Winter in West Texas

So I was back in Abilene this weekend.  Hopefully the end is in sight for that – and it’s not a freight train.  The drive from Austin can be pretty bleak at this time of year, but I kept my eyes open (and had to take a detour), so I found some interesting sights.

This is a stretch between Brady and Santa Ana, Texas.

Santa Ana

Creek outside Santa Ana, Texas – January 2015

Highway 71 between Llano and Brady is closed in one spot, so I took a detour – very interesting.  This is the Bethel Chapel outside Katemcy, Texas.  There’s an interesting cemetery next to the chapel, but I didn’t have time to wander through it.

Bethel Chapel

Bethel Chapel, Katemcy, Texas – January 2015

The detour took me through Fredonia, Texas.  I’ve always noticed the signs for the Fredonia Peanut Company, so I finally had the opportunity to pass through.

Fredonia

Fredonia, Texas – January 2015

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Fredonia, Texas – January 2015

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Fredonia, Texas – January 2015

Greetings from Austin, Texas!

So I normally do posts about places that I’m visiting, but yesterday was such a spectacular Autumn day, I decided to play tourist in my own back yard.

I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that the fall colour in Austin this year is particularly vibrant – and a tad early.  The sumacs are really outstanding this year.  This is one of my crepe myrtles.

Crepe Myrtle - Nov 14

Crepe Myrtle – November 2014

This is the view from my office.  I see this every day, but try not to take it for granted.  About three years ago, the Texas Preservation Board decided that the Capitol Dome needed to be painted.  A travesty in my humble opinion.  When finished, it looked like a shiny pink M&M.  Hopefully some of that is fading.

Texas Capitol Rotunda and Senate - Nov 14

Texas Capitol Dome, Rotunda, and Senate Wing – November 2014

This is the north-facing side of the Capitol.  It’s hard to tell from this photo, but you’ll note there’s only one flag flying on the pole – the Texas flag.  Since it’s facing north, I think there’s probably not such a subtle message.

Texas Capitol Dome - Nov 14

Texas Capitol Dome – November 2014

The Texas Capitol grounds are wonderful.  Probably close to four city blocks, there’s great parkland for the kids on field trips to run around.  Also many monuments.  I pass these on my twice-daily walks.

This is what a live oak tree looks like without pruning intervention.

Texas Capitol Grounds - Live Oak

Live Oak – Texas Capitol Grounds – November 2014

The relatively new memorial to the Spanish Explorers and early Tejano settlers.

Spanish and Tejano Memorial Texas Capitol Grounds - Nov 14

Conquistador and Tejano Monument – Texas Capitol Grounds – November 2014

This is a view down Congress Avenue.  When my grandmother was a little girl, this was the primary road from San Antonio to Austin.

Congress Avenue - Nov 14

Congress Avenue – Austin, Texas – November 2014

This is one of the several Civil War memorials.  Every decade or so, there’s a bill introduced to remove them from the Capitol Grounds.  You can imagine the fate of those bills.

Confederate Memorial Texas Capitol Grounds - Nov 14

Confederate War Memorial, Texas Capitol Grounds – November 2014

This is the south portico of the Texas Capitol.  Most rallies occur here because it’s the terminus of Congress Avenue.

Texas Capitol South Portico - Nov 2014

South Portico, Texas Capitol – November 2014

This is a wonderful ‘cowboy memorial.’

Cowboy Bronze Texas Capitol Grounds - Nov 14

Cowboy Bronze, Texas Capitol Grounds – November 2014

Cowboy Bronze Texas Capitol Grounds1 - Nov 14

Cowboy Bronze, Texas Capitol Grounds – November 2014

This is the dome of First Methodist in Austin, on the west side of the Capitol.  The façade is Greek Revival, but the interior is definitely late 19th century Texana.

First Methodist Austin Dome - Nov 14

First Methodist Church – Austin, Texas – November 2014

This is my favourite memorial on the grounds – the Spanish-American War monument.  Part of it’s charm is the giant sycamore tree behind it; one of the few on the grounds.  I love sycamores – they have a unique smell that’s really hard to describe.

Spanish American War Memorial Texas Capitol Grounds - Nov 14

Spanish-American War Memorial, Texas Capitol Grounds – November 2014

This monument is interesting only in as much as it’s the subject of a rather dubious recent Supreme Court ruling.  It’s fun to watch the more politically connected tourists take their photos with it.  It’s also amusing to me because it’s right next to the exhaust fan from the Capitol Grill, so it always smells like French fries and fried chicken.

