Monthly Archives: May 2013

May 29 – bikin’ around Austin

This morning, after getting more than 5 hours of sleep for the first time all week, I had a few hours to kill.  My friend had a spare bicycle, so I took a self-guided “bike tour” through bits of the city.  Here’s some of what I saw:

Just a couple of blocks from the house I was staying, I came across an amazing plant/greenhouse store that took up most of an entire city block. Image

Their sections on cacti and succulents were particularly impressive, and I found myself wishing I could take plants on the plane (unfortunately I don’t think you can do that these days).  These aloe plants reminded me of my childhood in north Florida.

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These ones even more so.  My dad used to grow a whole row of aloe plants along the edge of the house; we’d cut off leaves on the many occasions that we got too much sun and smear the cool soothing aloe slime all over our arms and shoulders.

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A top-down view of one of the many impressive aloe plants they were selling.

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Succulents!

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On my way down to the river, I rode by this cool “underpass park,” with swings hanging from the concrete.  You can still see puddles here and there from the ferocious rains of this past weekend.Image

Another view of the underpass park, with little palmettos also reminding me of north Florida.

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I rode along the Austin greenway, a winding path that follows, more or less, along (and occasionally over) the Colorado River, which for some reason is called Lady Bird Lake in the city limits.  You can ride the whole trail for a 12 mile loop, and I alternated between riding on the trail and exploring the city zigzagging through the city streets.Image

Brighly-blooming lupine, against the backdrop of Lady Bird Lake

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Parts of the trail rode out on causeways over the bends and inlets of the river.  It was a lovely day to be out kayaking, with the city skyline in the background.Image

So I’m riding along the south side of the river, and all the sudden, the trail turns left to follow a clear blue spring-fed river.  Suddenly, it looks like I’m at Blue Springs in north Florida or something.  Right in the middle of this big city!  Image

Rode alongside the blue waters of the spring-filled creek all the way to Barton Springs park, which was fenced in with a big man-made pool and cost a few $ to get in.  This swimmin’ hole just below the fenced-off area was free to swim in, and that’s where I took a nice long mid-day dip.  So refreshing!Image

Where the water flowed out of the developed pool part of the springs, there was a cute little waterfall.  It was extremely refreshing to sit back against the edge of it and let the water pound over your head. Image

Amazing to find such an idyllic spot in the middle of a big city.  I could have spent all day here, but I had more riding to do and a plane to catch.Image

Farewell Barton springs, ’till next time I’m in Austin (which hopefully won’t be too long– I’m definitely going back to this part of the country, and will bring the boys next time)Image

Along the ride home, I came across a drainage ditch filled with the sort of roadside flowers I’ve been seeing out in the countryside all week.  It looked like it had been entirely full of water a few days ago, but had drained, and the wildflowers were in serious bloom.  I was glad to get a chance to examine them at a speed less than 60 mph.Image

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I’ll leave you with this one final photo of wildflowers in an Austin drainage ditch.  Goodbye Austin, goodbye Texas, time to board a plane back to ol’ Virginny.Image

 

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May 28- paradise, Texas

On Sunday, I fled the ranch for the comforts of an Austin hotel, then went out for another night of drinking and bar-hopping.  By Monday morning, I was ready for some r&r.  A friend who lives in town took us all out to Krause springs, an absolutely delightful swimmin’ hole about 45 minutes outside of town in the Texas hill country.  I never expected to discover such a paradise in this part of Texas, but I’m glad I did.

Just past the front gate, they’ve got an extensive “butterfly garden,” that at this time of the year was filled with echinachea in bloom, along with dozens of other types of flowers.Image

I’ve never seen such a massive Agave outside of Oaxaca.  I guess we’re not that far from Mexico…Image

Above the garden hung about a dozen enormous sets of wind chimes.  They must have spent thousands of dollars on wind chimes over the years.  The effect of all those chimes was quite meditative.  Image

As lovely as the planted gardens were, we were there to swim in some springs, and swim we did.  At the top of the hillside was this manmade spring pool, filled with clear cold water.  Worth a quick dip, but I was more excited to get to the natural spring pool below.Image

Looking down the hill at the natural spring pool.  The water was relatively murky due to all the recent rains, but it was a delightful temperature, and was clean enough for me…Image

