Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saint Francis and the Dragon

Since a couple of my blogging buddies have been writing about anoles, I suppose it's time to come clean about my own past with the chameleon-like lizard.

In the summer of 2006, we'd just gotten a brand-new camera. It was shiny, with knobs and lenses and switches and menus. Despite knowing almost nothing about using it, I grabbed the camera and hauled it out to the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. Some of my favorite photos ever came from that trip, but this is about a Very Special Set of images that prove just how spectacularly unobservant I can be.

It was July, and hot. A few hours into the field trip, I needed to sit down in the shade for a while, and I stumbled across a little patio. A big tree provided the shade, and a low stone wall worked well as a place to sit. A terra-cotta statue of St. Francis watched over the patio from the flower garden behind the wall. I was surprised to see a brown lizard perched on his shoulder. Sensing a Photographic Moment, I crept over and started snapping away. (I am a member of the "Take A Million Pictures, and One is Bound to Be Good" club)
I was amazed that the anole didn't run away when I moved in close. Certainly, it turned around to look at me, but didn't flee. I changed position a little, and took more pictures, anticipating how nice the two earth tones would look juxtaposed.

At the time, I was concerned about how well the camera could handle the light and shadow contrast with the automatic settings, which is why I kept clicking the shutter button over and over again.

I was in an awkward physical position. St. Francis was far enough back that I needed to lean in, but the wall around the garden was too low to rest my elbows on, and too high to put my knee on it. The concrete on the ground had a layer of slippery gritty dirt that kept me from getting a good grip with my feet. My mind was focused more on staying upright and not dropping the camera than on what was going on in front of me.

By now, you've probably noticed what I failed to see. I continued failing to see the obvious until I got home and loaded the pictures on my computer. It's a habit of mine that I often look at picture rolls from end to beginning, so this was the first one I checked out:

Wait.... No, I was taking pictures of a BROWN lizard. Remember, I wanted to see the two earth tones? I scrolled back to the beginning of the roll, and it was only then that I saw the anole changing colors right in front of me. I completely missed it while it was happening.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Now and then I venture out of the Not-So-Big-Woods. A few days ago, I visited "The Shops at Legacy." According to their website, it's an "urban lifestyle center." This means that it's a small planned shopping/eating neighborhood with a few apartment buildings. Very trendy, happily pretentious, but with a nice movie theatre showing independent films plonked down in the big middle of it. In spite of missing the exit from the Tollway (twice!) I got there too early for my movie, so I strolled around the shopping area.

Just outside the Taco Diner is this fountain. A trio of sparkly young women stood there, looking down into the moat at the base. As I passed by them, I heard snatches of their conversation. "...soaking wet...don't think he can get out...going to drown..."


I doubled back and joined them, glancing down into the fountain. A really miserable grackle was trapped in the narrow space, soaking wet, just holding his head above the water.  "Can you help him?"

I felt terribly sorry for the bird, but amused at the sparkly girls, too. Saving the bird meant that I had to reach down about 6 inches and scoop him out. Very difficult rescue operation, you know.

I lifted him, dripping and pitiful, and installed him under a nearby shrub. The sparkly girls were effusive with thanks and praise. "You're our hero!"

And yet....no one called the newspapers.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I spent the spring collecting hair for bird to line their nests with: my hair, my pets' hair, the unsuspecting neighbor dogs' hair. A whole generation of tiny birds were hatched into soft blankets of local hair. We're starting to see the results. Last week was the first appearance of a couple of young cardinals. They look a lot like the females, but they lack the snappy orange beaks and assertive manners of the adults. They have a more timid look, and aren't nearly as proficient with the sunflower seed buffet. I've seen this one spending quite a long time trying to break open a seed, only to finally figure out that it was an empty shell half to begin with. One of the young males is just starting to get his red chest feathers, but they're coming in very sporadically. He looks like someone was trying to color in his chest with a marker that's just about to run out of ink.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I'm going to start off by saying that I didn't kill the neighbor's dog. He totally deserved it, but I restrained myself. Now you won't have to suffer through uncomfortable suspense.

We live in coyote country. We have no fenced yard. Our Dog is snack-sized. These three facts add up to: we accompany Dog on his walks. The most common trek is down our long long driveway, then up the private road to the gravel road where the mailboxes are, then back to the house. One-way is about 1000 feet. At the very furthest point, while waiting for Dog to do something productive, I noticed a butterfly on a hackberry leaf. Anything is more interesting than watching Dog search for just the right place, so I wandered over.

Wow. She was laying eggs on the underside of the leaf, her delicate ovipositer daintily dropping little dots one after the other, as though she was decorating a fancy wedding cake. I wondered if there was any chance that I could make the dash all the way back home to get a camera.

Moving as quickly as my inappropriate shoes would allow, I scampered back, got the camera, changed its lens, abandoned Dog, and headed back down the long long driveway.

A quarter of the way there, I stopped short when a gorgeous garter snake poured out of the grass onto the rocks right in front of me. Glowing yellow stripes on the sides, orange down the center, posing on the gravel. And I had a camera. I NEVER have a camera for things like this.

I'd just focused when the snake startled and vanished back into the grass. What?  Why?  AAAUUUGGHHH!!!   It was the neighbor's dog, gallumphing with glee toward me, hoping for a belly scratch. Thoughts of destruction raged through my mind, but I restrained myself. I still had to get back to the butterfly tree.

Hurrying on, now with a companion dog, I arrived to find that she was still there! Still depositing those tiny pearls on the back of the leaf. I found a great angle, focused, started to press the shutter...And then the Neighbor Dog jumped on my leg, throwing me off-balance so that I nudged the branch with the camera. Frightened, the butterfly flew away before I could get the picture.

Yes, he ruined two fabulous pictures within three minutes, and still, Neighbor Dog lives: a monument to my self-control.

As I trudged back down the long long driveway, a Bess Beetle plonked himself in front of me as though he was offering himself up as a consolation prize. I got a nice picture, although I fully expected that Neighbor Dog was going to run up and eat it at any second. I babysat the beetle all the way across the driveway until it entered the leaf litter on the other side, fending off the curious dog, who then trotted back to his home. His work was done.

I'm still very sad about missing the snake. Here's an artist's representation:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Scientists use all sorts of graphs, drawings, and images when they want to show the relationship between gravity and a black hole. This image, taken from Wikimedia's Commons , is a pretty typical one.

I wonder why scientists don't just use a photograph of a funnel-web spider.
 The funnel-web spinners found around here aren't the legendary spiders of Australia, where everything is venomous, including butterflies, cows, and small children. The Agelenidae family, my local funnel-web builders, are deadly only to insects that are unfortunate enough to step on the shimmering silken platform. The spider lurks inside the tube, waiting for vibrations from a wandering insect to sound the dinner bell. Then she rushes out, snags her blue-plate special, and dashes back inside, chortling all the way.

If you look for an answer to the question "What's inside a black hole," you get....well, you get a lot of results, but none of them seem to suggest that there's a giant Agelenidae in there. But really, how would you know?