An Ordinary Snail

snail in bowl 2 may 2015

This may look like an ordinary snail but that spiral is really a time vortex. Seeing it took me back in time to when we first moved here.

We had trees and a green lawn but in the vestigial gardening areas all I could see was cracked clay and ancient crinums flopping to the ground. I thought they were drama queens until I looked closely at them in the morning light. They were covered in snails. If I ran my hand along a leaf by the end of the journey that hand would be full of little shells. Not exactly a gardener’s paradise.

I went a little mad. Every morning I woke up early with one goal in mind: to remove the snails. I collected buckets and buckets of snails. Some I squished. (The shells were more delicate than I imagined — more like eggshell than rock). Some I threw to the road for the birds to eat or tires to smash. I did this every day until one day there were no snails. “My work here is done,” I smugly thought.

But, it was a bad thing to do. There is no need to console me and tell me that any gardener would do the same. I know my guilt. It is true that the system was out of balance — the sheer numbers of snails alone was a clear signal but I got the message all wrong.

Yearning

Yearning

Since then I think I have learned more about how to read the land. I thought then that it was of vital importance to save the crinums. I saw them as heritage plants — holdovers from a more civilized time. They were but if I were to say that phrase today — especially with that word ‘civilized’ included my tone of voice would sound completely different.

The snails were there to clean up the mess that successive people had left behind. The crinums were under siege but the system wasn’t collapsing. At all. The clean up crew was there to bulldoze through the last of the introduced species to properly develop the area.

What do snails do? Do they have any worth? Snails are herbivores — mostly — and I suppose around here they might even be the dominant herbivore. I don’t have many ants. Only a few kinds of caterpillars visit. I am sure the pecan trees are happy we have very few aphids. Lovely things like deer exist only on other people’s blogs. Birds and squirrels visit but they are usually looking for berries and nuts. They don’t linger. So I guess snails will have to do.

Do what, exactly? Snails are herbivores. They take the goodness that plants have extracted from the soil and pass it along to the rest of the world.  Without the support of herbivores we wouldn’t have colourful birds, fuzzy mammals or cool lizards lounging in the greenery.

When the worst of the drought hit Austin shortly after we moved here my little system did collapse — despite or maybe more accurately because of my efforts. The tree frogs disappeared and the firefly population dimmed. The pecan trees started throwing huge limbs to the earth.

It would be easy to blame the lack of moisture but I am pretty sure the real problem was the gardener. The lack of snails and me stupidly raking up the leaves each fall to give away (!) to the city was creating a perfect storm. Remove the organic material provided by leaf litter and the soil goes hungry. Remove the herbivores and you break the chain of life.

These days I do everything differently. I do not coddle plants. Well, hardly at all. =) I actively seek out forbs indigenous to the area for reintroduction. Fallen leaves stay on the soil — more or less. Logs are gifts from the trees to the earth. Even snails have a place here.

happy

Homeward bound

So after I subjected this little creature to a couple of photos I thanked it and put it back on a decaying log. It might feed a bird. I can hear wrens chattering as I type. It might feed the larvae of one of the fireflies I love so much. If it survives and the population of snails gets large enough maybe one day the tree frogs will return.

Today I can appreciate the beauty of the snail’s shell architecture and admire its colour — is it amber or maybe more like copper? The bell opening reminds me a bit of a French horn. That well formed shell also tells me our soil is rich in calcium and has enough moisture and nutrition to support life.

One of the ‘purposes’ of this blog is to help me stay mindful of the world around me — to wander around and accurately hear what the world is saying to me. The return of the snail feels good. Maybe I am starting to get it all right this time.

Wildlife Wednesday: May 2015

The last thirty days took us from bare twigs to full green canopy. That spring growth can transform everything so quickly just never gets old for me.

April is abundance. We’ve had rain and the trees and berries are water heavy. Birds linger under the mulberry eating their fill of berries and I suppose some insects for dessert.

