Let your heart be a portal for the songs of the universe.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bullsnake Whisperer

As Cooper and I trek through green splashes of vegetation near a Siberian Elm grove, a shimmer on the ranch road ahead catches my eye. Is it a snake? I advance carefully and confirm a pituophis catenifer sayi aka Bullsnake. This North American Great Plains reptile thrives in this habitat of shortgrass prairie teeming with Pocket Gophers and Western Harvester Mice prey. Natural predators of the snake are limited due to displacement by human expansion into the prairie.

On initial approach I keep movements deliberate. My heart races. I manage several photo images of a relaxed colubrid. Cooper enters the area to investigate my activities. The snake reacts with a more defensive postures. Its fluid movements become assertive. Its hypnotic reptilian stare, taught coils, glottal rattle, and cocked striking position declare a formidable adversary. A few more images and we move off. The snake calms down and disappears in grass cover.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Cautious Exit From Cover

Coiled Grace

Reptilian Stare

Tasting The Air

The Rest Of The Story

Wary Eye

Texas Horned Lizard

While hiking a game trail I encounter a horned lizard enjoying a sunbath. Given its coloration I’m surprised I spot it. Cooper walks past without alerting. I notice our little friend has puffed up its body to make its spiny scales protrude. The exercise is a defensive mechanism to appear difficult to swallow--predators beware. Without bright sunlight these docile masters of camouflage would suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Yet their pension for the sun is their achilles heel. They have to leave protective cover to garner the benefits of sunlight. Horned Lizards can move quite fast when threatened and are excellent diggers. The Harvester Ant is one of its principal sources of food.
In order to collect some close-up images, I take advantage of the lizard’s primary defense response. It freezes to avoid detection by a predator. I know slow deliberate movement will allow me to get within several inches of its nose.

Close interaction with nature inspires awe. I depart while the tiny prairie denizen continues its sunbath.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Pucker Up

Racing Stripe Camouflage

Beauties And Beasts

Our arid High Plains beg daily for a life-giving inoculation of liquid gold from the blue canopy stretching from horizon to horizon. The Llano Estacado seems lifeless. Only isolated pockets of Spring flora thrive. The usual carpets of wildflowers are just fond memories. Even masters of survival such as the intrepid yucca remain dormant. Only an occasional specimen of Cane Cholla has set buds. The Llano does give up its wildflower treasures reluctantly to those who want to find them.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Cane Cholla Double Dare

Emerald Trails (gutierezzia sarothrae)

Fleabane Greeting (erigeron modestus)

Prairie Down (nothocalais cuspidata)

Rhapsody In Pink (Prairie Fleabane)

Silky Caress (oxytropsis sericea)

Untamed Beast (cylindropuntia imbricata)

Friday, April 29, 2011

April Day At Home

Dust storms howl across the plains and our town, once again. Microscopically fine, brown dust tests every pore and crevice in structures, looking for access to the inner sanctums of the human abodes. By afternoon the winds diminish. I venture into our back yard to assess damages and find images of peace and promises of joy.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Christmas Cactus

Fertility Godess

Flor De Maio

In The Limelight

Naked Singularity

Speaking In Tongues

The Cowboy Life

Another gale force Llano Estacado trail sweeper pushes windblown soil into West Texas. While the gritty furies rage, I reminisce about trail rides and chasing cattle with my cowboy friends Tony and Randy. The New Mexico shortgrass prairie and dusty sand hills are their stompin’ grounds. Cowboy lore of life on the range colors and drives their exploits. Countless times I ventured into the endless horizons of the New Mexico plains under their tutelage. Their knowledge, patience, and humor initiated this greenhorn into the cowboy way of life. Every minute was a lifetime of adventure.

Rain doesn’t fall, but the wind does blow,
Dust clouds shroud the deep blue skies,
They roam the high plains of New Mexico,
Where cattle bawl, and the hawk still flies.

Roll out of bed at o’dark thirty,
Gloves and hat hangin’ on the rack,
Boots and spurs are still dirty,
Old pickup awaits, two dogs in the back.

Saddle up with the rising sun,
A Paint named Trouble, Melonhead a red mule,
Two weathered cowpokes out for fun,
One greenhorn, ‘bout to go to school.

Smell the sage, roust antelope and deer,
Ride fence in the draws and up sand hills,
Round up heifers and chase ornery steer,
Get ‘em to water, jabber till the tank spills.

Border Collies work to keep doggies in line,
Chutes, gates, needles, brandin’ iron smoke,
Tag, count, check heifers, their due dates divine,
Bulls leave as steers, without a knife stroke.

The sun paints the Western horizon red,
While coyotes sing ballads to the moon,
Greenhorn can’t wait to find a soft bed,
Dreams will surrender to dawn, too soon.

Rain doesn’t fall, but cold wind does blow,
Blizzards unleash from an angry sky,
On the high plains of New Mexico,
Cattle calls echo, cowboys will never die.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Cowboys (Tony And Randy)

Tony On Melonhead The Red Mule

Randy And His Arabian Steed

Scouting A Passage Through The Sand Hills

Forging Through The Chaparral

Lookout On Sand Dune Crest

Resting Trouble And Melonhead

Taking A Break

Happy Greenhorn

Wide Open Spaces Of Eastern New Mexico

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tapices Altiplano

While the Llano Estacado echoes with dirges for lost spring blooms, I find solace in the aesthetic crescendo of "tapices altiplano" woven into the short grass prairie.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Partners Without Borders

Altiplano Reloj De Sol (high plains sundial)

