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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jubilant Melodies

Local weather prognosticators conspire to break the three-digit temperature record set in 1922. It would be a fitting finale for a summer of scorching heat and limited rainfall. I pray they are wrong. 
Cooper and I head into the prairie in 70°F temperatures tempered by brisk southwesterly winds. My expectations of signature images materialize very early into our trek. Metallic shimmers of countless dragonfly wings light up the prairie. The aerial acrobats perch on tips of yucca skeletons in pre-flight warmup mode. I pause to savor the moment. Cooper dances and pounces through the dry stalks of Silver Bluestem grasses. He is content to flush and chase speedy lizards.
We push on and discover a treasure trove of activity. Harvester Ants wrestle with dried grass stalks piled near the nest entrance. The haphazard scattering of straws reminds me of a game of pick-up-sticks. Blue-fringed Ground Beetles scamper across dry vegetation and stop sporadically to devour Red Harvester Ants. A Bullsnake objects to our approach with glottal rattles and nasty hisses. We hold up until it moves into cover. Pocket Gophers push crescent-shaped mounds of cool, dark soil into the sunlight.  And against azure canopy of New Mexico skies a wake of Turkey Vultures rides air currents in their daily grind of sanitation chores. Black-tailed Prairie Dogs remain conspicuously absent. I fear they are casualties of the persistent drought.
Our sojourn includes several mandatory respites in the sparse shade of lonesome Siberian Elms struggling to survive the arid year. On the bright side, recent rains have started an eruption of colorful flora. Their persistence to flower amazes me. My spirit soars at the sight of their beauty and nudges my heart into jubilant melodies.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Plains Zinnia
(zinnia grandiflora)

Bushel Of Prairie Primrosa
(desmanthus leptolobus, aka Prairie Bundleflower)

Змије На Мом Уму (Snakes On My Mind)

Morning Round Of Pick-Up-Sticks
(pogonomyrmex rugosus)

Praire Bundleflower
(dismanthus leptolobus)

Silverleaf Nightshade
(solanum elaeagnifolium, aka White Horsenettle)

Larger Than Life (Cooper)

Sawtooth Kisses
(haplopappus ciliatus, aka Sawtooth Daisy)

Lemon Smooch
(haplopappus ciliatus, aka Wax Goldenweed)

Silverleaf Nightshade Patrol (Cooper)

Goathead Smiles
(tribulus terrestris)

Devil's Eyelashes
(tribulus terrestris)

Devil's Thorn - Cooper's Nemesis
(tribulus terrestris, aka Puncturevive, Bullhead)

Shady Respite (Cooper)

On the Prowl
(libellula pulchella, aka Twelve-Spotted Skimmer)

Twelve-Spotted Skimmers

The Twelve-spotted Skimmer is a large dragonfly found throughout the United States. Compared to its sleeker relatives, it conjures images of heavy-lift helicopters in flight. The distinctive brown spots on the wings make it easy to detect while it’s airborne. Once it perches, it’s well camouflaged. Each wing has three brown splotches. Additionally, adult males sport white spots between the brown spots and at the base of the hind wings. Another appellation of this beauty is Ten-spot Skimmer for the number of the white smudges.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer (female)

Twelve -Spotted Skimmer (male)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Smiley Faced Spider

"Hear ye, hear ye my winged brethren. I invite ye one and all to partake in the nectar of the prairie gods," whispers the smiley faced spider. In a realm fraught with peril, the golden abode and smiling inn keeper are a tempting refuge. The eight-eyed caretaker of the inviting roadhouse turns out to be an ambush predator. Its deceptive camouflage, which takes days to acquire, has done its job.

