Sunday, October 20, 2019

Air Show Time!

Yesterday was the first day of the Bell Fort Worth Alliance Air Show.  If you are in the area, you might still have time to go see it today.  It is only the second time I've ever attended an air show, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The lineup this year included the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels as well as an F-16, F-22 Raptor and an F-35.  The performance of all of those aircraft is impressive and it is no wonder our military forces dominate the sky.

To me, though, the aircraft that brought a lump to my throat is the one in the image above; the P-51 Mustang which arguably was the most innovative of its time and gave the British and U.S. forces the edge they needed to win the air war in World War II.  The speed and maneuverability of this plane is impressive even today, almost 80 years after it first rolled off the assembly line.

A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress even made a low-level flyover pass.   It has been a workhorse for the U.S. military for over 50 years and is expected to remain a part of our military presence until after 2040.

If you have never attended an air show, I would encourage you to do so.  The Alliance Show is one of the bigger ones, but there are many smaller venues around the country.  In the meantime, here's a link to a video (not mine) of the Blue Angels.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Time Travel

The trail is long,
The days are hot,
The dust chokes,
The sweat soaks,
The bugs bite,
Yet, there is delight
In thudding hoof
And cattle bawls
And clicking horns
And swishing tails
And drifting smells
Of the herd.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Cardinals and Medicine Men

A couple of days ago I posted about the trash we find in the woods.  The very same day we came across the old tire, we also came across this beautiful Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis).  It was growing near a slough where the water stands throughout the year.

The Cardinal Flower requires Hummingbirds for propagation due to the depth of the flowers.  It is poisonous and teas were made of the roots and the leaves by various Indian tribes for use as cures.  Gardeners often plant it to attract Hummingbirds and because of the showy blooms.

I just like to see the bright splash of color against the green and brown backdrop. 

Cardinal Flowers are an indicator species for wetlands and are usually found in the wild near water.  The piperidine alkaloids found in the plants are similar to nicotine.  A close relative of the Cardinal Flower is Lobelia inflata or, Indian Tobacco. 

I have often thought that if I had been an American Indian back before European settlement, I would likely have been the Medicine Man of the tribe.  It is intriguing to me how they were able to identify and utilize the naturally occurring substances in plants and animals to effect cures or, at least treatments, for various diseases.  Many researchers today find that those cures have scientific validity and likely were at least somewhat effective beyond the placebo effect.

The one part of being a "Medicine Man" that would bother me is the association with Shamanism.  I believe man has a spiritual aspect, but I also believe attempts to enter into communion with that world through the use of mind-altering drugs is dangerous.  Simply making that statement sends shivers through me because mankind has a history of believing they can handle any danger and even mentioning the possibility of the reality of entering that world through drugs is like a dare to some.  I don't want someone to read this and attempt it.

Hmmm...I'm not sure what to think about those last couple of paragraphs.  It is thought that the Cardinal Flower received its name because of the similarity to the robes worn by Catholic Cardinals.  That's two different connections to the Spiritual World in one pretty flower....

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Just a Tree

Sometimes in this part of the world, off in the distance, you hear a crashing sound.  When that happens, you know a tree, or at least a large branch, has fallen.

I didn't attempt to step off the length of this tree, but I would guess it was in the 80 to 100 foot category.  It appears to be a Water Oak (Quercus nigra) that was growing in the flat bottom land near one of the creeks that cross our place.  For perspective, I stuck a shovel in the ground near the roots in order to give some idea of the size (middle image).

There is a lot of good lumber in this fallen giant that will never be harvested simply because of location.  There really isn't a way to get to it without a major road-building project.  I'm sure that is the reason it is there in the first place; it and many others like it are isolated and difficult to reach so they have been undisturbed for many years.

Near this "small" tree are a number of native pecan trees which dwarf this one.  They are massive, with long, straight trunks that reach many feet before branching.  The canopy of the many trees in this area is such that the young trees grow straight up in their quest for light.  That condition is ideal for producing quality lumber.

It's too bad the lumber from this fallen tree will never be harvested for building material.  It would make a large quantity of long, straight boards that could be used for furniture or cabinetry.

Although not recommended as an ornamental, we transplanted a small seedling of Water Oak yesterday in honor of this one.  It came from near where its giant cousin had fallen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Who Left Their Trash in the Woods?

The other day I was off down in the woods and ran across this tire.  Finding such things in the otherwise non-trashed environment angers me and it makes me sad.  It was in an area that is often inundated with water after a heavy rain and I suspect washed in from a long way off.  Someone upstream had used the creek or, one of the waterways leading into it, as a dumping ground for their trash.  It may have been carried for miles before being deposited in this isolated place.

