Saturday, May 9, 2009

Set in Stone

For those of you who have never visited Gettysburg, PA, the place is literally strewn with Civil War memorials to the soldiers who fought in the bloody three-day battle that took place there on July 1-3, 1863. My Mum lives just a few steps from the battlefield, and while I was visiting her, I recalled that one of the monuments features a dog. She remembered another one. So during a brief break in the rain, we went out to take photographs. 

This is the monument that I remembered. It's dedicated to the New York Infantry Irish Brigade. The pooch, an Irish Wolfhound, is a symbol of loyalty, not an actual mascot. The attitude of the dog is perfect. I once had a roommate with a Wolfhound named Moose. He would often lie outstretched with his great big head resting on his giant paws, just like this. 

The infantry sustained more than 200 casualties during the battle.

This is Sallie. She was an actual dog, a mascot for the Pennsylvania 11th Infantry, which fought just yards from the Irish Infantry along the tree-lined ridge. 

According to Gettysburg lore, Sallie got separated from her soldiers during the battle, but in the evening, when the guns fell quiet, she found her way back to the Union line to search for and stay by her men. After Gettysburg, she accompanied the 11th Infantry for almost the entire war until she was killed by a bullet during battle in February, 1865, just weeks before the Confederacy's surrender. 

Gettysburg is a strange place. As my mother says, it is one of those rare places where the dead have supported the living for generations. There's a morbid quality to the interest people have in the town. Every statue is a monument to people killed violently and painfully. Sometimes I find the undercurrent of grief and pain overwhelming, and yet the countryside is so beautiful and serene. Farmers still grow apples and peaches in the outlying orchards as if nothing had ever happened there. And people come from all over the country to dress up in hoop skirts and general's uniforms to pretend that it's 1863 all over again. Curious. 


Friday, May 8, 2009

Dogs? What Dogs?

Traveling reminds me of how much my dogs anchor me to the real world. While I was visiting my cat-loving mother in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where it rained for seven days straight (and continues to rain), I lost all my routines and even bits of my identity. We couldn't go walking because of the weather and the flooded trails in the nearby park. We didn't have a reason to walk—though Mum's obese kitties could use the exercise. We drove to the grocery store and to the library. We wore sweatshirts with animals on them. By 5:30 in the evening, we both donned blue, fuzzy bathrobes, and, gin-and-tonics in hand, settled in to watch the news and quiz shows—undisturbed because my mother turns off her computer, sets the burglar alarm, and refuses to answer the phone after dusk. It was, my friends, life in the slow lane. And while it was incredibly relaxing, I realized how much I depend on the dogs to get me out in the world in a meaningful way. 

I returned home too late to pick up the girls from the kennel. I tossed and turned all night. I woke at every sound and look around, mistaking the still-packed suitcase on the floor for one of the dogs. I missed the familiar sounds of Roma's tags jingling and Muzzy's snore-sighs. Within minutes, though, of collecting my dogs, I felt as if I'd had two cups of coffee. Suddenly, I was hungry and alert and had so much to do and say. I began planning our walking schedule. Life assumed its old shape and patterns. So tonight, we'll be at Dog Park chasing tennis balls and poking at wildflowers in the muggy heat instead of sipping gin and reading murder mysteries on a rain-soaked evening. I'll look for you there. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Favorite View

I think this is one of my favorite views of the Dog Park. It's the view to the southwest as you come up the hill along the east/creek side. You can't see buildings or parking lots or hear traffic from nearby streets. You can almost convince yourself that you are walking a country lane with your dogs—and that some surprise is waiting for you at the top of that hill. 

The girls and I are back in town today. We'll need to know all that we missed around the Park. See you soon!--z

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wildflower of the Day

A tree, actually, but a flowering one. For years I thought this tree was a Huisache—because of its yellow flowers. Also, someone told me. But now  I think it is Paloverde, also called Ratama or Horsebean. Can anyone confirm or deny? It, too, is on the east side of the park, along the trail as it descends. 

Below, a pecan next to the south parking lot. It's a goner. This was one of my favorite trees. When I used to live across from the Park, I would bring Roma for a last walk very late at night. I loved the way the lights from the parking lot would throw the tree's craggy angles into silhouette. One year, too, an owl regularly used it as his (or her) perch. I am sorry that it did not survive. It always provided us with nice shade on hot summer evenings. 


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wildflower of the Day

The spring rains may have come too late for the bluebonnets this year, but the Coreopsis  (Coreopsis tinctoria) are taking advantage of it. It's a banner year for these flowers at the Dog Park. These images are from all around  the Park. 

A few late bluebonnets in the mix here. 
Enjoy. --z

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wildflowers of the Day

I had never seen these flowers before. Erica noticed them in the field that "bumps out" toward the creek on the east side of the park. According to Texas Wildflowers, they are Pink Sensitive Briar, or Shame Vine (Schrankia uncinata).  The plant is so named because its leaves are so sensitive that the slightest touch will cause them to fold up. The plant also curls up at night and on overcast days--just like the dogs! I did not get down on the ground to smell for myself, but my field guide says that the flowers are "fragrant." I'll have to ask Muzzy.

Also nearby is this specimen of lantana. According to my field guide, this one is on the lam from someone's garden. It's not the wild Texas lantana (Lantana horrida), which has deep orange and yellow flowers. Its cream and pink petals mean that it is L. camara, "mainly a cultivated plant, but some have escaped." Send for the dogs! 


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Wildflowers of the Day

This, my friends, is a Prickly poppy (Argemone chisosensis), not yet bloomed. It is seriously spiny. When the flowers open, they will be a delicate pink with a yellow center. I checked on this plant right before I left town, and it was still not ready to go. I hope it does not bloom until I get back to Austin!

I have scoured my wildflower book for this one, but I can't identify it. None of the entries in Texas Wildflowers shows a purple flower with soft, "frosted" leaves like this one. This one lives in an area of the Park that is not often mowed, on the east side, off the beaten track. I'll keep looking for its name. I almost always stumble across the photo that matches when I am looking up a completely different flower. 

This specimen I do know. It's a Horse Nettle. Its flowers may be white but Dog Park hosts only the purple version. All Horse Nettles feature the bright yellow stamens that hang down like fangs. The plants grow everywhere in the Park. Apparently, the leaves have both hairs and nettle-like prickers, but I have never been stung by any—or at least did not know it. These plants, when mature, grow tiny yellow fruits that may be poisonous. As a member of the Solanaceae, or Nightshade, family, this plant is related to tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, petunias, and belladonna, according to my Texas Wildflowers book. 

Finally--not a very good picture, but this plant is showing up everywhere at Dog Park this year. I spent an entire spring one year trying to figure out what it is. I am pretty sure it is Wild Honeysuckle, or Bee Blossom. My guidebook calls it a "weedy plant" because it is mostly stem and leaf and only a little flower. It's not showy! It is called Bee Blossom because its scent attracts bees, but its fragrance is not noticeable to me. 


PS: Observant readers of this blog may have noticed that a different post for May 3 published itself earlier this week. Yet another technical difficulty, folks. And, as any regular viewer of Dr. Who knows, once you disrupt the time line, the consequences can't be undone. I had to delete that entry and post this one instead. Thanks for your patience. --z