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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Quiscalus Mexicanus

Yesterday I bid adieu to daylight amongst a nonstop cacophony of whistles and squeals in our white-blossomed pear tree tops. Today I awaken to rapid-fire, rattling bird chatter with a few whistles and squeals thrown in for good measure. Pray tell, you might ask, who are the avian perpetrators of such ear-splitting vocalizations.

I slip into the back yard to find a raucous confrontation between two iridescent black Great-tailed Grackles. Each wants to claim our trees as their breeding territory. They posture with displays of ruffled feathers, fan out their long tails, and stretch necks and beaks skyward. One hundred years ago the northern range of these grackles barely reached Southern Texas. Today they’re found year round as far east as the Mississippi, north into Nebraska, and west into California. Irrigation agriculture and abundance of roost trees provided by urban sprawl make quiscalus mexicanus the fastest-expanding bird species in America.

Cooper and I look for deliverance from the clamor. We escape into the prairie. Our raw and rugged mistress doesn’t disappoint. She welcomes our sojourn with Western Meadow Lark song, emerging carpets of Red Stem Filaree, and the first splashes of leaves on Siberian Elms. But, treacherous resurrections of Plains Prickly Pear Cacti are also on her agenda. These opuntiads raise spine-studded pads from prostrate winter slumber akin to Lazarus returning from the dead.

With our high-paced trek in 68º F morning airs come the first rivulets of sweat seeping between brow and cowboy hat. I savor the sensation. Cooper reverts to Summer behavior of pausing for a breather in the sparse shade of lone prairie trees, even cholla. I must stay vigilant despite the allure of the environment. Any day now, the warming weather will stir reptiles from their lethargic dormant states.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Great-Tailed Grackle

Quiscalus Mexicanus

Territorial Ruff-Out Display

Eyeing The Competitor

Lazarus Syndrome (opuntia macrorhiza)

Stork's Bill (erodium cicutarium)

Purple Haze (Red Stem Filaree)

Shade Of The Old Elm Tree (Cooper)

First Leaves (Siberian Elm)

A Penny For Your Thoughts

The prairie hardly shows signs of its annual resurrection. She struggles to shake off the disruption of her routine by drought. Scant blushes of green recede into a color palette of freeze-dried straw. Merciless winds torment her soils and denizens. She is beyond thirsty. Her cracked and spalled countenance remains a grim reminder of her hankering for water. Even hardy yuccas hold back their flower stalks. Without the golden blooms of these iconic lámparas de dios and countless other wildflowers the Llano Estacado will traipse into summer as a bleak expanse of dust and straw.

"That's enough melancholy and somber dirges," whispers the prairie wind.

Cooper and I make tracks. He still has a lot of puppy spirit. When the occasional Jack Rabbit doesn’t oblige with a game of chase, he’ll grab anything not tied down to instigate a pursuit from me. I always oblige. After numerous passes in a game of keep-away, Cooper relishes his success in retaining control of his trophy stick. To the victor go the spoils.

I continue my sojourn down a dry, dusty ranch road. It’s been a relatively snow and rain free Winter. Llano Estacado trekkers and ranchers only have distant memories of muddy red dirt roads. It’s hard to picture slipping and sliding in mud on today’s passage way. I long for summer rains. We head home.

In stark contrast to the open prairie, our town is an oasis of spring dreams and renewal. I lie down on our back yard lawn and enjoy the ambrosia of apple and pear blossoms against an azure canopy of New Mexico sky. Cooper takes a few minutes to rid his coat of trail dust with an ecstatic roll on lawn turf. He stops for a few moments and gazes pensively. “A penny for your thoughts, my friend,” I whisper. Then I realize his stare is more appropriately scrutiny of a young, male Monarch butterfly feasting on the nectar of pear blossoms. I take the sighting as an augury of life and resurrection.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

To The Victor Go The Spoils (Cooper)

Red Dirt Road

Beyond Thirsty

Waiting For Spring (Cooper)

Green Blush (Cooper)

Turf Grass Ecstasy (Cooper)

Spring Dreams

A Penny For Your Thoughts (Cooper)


A Monarch's Feast

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Perfect Balance

Despite a chilly morning and daytime highs hovering near 60 degrees Fahrenheit, winter deliberately loosens its grip on the Llano Estacado. The resurgence of the bird population is a sure harbinger of spring. As insects are still a rare food source, I surmise seeds of the various prairie graminoids provide adequate sustenance.