Pyramid Ant Crater

Tansy Aster Bud

Terra Engineers

Western Salsify Sunshade

White Aster Paradise

Chaetopappa ericoides aka White Aster, Baby-white Aster, and Rose Heath Aster loves open prairie and dry sandy soils. In other words, our drought plays to its forte. During my daily prairie flora treasure hunt, I find scattered clusters on our Llano Estacado shortgrass steppe. The patches arise from deep, creeping roots. Its ray flower petals commonly curl down in the evening and straighten by mid-morning. Edwin James records finding these hardy wild flowers along the Canadian River on the unsuccessful James Long Expedition of 1819-1820 to take control of Spanish Texas. Of course, the native civilizations of the Southwest have long been familiar with this delicate, bright spring beauty. They commonly use White Aster as a medicinal herb to treat snakebites, nose ailments, toothaches, rheumatism, and a variety of swellings.
Since we are out and about in the heat of the day, Cooper yearns for the shade of his favorite Siberian Elm thicket and I concur. The respite feels good.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

75°F High Noon (Cooper)

Heath Aster Blanket

White Aster Paradise

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Life Will Not Be Contained

Cooper and I embark onto Llano Estacado trails by nine in the morning. It’s a typical high plains 50-degree spring day with blue skies, popcorn clouds and blustery 30-40 mph breezes laden with the aroma of distant dairy cows. Yet, the air is surprisingly dust free.  Yesterday’s 60+ mph gales have moved loose soils, trash, and anything else not tied down into southern New Mexico.
Despite the harsh weather conditions, life on the Southern Great Plains will not be contained. The unchained melody of spring rings louder with every passing day. The first Scarlet Gaura of the season defiantly waves its delicate flowers in the maelstrom. Fragile Plains Yucca shoots move mountains of hardpan to escape the shackles of their earthly womb. Plains Prickly Pear buds in their spiny cradles reach for the warmth of the spring sun.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Life Will Not Be Contained (Plains Yucca)

Reaching For The Sun (Plains Prickly Pear)

Scarlet Gaura

Tansy Mustard

Bullsnake Two-Step

Although night temperatures remain in the upper 30s and lower 40s, I have been expecting snakes to make their Spring appearance. Sure enough, what I dismiss as a fallen yucca stalk on our morning trail starts to squirm and transforms into a hissing, slithering tangle of scale-covered reptilian coils. The reptile glistens in the morning light.  Cooper instinctively keeps his distance. Our friend turns out to be a six-foot Bullsnake (pituophis catenifer sayi). This colubrid is not poisonous to humans, but they are fast and can get quite aggressive when threatened. With adrenaline pumping I capture a few images.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Nose To Nose

Rattlesnake Mimic

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soft Pricklies

Cooper and I enjoy a rewarding early morning jaunt on the Llano Estacado.  A slow meander down game trails and ranch roads serves as a leisurely two-mile jog under a partly cloudy sky. While Cooper plays cat and mouse with prairie dogs, I bag some interesting images of soft pricklies. The normally sharp-spiked Plains Prickly Pear cacti reveal their softer side as seedlings. I also find an inconspicuous little plant, Panamint Catseye (cryptantha angustifolia). The little white blossoms are only two millimeters in size. It's also known as Bristlelobe Cryptantha, Narrow-leaved Forget-Me Not, Popcorn Flower, and Narrow-leaved Cryptantha. Its delicate beauty belies its tenacity to survive the harsh environment of the Llano.
Later in the day, our High Plains hamlet endures the chocking shrouds of a brownout. The usual lively afternoon winds unexpectedly kick up a notch and treat us to gusts of 60+ mph.  Except for the incessant winds and continuing drought, we are fortunate. This Spring, most of the really severe weather of tornados, tennis ball-sized hail, strong winds, and flooding rains continues to stream by and inundates lands to the East.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Panamint Catseye

Soft Pricklies (Plains Prickly Pear)

Western Salsify Splash (tragopogon dubious)

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Tear For My Prairie

Cooper and I head into the sea of grass east of our settlement. Stiff westerly winds hurry us along and heighten our expectations of adventure. The deep blue canopy of New Mexico sky and warm sun promise a pleasant morning of exploration on the short-grass prairie of the Llano Estacado.
A menagerie of wild birds awaits and does not disappoint:  Mourning Doves take to the air with whistling flutters of wings; sparrows rouse the sleeping prairie with boisterous rampages through sunflower skeletons; a Northern Harrier sails leisurely a few feet above prairie dog town prepared to strike; a Swainson’s Hawk circles majestically overhead; Western Meadow Larks provide musical entertainment; and my favorite, Barn Swallows fly the gauntlet of yucca stalks...pause briefly above us...chatter a friendly hello...and are off in pursuit of their morning insect quarry.
Reality soon shatters the serenity of our excursion. Off-road enthusiasts frequent some of the trails we hike. Predictably the prairie flora and fauna suffer insult, injury, and death.  Among the casualties are a juvenile Bullsnake, a Western Harvester Mouse and a Texas Horned Lizard. I shed a silent tear.
We turn homeward when the stiff morning breeze turns into a blustery 40+ mph trail sweeper. The blue skies don a dusty grey veil and grit covers my tongue and teeth. My pace becomes a stagger against the fury of Aeolus while plastic trash bag banderas flutter noisily from dry Plains Yucca stalks.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Play Nice Kids (Fringed Puccoon)

Red Stem Filaree Trail

Wet Trumpet Section (Plains Stoneseed)

Courting The Sun (filaree and primrose)

Filaree Cowboy (Ilija)

High Plains Scout (Cooper)

Shady Rest Stop (Cooper)

The Wisdom Of Surgeons (Flixweed)