Friday, April 30, 2010

Attwater Prairie Chicken Festival

This space is usually taken with the Texas Hill Country but we do occasionally sally out of the Hill Country, and I'll admit my Texan partiality is not limited to home. 

Texas being so big and the Hill Country being so central, we seldom cross boundaries into other states, but every Texan knows you don't have to leave Texas to find a change of pace.  Texas encompasses everything from sophistication to swamps and deserts to tropics. 

A few weeks ago, Denny and I went east to the wildflower farmland of Austin County--not to be confused with our 'Keep Austin Weird' state capitol--to participate in the Attwater Prairie Chicken Festival.  Held, naturally enough, at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge about 70 miles east of downtown Houston.

Photo of Lesser Prairie Chicken courtesy of  Michael Bruce's Flikr stream

In case you're unacquainted with Attwater Prairie Chickens, the birds are an isolated branch of the Greater Prairie Chicken family.  Prairie Chickens once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S., but over the last 150 years the birds have become critically endangered as America plowed and paved the nation's grasslands.  The Attwaters number fewest in the family.  There are only 55 known on the Attwater range now, and five of those were missing at festival time.   

Spring is booming season among Greater Prairie Chicken males.  They gather in a short-grass area to strut, fluff and wag their feathers while moaning to attract mates.  I know some folks compare this to guys in bars trolling for women, but it's different at dawn on the Attwater prairie.  Fierce and sweet, and somehow like the sound of wind whistling through the last tree standing in a clear-cut land.

It was a good way to spend a chill dawn, marveling at the diversity of life as survivors called a precarious song to tomorrow.   

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Field of Suns


Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air.
Georges Bernanos


Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Texas-Best Guacamole


My Texas friends will wonder why I'd post a recipe for something as ordinary as guacamole.  My out-of-state friends who try it may wonder why they've never made something this good.  It's not boasting if it's true...

Avocados are rich; the best are almost sweet with a melt-in-your mouth subtle nuttiness.  Add to this lime, hot peppers and seasoning and you approach nirvana.  Think about the goodness of a killer margarita ...sweet, sour and salty.  OK, guacamole doesn't have the back-of-the-throat tequila bite, but you get the picture.  

I make a killer margarita too, by the way, but that's another post.

Choose good avocados, fruit firm but not hard, with unblemished skin.  If you can only find hard avocados, bring them home and set them out on the counter for a few days to soften.

If you don't have time for all the chopping, a dollop of pico de gallo may substitute for the onions, hot pepper, tomato and garlic.  Not authentic guac but pretty darn good.  Don't tell anyone I said that.  I don't want to be avocado-pelted by purists the next time I go to the grocery.

This recipe makes 8 servings for people dipping chips along with other snacks.  Or 4 salad servings of dollops atop crisp greens.  Or 2 guac-hound dinners during the big game (whatever big game you prefer) on TV.

Guacamole is forgiving, adjust ingredient proportions to your preference. 




Ingredients
4 spring onions (whites and 1-2" of green), minced
1 garlic clove, minced 
1 medium tomato, chopped fine 
1 fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced (omit seeds and start with just half a pepper if you're heat-sensitive)
2 large or 4 small Haas avocados
Juice of 1 lime (Some people prefer lemon juice; I think it's too aggressive. **Did you just get a mental image of an lemon in a cowboy hat herding the other ingredients toward the bowl?)
Large pinch kosher salt (to taste)

Directions
Do all the mincing/chopping first, putting the tomato, garlic, onions and hot pepper in a medium-sized bowl.  Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, take out the seeds and scoop the flesh into the bowl.  Add lime juice and salt and mash with a fork. In addition to flavor, the lime acidity helps keep the guacamole from browning.

Ready to eat.  Our favorite transport from bowl to mouth is a tortilla chip.  We use baked chips to lessen the calorie load; corn flavor without the fat.

To prepare ahead of time, press a layer of plastic wrap on the surface and refrigerate.  Blocking air from the surface will delay browning for several hours.  I've even been known to eat guacamole the next day, but it's not pretty.

Make a good guacamole, and no matter where you live, folks will think you're from Texas.



Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Onward


Ever have one of those days that feel like it's all uphill?

 Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

House Concert - Chris Sanders & Steve Smith

 Our friends Mary and Cliff hosted a house concert recently.  They're in touch with a musical world, and from time to time they bring that world to our Hill Country neighborhood. 

Last month, we joined fifty of their other friends in the concert hall built over their garage, to hear New Mexico singer-songwriters Chris Sanders and Steve Smith.

Chris's voice has a raw richness that sends her words beyond vibration into mind.  And Steve's mandolin stirs music nearly visible in passion.

They perform songs old and new; from history, or life as seen through personal prism.  

My favorite of the night was "Isabella", an evocative love song...inspired by Steve's dog.  For a two-minute listen, click here: Desert Night Music and look for the song in the album "signs along the road" , a genre-mixed record of blues and ballad with echoes of folk.


Or click below for an evocative mandocello performance of Steve's composition "Mariner's Ward".  And let the music flow into your moment.



  
Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction of this post is prohibited.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bastard Cabbage

That's what it's called, honest.  Or Rapistrum rugosum to the scientific community.
This mustard-family annual is listed on the Texas Invasives list because it swallows whole fields, shading out spring native flowers and spreading like bad gossip.  

