Texas-Veggies (lovely and not-so-nice plants)

Texas has many beautiful plants. Bluebonnet flowers (Lupinus texensis), for example, are among the brief-flowering, native, spring wild-flower group that grows on roadsides and wild in open fields – stunningly beautiful. They can be cultivated in home gardens. It is the state flower and my wife loves them. We have bluebonnet photos, paintings, and glass art around our home.

Texas longhorn in a field of bluebonnets

She has requested that her ashes be scattered on a field of bluebonnets in Texas. The best bet for that is along the roadsides where their growth is encouraged. It may be the state flower, but fields of beautiful Texas wildflowers have been sacrificed for apartments and parking lots. A similar almost-as-pretty plant, called Indian Paint Brush, can be seen in the same areas.

The natural deep blue color of the bluebonnet is rare in nature. Seen in such great numbers, it is a striking sight often captured by photographers and other artists. One can even sign up for courses in bluebonnet or wildflower photography. The brief season for flowering, around March and April, varies by location and is affected by year-round weather.

Seeds cost about a penny each on Amazon; but like the Texans who claim them, this annual has a mind of its own. They are stubborn and difficult in their own way. Plant seeds in your garden and you may get nothing. Then a year or two later, have a crop pop up from the cracks in your sidewalks five feet from the lovely raised bed you prepared for them.

Bluebonnet seeds are both sensitive and tough. The hard outer-layer must be penetrated by wind, rain, and a difficult climate over months or years to germinate. This happens to the thousands of lively plants seen each Spring. I’ve never thought to smell one of the wildflowers. But while some say it has no aroma, others have described it as a “sickly sweet” smell.

Bluebonnets can be cultivated, but like many things Texas, they can take-over, get in the way of progress, and be obnoxious with excessive pride. Or, they can be the most beautiful of plants with the capacity to bring comfort and the artful beauty of nature into the lives of all lucky enough to see them in full bloom.

When in such glorious, colorful presentation, Texas’ fields of wildflowers attract people with children and cameras, both professional and amateur, who traipse into the fields in hopes of mixing nature’s best with human beauty to record the loveliness on a warm sunny day. Please do, but be wary. In addition to its snakes, tarantulas, chiggers, scorpions, and many other creatures of the stinging, biting, or blood-sucking classes; there may be some stinging life of the vegetation variety lurking just below the comely and attractive surface of flowers. In Texas, one must deal with reality or experience the consequences.

Prickly Pear Cactus with fruit

When my wife and I speak of the prickly pear, we seldom add the word cactus until some innocent soul asks, “What’s that?” One must not consider one’s self as a true Texan, native or immigrant, until one has felt the unforeseen touch of this ubiquitous and annoying plant. The painful and itching touch of prickly barbs that grow abundantly on most varieties is a lesson to be learned from experience. I swear that these pricks can reach out and swipe the legs of any innocent passerby at will. I can hear the merciless, nasty chuckles of the evil bastards even now. There are some needless varieties.

Mule Ear Prickly Pear Cactus

To be fair, the nopales cactus is the most common form and can easily be found throughout desert regions (or anywhere) of the southern US, from Florida to California. It has beaver tail-like thick leaves (although I have seen other shapes, such as the mule-ear variety), and the term prickly pear actually refers to its fruit, a bright neon colored ball that screams “eat me” to cattle. The cow eats it, fails to digest the seeds, passes same with a nice moist cow patty, and a new plant is born. Millions of prickly cacti have started life, literally in a nutritious pile of cow shit.

Cow Patty

The good news is that both the leaves and fruit of the prickly pear plant are edible for both animals and humans. I have eaten the leaves (needleless or needles removed) cut up in scrambled eggs, and I would again if it’s on the menu. Eating the red fruit has been described as a cross between all-natural bubble gum and watermelon. I may try it. The liquid is used for many tasty dishes (see recipes on line).

Stinging Nettles

While Texas probably has the most prickly-pear cactus, it has other unpleasant surprises for your body growing among the lovelies of the field. Stinging nettle is common, annoying, and can be found in other places around the world. More is hidden, lurking in the fields, but other demons are not hidden at all.