Birds

When my dad was visiting he said he kept seeing a blue jay outside his hotel window. It is probably the same jay that has taunted me all month. Everywhere I go I see him posing just so on a branch. Waiting … waiting … until I -almost- have the shot. At the precise moment my finger touches the button … he jumps into the air laughing his ass off while I curse at yet another missed photo. Blue jays. Bah.

The red-winged blackbirds are more cooperative:

red-winged blackbird april 2015 2

Red-winged blackbird

I love these birds so much. I remember them from fishing trips when I was growing up on the other side of the continent so seeing them here is like running into an old nearly forgotten friend. They live in large colonies around pond edges. I think their calls are beautiful — if music was a liquid it might sound like the red-winged blackbird.

Actually, they make a variety of sounds for a variety of purposes. The ones at the pond near my house make a certain call in spring that I have never heard before and isn’t listed on the Cornell All About Birds site. It sounds to me like a clear whistling bee-yip. The colony seems to use it to triangulate possible intruders and/or nosy people wandering through their nesting area.

A lovely grackle trying to take a bath in peace ….

Grackle

Grackle

And look! A pied-billed grebe! So cute. So little.

Pied-billed grebe

Pied-billed grebe

On one of the information signs at the Mueller demonstration garden is the line: where there is water there is life.

Life and turtles …

Someone on a forum told me this is probably an ancient red-eared slider. As they age the red marking fades.

res-eared slider

red-eared slider

Birds, Bees and the Beetle that Laid the Golden Eggs

Whether you think they are welcome or not, insects can be colourful.

Trirhabda bacharidis

Trirhabda bacharidis larva

small blue beetle

small blue beetle

And have knack for finding colourful places …

Imagine a world where flowers were the size the size of a small room. Here’s a skipper in paradise an evening primrose.

skipper in primrose

skipper

prickly pear and friends

prickly pear flower and friends

At the very beginning of this month I found these eggs on my indigofera. Normally I don’t care if ‘pests’ eat plants (unless they are bugs of mass destruction) but this is a small plant just starting to get established. I raced inside to find out which bug lays golden eggs.

ladybug eggs

No cause for alarm. A few days later …

a group of ladybug larvae emerged. I separated them so they wouldn’t eat each other. I don’t KNOW if they do that but I have heard rumours.

ladybug hatclings 2

And while I know the world really doesn’t need more bee photos I don’t really care. haha

Bee with thunder thighs … mmmm magnolia ….

bee in magnolia april 2025

Bee with handsome sunglasses …

bee2 may 2015

And one more just cuz …

bee may 2015

I am so thankful that Tina from My Gardener Says hosts Wildlife Wednesday. The recurring deadline helps keep me mindful of the world around me. Do check out her blog and the comments section where you can see the more exotic wildlife other people from around the world find in their backyards and beyond.

The Mayflower

Full disclosure. I went for a wander this morning and missed all the good shots like the blue swallowtail perched on the orange lantana. Luckily flowers -mostly- stay still.

That swallowtail also landed here.

Mimosa borealis, I think

Mimosa borealis, I think

Flew past these glowing seed pods:

seed pod

And disappeared into a field where yellow is the latest fad.

yellow may flower 2015

moody yellow may 2015

And where I got sidetracked into photographing imperfect blanket flowers.

blanketflower may 2015

Last November I found a blanket flower still in bloom. The plant was a singleton — possibly a garden escape. Nearly every flower on that plant harboured a native bee. Those bees looked terribly vulnerable to me. Homeless. Exposed. There was a native squash vine growing nearby but it never flowered so I invented a fantasy where the bees were forced to seek an alternate refuge. Today there are dozens of blanket flower plants in that same area. And each one is perfectly imperfect.

blanketflower2 may 2015

blanketflower4 may 2015

Happy May Day to all and humble apologies to the woolly bear caterpillar that landed on my hand and made me not only squeak in surprise but also violently fling it several yards away. Hope your landing was softer than it looked …