in the garage area. He was living inside a roll of plastic I had in front of the garage. He was pretty confused there after I unrolled it to get him out and then put it away. He crawled off into the garage and I haven’t seen him since. He had been hanging around the bottom of the big pine tree by my shop door, and I had seen him crawling around in some of the nursery stock plants near the garage. We are hoping he hangs around. Copperheads are what I usually see out there, so I am always scanning the ground in that area. I have also seen an enormous rat snake out there this year.

My husband reported seen some strange ducks in irrigation puddles beside a corn field he passes frequently. I rode with him one day with the camera and got some pictures. They turned out to be Black-bellied Whistling ducks. Once only known from south of the border and occasionally in South Texas, they are moving north in a hurry. They are cavity nesters like wood ducks, and have already been observed using wood duck boxes south of Collinston after the wood ducks had hatched. Terry had been seeing 4-6 ducks at a time. A friend of ours who is doing bird surveys for a bird atlas project checked out the area about the time a crop duster flew over. She counted a total of 17 once they started flushing out of the corn field.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What’s blooming this week on the hill?

The daylilies are starting to bloom. Daylilies are of special historical interest here at Kalorama. The second owner of the property, Mr. Nathan Bolton, was a journalist by profession but had a real passion for daylilies, known botanically as Hemerocallis. He did quite a bit of breeding work with them, and named and registered three varieties with the American Hemerocallis Society. As far as I know, there are no pictures of the three, but there are descriptions in the AHS database. His first introductions were in 1951. One was named “Baron de Bastrop” and terminology describes it as Orange-Red Dark, solid in color. The other entry that year was “Mary’s Old Rose” described as a medium red with some sort of splotch, stripe, or other color variation that involves all petals. In 1953, he introduced a medium yellow named “Mary Bolton,” (his wife) that was listed as an evergreen early season re-bloomer. Possibly this would be an ancestor to the popular “Stella d’Oro” that is so common in landscapes today. Based on those descriptions, if the daylilies blooming right now include any of his introductions, the one pictured here is most likely “Mary’s Old Rose.”

As long as I am featuring one non-native plant, I might as well include another. Several years ago, the late Virginia DeForest, a great plantswoman who happened to live up the road from me gave me a bulb division off of her Clivia plant. Clivia is surely one of the most elegant tropical plants around. It can be contrary when divided, and neither of us expected it to bloom the first year. I got it a fine Italian clay pot, because they like to get pot bound and live in the same pot for many years. Much to my surprise, it did bloom that first year and every year since. This last year, it sprouted lots of new bulbs from the base, and has now rewarded us with two bloom spikes.

The big showy wildflower that is added to the list of things blooming over the past month is giant coneflower. This plant has lovely large silvery leaves that look like collards or cabbage when they first come up. They send up a flower stalk that can grow well beyond six feet. The plant, Rudbeckia maxima, is native to western Louisiana and eastern Texas.

And, the last item, though fruiting instead of flowering, is a turtle; a red-eared slider to be exact. I have been seeing these girls traipsing around the top of the hill for several weeks. Unfortunately, there are also lots of them squished in the roadways around here. They are the most common freshwater turtles in the state. They are the ones you see sunning themselves on logs in ponds, creeks, and bayous. The females come up to dry ground, dig a hole, and deposit their eggs. They will bury the eggs and head back to the pond they came from. Eventually, if the eggs survive marauding raccoons, possums, felines, canines, and snakes, the baby turtles will hatch and head back to the pond where momma lives. A turtle about the business of egg laying is an easy target for the camera, so I got lots of good close-ups of the action.

The tiny red patch behind the eye is where the term red-eared comes from.

This is where the action is. She has crawled nearly a quarter of a mile up the hill from the pond, and still has enough water under her shell to generate mud to pack around the eggs. The tiny green flecks on her shell are duckweed plants. This was a fairly large slider. Field guides stated they grow to 11” in length. She was every bit that if not more.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trip to Arkansas

I drove up to Little Rock this weekend to shop with my daughter for a bridesmaid dress for her brother's wedding this fall. We also shopped some for me a MOG (Mother of the Groom) dress. Truly an exhausting two days. This morning we shopped in North Little Rock and Conway. Our first stop was a bridal shop that Elisabeth had visited before when shopping with a bridal friend. They did not have anything to suit her, but I decided to look around. A meek little sales girl was going to help me. When we told her we were looking for a MOG dress, she asked her boss about it. Her boss, a lady around my age, pointed to the rear of the store and barked, "Go get Mother and watch." Apparently she was new, and rushed to do as told. Soon Mother swept in and started pulling dresses right and left. I was able to get some emphatic "NO's" in occasionally, before we trouped back to the dressing room. It was way too many people, and they were all at least a foot shorter than me, it seemed like. I felt like a St. Bernard surrounded by enthusiastic terriers. My mood deteriorated rapidly. Nothing fit. "Mother" kept going on about taking up here, adding there, available in certain colors, etc. I finally explained to her that I had quite a bit of seamstress experience and training, and I was not about to make a decision on a dress that fit as poorly as what she was showing me. She backed down in a hurry, though pleasant, and we escaped.

We moved on to downtown Conway, scene of the recent Kris Allen parade. Banners on the lamp posts touted Conway as the home of Kris Allen, and every single store window was painted with signs welcoming the American Idol. Shopping in downtown Conway was mostly for Elisabeth. We didn't end up buying anything but lunch. Most interesting was what we had to do to get seated in the restaurant. Conway is in a "dry" county. Liquor can only be sold in private clubs. The restaurants get around this by charging a dollar for membership. Only one person in a family pays the onetime fee, and it is good for life for all family members. It doesn't matter if you are going to drink or not. You have to be a member to be seated in any restaurant that serves alcohol. After we were seated, our waitress came along. She asked where we were from, and when I said I was from Louisiana, she said her family was from there. It turned out her family was from Gibsland, my father's home town. I remembered her great grandfather and her great-great aunts. My great grandparents sold their property to her family when they left Gibsland, though we still own some adjacent land. She spent all her childhood summers in their old family home there. Really small world.

On the way back to Little Rock from Conway, I decided to call my hair dresser. I had left a message on her machine requesting an appointment the week before, and had not heard from her. I tried her mobile phone, and found her, in Houston. She had fallen and broken her hip in Galveston, and had just gotten out of the hospital after eleven days. She had surgery, including some pins in her leg and hip. She will be in Houston with relatives quite awhile recovering. I am afraid my hair is going to get pretty wooly before she returns. It already is resembling Crabman from My Name is Earl some mornings.

We shopped a little more in Little Rock, and then I headed back to Collinston. It was good to drive up the driveway and see that the grass seems to be slowing down some, meaning it still looked like it had been mowed.