Mesquite Tree grove

When Lady Bird Johnson said to, “Plant a tree, a bush, or a shrub,” I feel certain that she did not mean for us to plant a mesquite (pronounced meh-skeet), which can be any of the three. I don’t understand why anyone would plant a prickly pear cactus in their flower bed as a decorative or ornamental, but they do. Anyone, and in Texas for sure, who would deliberately plant a mesquite is either some type of dirt or plant scientist doing research, or a fool. The well-deserved nick name for the mesquite tree is the Devil Tree.

If the normally unwanted cactus is a pox on the Texas landscape, the mesquite tree is a scourge. Yes, the bean pods are edible. The spread of this plague is due to the same pear chomping bovine eating the seed pods or beans, and then crapping out the impossible to digest seeds. Seeds in pods (or beans) can lie dormant for up to 40 years waiting for the right conditions and time to sprout. I wonder how many mesquites have spouted from the rotting carcasses of dead longhorns.

Mesquite seed pods

I have read that mesquite beans have a sugary coating making them quite tasty. I’ve not experienced that taste. Of the 40 species of mesquite, only 7 grow in Texas, the most common being the poorly named honey mesquite. Yet, of the 167.5 million acres that make up this state, honey mesquite flourishes on 56 million of those acres. That means that 76% of all mesquite in America is living in Texas. On any drive through the Texas outback, one can find standing dead mesquite, poisoned with spray herbicides. Owners will have the dead plants bull-dosed and burned. But, the mesquite will return. It’s not that easy to kill the Devil Tree.

Mesquite Tree Thorns

With roots to Hell (or to China, according to my wife), delicate feathery leaves similar to those of a mimosa tree, wood only good for burning in bar-b-que grills or just burning (yes, some shabby, not-so-chic furniture has been made), and nasty thorns up to 3 inches long; the Texas mesquite tree, bush, or shrub is here to stay – useless and as annoying as the sting of a scorpion, but going nowhere soon.

“A native Texan once told me that Texas is one of the most inhospitable places to humans on the planet, coming in just behind Australia. He said that because he believed that Texas has more poisonous critters, and more vegetation that has briars and thorns and poisonous saps than any other place on Earth – except Australia. I do not know if that is true, but I do know that Texas has its share (and maybe a little more) of all the things that man talked about.” ~ C E Clark, read more here.

 

In the midst of incredible beauty, look both ways.
Mind the gaps, the thorns, the barbs, and the stingy-thingies.

Advertisements

Watchout for Critters

Texas Road Runner

According to my on-line dictionary, “critter” is among the bottom half of words for popularity. Texas has them. Lots of them. Most aren’t human, they love it here, and many are annoying and dangerous. Texas wildlife is abundant and diverse, but “Critters of Texas” is also the name of a very large exterminating service. What’s that tell ya?

The Bugs and Bats

I’ve talked about the mosquitoes. Just a few miles west of were we stay in New Braunfels, TX, there are fewer flying insects to annoy us at night. The town of Bracken is there, and near that town is Bracken Bat Cave. From March to October, roosting in that cave is the largest colony of bats in the world: 15 to 20 million Mexican free-tailed critters (32 other species of bat reside in Texas).

Each Spring and Summer evening the Bracken bats exit the cave mouth, flying out in a dark cloud (which is visible on the FAA radar) as they go out for dinner (bats do not like to cook). They chow down on the menu of flying bugs after snatching them out of the air, and go all the way to Mexico and back each night. Thus, fewer bugs. The immigration folks don’t seem to mind. Apparently, they have no desire for our jobs and we sure don’t want theirs.

Crawling creatures, especially bugs, are in ample supply here. It seems like every kind of roach and beetle call the Lone Star State home. But the real scourges are invaders from South America – a tiny ant and a bee.

These Brazilian bastards are called fire ants because their sting burns like fire. They are fast, aggressive, prolific, fearless, and virtually indestructible. There must be billions of them. They range from North Carolina to Texas, and have been found in other places as far west as California. Fire ants are virtually everywhere in this state. Chemical warfare has failed. A species of fly has been imported that lays an egg on the ants. After hatching, the larva eats the head of the ant. Feel free to fact check that.