I wander lost in thought and chance upon a Plains Yucca with an eye catching display of color at the junction of old and new-growth leaves. Curiously, numerous curly strings adorn the base of the leaf bayonets. They appear to separate from the edges of the leaves. What if any is their function? Neither flora nor fauna on the unforgiving Llano does anything without purpose towards survival.

While old leaves wither and die, the native perennial unabashedly reveals its vitality. This member of the agave family manifests the seemingly contrary forces of life and death as interconnected opposites. They complement one another as the yucca interacts with the prairie ecosystem. Nature always strives to maintain balance.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Perfect Balance (Plains Yucca)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Against All Odds

Cooper and I find ourselves on Llano Estacado trails at noon.  An overnight freeze and blustery northeasterly winds remind us winter has a few punches left. Overcast skies portend rain, perhaps snow. Will this be winter’s last cold embrace? In advance of the onslaught, motley skies clear briefly. I scramble to capture hearty prairie denizens at the cusp of their spring awakening.

Cane Cholla lead the way. Their chain links swell in preparation for spring blooms. Prickly Pear Cacti begin to raise their pads off the ground. The flat pads have numerous wrinkles and their purple tinge suggests stress due to drought and ravages of winter. Cooper and I wander haphazardly through the bleak landscape. I look for signs of renewal. He seems content to follow scent trails and chase birds.

In defiance of winter, pockets of delicate boneset tufts cling tenaciously to dry calices. Yucca leaves bristle boldly and form formidable, symmetrical arrays of bayonets to protect the flowers stalks ready to emerge. Yet wherever I cast my eyes, rough-hewn yucca skeletons still punctuate the skyline of the Llano Estacado tablelands. The rugged exteriors of their desiccated seed pods belie the aesthetic beauty of their inner sanctums. Against all odds, the amber-lined alcoves of the New Mexico State Flower insist on spreading hope and joy on this bleak first day of spring. They capture the fleeting sunlight and whisper, "look on the bright side, spring is just around the corner."

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Just A Link In The Chain (cylindropuntia imbricata)

Against All Odds (New Mexico State Flower)

Yucca Skyline

Formidable Symmetry (yucca campestris)

Life After Pappus (haplopappus ciliatus)

In Defiance Of Winter (False Boneset)

Last Cold Embrace

Opuntia Winter Facial (opuntia macrorhiza)

Is It Spring Yet? (Wax Goldenweed)

Bird Dog Genes (Cooper)

Monday, March 19, 2012


The Llano Estacado never ceases to surprise. After yesterday’s nearly eighty degree spring day, temperatures retreat into the fifties. Overcast skies menace the southern horizon. Rain clouds race to smother a sliver of sunrise colors along the Texas border to the east. The gray canopy spits droplets and ignores the need for a generous deluge. 

Cooper and I slip into the prairie amidst meadow lark melodies. The brisk morning air buoys our enthusiasm and hastens our footloose advance. The prairie appears lifeless, until the meager blush of sunlight sends blithe rays dancing across her bosom. The warm hues briefly highlight numerous bunches of star-shaped False Boneset calices. Images of twinkling starlight come to mind. Collectively, the shimmering clusters evoke illusions of far-off galaxies spinning in a universe of grass. Splashes of amber Trompillo berries rival distant planets and moons. They dangle from long since dry stems of Silver Leaf Nightshade skeletons. The tiny lanterns joyously proclaim the dawn of a new day.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Starlight (False Boneset)

Trompillo Moons (Silver Leaf Nightshade)

Tentative Spring (Siberian Elms)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Auguries Of Innocence

Several lines of William Blake's poem "Auguries Of Innocence" inspire my relationship with the wide open spaces of the Llano Estacado and its denizens.
To see the world in a grain of sand
and a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.
In a harsh and arid early spring landscape winged seeds of Siberian Elms develop boldly from inconspicuous flowers. Trompillo berries ripen in autumn. They weather snow and icy blasts of north winds to splash arrays of golden orbs across the winter and spring prairie straw.
Wolf Spiders construct elaborate straw sculptures around the mud turrets of their lair. The dark tunnel seems a fitting abode for an ambush hunter. Each day I pass the job site, I find additional straws and a more robust dirt tunnel.
Cooper spots a Western Meadow Lark nest in the sea of dry bluestem grasses. He's young and very curious, but relatively gentle with wildlife he encounters. Rambunctious Jack Rabbit chases are the exception. The adult larks protest profusely at our presence and we make a quick exit. On the way home I wax poetic.

