May Into June

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The last day of May and the first day of June have conspired to make this weekend one of the best in recent memory.

Saturday included a late-morning trip to the farmer’s market, the local plant nursery, a used bookstore, and a family dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. I got a little tipsy off a delicious drink mixed with elderflower liqueur, which made the unexpected sighting of a hot-air balloon pretty damn exciting. The wispy seeds of the cottonwood trees, supposedly discovered by Meriweather Lewis in 1805 in Missouri, have created “snowdrifts” of a sort, pockets of fluff all over Oklahoma City that have built up to be inches deep in some places. I bring up this part of the Lewis & Clark expedition only because I almost purchased a copy of their journals during my bookstore trip. Ultimately, I passed it up and started reading Susannah Kaysen’s Cambridge instead.

cottonwood seeds, thick like snow!

This morning (Happy June!) I managed to mix the perfect amount of sugar and half & half into my coffee and I even convinced my husband to take a morning walk with me in the woods of a nearby nature park. It smelled like honeysuckle and musk in some places; in other places it smelled like clean dirt and lake water. The sound of traffic was muffled by all the trees. They also served to keep us cool from the sun and humidity, both of which increased throughout the day. Matt and I have decided we should make plans to hike the Appalachian Trail before we die, even if we accomplish it in bits and pieces. This adventure will be much easier to accomplish after we’ve started a new life in the Blue Ridge foothills. I don’t know when that will be but I’m already looking forward to it. I miss being dwarfed by giant trees.

field of Mexican hats

prickly pear

Being surrounded by fields of blue stem prairie grass, Mexican hats, and Indian blanket feels pretty fantastic. I even got to see my very first prickly pear cactus…in bloom! I was hoping to meet a particular owl who has become a little famous on the park’s Facebook page, but the time of day probably worked against us. On our way out of the park we did get to see a duck swimming along with her tiny brood. We crossed paths with two deer and even spotted a little fawn hiding in the tallgrass.

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a fawn!

And all of this before noon…but we’re home now after a fantastic lunch at a lakeside restaurant and I’m off to read more of Cambridge. Happy weekending!

 

Spring is Here! (Part II)

The title of this post should really be “Wanna know how lazy I am?”.

In the fall of 2012, my pecan tree dropped a boatload of nuts. I crabwalked for hours one afternoon to pick up as many pecans  as possible. My mother and I had worked out a trade: She would send me tangerines and valencia oranges from her citrus trees in North Florida in exchange for my pecans. I ended up shipping about three gallon-sized bags to her. The rest of the pecans I picked up that season remained in a basket, waiting for me to shell them and bake a few pies.

I never did.

But that’s not what makes me lazy.

What makes me lazy is that the basket of pecans is still out there, a year and a half later, just sitting on the back porch. The pecans are spoiled – they have been for quite some time – so there has been absolutely no use in keeping them around.

The other day, however, I noticed some twigs and dry brush inside the pecan basket. Upon further inspection I discovered that it’s a bird’s nest! WITH BABIES! Or soon to be babies…

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I am clueless when it comes to identifying these pesky house birds, but my best guess (after very little research – again, lazy) tells me that these are the eggs of a house sparrow. Starlings and house sparrows continue to show up as very different birds when I turn to the Google gods for answers, I always thought they were the same thing. The descriptions of the eggs, though, tells me I’m wrong.

Schnitzel, our little foster fledgling from last year, was a starling. So was Mr. Grumpyfeathers. I have no experience with sparrows. We’ve always assumed those two starlings fell out of their nests, which were precariously located inside the sloping eaves of our front porch. These little sparrow babies already have a leg up in the world since they’re getting their start in life inside a basket. If we happen to find any of them flopping around on our back steps, we’ll know for certain their mama tossed them out.

I don’t put it past these birds to work that hard, either. They can be quite vicious. Have you ever watched an adult bird drag another adult bird from its nest…by its face?!

I have.

 

Reveling with the Fishes

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Bull sharks at the Oklahoma Aquarium. I bet they miss the ocean, too.

In a roundabout way, and hardly as dramatic as I may make it sound right now, I kind of lost my marbles a few weekends ago. Utter loneliness, boredom, feelings of uselessness, and cabin fever have all taken their toll on me. So badly, in fact, that I demanded my husband find a job somewhere near the coast and move us all to an ocean town immediately. Instead, he suggested we take a weekend trip to Tulsa.

It worked, guys. It totally worked. And now I’m calm.

While I was genuinely having a good time in Tulsa touring a retired American Airlines jet and eating Scotch eggs (not simultaneously), I wasn’t aware that any particular feelings were missing. As someone born with a black cloud over my head, I immerse myself in those situations fully, in those moments when I’m happy enough. I feel like if I ask for anything more I’ll be branded as boring, selfish, or, quite frankly, undeserving.

Oh, it’s such crap, I know. But that’s sometimes just how my mind works.

And then it hit me the following day, that moment when things went from happy enough to…well, I don’t know what you call it, but the feeling is pretty fantastic.

It’s funny how our sense of smell can lighten our mood when it catches just the right scent. In the summertime, it’s the smell of charcoal grills and sunscreen. In the winter, it’s pine trees and maple syrup. The right scent for me, for just this weekend, happened to be stagnant aquarium water, but with equal parts fishiness and salt (it’s really not as disgusting as it sounds). A precise measurement, if you ask me.