If you step on a fire ant den, they attack quickly and viciously. First, they will cover half your leg, then you’ll feel an annoying itch. Before you are fully aware of your folly, the stings are setting in and your language changes to the cries of the victim. Anaphylactic shock is common and about 5% of fire ant attacks in the US are fatal.

Even hurricane Harvey and all the flooding did little harm to fire ants.

View from our back deck. Chemical warfare on fire ants has failed.

Don’t even get me started on the killer bees, another gift from our South American neighbors.

The Snakes

I don’t like snakes. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s Eve and the forbidden fruit thing, but I have never been comfortable eye-to-eye with a long limbless reptile with no eyelids. It seems there are three kinds of snakes: non-venomous, venomous, and extremely venomous. Texas has an ample supply of all three. Even in mid-October, it’s still warm enough here for snakes, but I am not looking for that kind of companionship.

This weekend, we are on the outskirts of Colorado City, TX, just 30 miles west of Sweetwater, TX, home of the largest rattlesnake roundup in the country — probably in the world. I know snakes are virtually everywhere, I simply have come to associate Texas with snakes. A few years ago, my wife killed a coral snake in pool area of our back yard. We lived in burbs of San Antonio at the time. That’s too close.

The Lizards

Again, Texas shares its lizardry with the rest of the American Southwest. But one, called the horny toad (a name I have always liked), is as cool as it is ugly. My apologies to all supporters, students, and alumni of Texas Christian University (TCU), in Fort Worth, aka ‘Cowtown,’ for the disparaging comment regarding the attractiveness of their school mascot. I took at least 12 semester hours of master’s level coursework there. So, while I spent my time as a horned frog, and while have been called either a toad or horny, my time in your school was the one experience putting the two words together about me.

On my walk yesterday, I set out to find one. I did, but it was ‘itty-bitty’ (small). The state’s population of these harmless creatures is on the decline due in no small part to fire ants. It seems like the Brazilian bastards do not like harvester ants and the invaders destroy the native ants. Harvester ants are the main food supply for horney toads. Another problem for the lizards and the good ants is the continued prevalence and misuse of pesticides. But that is caused by ignorant invader toads of the two-legged variety.

Special Critters

These are the mysterious, adventurous, and lovely semi-wild creatures who refer to me as ‘Opa,’ and call Yolonda ‘Oma.’ More to come on that, but they also live in Texas.

When doing yer walkabout in Texas, look both ways,
especially in the wild.
Know this, there be critters lurking in the gaps, so mind them.

Signs Yer in Texas

I’m on thin ice here. Texas is different and the natives (Texans) not only insist on it, Texas Pride demands it with few boundaries. It was also 86-cents a 6-pack beer when I was in college. I married a Texas girl, all my kids were born here, and they all read my dribble.

Before traveling, people asked if we or our family lived anywhere near Houston and the flooding from hurricane Harvey. We are about 150 miles west of Houston, so family was on the outer bands of the storm—no damage or flooding, just rain.

Things from my morning walk…

Barbed wire (called “bob-war” in Tex-speak) may be useful for controlling cows, but it’s annoying and dangerous to humans. Putting up such fencing when it’s unnecessary is foolish, but they do it. And they run that miserable prison shit-wire right into the river. WTF is the point of that? There is not a farm, farm animal, ranch, or cow within miles. This is an in-town resort with people and kids. The state motto is “Friendship,” but nuthin’s friendly about that wire. And don’t give me that “good fences-good neighbors” crap. Pointed wire bits that can rip your skin off is not good, neighborly, or friendly.

Texas highways have the best signs. Some are funny. Like up by Moran, a little dry-spot of a town of four or five hundred hardy souls. “Moran next four exits.” It is not on an interstate, there are no exits, and you drive through town. If ya blink, ya miss it. Sarcasm and I love it. Better yet, “Moran Yacht Club Next Right.” There is no yacht club, no water or lake, just cactus and tumbleweed, residents with a sense of humor, and one joker who works for the highway department.

So, as I entered Cypress Bend Park on my walk this morning, I got a chuckle out of the signs at the entrance.

