1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8-9, 10-11-12 Ladybugs At The Ladybug Picnic

That’s a song I learned in the 70s as a child, watching Sesame Street. All the counting songs are forever imbedded in my brain, often hitting the needle at 3am as I awaken, and playing in my head as I do what middle-aged folks do at least twice each early morning.

Everybody likes ladybugs, no? They don’t sting. Their shape and color are pleasing, and they can eat thousands of insects in their lifetimes, so more power to them. Plus, they are polka dotted like a jaunty spring umbrella! This one seemed to enjoy our oak tree just fine. Sadly, the ice storm in February killed many of our trees, and this one was felled by a chainsaw last week, ne’er more to be walked upon by ladybug legs.

Into The Valley Of The Mallee

Herald Sun

During WWII, Australia, like many countries, forced citizens to ration supplies. While fuel was rationed, wood was not, so these Australians used all manner of buggy to tote mallee root home. Never heard of mallee root? Well, it’s the rootstock of a mallee tree, of the genus Eucalyptus, which we’ve all heard of, because we picture koalas snug in their branches. And you probably have zero where you live. But Down Under, it was used to burn, like charcoal. Not a pretty sight, but functional.

Four springs ago, a competition was held for biggest mallee root, and this entry from Tooleybuc (a glorious name) was just shy of winning. However, it was more photogenic than the winner, so please enjoy what appears to be a sports bra hanging from its upper root.

But mallee isn’t just for drying skivvies. No indeed. At the mallee root festival in Ouyen, guests witness root tossing competitions. Whoever throws a 9 kilo (nearly 20 lb) stump the furthest, wins. I suppose when they’re done, they can simply set fire to all the mallee and be done with it.

And if you were lucky enough to win the event’s root lotto, you could later enjoy the evening in the honeymoon suite at the Patchewollock Pub. Who knew pubs had suites? Well, this one even has murals.

Their Facebook site reads like another language:

The Dry and Flynn Gurry this Saturday night… Fairy floss and snacks available. Enter paddock next to the pub via Federation Street near the truck stage.”

Pardon me?

What Eating Feels Like When You Have COVID

Blah. Everything tastes like cardboard, which is to say, almost nothing. The unfortunate thing is that sometimes, you’ll get an inkling of salt or of sour, but without context of other flavors, it’s just a nasty taste on your tongue. So you look like mopey Barbara here, a four-year-old hybrid gibbon, back in September of 1948, when this National Geographic image came out.

You might hate on zoos, but Barbara’s mother decided she wasn’t too keen on her offspring and refused to feed her. So without the keeper to spoon feed her, she would have certainly perished. Like a human, she sucked her thumb and played with a rattle. And I imagine she took that bottle there as well.

The Hungry Pájaros

Ever since last month’s ice storm, the surviving birds have been in search of food. Normally at this time of year, trees would be budding, flowers blooming in the sea of verdant spring to which we are accustomed. Not this year. Everything is dead or brown. Or both. Our palm tree lost all its dozen fronds. Our oaks remain frozen in time, covered in ugly brown leaves that will not fall. The earth itself doesn’t know what season it is. It’s the ugliest I’ve ever seen Texas in my life because it was the coldest and the iciest it had ever been.

However, the cottonwood tree has begun putting out these yellow pods, for which the birds have gone crazy.

I’ve never seen so many birds on the branches of our cottonwood before. They stay for several minutes, then fly off, just as another drove comes to feast.

I do hope things will soon return to normal, in every sense of the word.

I

My, What Lovely Scales You Have!

by Anthony Stewart for Nat Geo 9/48

Curator of fishes, the vested Dr. Leonard Schultz, takes measurements of a parrotfish from Bikini Atoll in 1948. Bikini Atoll is a coral reef in the Marshall Islands, whose inhabitants were relocated in 1946, after which the islands and lagoon were the site of 23 nuclear tests by the United States until 1958. Before and after the Navy’s blasts, 70,000 marine life specimens were collected for testing, some of which you see in jars behind the good doctor. At this point, they had determined that surviving fish showed no anatomical changes, but they were concerned about future sterility and abnormal growths caused by radiation. The article states that “eventually, with the passage of time, the fish population will return to normal.”

getty images

While fish returned, the Atoll’s residents did not. In March 1946, the residents gathered their personal belongings and  were transported 125 miles eastward to the uninhabited Rongerik Atoll, one-sixth the size of Bikini Atoll. A deep-rooted traditional belief that the island was haunted by the Demon Girls of Ujae, as well as inadequate food and water (and fish that made their legs go numb), made the move a complete failure. Families were moved to other islands and moved again.

In 1970, three families were resettled on Bikini island, totaling about 100 residents. But scientists found dangerously high levels of strontium-90 in well water, and the residents were carrying abnormally high concentrations of caesium-137 in their bodies. Even coconut crabs retained high levels of radioactivity and could not be eaten. Women noticed genetic abnormalities in their children. They were evacuated in 1980.

At this point, the atoll is occupied by a handful of caretakers. Marine life, despite being radioactive and sharks perhaps missing dorsal fins, seem to have thrived in the absence of humans.