Ten Commandments Texas Capitol Grounds - Nov 14

Ten Commandments Monument, Texas Capitol Grounds – November 2014

After work, I go running at Town Lake.  (You can always tell an old-timer, because we call it ‘Town Lake’ rather than ‘Lady Bird Lake.’)  Here are some views from there.

Town Lake to Redbud Isle - Nov 14

Town Lake west to Red Bud Isle – November 2014

Town Lake to Downtown - Nov 14

Town Lake east to Downtown Austin – November 2014

Town Lake - Nov 14

Town Lake Autumn Foliage – November 2014

And finally, a city view from Barton Creek Mall in southwest Austin.

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Austin Skyline – November 2014

Greetings from Denver, Colorado!

So I just returned from a Department of Labor conference in Denver, Colorado.  I tacked on a day at the end to do some hiking.  All-in-all it was quite successful.

After arriving, I took a stroll over to the state capitol.  It’s blue.  That was a bit surprising to me until I remembered that ours is pink.  All told, the Texas capitol grounds take up roughly four city blocks; the Colorado capitol and environs are downright cozy in comparison.  And there was a lot of construction going on there, but a nice building.

Colorado Capitol Building - Jul 14

Colorado Capitol Building – Denver, Colorado – July 2014

The hotel was around the corner from Denver’s 16th Street Pedestrian Mall, so I took my meals there.  The exception was dinner that I had at Row Fourteen Bistro and Wine Bar by the Convention Center.  Best meal I had in Denver.  The Bison Bolognese was fantastic!

Other than Row Fourteen, I ended up eating at Marlowe’s on the pedestrian mall.  Here’s some sights from their patio.

 

Rosemary Rickey - Marlowe's - Denver, Colorado - July 2014

Rosemary Rickey – Marlowe’s – Denver, Colorado – July 2014

 

Blackberry Old Fashioned

Blackberry Old Fashioned – Marlowe’s – Denver, Colorado, July 2014

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Steak Frites – Marlowe’s – Denver, Colorado, July 2014

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Dinner Floor Show – Marlowe’s – Denver, Colorado, July 2014

On Friday after the conference concluded, I went hiking in O’Fallon Park near Evergreen.  It was an easy 30-minute drive from downtown Denver.  It’s located in the front range of the Rockies and has several trails you can hike.  I did the Meadow View Loop, the West Ridge Loop, and part of the Bear Creek Trail – about 7 miles altogether.  This is a real gem in Denver; I hope I have the opportunity to go back.

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Vista – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

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Aspen Grove – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

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Mule Deer – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

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Meadow – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

Snow Caps

Snow Caps – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

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Bear Creek – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

Bee Balm - Jul 14

Bee Balm – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

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Cactus – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

Thistle Flower - Jul 14

Thistle Flower – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

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Wild Flowers – O’Fallon Park, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2014

On Saturday, I spent the day at Castlewood Canyon State Park near Franktown, Colorado.  Since this is away from the mountains, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it has a lot of diversity.  It reminds me of Enchanted Rock here in the Hill County.  There were a lot of people, but it was easy enough to find some solitude on the more challenging trails.  I did the Dam, Homestead, Inner Canyon, Lake Gulch, and Rimrock trails – about 13 miles in all.

Canyon Vista

View – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

Creek

Creek – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

Dam

Ruins of Castlewood Dam (1890) – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

Gnarled Tree - Jul 14

Gnarled Tree – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

Lupines - Jul 14

Lupines – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

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Tree in Rock – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

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Pine Tree Roots – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

Water Fall - Jul 14

Waterfall – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

White Flower - Jul 14

Wild Flower – Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown, Colorado, July 2014

Ramblin’ Man

So I should have been in Abilene this weekend, but decided to stay home to attend to other things, but took time out to wander around the green belt yesterday. We’ve had reasonable rain these past couple of months, so things didn’t look too terribly dire. More dead cedar and other scrub, and fading wild flowers, but not too bad.

I noticed this a couple of years ago, but it seems to be thriving – a prickly pear cactus (Cactaceae Opuntia) growing in a live oak tree.  It just boggles the mind, really.

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Cactus in a Live Oak Tree

Most of the wildflowers that are left are yellow, with the occasional purple Mexican petunia or wild verbena, but this one got my attention – certainly a standout.  The flowers look a little like penta…perhaps carried from some back yard by birds.

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Pink Wild Flowers

I’m not an anatomist, but I’m assuming this is the remnants of a deer leg.  I wonder if the coyotes got lucky.  Interesting how it got into the tree like that – a little “Blair Witch Project”-y.  But you tend to see stuff like that back there on the trails – stacked rocks, etc.