Don’t you dare pop that top until your ass is off our grass. The Guadalupe is kinda green now, but I bet it’s a high yellow color during the summer months.

Know what state you are in. And in this one, fear the sun. And for god’s sake, smile as you fry.

WTF is a “volume drinking device?” Do we need signs to remind us not to jump to our death? Lock yer cooler, the fish are thirsty.

It is not only the heat that is brutal in Texas. The norm for rain is the accompaniment of loud thunder and deadly lightning. Do the peeps here really need signs reminding them to use common sense? Seriously?

If you aren’t concealed (gun) carry licensed in Texas, you must be a namby-pamby liberal Yankee. Thus, if you visit the state capitol, you must pass through the metal detector. That is not required for the 80% who work there and are so-licensed. We know you’re carrying, so just go ahead.

Open carry is also common virtually everywhere in Texas and a gun rack in your pickup is standard, if not required, equipment.

But listen here, Cowboy. Do not open that beer until you’re “feet wet.” And above all, do not dare to open-carry your own bar-b-que grill into this here park. That would be dangerous. Comprehendo, Sundance? (Said the sheriff with a big smile.)

See? Thin ice. I will hear about this.

Look both ways for an easy way through those barb wire fences.
Mind the gaps and don’t jump off the bridges sober.

Along the Guadalupe

After putting this on Facebook, I decided that it may make a nice blog read. We are spending the month of October in Texas. Western Washington State, where we currently live, and south-central Texas are vastly different in climate, geography, and culture. Even the Mexican food here is different (called Tex-Mex). We are “from” Texas. Wife is native-born and I’m a damn-Yankee (she always said it’s one word) transplant. We are staying near the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels. What follows documents my last adventure walking her banks.

I added bug spray to our Wally World shopping list. On my walk this morning, I realized that “humid” is not the same everywhere. Here, it’s oppressive and crushingly heavy, even at 75 degrees. I fed the Texas mosquitos. I plan to heed the signs I’ve seen warning of the illnesses caused by fighting the “battle of the bite.” I wonder how my blood mixed with BP meds and Plavix made the skeeters feel. They were picking on me cuz my thin blood is an easy suck and swallow.

Near a local veteran’s place, I passed a fowl pair, one of whom gave me ample verbal warning. I was not plagued by attack from the VFW ducks cuz after I told them that I had friends who graduated from Oregon U., they let me pass.

It rained nicely during my walk and I enjoyed it. The rain was pleasant for here; no down-pouring buckets or lightening, which is the norm. I got wet; not soaked by the much-appreciated morning gift from the “friendship” state. I was not okay with the hungry insects.

As I was walking along with the wet grass and bushes brushing against my bare legs, I saw the sign: “Warning: Poison Ivy.” Oh, great; right? Maybe the ivy’s growth was restricted to that one little patch? Or, maybe the rain washed the poison off. I saw two men walking toward me. They both had fishing rods and hunting a good spot to wet their lines. I pointed to the sign and said, “Now they tell me.” They had a good laugh.

The last time I fished, I had much more hair and many fewer wrinkles. Long ago, I decided it was too much trouble and way too much of nothing else.

 

Apparently, trees have numbers for names in these parts. I met Mr. 2292 and his family (the Cupressaceaes) on my walk. He didn’t tell me why he is called a “bald cypress” (Taxodium Distichium) when he is clearly not bald. But that name sounds like a character in a dystopian book, right? And they say Latin is a dead language—ppffftt! (Bald is cuz they lose their leaves in winter; something no self-respecting Distichium does.)

I did not see Chris and Mona Lisa, who were inspired to write their names on one of the cypress to advertise their love. I hope that works out for all concerned, but I’m betting the tree outlasts the love.

The “no diving” sign at the pool makes the reason very clear. Ouch! I think I still liked fishing the last time I dove into a swimming pool.

I saw this quote to share with you: “Grief is love with nowhere to go.”

Have a good day.

Look both ways. Once you see the poison ivy sign, it may be too late.
Mind the gaps, the water’s cold.

