Thursday, March 9, 2017

Spring in East Texas

     Spring is here in East Texas!  Pretty caterpillars are hatching and eating leaves, to be butterflies or moths in a few weeks. This beautiful little one is a tent caterpillar and if a bird doesn't snatch it for a quick meal it will turn into an obscure brown moth.

After it eats a lot of leaves and spins a cocoon in bark crevices, this pretty caterpillar (with toxic hairs) will be a White-Marked Tussock Moth.

     Birds and lizards are busy breeding, too. This male skink's head turns red during breeding season, but she's more interested in the fly to her right. He followed her for a long time, waiting for her consent.

     Hunting season has (finally!) ended, so I've begun weekly rides with Topaz in a 3,000 plus acre private forest. We've seen lots of migrating robins and purple martins; saw a couple of red-tailed hawks and a Bald Eagle, too. A special thrill was the discovery of a Great Blue Heron rookery. It's a magical spot where the normally solitary bird gathers with about 30 other herons, and a few neighborly Great White Egrets, to mate and build nests. Fuzzy photo below will be replaced soon with better photo; need patience and good weather/sunlight to get a worthy photo . . . . also need a horse that will stand quietly amongst the scents of feral pigs in the forest. More about feral pigs later.

     Lots of beautiful dogwood blooms, redbud blooms, along with not-so-beautiful green and yellow powdery pollen, and that wonderful baby green color of tiny tree leaves bursting out  . . .

 . . . and zillions of wildflowers popping up.

Topy loves the lush clover.

Have to tussel with her alittle to pull her head up.

     Farrier Mark gave Topy a pedicure recently. He puts each hoof between his knees to hold it still and trims her hoof walls first . .

      Then he puts each hoof on a stand and files the hoof wall edge with a metal file, making it smooth. The dogs LOVE to chew on discarded hoof walls!

     Lately on our rides, I've seen lots of feral pig activity in the forest; they root-up soil like a plow, in search of underground food sources, damaging trails and pastures and a local golf course. A local rancher flagged me down and showed me a photo on his phone of a very large feral pig (about 350 to 400 lbs?) that hunters had killed the night before using dogs to flush it out. I've been seeing many pig foot prints in the mud, but one pig foot print in the mud was pretty intimidating; twas about 4" width and deep enough to suggest at least more than a couple hundred pounds. The rancher told me there were 3 sightings of cougar, too.

We usually ride about 4 hours at an easy trot depending on trail conditions (below is video of our pace).


     In the video, I'm holding a bow up in the air. I happened upon a YouTube clip of horseback archery last fall (click here for amazing sport of horseback archery). On a dare from my sister, I decided to dip my toes into the sport.

     Good friend Archer John taught me how to shoot a kiddy bow and arrow (it pulls only 15 lbs since I lack upper body strength, his bow pulls 60 lbs). See how perfectly parallel our arrows are?

     But I discovered horseback archery is extremely difficult on a moving horse! Native Americans who galloped bareback using just leg pressure to guide the horse along side bison that are bigger and meaner than horses, with ready bow and arrows inches away from a stampeding herd, were extremely athletic, brave and strong! I suspect there were many deaths during those hunts. The famous painter of western scenes, Charles M. Russell, didn't glamorize Native Americans' buffalo hunts.

     Early this morning when I loaded Topaz at Sally and Boyce's ranch, Sally showed me a little lamb in her bath tub.

Sally was nursing it back to health for a granddaughter. The little guy was wearing a diaper.

Sally rescued another dog, too.

     Lady, a miniature Cocker Spaniel, is 10 years old, but it's a puppy-mill dog who's afraid of people due to its hardships in life. Eventually, Lady came out from behind the sofa but she doesn't like eye contact so I pretended I didn't see her.

     Speaking of rescued animals, neighbor Chef Jim disavows ownership but he's been feeding a feral kitty who remains an outdoor cat. He recently had Meow spayed (left ear tip was clipped, procedure done by Texas Litter Control). She can purr like Karen Carpenter (click image below to hear her).


     Always enjoy Winter and Spring in Texas. But come next month I look forward to mothballing my cottage and saddle, and packing La Lair for another summer of traveling adventures north of Texas.  Anxious to hit the road and explore!

     PS: One of those caterpillars decided to spin a cocoon in the crevice of my cottage's trim/siding. I almost removed it but felt sorry for it because it was working so hard . . . it spinned an outer web as an anchor, and then it started its cocoon inside the anchored web.

     And about three hours later, it was finished. What's amazing to me, it camouflaged its cocoon by making it the same color as my painted wood frame cottage!

Monday, January 9, 2017

French Doors

     All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go . . . It's early morn, the train's blowin' its horn, leaving on a jet plane later tonight. But before I go, one last post from France.

A collection of photos that gives new meaning to French Doors.

Don't know when I'll be back again . . .

Au'Voir France . . .

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Clerics and Doctors at Poitiers interrogate Jeanne D'Arc

     Although Joan of Arc is mentioned a lot in films and books and memorials (over 20 statues worldwide), plus canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholics, her history always seemed a bit fuzzy to me. I unenthusiastically took this photo (below) of her angelic statue at Poitiers. She seemed to be everywhere. I had seen her last summer at a garden in Quebec City, at Montreal the summer before, and recently at the abbey entrance on Mont Saint Michel  . . . so my attitude was "another statue of Joan of Arc" ho-hum.