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Deer Leg Bone in Tree

The rest are just interesting flowers/rocks/dry water ways I captured – enjoy!

GB-Pink Flowers Jul 14

Barton Creek Green Belt – Pink Flowers

GB-Wild Flowers Jul 14

Barton Creek Green Belt – Waning Wild Flowers

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Barton Creek Green Belt – Yellow Flower

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Barton Creek Green Belt – Turks Caps in the Wild

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Barton Creek Green Belt – Holey Rock

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Barton Creek Green Belt – Dry Water Way

 

Gratuitous Post about Birds, Plants, and Wine

This has been a pretty good year for bird watching.  I’ve got a couple of painted buntings that visit fairly regularly.  These are generally one-time-a-year birds here – at least that’s my experience.

I also have a fairly substantial flock of European starlings.  Theirs is an interesting tale and instructive on the cautionary side.  The starlings were introduced to this continent in the 1870s by the American Acclimatization Society as part of a dubious project to bring each type of bird mentioned by Shakespeare to New York’s public parks.  They were successful, and then some.  Since their introduction, more than 200 million European Starlings have spread throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada.  They may be responsible for the collapse of native species due to their aggressive nesting habits.

starling

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Today is one of the first clear days we’ve had in quite some time.  It seems the haze that’s been hanging around lately is caused by a dust cloud the size of the contiguous United States which has drifted over from the Sahara.  It’s a relief to see blue skies again.

I recently enjoyed a very nice bottle of Sancerre (Domaine J. Gueneau, 2013).  It reminded me of a Grüner Veltliner – which I really enjoy.  It went quite well with vegetarian chipotle burritos.

 

Sancerre

Sancerre – Domaine J. Gueneau, 2013

Last weekend, I planted an Australian Long-leaf Acacia.  I’ve decided to call her Adelaide, a nod to both the Australian city and my grandmother.  Its long tapered leaves are a nice contrast to the neighbor’s fig tree, the Japanese black pine, and the crepe myrtles that surround it.

australian acacia jul 14

Long-Leaf Acacia (Acacia longifolia) – Adelaide

So here are the gratuitous plant photos – hope everybody has an enjoyable 4th of July!

bulbine  jul 14

Bulbine; Roses; and Buddleia

wisteria jul 14

Wisteria Bloom

crepe myrtle jul 14

Crepe Myrtles; Japanese Black Pine; and Pink Althea

morning glory jul 14

Morning Glory – Grandpa Ott – about to shut down for the summer

turks cap jul 2014

Turks Cap and Holly Tree

Update –

My Black-Eyed Susan finally bloomed yesterday!

Black-Eyed Susan - Jul 14

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and a Ghost Spider (Hibana velox)

And here’s a closer look at the edging…

Edging - Jul 14

Edging – Norman Arch-Shaped Around the Elm Tree

 

Odds and Ends

 

I know I’ve been posting pretty erratically.  I’m still schlepping up to Abilene each week; sometimes twice.  I’ll be so glad when I can finally put that venerable city in my rear-view mirror permanently.  Ah well – that’s probably a while off for now.  Unfortunately, these Abilene sojourns are putting me way behind schedule in the garden.  I doubt I’ll be able to catch up this year – 2014 might actually end up being mulchless…sigh.

The trips to Abilene aren’t all that bad, though.  The wild flowers are stupendous this year.  Here’s a stretch on Highway 71 in Mason County between Llano and Brady.

mason county2

So, I past the half-century mark last Sunday.  Funny, I’m 50 but I feel 105.  Doubtless I’m that old geezer that yells “Hey…you kids…get off my lawn!”  I realized that I was old…really old…when I was setting up my mother’s apartment at the assisted living place and, when going through her CDs I thought, “Who listens to this rubbish?!? – AD/DC; Def Leppard; Rush; Cinderella; etc.”  My mother seems to be more hip than me.  My CD collection – vast as it is – starts with polyphonic chant from England and France and taps out at about 1938 with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey.  During a recent visit, my sister was going on about Kim Kardashian’s wedding to Kanye West.  I’m not sure I know who either of these people are.  She looked at me like I was crazy when I said that Artie Shaw had been married to both Lana Turner and Ava Gardner and that Betty Grable and Harry James had been married.  I really think I’m quite fossilized.

In the yard, it’s been rather like a horror show.  Two weeks ago, I found a six-foot long shed rattlesnake skin in the storage bin where I keep some of my gardening equipment.  I needed a few stiff drinks after that.

rattle snake skin1

Rattlesnake Skin – 6-foot – YIKES!

