Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Arkansas Adventures

OK. Let's pick up where we left off last, which, you may recall, was rural Arkansas. If I had grown up in rural Arkansas, there is a chance that I may not have become the Nature Nerd that I am today. A lot of nature there sounds... well, scary. We parked the car at Chris' grandmother's house, which has a long, up-hill gravel driveway (not great for Prius' suspension) and grass parking spaces. The grass has not been mowed since I don't know when, but my money's on last summer. So it was quite tall. And as we're walking getting out of the car, I am warned to watch out for rattlesnakes in the tall grass, and red ants. Also chiggers, but you can't watch out for those because you can't see them. Not to mention ticks, although I thought it was too warm for those. Grasshoppers were hopping out of my way, but there were so many of them that a lot just landed on me. This I didn't mind, but I could see where if you were a little kid or a person who was unaware of the grasshoppers' benign status, that you could be a wee bit freaked out.

I did not get bitten by any of the aforementioned terrors -- well, I do have itchy feet, but I'm assuming its mosquitoes and NOT chiggers -- and I will admit that the presence of 4 very cute little kittens (and several adult cats) definitely overshadowed the threat of snake bites. (I took about a hundred pictures, but I'll spare you. I'm sure there are other blogs out there about kittens.) Chris, in an effort to be kind and also possibly relive his youth, mowed the lawn At first I thought this was a good idea, but then I started to feel terrible, because when a lawn becomes that long, it ceases to be a boring monoculture and becomes a habitat. In addition to the aforementioned terrorizing creatures and grasshoppers, there
were crickets trying to escape death by lawnmower blade, spiders (see right) the size of golf balls (I exaggerate not at all. They were fast, too), praying mantises (see below for a baby on thumb) and other things. He only mowed a small part of the lawn due partly to time but also to the seeming cruelty of making all these things homeless.

But by far the most spectacular thing about the lawn was the dragonflies. There were probably 50 of them, swooping around all over. There was a pair of pondhawks, pictured below, which species has been a DotD in the past. There was also a twelve-spotted skimmer. Most of the dragonflies were some other sort of skimmer (I think) that was yellowish-orangey and black and never stopped. I never saw one perched at all. This impeded my ability to photograph or ID them. Amongst those, rarely, flew some large black dragonflies (some sort of darner?). These were the biggest odonates I have ever seen. There was a hummingbird that hovered around some of the yard's flowering shrubs, and these dragonflies were larger.

Praying mantis and carpenterworm moth. This picture does not show you that this moth was over 2 inches, strikingly large, actually.
Male and female eastern pondhawks.
This photo is trying to show how many dragonflies there were, since they never landed. Each black dot in the sky (I know, hardly visible at all at this small size) is a dragonfly.

Summer in Arkansas is also -- and I don't mean to state the obvious here -- hot. In a humid sort of way. We were lucky enough to be there during an unusually cool streak; it was also unusually cool here. The weather still gave me something to write about, though. Monday afternoon a storm blew in. The clouds -- grey and whirly -- rolled through and we were surrounded by lightning strikes. It teased for a while -- we stood outside waiting for rain, which finally did arrive. On Tuesday, when we drove home, there was more rain. A lot more rain. The radio said 2 inches in an hour, and this made visibility sucky. And that was all before 8 am. The rain continued for most of the afternoon, with flash flooding and everything. Of course, here, where we need rain very badly, there fell not a drop! [It did rain here on Tuesday night a little bit and a little on Wednesday, so I can't complain that much.]

One thing that I would quite enjoy about living in Arkansas is the growing season. (To clarify... this would be good for growing food. I do like me a good cold winter to kill off the molds, chiggers, etc.) In Arkansas, people were harvesting tons of tomatoes already, and even melons. They put these things out in the ground in early April, I guess. Here, there are a few tomatoes, but not a lot yet -- not enough to be canning salsas or making the year's worth of tomato sauce.

What we are getting here is cucumbers. In mass quantities. Some carrots and tomatoes. Also the first green beans. Small peppers are almost ready. And we harvested our garlic today, 17 bulbs hanging in the basement.

In the world of prairie plants, not a whole lot new has bloomed since we left, but there's just more of stuff. More bergamot, more yellow coneflower. Grasses are near to seeding, though, so look for that news soon!

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