There was a rope swing, and a fern-laden waterfall where the springwater overflowed from the upper pool overflowed.  A better swimmin’ hole could scarcely be imagined.Image

Yours truly, trying out the rope swing (it works!)Image

It’s hard to get the scale of the waterfall in this photo, until you realize that the leaves of the elephant ear plants at top are over a foot wide.  Image

After a long and refreshing swim, I took a short walk around the area, to look at the display of wildflowers that have been brought out by the recent rains.  The wildflowers have been pretty incredible the past couple of days; mostly I’ve seen them in great masses along the roadside as I’ve gone zooming past.  It was nice to go out and see them at a slower speed.Image

Just a couple of beautiful Texas wildflowers.  I don’t know what they are, but they sure were purty.Image

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Field of semi-desert wildflowers.  Image

Walking back along the spring-fed creek, past these crazily eroded rock outcroppings.  Image

The outflow from the springs wound through an amazing forest of ancient cypress trees larger than any cypress I’ve ever seen.  Years ago, I saw some impressive ones in Corkscrew Swamp sanctuary in south Florida, but these were even more amazing.Image

The cypress on the left was almost as big around as a redwood tree at the base.  Like a redwood, the center of the tree had been burned out from multiple forest fires over the years, and only the living part just below the bark remained.Image

Many of the trees had beautiful spreading root systems,Image

After another swim in the clear upper pool, I walked a bit more through the cypress forest before heading out.  This was the largest of the trees I came across; far larger than any trees I expected to find in Texas.  Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with Krause springs, and I expect that on my next trip out this way, I’ll be bringing the family and pitching my tent in their campground for a day or three.Image

Just a couple of miles back toward Austin, we stopped at Opie’s BBQ, a famous local culinary establishment where every night they smoke up a massive pile of beef, chicken, pork, and sausage; they open at 11, and stay open until all the meat is gone.  Although somewhat off-topic, I just had to share this image of the mouth-waterin’ carnage we encountered.Image

Yup, it tasted as good as it looked.Image

May 24-26 – don’t mess with Texas

This is what I learned this week.  Not only does one not mess with Texas, one does not even joke about it, or else it is Texas that will be doing the messing with you.

Last Friday, what with meeting and greeting old friends, eating tasty tacos, and preparing for the wedding, I wasn’t getting much time in for observating, but it was all good times.  At one point, a neighbor mentioned something about the weather radar showing an approaching storm.  Over the next few hours, there was some rumbling of distant thunder, a few showers, but nothing too heavy.  In the afternoon, I went with some friends to Austin to get dinner and see the bats.  On the way, the sky turned ominous and gray (see below), and by the time we got to Austin, we were experiencing intense rainfall, although nothing more than what we’ve been getting almost every day in Virginia.

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After dinner, the rain stopped just long enough for us to go to the Congress St. bridge and watch the daily “flying of the bats,” a very cool local tourist attraction in Austin. (http://batcon.org/index.php/get-involved/visit-a-bat-location/congress-avenue-bridge.html).  Although they didn’t emerge until a while after sunset, I was still able to take some photos of the bats:Image

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Then the fun began.  We drove back to the ranch, and joined the party underway.  About 10 in the evening, it began to rain, nothing too intense, but persistent.   By the time I crawled into my tent at stupid-o-clock, I noticed that the rain had begun to drip drip its way through the fly.  Never mind, I figured I’d have plenty of time to dry things out in the morning.

During the night, the rain grew stronger and more intense.  By 9 in the morning, we were starting to experience major mud and some alarming-looking puddles.  By 10 in the morning, the puddles started joining into a continuous layer of wet.  At that point, I had driven into town in search of hot breakfast and a dry place to sit.  The rain was intense, furious, continuous.  Just running the 10 feet from the car to the door of the taqueria was a drenching experience.  We tried returning to my friend’s ranch, but the driveway was impassable; the roadside ditches had become whitewater streams and the fields had become shallow lakes.  I hadn’t expected anything like this– having packed little other than cotton t-shirts and shorts, I started growing hypothermic.  Eventually, I had to wade up the driveway, past cars mired up to their axles in mud, to deal with the waterlogged mess that my tent and clothing had become (fortunately, my laptop was inside the house, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this) .  There were many local central-Texans at the event, and all of them agreed that this was the most intense rain that they had seen in at least the last 10 years.  The wedding was postponed by several hours, as a limited number of high-clearance 4wd vehicles shuttled people out of the “campground,” which was starting to look more like a disaster zone.