Poetry – Kaleidoscopic Transitions 1

We think it good, we think it bad,
we think it happy, we think it sad.
Transitions gap our evolving life.
Changes are scary,
transformations are mad.

Everything changes.

Born into kaleidoscope
with passion we creep,
from stumbling blocks
to stepping stones
we eventually leap,
crossing mortared passages
through well-tuned segues
our unplanned journey
continually changes.

First babes, then as children,
we transform into teens,
with hormones and zits
and other strange things.
To walk and to talk,
of this life we wonder,
what it all means
we continue to ponder.

Everything changes.

Back to the womb
we desire to go.
As we learn of the changes
we continue to grow,
but kaleidoscope says
the answer is no.

Thru constant transitions
always more progress.
Life brings us new lessons
and dappled confessions;
how excited we get
as we look for more color.

We twist the scope faster
by leaving the nest,
then we see it in others
that desire for best,
we discover ourselves
as never before, we are
with all the transitions
still frozen by fear
of uncertainty we abhor.

Everything changes.

What is our purpose?
Why are we here?
Why do these changes
bring us such fear?
Back to the past
or into the future;
Where do we go?
What must we know?
Need we keep changing
as we continue to grow?

Everything changes while
the gaudy scope turns.
We fear the next spin
and where it might end.
Continue we must
with this prismatical game,
long into life
and well after birth.

Because everything always changes. It’s never the same.

Bill Reynolds 9/25/2017

Up from the colors, stare into the gaps.
Look both ways at life’s many changes.

What Writing Rut?

I get it.

It’s not me. It’s you. Okay, it’s me!

I am feeling uninspired now, and have for months. I think I whined on this before. Is there such a thing as very uninspired? I have no idea if I can place a degree on it, like on a scale from one-to-ten. I know I’m okay, not panicked. I have ideas and I work on them. But I think other things (forces?) in my non-writing life are short-circuiting my writing and the transmissions from mind to this keyboard. Or maybe my mind is a void. I just can’t seem to complete what I want to do.

I can start things, but then I mentally bog down. I worked on several poems, some of which I have been picking at for weeks. After about an hour of working on one or more in my uninspired condition, I feel like the poems and I are both considerably worse off. I would get more done if I’d watched TV instead of playing writer, editor, or poet. The strange part is that no one else seems to think anything is wrong with me or my craft. Is what I feel something normal? Wife says it’s writer’s block. Could it be because the creative climb is too steep, and I’m using this dryness as an excuse? I continue to write something every day. Oh, poor pitiful me. My WordPress account is rusting.

I think about reading – but what? Books on writing or poetry? I’m honestly not in the mood for that either. I prefer to listen to music, but I haven’t been able to listen to music while I read or write in years. Music inspires me. Reading also inspires. Multi-tasking confuses me.

It’s been raining, normally that would help. I’m not tired. I wish I could write and finish what I start. But, I am writing. I want something inspirational. Maybe a few good lines in the poems, or perhaps I could drum up a coherent essay. How about writing a self-help blog on what to do when you are uninspired? Elizabeth Gilbert and my poet friend, Sue, would tell me that I am not being open to inspiration from the cosmos. I disagree. Okay, maybe they’re right. Assuming they are, then what? Hello, Cosmos of Inspiration, I am open here. Can we do a few lines? Not those kinds of lines – poetry. Prose, I suppose.

I read a couple of those ‘ta-da!’ blogs with all the answers before writing this. Seriously? Seven things to do when you feel uninspired. What a joke! How many ways can people come up with to say, “don’t be uninspired.” Get busy, they say. Fuck you, I say. Seriously. I’m not saying no to the inspirational meta-verse. If I could get busy (pause and sigh). Well, don’t they think I tried that? Ya know what I would like to do? I think I should drink. Get drunk and write, what I call “doing a Hemmingway.” I may not get anything constructive done, but I won’t care. Maybe a wee dab of doobie?