Closer examination reveals an efficient hunter with four oversized front legs for grabbing its prey. This arachnid has small fangs compared to other family members, but its potent venom paralyzes prey swiftly. It set the trap by using its four short hind legs to crawl into position sideways. The peculiar locomotion reveals its Crab Spider identity.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Smiley Faced Spider

Let The Sun Shine In

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Llano Shade Trees

One hundred days of torrid summer winds and dearth of rain continue to influence the survival of Llano Estacado flora and fauna. Cooper revels in the pursuit of fresh scent trails laid by prairie dwellers after recent rains. Shade is at a premium on the open plains. In the mind of this weary prairie trekker, the spiny silhouettes of solitary Tree Cholla easily metamorphose into shade trees. Cooper and I savor several brief respites in the embrace of their meager yet comforting umbras. At our last stop I take a few moments to understand the recovering landscape and find great beauty. 

© Ilija Lukić 2011

On A Scent Trail (Cooper)

Llano Estacado Shade Tree (Cooper)

Timeless Beauty

Perfect Camouflage

Cholla Branch Skeleton


Monday, August 22, 2011

Elysian Fields

Long overdue August rains tarry on the Northern Llano Estacado. Given a choice, the parched earth swiftly acknowledges her fondness for robust flora. Her scarred, iron-hard skin forged in the crucible of wind and sun softens with torrents unleashed by billowing storm clouds and every driblet of precious dew. She nurtures and prods her reluctant issue of wildflowers from their drought-induced sleep. The allure of the prairie rivals the Elysian Fields of yore.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

A Heart For The Wild
(El Llanero Viejo)

Narrow-Leaved Milkweed Umbel

Gray Bindweed
(convolvus equitas, aka Texas Bindweed)

Reclaiming The Ranch Road

Broadleaf Milkweed
(asclepias latifolia)

Aster Fluorish
(Yellow Spiny Aster)

Boxador Paradise

I'm Having So Much Fun

Armful Of Spanish Gold
(haplopappus ciliatus, aka Wax Goldenweed)

(heterotheca subaxillaris)

Puncturevine Spread
(aka Goat Head)

New Mexico Spiny Star

Dune Camphorweed

Purslane With Broom Snakeweed

Kochia Scoparia

Wild Poinsettia
(euphorbia dentata, aka Toothed Spurge)

Reverchon's Bristlegrass
(setaria reverchonii)

Golden Aster Highway

Nectar Of The Gods
(Narrowleaved Milkweed)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Step Into The Light

Half asleep Cooper and I traipse into a familiar 65-degree Llano Estacado summer morning and relish the refreshing embrace of the dew-covered prairie. My canine sidekick darts across the moisture-laden vegetation and returns drenched in dew. The consummate hunter is on the prowl. I brim with similar élan for a different kind of hunt. Today I’m after the rare and elusive beauty commelina erecta, aka Erect Dayflower. Sandy, moist soils near ephemeral pools are my target. The unusually wet summer favors my quest.
The delicate azure flowers bloom for only one day, wilting into a moist, blue mass after a few hours. They last longer on cloudy days or in shady settings. The genus name honors members of the 18th century Dutch botanist family Commelyn. Picture the two upper petals. They represent the two brothers who were famous botanists. The lower petal, almost unnoticeable represents a third brother who died young.  
My mission succeeds. However, it’s difficult to resist the lure of perfect light conditions. The early morning sun bestows dramatic shadows and breathtaking hues to an endless parade of subjects. I shoot until my trigger finger bleeds...figuratively speaking, of course. Thank God for digital film.
Our summer heat is about to break. A strong cold front will move through the area tonight and usher in thunderstorms. Tomorrow's predicted high is 69°F, agh.

© Ilija Lukić 2011

Step Into The Light

Blazing Mare's Tails (conyza canadensis)

Spanish Gold Doubloons (grindelia papposa)

Sawtooth Daisies In Wild Buckwheat

Here Comes The Sun (helianthus annuus)

Erect Dayflower (commelina erecta)

Dayflower Dew Bath (Cooper)

Looking For The Sun (Cooper)

Showy Chloris (chloris virgata)

Pigweed Spires (Amaranth)

Texas Blueweed Aglow

Wet Dawn (Cooper)