I don’t have pictures for this part of the trip, as I was just trying to keep my camera dry, but by the time the storm ended, the area had received well over 10 inches of rain (not a typo) in about 24 hours, and the nearby city of San Antonio and surrounding countryside was experiencing major flooding.  CNN article with some pics at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/26/us/texas-san-antonio-flooding/index.html.

After the wedding, which, amazingly, had been successfully relocated inside at the last minute, and wound up being a raucous and joyful affair, I went back to the ranch to help a friend pack.  By the time I took these photos, it had stopped raining for a few hours; the floodwaters had receded considerably, but you can still get an idea of how bad it was.

The main kitchen/party area was still under several inches of water, which was slowly flowing through the central area.Image

After breaking down my tent, I took this photo of the sodden clearing where it had been standing.  I am quite glad that I’m not camping there anymore.Image

Although there was no longer continuous standing water over the whole ground, the woods were still semi-flooded, and the places where the water had sunk in were deep with sticky mud.Image

There was a newly-formed, slow moving creek making its way through the forestImage

The big wedding afterparty, which was going to take place out at the ranch, also had to be moved on account of several inches of standing water.Image

In several places, the ground was bubbling, as though the water was boiling.  I think that as so many millions of gallons of water was slowly saturating and making its way into the dry hard-packed ground, the air that was being displaced was pushing its way out through these bubbly “air springs.”  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  I uploaded a 10-second video to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TFQtxn4Nnc&feature=youtu.beImage

All around, there were various underground-dwelling bugs evacuating their homes, as the soil became waterlogged.  Image

Although it was a somewhat unnerving experience for animal and human alike, I know that this part of Texas has been experiencing a pretty severe drought, and that getting a foot of rain over the course of a weekend was a boon for the local plants, wildlife, and farmers.  And in the end, a fantastic time was had by all, and everything happened the way it was meant to happen.  I’m not sure what can be learned from all of this other than: don’t mess with Texas!Image

May 23 – Messin’ with Texas, part one

Flew into Texas yesterday afternoon, and now I’ve been out here for about 18 hours.  Here’s some of what I’ve observed so far:

This was the first photo I took as soon as I got out of the Austin Airport.  The first thing I thought was “oh, this is what dry air feels like.”  Not that we’re in serious desert here, and it’s still kind of humid, but compared to the swampy air of Virginia, it’s quite a contrast.

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On the hour long drive from Austin to my friend’s ranch, I was definitely made aware of the great difference between here and home.  For one, I’ve read that Texas is in the midst of a serious multi-year drought (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/DM_south.htm), and it definitely shows in the landscape.  The fields are already golden-yellow, and everything just looks parched, especially to my rain-soaked Virginia eyes.  There were a bunch of beautiful roadside wildflowers, which I hope to photograph while I’m here.

After driving through many miles of fields, scrubland, and a couple of small Texas towns, we arrived just before sunset at my friend’s ranch.  A fair amount of drinking and merriness ensued, and I was up pretty late.  Nonetheless, I got up early this morning, figuring I would do some exploring before it got too hot, then siesta in the afternoon.

Here’s what the general landscape around the ranch looks like, some scrubby oak forest…  Image

and some more open, savannah-looking areas:

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The most striking vegetational difference from Virginia is the prickly pear cactus, which is growing everywhere!Image

some of it is beginning to flower.Image

and the flowers themselves are quite beautiful.Image

After my explorations in the scrublands, I returned to the ranch, where a neighbor’s horse and mule came to pay a visit (apparently they do this quite frequently), and beg for apples.Image

One of my jobs this morning was to hand water their garden, which looks pretty good (thanks to frequent hand-watering), especially compared to the dessiccated state of the rest of the vegetation..  I was delighted to see that they had ripe tomatoes, which we aren’t going to get for another month at least at home!  Image

well, that’s all for now.  More updates to come in the days ahead…

May 21– platterful & cicadas

This is going to be a short one; once again, the hue and cry of life has gotten the best of me, at the expense of this project.   I’ve spent the past day delivering tofu, practicing with the band, and getting ready for a week long trip to Texas for a friend’s wedding.  I figured that I probably wouldn’t get much chance to do any observin’ and writing.

