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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

Feelin' the Flames

Prairie Notes #140
August 1, 2018

01) Feelin' the Flames

02) Field Report - July

03) PrairieSky / StarParty Report

04) Summer Stun-sets

05) When Life Gives You Sumac...

06) Summer Bookshelf - Kids

07) Summer Bookshelf - Adults

08) Prairie Proverb



01) Feelin' the Flames


The sun was so hot out on the prairie last week that I could feel the flames licking my hat. Very few visitors bothered to trek the Tandy Hills. Nevertheless, despite the heat and crispy conditions, we always make time for a few jaunts. The first few days of July were not so bad. We observed a few things blooming including Smooth Sumac, Yellow Compassplant, White Prairie Clover and False Gaura. We saw mystical sunsets filled with clouds hinting that rain was on the horizon, but, alas, not a drop.


After a string of 100's, the temp on July 20 topped out at 110 degrees. A few days later it reached a sizzling 111! Summers like this one in 2018 makes me appreictae the resliience of the Tandy Hills prairie and its botanical bounty. In about eight months, like they have every year for millennia, the wildflowers will be as colorful as the July sky. Until then, I think I'll dive into some summer reading, enjoy a glass of Sumac lemonade and contemplate the sunset.





Is Fort Worth the new Phoenix?


July 23, 2018 was a beautiful scorcher (actual un-altered photo)


> Editor's note---Hours after publishing this issue, a cold front blew in delivering cooler temps and another trace amount of rain and a brief respite from the drought. 


02) Field Report - July


Tandy Hills had only a trace of rain over the entire month of July causing most plants to shut down and conserve moisture. The record rainfal last March is a distant memory. The prairie is now a sea of brown and tan, not very photogenic, but the sunsets....the sunsets were awe-inspriging in July. I braved the heat a few evenings to get these pics for your viewing pleasure. 


Before the drought kicked in: Yellow Compassplant & White Prairie Clover.


False Gaura, one of the few bloomig plants as of mid-July.


False Gaura, up close, is cheerfully exotic.


Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) seems impervious to the drought.


03) PrairieSky / StarParty Report


The July event was cancelled due to extreme heat. Here's hoping August won't be as bad. FW Astronomical Society representative, Pam Kloepfer, shares the following enticements about the August 18 night sky:


“This month, we will continue to have a dazzling array of planets! Venus will be the brightest in the West, and is in phase, easily visible in a telescope. Jupiter will continue to be well-positioned with its four visible moons, and Saturn will be stellar with its gorgeous rings! Mars is the closest it has been to earth since 2003, and is very red and bright. The moon will be at First Quarter, perfect for viewing craters and mountains along the terminator - the line between day and night! Come and enjoy a night “under the planets! 



> > > In other skywatching news.....As you may know, the longest, total lunar eclipse of the 21st century occurred on July 27. It was not visible in Fort Worth, however. But FLASHBACK 140 years ago to July 29, 1878, when Fort Worth was ground zero for observing a total solar eclipse.


In fact, a group of esteemed scientists from the norteast led by, Prof. Leonard Waldo of Harvard University, along with an arsenal of telescopes and scientific equipment, rode the train to Fort Worth, camped on a farm about a mile southwest of downtown and recorded their scientific observations. This was the first scientific study of the sun ever conducted in Texas and one of the first serious studies in the US.


Read much more fascinating detail about this story, HERE:


HIstory was made in Fort Worth, Texas on July 29, 1878.


04) Summer Stun-sets


Summer sunsets are often beutiful but this year they had help from so called, Saharan Desert dust, that blew in fom North Africa. On a couple of nights, the colors in the sky were stunningly rich. It's no exaggeration to write that I was transfixed by the enormity and beauty in the sky above Tandy Hills. 


July 5


July 5


July 9


July 9


July 9


July 9


July 22, 110 degrees


July 23. 111 degrees


July 23


July 23


05) Summer Bookshelf - Kids


If you are like me, right about now, you are escaping the out-of-doors heat for the in-of-doors AC. Those of you with younger kids or a younger heart may be interested in four new, nature-related, children's picture books recently reviewed by the New York Times, to fill the hours until it's safe to outside again. (See link below.) 


