Lost Maples’ Sycamores

American Sycamore on the grounds of the Lost Maples Winery

In spring, people flocking to the Texas hill country in search of bluebonnets sometimes arrive too early or too late to see the bloom at its height. In certain years, the flowers are sparse at best, and the sense of human disappointment becomes palpable.

The same is true at Lost Maples State Natural Area, where the autumn color of Bigtooth maples draws visitors from across Texas. The New England-like foliage can be spectacular, but timing is everything. The need to reserve a date for a visit because of crowds — as many as 80,000 visitors in a six-week period — complicates things, since even the most glorious display of color can be swept away by overnight winds.

Still, if the maples have lost their color, other delights remain. During my recent visit, I especially enjoyed the American sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis). A tall tree, capable of attaining heights up to a hundred feet, the sycamore often is found along creek and river banks, as well as in floodplains. The most striking feature of the tree is its bark: white in younger trees, aging into a darker gray-brown, patchy, and peeling bark that resembles camouflage in the older.

Leaves of the sycamore and Bigtooth maple are similar in shape; size is often the quickest way to distinguish them. Here, a hollow log serves to display a collection of smaller maple leaves and an especially nice example from a sycamore.

Even the smallest sycamore sapling can produces glorious leaves, as this example from the Sabinal riverbank proves.

In Can Creek, dozens of sycamore leaves bobbed and floated; in the shallow waters, a few were caught and held by the creekbed’s pebbles and rocks, and glimmered in the late afternoon light.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Taste of Tradition From Turkey, Texas

Through uncounted years, I spent the Thanksgiving holiday in the Texas hill country. Sometimes I served dinner at a little cabin in the woods; from time to time, I joined friends up on the ridge, or out at Cypress or Upper Turtle Creeks.

The menu was simple as the day itself. Conversation supplanted football, and late afternoon walks in the woods were common. Evenings meant music: homemade, often inelegant, but resonant with the sound of Texas traditions. There were guitars, and sometimes a fiddle or mandolin. Invariably, the music led to dancing and singing, and more than a few back porches became dancehalls for the night.

It was our tradition.

In a book titled Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton once wrote:

Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.

Today, Bob Wills and his Playboys are gone, as are many of the hill country musicians I knew and loved. But the music lives on, and in hidden corners of Texas, that music will be playing today. It’s possible that a two-step might break out in the yard, or that someone still sitting on the steps might begin singing along. 

After all, it’s our tradition.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Caught Up in Her Work

Orchard Orb-Weaver (Leucauge venusta)

 

Even people who fear or dislike spiders often admire the beauty of their dew-covered webs. For the spiders themselves, the web’s purpose is more practical than aesthetic — a way of sensing predators, or catching dinner — but it’s fun to imagine them stopping to admire their handiwork from time to time. 

Finding a web isn’t difficult, but surprising a spider in the process of building or repairing a web is less common. On a late, cloudy afternoon, this colorful orb-weaver was putting her practical skills to use in an especially pleasing way.

 

Comments always are welcome.