This afternoon, as I was on my way up to band practice, I came across a mess of mushrooms in the back yard.  A closer observation revealed that they were the “platterful” variety (Tricholomopsis platyphylla  http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Fungi_Miller_Stevens_Rumann/Pages/tricholomopsis_platyphylla_page.html)

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There were a whole mess of ’em, and they were quite large as well.  Image

I showed them to my son Sami, and he was of course quite excited about cooking and eating ’em.   That boy does love mushrooms!Image

And finally, an update on the dreaded “seventeen year cicada”–  they have definitely arrived!  Their telltale holes in the ground are visible all throughout the community, along with the dried-up husks of their first molting.  Already, it’s getting hard to avoid stepping on nasty mashed-up dead cicadas scattered here and there, being eaten by ants.  Not to mention the live ones, which, while less numerous than the dead ones and husks, are certainly not hard to find.  Their metallic screeching is audible throughout the day, but at this point it isn’t too terribly loud, mostly blending into the normal late spring Virginia cacophony of insect, bird, and frog calls.  In fact, I heard my first whippoorwill just last night, an unmistakable sign of the arrival of warm weather. Image

May 20– just another day in the merry month of May

This May, so far, has been unusually cool, and that most certainly is not a complaint.  Those who know me know that I’m much better at dealing with cold weather than hot, that “cool & gray” is usually more to my liking than “hot & sunny.”  And despite having had a nice long stretch of lovely cloudy damp days, it was inevitable that there would be a “regression to the mean,” and more typical late spring weather would prevail.

Today appeared to mark the beginning of that trend.  For the first day in a while, it didn’t rain at all, and the rising heat and humidity made it clear that summer is not too far off.  While I had to spend most of the morning finishing off the infernal index, I was on “childcare duty” for the afternoon, and I took that opportunity to do some outdoor-type chores that gave me a chance to get out and about.  Some of what I saw:

One of my afternoon chores was to mow the pathway to the pond along with the little grassy landing next to where people climb in and out of the water.  A great place to work up a sweat and then rinse it off, and a great place to observe the blooming of the pondside irises, which are at their absolute peak right now

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The path leading to the pond passes by Twin Oaks’ lone Illinois Everbearing mulberry tree, and for the first time today, I noticed a very few berries just starting to get ripe.  It won’t be long now until the mulberry feast begins!

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farther up the same path, there are some semi-wild strawberries.  That is, they were a domesticated strain of berries that was initially planted, but have since mostly been left alone to do their thing.  And they are doing it right now.  We’ve had fresh strawberries from our garden for about a week now, but these are the first ones I’ve seen from this semi-wild patch.Image

Right at the geographical center of Twin Oaks (more or less), there is a large flower garden, with many many species of flower that bloom, one after another, for the duration of the spring and early summer.  For the most part, I haven’t been including in this journal everything that is flowering in this garden, as it is so clearly “cultivated” (as opposed to wild or semi-wild).  But this rosebush, which just started blooming in the past few days, is so spectacular that I had to include a couple of photos:

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the pink blossoms are almost pornographic…

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Later in the afternoon, I decided to take a look around my backyard to see if any of the berries were ready to start picking yet (which, as it turns out, they weren’t).  I opened my door and took two steps out before doing a double take at the sight of this impressive fellow:

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He was about four feet long, and about the thickness of my arm, and all the kids in the house found him fascinating.  Quite a good looking black snake:Image

There weren’t any ripe berries in the yard– the goumi berries are starting to get close, as are the pitifully small numbers of cherries on the unhealthy-looking cherry trees.  The blueberries are looking good; hundreds (thousands?) of big berries, unfortunately they won’t be ripe for at least another month.  One of the more impressive sights in the back yard right now is this pokey-looking plant (no idea what it is), which is putting up these spikes of flowers.  I’m not sure if this is as much as it does, or if they’re going to open and be even more impressive over the next week.  I’ll keep you posted, of course. Image

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Later in the afternoon, I had to chain myself back to the computer for a couple of hours, but I was able to break free for half an hour just before dinner.  Given the copious amount of precipitation we’ve had over the past week, I figured conditions might be good to locate some of my fungal friends, so I took a quick stroll through the woods to see what I could find.  I started out walking past the shittake logs, which are looking rather impressive.  But I was searching for the wild variety, so I strolled right on by.