We often find other people's trash on our land.  It is usually of the smaller variety such as plastic bottles and drink cans.  Occasionally, though, we find larger items such as refrigerators and ice chests and tires.  I think most of the smaller items come from the roadside ditches that are frequently the receptacle of plastic bottles, drink cups, fast food carryout bags and other sundry items that likely were released into the wild at high speeds as their previous owner traveled one of the county roads.  When the rains come, the trash is washed into the many waterways that eventually lead to the creeks and rivers.

I was in school during the major wave of the environmental movement that swept our nation during the 60's and 70's.  We learned that you shouldn't be a "litterbug."  We were not often taught the reasons why we shouldn't litter, just that it was "bad" to do so.  Perhaps that's where the movement failed.  Most people don't realize that the cup they threw out, which is ostensibly biodegradable, may end up as micro-plastic in their water supply or, the fish they catch in the local lake which serves as the city water source.  Maybe they just don't care.

One of the ways governmental bodies incorporated the anti-littering campaigns of those years into legislative action was to make littering carry stiff fines or, other penalties.  That's great, but do you know anyone who was ever fined for littering?  I'm sure it happens, but it isn't frequent or we would hear about it every day based on the volume of trash I see.

As I listen to the various "solutions" to what is now being called the "climate crisis," I hear proposals to penalize those who contribute to the issue.  Fifty years after littering fines were instituted, we still have a littering problem.  I wonder just how well the proposed penalties will work in curbing behavior that contributes to the anthropocentric view of global warming?  In my opinion, the real solution is to educate rather than to regulate.  Behavior changes when understanding of the consequences is clear.

I think there is no doubt that many behaviors of mankind are abusive of the planet.  One of the most egregious is the paving over of productive land as urban and suburban sprawl gobbles the countryside.  If our legislative bodies want to do something that will help, maybe they should look at population growth patterns in view of flooding issues, the loss of productive agricultural lands and the exploding infrastructure necessary to accommodate low-density housing.

[Aside] I follow an individual on Twitter who has ties to the United Nations Committee on Climate Change.  He daily posts photos of the beautiful places he visits around Europe.  His jet travel alone contributes more in a year to releasing sequestered carbon into the atmosphere than most people will contribute in a lifetime.  Yet, he does get to see some beautiful places that most of us will never have the opportunity to see.  Should I envy him? or, should I condemn him as a hypocrite?  I choose to do neither.  I just hope he someday might see that the image he portrays in his posts is not the one he asks in the behavior of others.  Sometime I would love to have the opportunity to show him the world in which I live.

I am a strong proponent of the free market.  I don't like regulation or, legislation, therefore, I would suggest that behavior be based on incentives through the market with things like tax credits which are currently used for conservation easements.  We need to ask if there are ways to incorporate similar strategies in directing growth so that the environmental impacts are minimized.  As we do so, we need to keep in mind the potential negative economic impacts that such incentives may carry.  If initiatives penalize some current landowners while rewarding others, the result will be increased corruption.  Perhaps it would be possible to use a tax structure that would reward developers for including green spaces and flood mitigation strategies within a development and penalizing them for not doing so.  Those penalties could then be used as offsets to those landowners who own sensitive areas that would be penalized if developed.  What is needed is a reward system that would encourage the preservation of the sensitive area.

I'm just trying to reason through possible mechanisms to drive good behavior through the market rather than strictly through a penalty system that likely won't work anyway.  There are lots of people out there with much more experience and training in this area than I will ever have; I hope they will step to the forefront and bring a common sense approach that will prevent the likes of a "Green New Deal" from taking hold.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Plant a Tree, Leave a Legacy

Everywhere we have lived -- unless renting -- we have planted trees.  Yes, we have moved quite a bit through the years and it has amounted to a lot of trees.  I suppose our proclivity toward planting them goes back to having grown up on the Texas High Plains where the only trees were those either planted by, or, descended from those planted by the residents.

This small tree (about 4 1/2 feet tall) now stands in our back yard as a replacement for one which we had to take out a couple of years ago.  Its predecessor was a Willow Oak (Quercus phelos) which was over 100 years old and 60 inches in diameter.  It was home to numerous squirrels and literally covered our entire backyard.