On Sunday afternoon, I found myself standing next to a turtle exhibit, dipping my nose down closer to the surface and inhaling deeply. A poorly designed replica of a salt water marsh, complete with a fake egret, actually sent my heart racing. The puffer fish, the parrot fish, and even my Resting Bitch Face broke into a smile.

All those neurons that occasionally shoot off messages of happiness around my brain? They were pinging like crazy.

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A smiling puffer fish

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A smiling parrot fish

Note to self on how to endure future winters:

  • Vitamin D
  • SAD lamp
  • acquire tangerines from parents’ backyard tree
  • coconut scented hot tub water
  • visit an aquarium
  • close eyes and listen to this

 

Descendants

Paynes Prairie, Florida

I have traveled the interstate that cuts through North Florida’s Paynes Prairie a number of times. It is a flat expanse of land and brush that, from the highway, resembles more of a thirsty marsh. I always knew there were bison there but I never once stopped to find them, roaming as they probably were in the savanna that had been named after a Seminole Chief, King Payne. King Payne led his tribe after his father was killed in 1783 and until his own death in 1812 when he was shot and killed by Daniel Newnan (who, oddly enough, has a lake named after him in the middle of Paynes Prairie). The Seminole Indians were a runaway band of Creek Indians, wild people, which is what the word “seminole” means. They, like the bison that used to occupy the land out west by the millions, were slaughtered to near extinction. The survivors, both bison and Indian, were eventually relocated.

But herein lies an unexpected connection between Florida and Oklahoma, and it isn’t the Creek Nation (which does include the Seminoles). Those bison from Paynes Prairie are direct descendants of the bison from Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge here in southwest Oklahoma. By the end of the 19th century, bison had become extinct in Oklahoma. In 1907, the Plains bison were re-introduced to the state by way of the Bronx Zoo. Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountain inherited fifteen of these massive animals. Ten of those Plains bison were transported to North Central Florida’s Paynes Prairie in 1975 where historical records show the animals once lived and thrived. Current documents and land management experts agree they are still thriving.

My brother and I have been working quite hard on tracing our own family roots and I was really excited to learn there is a sister of a grandfather from six generations back who settled in Jones, Oklahoma, a mere half-hour drive from my home in Oklahoma City. Considering the widespread scattering of family names, it was almost a relief to learn relatives are nearby, even if they are complete strangers and, as local records show, long-deceased. It kind of feels like there was a trace of me here already. So when I finally got to see a bison on an early-year trip to Lawton, Oklahoma, I felt like I was meeting a long-lost relative of someone I should have made more time for when I lived in Florida. If there had been extra days planned in during my return home this past summer, I would’ve made a trip inland to say hello to the Paynes Prairie bison. They probably would have appreciated some messages of goodwill from the Oklahoma herd.

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If it weren’t for the landscape, I’d bet you couldn’t even tell if these were Wichita Mountain or Paynes Prairie bison. The family resemblance is uncanny.

In my garden

milkweed tussock/milkweed tiger moth caterpillar...and babies

milkweed tiger moth caterpillar and her brood

Sometimes my brain reverts back to life in Florida where furry caterpillars are toxic and fall out of trees only to end up somewhere down your shirt, stinging you in places that nobody wants to be stung. This usually results in a nasty rash and an understandable hatred toward furry caterpillars, but I really want to pet this beauty. Before I learned what she was I just called her the “wooly mammoth”. She’s not mammoth at all (only slightly longer than an inch) but she’s certainly wooly. There are dozens of caterpillars just like her all over one half of my porch.

I have no idea if these furry caterpillars are toxic to humans or not, but I do know that they are toxic to most of their predators. Even ants and other insects know to stay away from them. After the caterpillars become full-fledged moths of the night-flying variety, they use their “sound organ” to create a series of clicks that warns bats to stay away. One entomologist compared it to “trash talk“.

I think this caterpillar is one of my new favorite animals.

Meet Schnitzel

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We found Schnitzel resting on a bunch of spidergrass in the front yard. Throughout the day there had been a racket of noise coming from that corner of our front porch (there are starling nests all over the place) so I wasn’t surprised to discover our little starling had fallen/jumped/been pushed out. He is at an in-between stage where he’s too young to be on his own but old enough to only need a little more help before he’s flying off into the world.

A friend from Springfield, Missouri was staying over last night on a work trip and has fostered all kinds of baby birds successfully. She gave us some tips on how to keep him fed and happy, at least until he’s big enough to start hopping around in the grass and getting used to being on his own (remember Mr. Grumpyfeathers?).

Schnitzel is a good sleeper, a very good eater, and a good pooper – all extraordinary traits when dealing with baby anythings. In fact, he’s a better sleeper than my baby human was (and still is, at times). If you’re curious about the name, we collectively decided on Schnitzel because:

a) we’re big fans of the cartoon Chowder

b) we’d just had wiener schnitzel for dinner at Ingrid’s Kitchen

c) Mr. Grumpyfeathers was already taken

Schnitzel’s favorite treats? Softened dog food and hard-boiled eggs. Elle is a bit creeped out by a bird eating eggs, but Schnitzel loves eggs. Seriously, he gobbles them up.

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