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Made my way down to the creek, which is chock full of runoff from all the recent rains, and looking extra-purty these days.

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Just past the creek, I came across my first Russula specimens of the year.  These are the most common mushrooms at Twin Oaks later in the season, and there are lots of closely related species which I am pretty much unable to tell apart.  I know that they are mostly not edible, so I haven’t bothered learning much about them, maybe later this year I will do some studyin’ up.  This was the first of the year, though.Image

I walked through a bit of woods with a lot of downed pine trees.  Some of them were covered with lots of soft fuzzy white mold.Image

As far as edibles, I didn’t find much other than about half a dozen Pluteus (fawn mushrooms), which seem to be the most common edible mushrooms in the woods these days.  Unfortunately, they are just kind of mediocre as far as their culinary virtues, so I didn’t even bother picking them.  Still, I guess it was nice to know I could pick them if I wanted to.Image

May 19- Goatstock!

This past Sunday, my klezmer band was invited to perform at a music festival at a goat farm far out in eastern Virginia called Goatstock.   It was a lovely afternoon, and a fine time was had by all.  Even more importantly, it gave me an ironclad excuse to spend an entire day away from my computer and the infernal index which has been sucking the soul out of my body.

Part of the afternoon was spent performing, but for the rest of the day I was free to hang out, listen to music, and wander around the premises, observing the delightful natural setting.  In no particular order, here are a few of the things I noticed:

The front yard of the farm had some truly impressive trees growing– it’s hard to get a sense of scale in this photo, but this tulip poplar must have been almost six feet across at the base, and it (like all the other tulip poplars in the area) was absolutely covered with flowers.   Image

The most dramatic visual aspect of the landscape was the mountain laurel plants which were coming into flower.  The forests were absolutely full of these bushes, and they were laden with bloom.  Here are a few photos to give a sense of just how purty the mountain laurel was on this unseasonably cool and lovely afternoon:

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Last night, after I came home, I was looking at the Wikipedia page for mountain laurel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalmia_latifolia), and, looking at the map on the page, noticed a couple of things– first, that the range of this plant stops just short of central Maine and north central Florida where I grew up, and also that Virginia is the largest state that has mountain laurel growing over the entire state–it was certainly thriving in this spot!

There was a patch of forest along one edge of the farm, and I spent a little while poking around to see what I could see.  This forest was unusual in the number of large holly trees in it, which you don’t often see in our area.  I was glad I had shoes, as the ground was covered with spiky leaves and would have been impossible to walk on barefoot.  The holly trees were  covered with tiny flowers (see below), many of which had fallen from the trees, carpeting the forest floor.  The whole forest had a strong, unmistakable odor of holly flower, sweet and pungent.Image

The farm also had two enormous fig trees, far larger than any I’ve ever seen at Twin Oaks.  The woman in charge of the farm suggested that they grow so large because the sandy soil of the tidewater area is closer to the Mediterranean soils that they are native to.  I’m not sure if that’s the reason, but they were impressively large, and already at this early season, were covered with figs the size of my fist.  Thinking about it now, I realize I should have taken a cutting from these impressive specimens to plant in my back yard!

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And, last but not least–goats!  This farm had (in addition to dogs & cats & chickens & llamas) lots of goats, some of which had given birth in the past week.  So there were a bunch of baby goats, just a few days old, and they were so CUTE!!  Just look at those cute baby goats:Image

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can there be anything on this planet cuter than frolicking baby goats?!?Image

time for nursies…Image

sign of Virginia in the spring– fenceposts completely covered in Virginia creeper…Image

we left to drive home just as it was getting dark.  After a few minutes in the car, we drove into another rainstorm, so intense that I had to slow way down, face pressed against the windshield, wipers on full blast.  It was like trying to drive through a waterfall.  When I got back to Twin Oaks, the ground was soaked and the trees were dripping after yet another day of rain.  My word, is it ever wet here in Virginia!  Maybe if I can finish this damned index, I will have a chance to go out looking for mushrooms later this afternoon…