The tree in the photo is a transplant from our land out north of town which lies on Horse Pen Creek which is a tributary to White Oak Creek.  You guessed it, this is a White Oak (Quercus alba) which I thought appropriate.  It is a bit more tattered and torn than you would find if you were able to purchase one at a nursery.  The trouble is that White Oaks aren't usually a commonly stocked tree at nurseries because they aren't typically used for landscaping.  They tend to be slow growing and become extremely large over time.  There are documented instances of White Oak trees living up to 450 years; that's a long time to sequester carbon!

The White Oak produces beautiful wood and is commonly used for furniture, cabinetry and barrels.  White Oak has long been used for making wooden barrels.  It is sometimes told that Elijah Craig, a Baptist Minister, was the first to create Bourbon Whiskey in the late 1700's.  He had a small distillery which utilized white oak casks for storing his product.  A fire swept through his cooperage and left a charred ruin.  Being the frugal entrepreneur, he decided to utilize the charred kegs which imparted a reddish color to the stored product and Bourbon Whiskey was born.  There are other stories of the origin of the product, but the Baptist background provides an interesting twist and the legend has remained and is embodied in a product that bears his name.  I'm not advocating, or advertising, merely reporting the connections.

Trees, like history, are viewed in years.  When you plant a tree, you plant for future generations.  Through the years, we have sometimes had occasion to pass by a previous residence where we planted trees simply to see how they have grown.  Some have died, but others tower far above their humble beginnings.  They provide haven for birds and shade for children.  They break the howling winds and in a few locations, catch tumbleweeds.

Planting trees is a way to mark your place in history -- at least temporarily if you view it on a cosmic scale.  I appreciate those who left the trees behind which offer shade today.  Perhaps someone in the future will look at this White Oak and take a moment to reflect on those who planted it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Learning to Overcome Our Nature

We had the opportunity to spend a little time in the woods yesterday.  It seems there is always something interesting to see.  The dampness yesterday morning allowed us to walk quietly in hopes of seeing a little wildlife.  The birds were plentiful, but no animals of the furry kind made their appearance.

We walked into an area that had many small Honey Locust trees which were covered with Lichens.  In time, the Lichens will kill the trees, but yesterday, the ones that I tested were still supple, indicating life.  The photos above are of the Lichens growing on one of them.

Many Lichens are edible or, contain medicinal properties.  Those with orange or, yellow colors contain acids that should be neutralized with baking soda.  There are hundreds of different kinds of Lichens, some of which grow on trees, others on rocks or, other structures.

Lichens are a composite growth form that arises from Algae or, Cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species.  I wish I knew more about Lichens.  It seems the more I learn, the more I want to learn and the more I realize that I don't know.

Part of learning is approaching with an open mind.  There is someone I know who is convinced the world is flat.  He is continually finding people on the Internet who agree with his idea and uses their arguments to support his own.  He refuses to acknowledge any evidence otherwise.  That isn't how you learn.  You must look at all evidence and then evaluate the validity of each and every claim.  Just because John Whackadoodle in Whoknowswhere came up with some crazy explanation doesn't make it true.  In spite of my sometimes setting them aside, credentials do mean something.  If a person has a degree in Psychology, they will have to provide some pretty solid evidence of expertise before I will listen to them explain Astrophysics to me.

The scientific community is not immune to following the path of finding those who agree with their own theories and dismissing all others.  It is part of human nature to align with those who see the world the way you do.  As I mentioned yesterday, our genetic programming often pushes us to make a snap judgement based on either least, or maximum threat.  We tend to stick with those most "like" ourselves in order to minimize danger.  That is basic animal instinct.  We learn when we use reasoning to move beyond that default.

Conforming is easy.  Being different is difficult.  Be different and respect those who are willing to allow others see their differences.  It is risky, though, because the animal instincts which still drive many behaviors -- especially when in a group -- will likely result in ostracism or, worse.

I'm not saying you need to agree with those who take a different path, but you shouldn't attack them.  Hopefully, nature will cull those who are heading down the wrong ones.  Oh, yeah, there is lots of interference with nature right now.  In my mind that's not a good scenario.  It causes a buildup of potential consequence that will eventually explode. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Manipulated by Instinct

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus, is one of my favorite birds.  We see them almost every day, vigilantly perched somewhere in the pasture, prepared to catch the insects which make up their diet.  They are in the same Family as the King Birds and that is why the ominous sounding Family name of Tyrannus (Tyrant).  King Birds are notorious for vigorously defending their territory and will frequently attack larger birds.  We saw one yesterday attacking a Crow as it flew across.  The Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are not that aggressive against other birds, but are stuck with the family reputation.