We Buy Lizard

Charles Wharton for Nat Geo 9/48

Seems a bit steep for a cagwang (flying lemur), but let’s recognize that these prices are in Filipino money. A four foot sawa (python) could run you $1.50 in US money, up to $37.50 for a 28 foot specimen. Here we see two Filipino men holding a reticulated python and a crested serpent eagle.

Cedar Waxwings Flummoxed By Snowvid Armageddon

Bird dynamics have been FUBAR during this frozen apocalypse. They appear to be much more sociable than in days of yore, flocking together and flying from icicle tree to icicle tree, wondering what in the name of the holy mother is going on. I know they are cedar waxwings because their little wingtips appear to have been dipped in red and yellow paint, and they wear that black mask which conveys a sense of outrage at Nature’s recent shenanigans. Here in central Texas, the old quote of “water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink” keeps popping up, as we continue yet more days sans water. Yup, it’s snowing, but we can’t drink that, although we’ve melted 14 gallons of it so far to use to flush toilets. Last week, we filled up some Arizona tea jugs with tap water, so we still have that. I suppose the birds can lick the icicles?

I braved my death by stepping onto our icy front porch to toss them handfuls of hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds out of an abundance of my own grace and mercy upon them. They flew away. Perhaps that’s why we call them bird brains.

Pray For Texas

We are not doing well. Last Thursday, the ice rained down on my car as I drove my dad to his oral surgery. I had not been near him since the pandemic began, nor had anyone in my car (or home), but anesthesia would not allow him to drive post-op. The frozen rain pelted us as we ran inside the center, which soon informed me that their lobby was closed, and I should sit in my car for the next 30 minutes. I told them I was not going to sit and freeze in my car, and no stores were open yet that morning, so I wasn’t budging. 30 minutes soon turned into an hour and a half. The drive home, stopping for a 30 min wait in the CVS drive-through for five prescriptions, was precarious at best. Friday, we were advised not to travel at all, due to ice.

this morning’s deck

We got down to zero degrees this weekend. That was a record. It snowed another round. Last night, it sleeted and added another layer of ice on our roads. Our grids have been overloaded, and electric cooperatives were told to begin rolling blackouts. Word on the street is that the federal government would not allow Texas to provide heat and water to its citizens, despite having more than enough energy, due to the amount of pollution that would exceed its environmental standards. If that is the case, they have blood on their hands.

No power means an inability to treat and pump water. This led to boil water notices. And now, nearly a week into this, we have zero water. No water to drip, to prevent our pipes from bursting. No water to rinse dishes or flush toilets or wash hands or give to the dogs. We have a case of bottled water in the pantry, but it won’t last long. I am literally receiving a text from the city as I type, telling us no water will be available before the weekend, if even. That means no showers, no bathing. My husband has filled buckets with dirty snow from the back yard and is melting them on the stove (we are blessed to still have power), so that we can flush toilets at some point. When the temperature increases this weekend, the newsmen have advised us that the water mains will all thaw and break, and to prepare again for no water.

And we are the lucky ones, stuck with roads not drivable, with no trucks to sand the roads, with grocery stores closed or emptied of food. Many of my friends have not had any power for days. DAYS. Dark apartment buildings and subdivisions can look out their windows and see the downtown buildings still lit up, emptied of people, yet warming the offices with heat and lighting the cubicles. Not cool. My friend, Jen, says her apartment has been without power for three days now. Her thermostat reads 48 in her living room. None of them can go warm up in their cars because the garages are solely automatic doors with no other entry. Trapped. Other folks with houses, able to warm up in cars in garages, have chosen not to open their garage doors and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

We have several unreachable windows 20 feet high, which is great until a historic, unprecedented event that makes you wish for blinds and curtains to block the sub-zero winds and cold. Note the blue garbage bin, which has been out for 7 days now, waiting for garbage men to empty them. Who knows when that will happen? Our trash cans are full.

our view to the outside

Poor Houston has 600,000 folks without power. Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church is a warming center, to shelter and feed many of them. But Austin is the hill country, and none of us can brave the icy roads and hills to gather our freezing friends, even if we could. No one has snow tires or chains. Few have 4WD. So they suffer. The millions of dollars worth of wind turbines that used to spew grease all over adjacent towns are frozen solid. Useless. So helicopters using fossil fuels are spraying chemicals made of fossil fuels onto wind turbines made of fossil fuels to de-ice them before tonight’s round of freezing rain hits. And carbon footprint trucks are pulling little hybrid cars out of ditches and saving lives. Green new deal, my ass. The folks who will be dead tonight would be happy for a handful of coal at this point.

Six Days Difference

This beautiful rye grass was our back yard six days ago. The oak tree was budding, and Roxie was free to spend hours in the sun. If you zoom in, you can see why she was agitated. A possum was hanging upside-down on the trellis. Can you see it?

Today, however, is a different story. Thursday’s ice storm bent the branches of that oak, and it will likely never recover. The cottonwood still stands tall, under a few feet of snow, the most we’ve ever had. My phone said 5 degrees when I awoke. Tonight we will reach a record-breaking one. We’ve dripped the faucets, but many of our friends and family have been without water for days and heat for hours. We are not allowed to travel until next weekend, due to layers of ice. Everything is closed all week. I will have to get creative with the one onion we have. Lentil soup? Tacos? We are down to one cup of milk. But we’ll be all right as long as we have heat and water and each other.