Frondless Palms

Back in February of 2021, central Texas experienced what we’ve termed “Snowpocalypse.” We were iced in for five days, unable to step out onto our front porches, get mail, or get food. Many of us had no water, and others had no electricity due to downed lines. It was then that thousands of surrounding trees died.

We had high hopes that they would rally in spring, and a small few did. But most just died, and much money and time were spent in stumpgrinding and removal. Yards all over town have empty spots on their lawns, or small saplings still tied to the stakes. We let over a year pass until we finally gave up on our backyard palm tree. It gave up the ghost long ago.

Yesterday, however, we visited Margarita’s restaurant for the first time in years. It used to be visible from the road by its couple dozen large palm trees, swaying in the breeze. It was a lovely tropical vibe. Yesterday, we could barely see it from the road. Then we realized it, too, had suffered palm tree loss.

And yet all the trunks remain standing, like a once-tropical Stonehenge. At this point, they should be felled. But replacing them would run into the hundreds of thousands. Until then, I imagine they will stand proudly but sadly in the breeze.

I Fall Into You, And We Keep Growing

WI Brown 1928

An elm tree in Andrew County, Missouri fell smack dab onto a sister tree 25 feet away. Instead of dying, the two continued to grow together. At time of picture in 1928, it was 75 feet tall and quite the climbing tree for youngsters.

Manicuring With The Briggs & Stratton

America 24/7, Smolan & Cohen, by Philip Greenberg

Back in the last century, Briggs & Stratton used to release a list of the best 10 lawns in America. In 1998, this seventh floor garden at 30 Rock ranked among them. Seen here is head gardener Eric Pauze 24 years ago, when he earned the honor. Among his duties are planting pink geraniums and trimming hedges, as the gardens are designated state landmarks and must be treated with dignity and respect.

But mowing stripes seven stories high is the least interesting thing he does. Yep, he’s the Christmas tree picker for Rockefeller Center! Not the fake version you see on all the Hallmark movies; nope, he’s the real deal. He visits nurseries throughout the tri-state area, searching for the perfect tree. He’s been known to scour trees in other states as well, and says he’s never been turned down by an owner, though they are skeptical that he is the actual man with the coveted tree-procuring position. Well, here’s the proof.

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?

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

Spring, Interrupted

The weather keeps getting stranger and stranger. Last month, I saw more snow than had ever fallen in Austin in my life. This week will be the lowest temps we’ve ever weathered, dipping into single digits. We received a text from the county at lunch, urging folks not to travel for the next several days. The grocery stores are bare of meat, eggs, and milk.

Only days ago, spring had begun its first bloom, and now this.

Our oak tree, which had just begun to bud and stretched over 20 feet into the air, is now bowed down to the grass, branches breaking off every few hours.

Every home in our city has broken branches in its yard.

And our holly bush appears frozen in time, if not weeping from the sudden frost. Strange days indeed.

Mourning Doves Are Loud As All Get-Out

This morning, before church and before coffee, I caught not one, but FOUR doves in our cottonwood tree.

I wonder what this guy did to deserve such isolation. Perhaps he was in quarantine for the ‘rona, or bird flu.

The others gossiped about his lack of hygiene.

Then this little guy showed up (upper right hand corner), and though his breast looks yellow here, he looked lime green to the naked eye. Not sure what kind of bird he is, but he belted out a chirpy song, unlike the coo of the doves.

And just like that, they flew away.

At Least Somebody’s Enjoying Them

Truth be told, I’m all figged out, my friends. If I skip a day of figpicking, the birds and bees will devour them.

This is what I see when I get up under the tree.

And this is what I see when I come out from under the tree, looking up through the cottonweed tree.

Some of the leaves appear to have been chomped on by caterpillars. But no matter.

Cottonwood leaves still make the BEST swishing sound when the wind blows through them.

Folks Should Call Me Miss Figgy At This Point

As some of you know, our fig tree (a cutting from my husband’s grandfather’s tree many moons ago) flaunts her fecundity each June, and then promptly closes shop within the month. This year, she held on to her small green figs until the very end of June, when they plumped up all purple and big as softballs, in some cases.

As soon as you twist one off a branch, a sticky milk spurts out, and it’s quite itchy. Even three rounds of vigorous Soft Soap won’t make it go entirely away. Nature’s weapon.

This was Thursday morning’s haul.

I’m always surprised by how few people have ever eaten a ripe fig, but it makes sense, since you never see them in the stores. They die after 48 hours, so you have to eat them quickly. As neither my son nor my spouse are fans, I have had to force myself to eat 3-5 figs daily, just to fulfill the chintzy gal inside me, who cannot pass up free food. Plus, it’s healthy!

Sometimes I have to add them to a salad, so I don’t get so bored.

I gave a bushel to a Facebook friend, who sees me post them daily, and tried to offer some to the new Asian family across the street, but he thought I was asking him to come trim my tree. Eventually, I spoke with the wife, who was happy to try some, and I packed a dozen in a to-go box for them. Another 10 were given next door to our Indian neighbors, who thought at first we were offering “pigs”  last year. They said they didn’t eat meat and politely declined. But once we got past the consonant confusion, they were down with a pile of figs.

Lastly, the neighbors behind us actually can see the purple orbs as they hover on branches above our fence. We told them to snag whatever they like, since the abundance is overwhelming, and I packed up another box for them and passed it over. It will be 107 today, and zero chance of rain, as usual, so I don’t know how long this tree will keep pumping them out. But until then, I’ll keep reaching for the figs (except the top branches; those are for the birds and squirrels).

 

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