At the same time, there was an industrious spider who build a 10-foot wide web between two trees.  The spider was about that same size as a Kennedy half-dollar – another old-geezer reference.  It was fascinating that the birds seem to be able to see the web and avoid it for the most part.

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This evening was a big grilling event.  The main course was grilled pizza, but I didn’t get a selffeed of that.  But here are the corn, carrots, and orange bell pepper I roasted.

corn and carrots

And with the grilled pizza, I had a fantastic Pinot Noir – Arrogant Frog.  A French wine from the Laguedoc, I highly recommend it!

arrogant frog

Arrogant Frog Pinot Noir

Here are some miscellaneous photos from the garden – hope everybody is having a great June!

celtic cross

Celtic cross in buddleia and Turks’ Cap

white althea

White Althea

caladium and buddah

Caladiums and Buddah

 

 

Now is the Month of Maying

Still haven’t had much leisure time lately, but May is here and finally had a free day to work in the garden.

The end of April-beginning of May is the wrap up of the opera season in Houston.  Last weekend was ‘Das Rheingold,’ the start of HGO’s four-year Ring Cycle.  I’ve never seen ‘Rheingold’ and was really looking forward to it.  The music was great, but the staging was typically bizarre.  The Rhein  Maidens were in plexiglass boxes filled with water.  Their costumes looked like something straight out of Barbarella.  Wotan, Fricka, Donner, and Froh were wheeled about on stage in these weird looking things that look like what the power company uses to fix transformers on power lines.  Loge went riding about on stage on a Segway.  Again – bizarre.  After the opera, we ate at Cook and Collins.  A nice place, but challenging to get to.

Friday was Carmen.  What can I say – it was Carmen.  We ate at Batanga, a really interesting South American Tapas bar.  I’d go there again.

So today was my free day in the garden.  I planted a couple of things.  Most interesting was a lantana which had been trained to be a topiary – I hope I can maintain it.

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And my clematis is doing very well this year – enjoy!

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Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

Not much to update… was able to be in town this weekend so got lots of garden stuff taken care of.  Took down the portable green house two days before a strong Norther is expected to blow in.  My sister who lives in Colorado Springs said they were expecting 7-9 inches of snow.  Hopefully here, all we’ll get is upper 30s ’cause I’m not going to put that thing back up again.

This morning I saw a pair of Indigo Buntings bathing in the fountain; this is the first time I’ve seen them.  Woo, hoo!

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/indigo-bunting-john-absher.html

Indigo Bunting – John Absher Photograpy

 

Birds

So this morning, there was a flock of Cedar Waxwings in my elm tree – probably close to 50!  They appeared to be feeding from the neighbor’s crepe myrtle and our cedar trees.  I love these birds and it’s so rare that I see them; and definitely not in these numbers.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) [Photo from the Internet Bird Collection – http://ibc.lynxeds.com/%5D

Also this year I have a pair of American Robins.  Those are pretty rare in Austin as well.  I had some in 2011 and they appear to be back.  The newspaper did an article then about how their sightings were more common for some unknown reason – climate change?

American Robin

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) [Photo from the Internet Bird Collection – http://ibc.lynxeds.com/%5D

I’ve got heaps of blue jays – I counted nine this morning – and the pair of wood peckers is still around and nesting in the neighbor’s telephone pole, I think.  It’s been very cold – 27F/-2.7C this morning – which is probably why they’re draining my feeders quite rapidly.  The hot pepper suet cakes seem to be hot commodity which the squirrels stay away from.

 

It’s Fall!

Ah, September and Fall – my favourite time of the year.  Of course in Central Texas, that means lower ’90s, but I’ll take what I can get.  Today is exceptionally beautiful.  After Friday’s rain – between five and seven inches…woo hoo! and Saturday’s transition, today turned out to be clear and fine.  And I love September light; more golden and heavy dappled through the elm tree.

The humming birds are still around, but will probably take off in the next couple of weeks.  The blue jays are more active – and more screechy…another Fall sound.  More owl activity at night, too.

The garden is still thriving.  August wasn’t overly hot, so there’s not that droopy, exhausted look you sometimes get in September.  Here are some recent photos…

A gigantic spider web I found one morning – still amazed by the engineering feat.

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My newest tchotchke – a hanging glass sphere I got at The Natural Gardener.

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The morning glories are coming back to life.

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A new coleus.

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I put out my Fall garden decorations.  I love this scrap-metal scare crow – a tea light goes in its head.

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The black-eyed Susans still going strong.

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And the Turk’s Caps, too.

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