A New Year, a New Pond, and New Possibilities

My New Year’s Day destination

Whether this water-filled depression truly is a pond, I can’t say. It may be akin to a vernal pool, filling and drying as conditions change. Whatever its nature, I’ve passed the spot for years without being aware of its existence, until autumn helped to open the view and a pathway to its edge became visible.

Of course I named it immediately, and if the name ‘Walden West’ seems too obvious, it felt appropriate. I’ve never seen a New England pond, let alone Walden itself, but certain characteristics of this watery depression and the woods surrounding it — isolated, self-contained, unpublicized — suggested it as the basis for a year-long project dedicated to documenting the nature of a single place and its seasonal changes.

Vibrant poison ivy at the water’s edge

When I discovered the spot last Sunday, frustration limited my explorations somewhat. I’d been distracted, and set off for the day without putting a card in my camera — a fact I discovered only after attempting to capture the view shown in the photo at the top of the page. Two hours from home and an hour away from being able to purchase another card, it seemed that photos of my new spot would have to wait.

Then, I remembered my camera phone, and Sunshine came to the rescue. Once I’d learned to keep my fingers away from the lens and queried the search engine a dozen or so times, all was well.

Lichen (possibly Usnea spp.) on a fallen limb

Today, I’ll be returning to my ‘new’ pond; it seems a perfect destination for a new year. With a card already in my camera and an open path awaiting, new discoveries are inevitable: a truth that Thoreau, that other Walden-lover, knew so well.

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct.
It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!
I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Flower for Every Fly

Butterflies, cucumber beetles, the occasional dragonfly, and various species of native bees still roam our fields and marshes, accompanied by a few industrious spiders and entirely too many mosquitoes.

What seem to have disappeared in recent weeks are the syrphid flies (Syrphidae, spp.). Also known as hover flies or flower flies, the tiny, fast-flying creatures often are found feeding on the nectar and pollen of flowers. Unlike many insects we commonly call flies, the hoverfly belongs to the order Diptera, or true flies; the name ‘Diptera’ refers to the fact that they possess only two wings.

I’m quite fond of syrphid flies, so it delighted me to find this one hovering away on Christmas day, enjoying the gift of a vibrant and pollen-rich firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella).

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Tree With the Lights In It

Loblolly and Light

After spending a few hours on the Big Thicket’s Pitcher Plant and Turkey Creek trails last Sunday,  I nearly had regained the trailhead when I looked up, searching for bits of autumn color in the still mostly green trees.

Instead of color, a vision of what I first imagined to be an enormous orb-weaver’s web stopped me in my tracks. There was no larger-than-life spider lurking, of course. There was only a loblolly pine, and the sun, and a phenomenon I’d never before seen. Despite their apparently random distribution, the pine needles had transformed the light into a beautifully circular pattern; it was nature, not my camera, that had created the effect.

At the time, I didn’t think anything at all; I only stood, and wondered at the sight. Later, I remembered a favorite passage from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and realized I’d been granted my own vision of a tree with the lights in it.

One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. 
Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.  I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it.  The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

 

Comments always are welcome.
NOTE: I consulted Jim Ruebush, who taught physics for years, and here’s what he had to say about the effect: ““In the fully enlarged image, the pine needles radiate out in all directions. But, the only ones that reflect brightly to the camera direction are aligned circumfully (if that is not a word, it is now) to the sun. Their surfaces act like long narrow mirrors. Needles aligned any other way don’t reflect brightly to the camera.” Or, to the human eye!

Lagniappe for Lagniappe

Home of Ferdinand Lindheimer ~ Father of Texas Botany
New Braunfels, Texas

In 2017, as my interest in native plants and prairies began to develop, I created this second blog as a place to share images of the flowers, grasses, and creatures that increasingly intrigued me. Meant only as ‘lagniappe’ — a little something extra for myself and for interested readers of The Task at Hand — it became much more: a tool of discovery; a way to hone photographic skills; and a way to satisfy my own curiosity about the new worlds I’d begun to encounter.

When I announced my intention to begin a new blog to readers of The Task at Hand, one commenter wondered how maintaining two blogs would go for me. How it’s gone, at least from my perspective, is wonderfully well. It’s been a good bit of work –especially if you include travel time! — but the knowledge I’ve gained from my readers and from others has equaled the enjoyment my explorations have brought.

What I never expected was that Lagniappe would be gifted some lagniappe of its own. When I learned this blog would receive the Native Plant Society of Texas’s Digital Media Award for 2021, it would be an understatement to say I was shocked.  Only the arrival of my plaque** made the award seem tangible and real.

During the awards ceremony on October 9, another surprise was yet to come. A yearly photo contest invites entrants to submit one photo from each of Texas’s twelve ecoregions. In 2019, I sumitted three photos; last year, I submitted four. This year, having traveled more extensively, I was able to submit photos from five regions; of those five, four were declared winners.

Once the awards ceremony was over and the excitement had died down, a friend asked if I was going to set any new goals for myself. Laughing, I told her I planned only to continue as I have in the past: traveling the state, learning more about our native plants, and becoming more skilled as a photographer. Then, I paused. “Maybe next year,” I said, “I’ll be able to submit photos from seven ecoregions.”

 

Comments always are welcome.
** Observant readers may have noticed that the title on the plaque isn’t “Lagniappe,” but the blog’s tagline. A new, ‘edited’ plaque is on its way, and I’ll update the image when it arrives.

Sleek, Silky, and Semi-Spiky

Canna glauca buds ~ Brazoria County

Water Canna (Canna glauca), sometimes known as Louisiana Canna, is native to only a few southern states: Brazoria and Matagorda counties in Texas, several Louisiana parishes, and single counties in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. Found primarily along the margins  of marshes, swamps, and ponds, it’s an impressive plant that can attain a height of six feet.

The genus name is rooted in the Greek word kanna, meaning reed. The specific epithet also comes from the Greek; glaukos gave rise to glauca, which refers to the grayish-blue color of the leaves. 

One of several September-blooming plants at the San Bernard Refuge ~ Brazoria County

Cannas commonly are propagated by dividing their underground rhizomes. Some gardening sites note that the rhizomes can be overwintered in the ground if the temperatures remain above 40F (or 50F, depending on the website). They’ve been described as temperamental, easily lost if not kept in perfect conditions, but these plants seem to have weathered last February’s freeze perfectly well.

The plants can be grown from seed. Once the flowers are spent, clusters of green, spiky pods that remind me of dog chew toys develop. The pods usually contain one to three large, black seeds which can be harvested after the pods become dry.

Fresh and dried Canna seed pods ~ Brazoria County

The transformation of the plant from one stage to another is remarkable and interesting to witness. In mid-September, I found buds galore still emerging; with luck, more photos of the flowers themselves will be possible before their season is ended.

 

Comments always are welcome.