Make merry, o reluctant spring,
Shy blooms bear seed on leafy wing,
Golden orbs dance in seas of straw, 
Spiders build lairs with nary a flaw.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Winged Seed (Siberian Elm)

Trompillo Berry Orbs

Wolf Spider Abode

Curiosity (Cooper)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rough Passage

The Llano stirs to life. Her thorny denizens awaken. Stick figures of Cane Cholla on the rolling prairie of Eastern New Mexico prepare for their spring bloom. The chain link structure of their stems and branches thickens. The return of "lifeblood" straightens spine-loaded arms. They implore the Heavens for rain. The renewed vigor of native cacti creates rough passage ways for Cooper on his romps across the prairie. Caution tempers his usual wild abandon. Removing cactus spikes becomes a daily ritual.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Waiting For Rain

Rough Passage (Cooper)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

To Every Thing There Is A Season

Spring is in the air. Cooper and I leave a pear blossom paradise and hit the parched and dusty Llano Estacado trails by nine o’clock. Air temperatures already hover near 70° F. The sights and smells of the spring awakening on the prairie stir primeval instincts in Cooper. He makes exploratory dashes across the landscape, trying to roust any creature willing to partake in civilized games of pursuit. Numerous Pocket Gopher mounds and Black-tailed Prairie Dog burrows are particularly irresistible. He and the prairie dogs appear to have a mutually acceptable relationship. They bark at him. He stops to visit and then life goes on. I taught him early not to dig and destroy burrows. He is content to stick his nose into the opening, say hello, and take in the tantalizing scents of burrow life.

Cooper instinctively locates and follows game trails, which makes navigating the rough Llano Estacado landscape much easier for me. Today one of his trail blazing adventures leads us past an excavated prairie den. The shaft disappears into darkness at about a forty-five degree angle. It’s too small to accommodate a coyote. This may very well be one of the abodes of the Swift Fox I occasionally notice ducking and threading through prairie vegetation. They are about the size of a large house cat. In order to avoid predators these secretive creatures inhabit a dozen or more dens each year. I surmise my friend is long gone.

For a few moments my thoughts drift back to flowering pear trees in our back yard. But realities of the prairie underfoot renew their hold of my sensibilities.

As the Llano Estacado awakens some of the first critters to stir to life are harvester ants. With each passing day activity near nests increases. Entrances are ajar and the trash crews are busy making midden deposits of trash accumulated in the nests during winter months. Nearby remnants of a bleached Black-tailed Prairie Dog skeleton serve as a poignant reminder of the eternal circle of life.

We complete our outing with a pleasant visit of an equine pal. Cooper’s been best buds with this white horse ever since his days as a clumsy but curious 8-week old puppy. The friendship continues. A few nuzzles and kisses and Cooper reluctantly heads home.

As we amble towards our town neighborhood my thoughts return to the mortal remains of the prairie dog. I embrace the message. Take time to smell the roses my friends, for--to every thing there is a season.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Silvertip Fir And Pears

Ready For Spring Exploits

Swift Fox Trail (Cooper)

Hello lo lo o o o Down There (Cooper)

To Every Thing There Is A Season

Season Opener (Red Harvester Ants)

A Time To Die (prairie dog)

Equus Albus Quest (Cooper)

Equus Albus

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Villa De Santa Fe, New Mexico

The oldest capital in the United States has a turbulent history. Nearly sixty years after Coronado leads the first Spanish expedition into the Southwest, European settlers push into Northern New Mexico. By 1610 they establish la Villa de Santa Fe as the capital of the Spanish colony.

The city is an endless stream of color and culture. A revival of pueblo style architecture known as the "Santa Fe Style" dominates the city scape. The New Mexico Museum of Art is one great example.

My visit includes meanders through numerous art galleries, shops, and mandatory dining at one of the numerous eateries--the Blue Corn Cafe. It is a wet day and a low cloud cover cloaks the city in a tranquility only rain brings. The usual hustle and bustle on the streets has moved into galleries, eateries, and shops.

The first ray of sun quickens her heartbeat and the city resumes her 400-year journey.

© Ilija Lukić 2012

Worried About A Stampede

New Mexico Museum Of Art

One Moment In The 400-Year Journey

Back Gate To The Museum Of Art

Baptismal Font In The Cathedral Basilica Of St Francis of Assisi
(Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Looking For Attention

Santa Fe Door

Loretto Chapel

I Shot An Arrow In The Air (art gallery)

Santa Fe Chile Ristras