As I was thinking about that fact -- "stuck with the family reputation" -- it came to mind that people tend to attach "family" reputations to individuals, no matter what their own character might be.  I think this especially applies to what I will term "religious" families, or affiliations.  We create in our minds an all-encompassing view of members of particular religions that don't apply to all adherents.  In fact, they probably don't apply to the religion in general but, are drawn from our "worst" impressions of a group.  We attach the word "terrorist" with Islam and "self-righteous" with Christianity.  We also see many who associate "peaceful" with Buddhism and other Eastern religions.  The problem is that none of those descriptors are true in general, but may be true of specific individuals.

The tendency to quickly classify based on associations such as just described is part of our genetic programming that has evolved as a survival mechanism.  We link to "worst" cases because that is the potential source of danger to us.  It is only when we learn to overcome our genetic coding and view situations and individuals through reasoning and observation that we can see clearly in each case.  Otherwise, our "default" view determines our response.

In this world of "instant" everything, we fail to realize that the immediate gratification is an appeal to our most basic animal responses.  It is the default mode that gives the first and, initially, most likely satisfying result.  It isn't always what is best -- think drug addictions, etc.

One of the things that sets humans apart from animals is our ability to reason and therefore, to differentiate and discriminate between perceived instinctual threats and actual threats.  When we fail in this discernment, we are easily manipulated into behavior that may be detrimental.  We herd cattle based on their instinctual response to stimulus.  Humans follow a similar pattern when they fail to react with reason rather than base animal instinct.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is don't allow yourself to be manipulated.  Dig a little deeper.  Understand more.  Realize that those who would rule you often are not seeking your good, but their own power.  That isn't always the case, but is frequently the motivation for political rhetoric.  Don't be an animal, rise to the level of what makes us human.

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ -- to the glory and praise of God." -- Philippians 1:9-11

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Our Gate Guard

It's kind of hard to make out the details on the uniform our "gate guard" wears, but if you click on the photo and enlarge it, they are quite impressive.  This little guy moved into the latch on our front gate very soon after it was installed.  As you can see by the rust and chipped paint, he has been there for awhile.  I think it is a Bold Jumping Spider, Phidippus audax.  He isn't much bigger than a dime and his aqua-colored eyes probably glow in the dark.

I'm impressed that it has survived as long as it has.  He stays right around the spring-latch on the gate which sees lots of activity.  It's surprising he hasn't been smashed by the latch which is spring activated, or that some human hasn't squashed him.  It could be that he is just too quick for anyone to catch.  I had a hard time getting him to sit still for the photo.

My daughter is not a big fan of spiders.  Arachnophobia is pretty common.  I have to admit that I don't like them crawling on me and I sure hate walking into a web unexpectedly.  Spiders are everywhere.  They are great at thinning the insect populations.

We've let this little one live on our gate for quite some time.  I hope the next owners give him the same consideration....

Friday, October 11, 2019

A Reluctant Hero

I guess some dogs are like some people, they don't like to have their picture made.  This is Sadie, our Redbone Coonhound.  She had just terminated two rats that came out from under a cover and not only dispatched them about as quickly as I saw them, but laid them by the gate to be carried out to the trash.  I told her she was a good girl and petted her and then asked for a photograph, but she muttered something about no makeup and not having combed her hair and this is what I got; a hero hiding her face.

This morning she got me up just a little earlier than normal.  Her baying indicated that something wasn't right.  When I came outside she was waiting by the back door to tell me that the trash cans had blown over.  Oh, well, it was almost time to get up anyway.

Animals, like people, need gainful employment.  Sadie's job is to guard the backyard from invading critters such as squirrels, opossums, raccoons and yes, rats.  You don't normally see rats, but every place where humans live has them.  Sadie also is to let us know if anything is wrong outside the house.  We know when visitors come and she seems to instinctively know the ones she can trust.  Suspicious strangers need not apply for entry.  She probably would do well with the Border Patrol, or as Airport Security.

Sadie is sometimes a bit moody.  If you don't scratch her behind the ears when she expects it, she will go off and sulk.  Sometimes, it seems as if she is trying to talk to you.  She makes a strange ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo noise that literally sounds like she is trying to form words.  Sometimes I think she is explaining something to me, or perhaps complaining about something Jake (a very large mixed breed dog) did or, making sure I know it was him and not her that did something they weren't supposed to do - like digging in the middle of the yard.

Nearly every animal I've ever been around has a discernible personality.  Sadie's is the most unique one in my experience.  This post is in her honor as the Rat Catcher of the Year.  I don't think she's figured out this Internet thing yet so, she will need to have someone read it to her....