If you find it in your yard, pull it up by the roots and throw it away, don't even compost it unless you're sure there are no seeds lurking.  Truly.  It's the plant equivalent of roaches.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 15, 2010


 Spring rains and warm days are coaxing our garden into bloom.

In the wild space across the front, prairie verbena blooms, the first to lift a spring face to the sun.








From the kitchen windows, bearded iris roar (don't those throats look tigerish to you?).













Behind the Iris, a clump of pass-along Dayflower blooms.  Dave and Betty moved away this week but they'll always be in my garden.



The lone Hinckley's Columbine to survive last summer's blast is blooming it's heart out.  

This year I'll gather seeds and start a Hinckley oasis in a shadier spot closer to the faucet.

Along the the east side of the house, a fragrance of vanilla floats on the breeze.  Our Anacacho Orchid trees (Bauhinia lunaroides) burst into riotous bloom this week.

It's easy to be happy when the breeze smells so sweet.  Hope your breezes are sweet too.

To peek into the season in gardens around the country, follow this link to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. 


Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mystery Art

We're taken with our life in the Texas Hill Country, 'though some would call it quiet.  Occasionally the biggest event of the day is a question.  Those days, that's enough.

The other morning, in a pre-coffee haze, I walked out to the street to retrieve the newspapers.  My stroll was punctuated by stops to look at wildflowers and a spate of "I can't stand it" weed-pulling.  Even a zombie hates to see a possumhaw holly strangled.

Out by the street, I was looking down as I climbed out of the ditch clutching the papers, or I might not have seen it.  Painted yellow swoops and swirls along the driveway's edge, laid down by a not-very-talented artist.  My fuddled brain wondered.  What errant artist had been out before dawn decorating a country driveway?

That kind of question begs an answer so I bent for a better look.  Aha...a four-legged artist (look closely for the prints).  

A raccoon, most likely.  

Which raised other questions.  Why would a raccoon paint my drive?  Did he wear a smock and carry his pot of paint in his mouth?  Why yellow?  Maybe he was broke, could only afford one color and yellow was on sale.  Did he use his tail for a brush?  Surely not.  Raccoons are finicky.  They're all the time washing odd bits in our bird baths.


Oh, a twig.  


And then another, bigger question, Could we sell our raccoon art for millions on Ebay?  Rarity playing into the price of course.

I walked slow up the drive, my feet matching the speed of my thoughts.  

Until I came to the bright yellow answer.  

Pollen. 

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bluebonnet Bluff

Better and better...


Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bluebonnet Sunday

 

Beauty blooms without regard for thorns. 
 Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Missouri primrose (Oenthera macrocarpa)

 As the sun sinks, the flowers open, mini-suns for the night.

Missouri primrose is a native perennial of rocky prairies and hillsides from Tennessee to Texas...
and the wild spaces in our Hill Country yards and hearts.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Show Me Your Yard Art

I write here about Hill Country gardening as often as I write about anything.  But there is an element of the residential garden that I've been holding back, waiting for the right time.  Which is now.  

Yard Art.  Don't groan.  We're all entitled to our preferences.  As the old Texas saying goes, "There ain't no flapjack so thin that it don't have two sides."  

And I know you've committed Yard Art yourself.  It may be small; you may not call it Yard Art.  But you've got a frog, fountain or flamingo among the flowers in your domain.
 
Our Yard Art runs toward functional, like this arbor Denny built for my birthday a couple of years ago, after which he asked me if we could just go to the jewelry store for my next birthday. 

The year before, Denny built a waterfall for my birthday, the one the hummingbirds bathe in.










And, OK, I'll admit, we've got a cement animal. A small one.




But nothing to beat  this concrete Bevo guarding a hacienda down the road.


Now I want to hear about your yard art.  What funnies or fancies grace your plot? 

 Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Prairie Verbena Monday

Round the corner, up the rise, a low purple wave nods time with the wind.


Prairie Verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), friend of butterflies, hummingbirds and happy drivers. 

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

We Do What We Can

We have no shortage of hair in my household.  I know this for a physical fact because fuzzy tumbleweeds roll the edges of our rooms, escaping to congregate and reproduce under the furniture.  

Maybe it's because I don't brush my hair.  I can't.  If I did, every single hair would vibrate electric independence, reaching for the wide world beyond my head.  The halo would whack the sides of the doorways when I walk through.

And, of course, we have three cats.  

We brush them whenever we think about it.  Each brushing yields wads of soft kitty-fur clogging the brush and comb.  Even so, we don't brush enough because it's impossible to brush enough; a full-time brusher working 16 hour days, no break for Sundays, couldn't brush them enough.



But I quit feeling bad about the excess house-hair last month when I realized we could donate it.  So now I snatch up our sheddings and trot outside to add it to the latest handful of dried wiregrass stems, then tuck the bunch into a crotch of a tree.  


The neighbors drop by before the day is out and collect it for their new homes.

And everyone is happy. 
 
Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bluebonnet Drive

Last May, I ran an eight-day week of wildflowers on Hill Country Mysteries. 

I can count.  But at the end of seven days, I couldn't resist the eighth flower.  You can find those beauties by clicking here and scrolling down.

This year, in our Texas Hill Country and the prairies to the south and rolling hills heading north, the roadsides and fields are spangled with wildflowers; an exuberant celebration of rain after drought.  

I don't leave the garage without my camera...who knows what miracle will have bloomed since yesterday and might be gone tomorrow? 

And for the next however long, I'll occasionally put up roadside views for you to enjoy too.  Because we all deserve to celebrate life. 

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.