I asked Debora Young, something of a specialist in children's literature and illustration, to give the following, mini-reviews, for two of them. Herewith, her comments:



The Honeybee, by Kirsten Hall; illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; (ages 4 -8) 


"Without scientific dryness, the book tells the secret life of honeybees. The illustrations suit the story perfectly and are in a word, JOYFUL. You get the feeling of being a bee, even going deep inside the hive. Younger kids in particular will like the nursery rhymey rhythm, especially when read aloud by mom or dad in your best honeybee voice. Lots of fun."



Hawk Rising, by Maria Gianferrari; illustrated by, Brian Floca; (ages 4 - 8)


"The story is about a family of urban, Red-tailed Hawks, as observed by two young sisters from their nearby home. It focuses on the hawks search for food over a 24-hour period. The story reads like a poem and doesn't pull any punches when describing the predatory nature of hawks. The illustrations soar and move like the hawk."


06) Summer Bookshelf - Adults


The distinguished, Chicago Review of Books, creates an annual Best of Nature Writing. They recently released their list for the first half of 2018. There's some wonderful finds here for those interested in the natural world while we wait out the drought.


Link here:


If you loved Walden Pond, you'll love Fawn Island


A vital collection of Carson's ground-breaking works


An eye-opening look at the confluence of nature and urban life


A new collection of of writings by one of the world's most eminent nature writers.


07) When Life Gives You Sumac... make Sumac Lemonade, of course. Some call it Indian Lemonade, others Rhus Juice, in refernce to the Latin name, Rhus glabra, known by the common name, Smooth Sumac. By any name, it's a delicious, easy to make, vitaimin-rich, refreshing, summertime beverage. Late summer is the best time of year to harvest the berries to make it. We did, and the results were fabulous.


When I was a teenager exploring Tandy Hills in the late 60's, I'd sometimes lie under the Sumac trees, looking up at the sky, daydreaming, on grey fall days. I called them Hobbit trees due to their mature looking but small size. They are, in fact, a common perennial shrub and grow in all of the lower 48 states, most of Canada and parts of Mexico. There is a thriving colony at Tandy Hills. The leaves, almost tropical in appearance, are bright red in the fall. They are a valuable wildlife forage and have a long history of human use. By late summer the cone-shaped fruits are bright burgundy red and ripe for making Sumac Lemonade.


There are lots of different recipes out there in Google-land. Here's how we did it: 


Late summer is the best time to harvest the sumac berries, July - September.


The cone-shaped seed heads are called "bobs", the individual seeds, "drupes." The drupes are part of middle eastern, za'atar spice.


We used a 1-liter pitcher, roughly 4 cups, and used one bob per cup of water.

Do not wash the dry bobs before placing them in the pitcher or you will lose the essence.


Fill the pitcher with clean, filtered, cold water. Using a woodedn spoon, push them down firmly and stir.


Let the mixture stand overnight.


The water has a pale rosy tint at first.


After 24 hours or so, the water turns a lovely raspberry color. This is good!


Strain the mixture through cheescloth, remove the bobs from the pitcher and clean out residue.


You end up with a nice, clean, citrusy, red sumac tea.


Pour it back into your pitcher.


Sweeten to taste with sugar or honey. We used 4 tablespoons of honey in our remaining juice.


It's a beautiful thing full of vitamin C.


Add ice and enjoy. We added mint in ours. Some people add lemon or lime wedges. Gin might work, too.


08) Prairie Proverb


"We should care about monarchs like we care about the Mona Lisa or the beauty of Mozart's music. To me, the monarch butterfly is a treasure like a great piece of art. We need to develop a cultural appreciation of wildlife that's equivalent to art and music."


-Lincoln Brower, 1931 - 2018; scientist and lepidopterist who died on July 17 at age 86. He spent 60 years studying Monarch butterflies and their aw-inspiring migratory journey. Read a full obituary in NY Times here:




Prairie Notes© is the official newsletter of Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. All content by Don Young except where otherwise noted.