It’s Sunday. Okay, it was. I don’t know what day it is. But I would like to go to a bar, sit and sip a fine pint, and listen to some moron bitch and complain about some totally unimportant and irrelevant shit. I have no idea why that might help improve my writing dilemma. But something in me feels like listening to some neggy-Ned, so I can roll my eyes and feel superior to him (Nelly, if it be a her). I could say, “You think that’s bad? I can’t even finish a damn little poem!” Maybe I’d have a little crappy cryin’ in my beer C&W session, or some fine R&R music playing in the background. It would not inspire me and the only thing I would feel better about would be the contents of my stomach and a wee tingle in my semi-functional brain.

The thing is, I’m not bored. I am really quite fine (but, MS Word is trying to piss me off by underlining that and telling me that really and quite are unnecessary words, and it’s working. But I ain’t changing shit.). Here’s my plan.

I will go see what wife has on the flat screen. I will watch for a while, then excuse myself and head out for some nearby watering trough. I will sit there and pretend to write, or maybe read, but I’ll be people watching and eavesdropping. If you walk in and some old fart has a notepad out and is sort of eyeballing everyone, while sipping a tall, dark stout (beer with the appearance of coffee, the taste of chocolate, and a head like a coke), and jamming with some oldie tunes, just wave. If you even nod and pout a shallow grin, you’ll make my pages. Congrats. Now where’s me keys?

Look both ways on good days and bad.
Mind the gaps, but don’t let them live in your head.

 

Poetry: A Strain of Madness

The pathetic bitch just lay before my eyes,
we each blamed the other for her horrible lines.
I had once dreamed of her as a flawless beauty,
but her loveliness was soon all too fleeting.
Everything about her soon disgusted me.

She beamed as I hacked away and mutilated her.
Such beatings were horrible, she no longer was fair,
not lovely as once I’d imagined. She was my obsession,
she had to be better, no – I demanded perfection.
I swore at her, insulted her, I’d not let her rest.

Her excruciating pain was caused by my emasculation,
as I twisted her limbs, she bled and cried out my damnation.
I never shed tears. I was her god, her creator; I owned her.
Angered I was, by what she’d become in my hands.
No longer did she sing her sweet angelic song.

Her nightmare was my blind fury. As her cruel and ruthless master,
I swore obscenities and pointed out her flaws; her heart was shattered.
I pondered her shredding – me killing her. Where could I hide?
Should I kill us both? Maybe that was it; murder-suicide.
Thus ending our miserable suffering, both would just die.

Without me, she would not exist. Mutilation continued;
I hacked off pieces, yet that suffering twaddle endured.
I attached new members, only to rip them away as crap;
I ignored her cries for mercy as I tossed her limbs as scrap,
replacing them with her rip-torn skin; still oozing blood.

Was her beauty hidden or gone? I ripped at her face.
She was mine to mold, to satiate my perverted desires.
Everything, from her disfigured hair flowing down
to her awkward stumbling feet, was to gratify me.
Her suffering would end with my metered pleasure.

I deemed us inhuman. A mere dullard of life, all that she was.
Her reasons for existing were meeting my ruthless demands.
She failed. Each day I emptied myself into her, more beatings.
Her tolerance for my impatience stroked her pleasurable feelings,
her loving and caring endurance infuriated me all the more.

I was disgusted. All that time. All the work. All our suffering.
Yet, lain before me that pathetic little twat blamed me.
Exhausted, I thought this would be the end for us both.
Barely breathing, her heart murmuring along with mine,
our time together had neared its end, soon it was done.

One final scream! And then; calmly I stared, feeling a bit proud.
My anguish gone, I muttered the sounds of her words aloud
just as she set them before me. Slowly, she began to change.
That poisonous little worm became my lovely butterfly.
She smiled at me. Then she pouted, both sensuous and shy.

We reached out to each other one final time.
Soon, she would be with eternity, but somehow still mine.
I wept as my pleasure mixed with regret and my sorrow.
After setting her release for after sunrise, tomorrow,
I abandoned my poor little poem to whatever might follow.

Bill Reynolds, 9/4/2017

Know the gaps and mind them well. Look both ways, or deal with hell

But he who, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple of art – he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman. ~ Plato, Phaedrus

Hence poetry implies either a happy gift of nature or a strain of madness. Aristotle, Poetics

Love the art, poor as it may be, which thou hast learned, and be content with it, making thyself neither the master nor the servant of any man. ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book Four