..... the statue was a few feet away from the "Palace of Poitiers" which I had depicted on an earlier post. I decided to research her significance here at Poitiers.

     And it is quite an interesting story. The Hundred Years' War with England was going very badly. She was a French child of a peasant family (a child of a warring culture, as her country was at war off/on approximately 65 years prior to her birth). At a terribly young age, she claims she had visions of helping her countrymen (the French) win battles with England. Folks told her she'd never be able to fight battles looking like a girl, so she cut her hair and dressed like a boy. Folks donated armor, a horse, other things to her. This horsewoman had a winning way!

     She became a media darling, for lack of a better word, but in a very controversial way. A cross-dressing woman fighting battles because "God told me!"? Skeptics claimed she must be the devil's child, and in a very religious Catholic culture, those doubts took on a life of its own! So, the French elite summoned her to appear before the clerics in Poitiers to interrogate her. Is she, or is she not, a child of the devil? They definitely needed all the help they could get to win battles with England, but she had put a religious-spin on her motives, "God spoke to me!" Up till then, the battles between France and England weren't religious ones, just ordinary bullying monarchical land-grabbing ones. So, that's why she came to Poitiers, to appear before the many clerics and doctors at the Palace of Poitiers (also known as Palace of Justice, photo above). She was interrogated for three weeks or so during March - April 1429 (plaque below memorializes those interrogation events on the 500th anniversary in 1929).

     Maybe because I'm a Libra, I find courtroom dramas fascinating. The transcripts to her many interrogations over those three weeks didn't survive, but there are recorded events (click here for the most interesting story) because there were many witnesses. She was interviewed by numerous clerics and doctors to determine her sanity, motives and emotional health (a cross-dresser with visions from God!). Now keep in mind, the French dearly wanted to believe in her, they were losing battles with England. Maybe she WAS sent by God! I think they were optimistically cautious about her. She apparently was a very forceful imposing young lady. When asked what French dialect God used to speak to her, she replied "A better one than yours!"

     And what happened at the conclusion of her interrogation weeks at Poitiers? The clerics and doctors announced to the monarchs and powers to be that this lady was a good Christian, a good Catholic girl, never idle, and that the King should make good use of this girl.

     And when England captured her in 1430, approximately one year later after her many contributions in helping France fight its battles, they were so worried about this media darling (maybe she was a child of the devil) that they burned her three times to make sure the devil in her was burned, too. When she was reduced to a handful of ashes, her ashes were dumped in the Seine River. But it wasn't until May 16, 1920 that Pope Benedict XV canonized her, making her a Catholic saint.

     And now, I finally understand why the French have so many statues of Joan of Arc. She is dearly beloved here.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Poitiers' Cathedrals, survivors of the Hundred Years' War

     About 200 years before the "New World" (North America) became a conquest target of both the French and English monarchical rulers, those monarchs were constantly at war. Known as The Hundred Years' War, from 1337 to 1453, the French and English were on the battle fields in France between truces. Basically, England wanted France. One of those battles was The Battle of Poitiers in 1356 which England won. In 1346, an English nobleman Henry of Grosmont set part of this building ablaze.

     The wall is part of the Palace of Poitiers, and during pauses in the Hundred Years' War, reconstruction would take place between 1388 and 1416.

But statues are crumbling . . . see the nets to keep debris from falling?

It's still remarkable that it survives.

     Many of the buildings and cathedrals in Poitiers were damaged following battles during the Hundred Years' War. A medieval chronicler wrote, following the September 19, 1356 battle:

...From that time on all went wrong with the Kingdom and the state was undone. Thieves and robbers rose up everywhere in the land. The nobles despised and hated all others and took no thought for the mutual usefulness and profit of lord and men. They subjected and despoiled the peasants and the men of the villages. In no wise did they defend their country from enemies. Rather did they trample it underfoot, robbing and pillaging the peasants' goods

     Then, 400 years later during the late 1700s, the French Revolution (somewhat of a civil war) resulted in more stolen and damaged artifacts to buildings and cathedrals.

     One of those old cathedrals is the Saint Pierre de Poitiers; construction began in 1162 by Henry II of England.

It's also the largest medieval monument in Poitiers.

     But the most fun cathedral (for me) was the Church of Sainte-Radegonde because of this side door. I suspect this is an original door (when it was dedicated in 1099).

This is the same door, inside view.

Immediately next to the outside door was another door constructed with brass tacks, leather (tufted hair/material stuffed inside) and modern spring hinges to keep it closed.

The main entrance is more grand.

When I entered the front door, I was surprised at how bright and cheerful it looked.

It's beautiful.

     The Church of Saint Hilaire (below photo) was dedicated in 1049.  It was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998 as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.

This is the interior view.

And the last cathedral on my walking tour, the Notre-Dame la Grande.

It was dedicated in 1086.

It's known as Romanesque architecture.

     Today is market day, very near my hostel. In keeping with French tradition, I will eagerly look for an inexpensive Kings' Cake to celebrate Epiphany Day.

     PS: Bought a Pauper Kings' Cake (apple instead of creamed almonds inside, only $4) and my prize inside was Chloe the Cat. Very good, too; flaky and buttery pastry.