outdoors Savannah

Backyard dilemma and the ever-present nasty Chinaberry trees

We don’t have the largest backyard, but it’s a good size for us. After our place in O’Fallon, with the steep hill in the back, we were excited about a nice flat backyard when we bought the place.

We spent considerable time yanking out the pampas grass that had been allowed to spread until it knocked down fences.  We also gave the backyard shed to our neighbors. We used weed fabric and edging to carve out garden areas for fall planting. We planted six Nellie Stevens holly trees, three to each corner, and stunning Black Diamond red crape myrtles, one on each side. We then covered the dirt areas with about 20 bales of pine straw.

backyard clearing grass

planted bushes and pine straw mulch

We bought the place in summer. It was the next Spring when we discovered the chinaberry trees. One day we woke up with thousands of small yellow berries littering the ground. We’d clean them up only for them to rain down again during the next breezy day.

chinaberry berries everywhere

Behind us a buffer zone between HOA property and a small church. When the area was cleared, the HOA did not do a proper job of controlling the growth in a stand of trees, which allowed invasive chinaberry trees to take over. Chinaberry trees grow quickly and the ones next to our property are now about 30 feet tall. Their branches extend over our yard, and all of the branches were filled with berries.

chinaberry trees on property next door

We had pruned the smaller trees ourselves, but the problem with chinaberry trees is when you cut one branch, a dozen grow in its place.

Chinaberry trees are toxic. The berries are toxic, the bark is toxic, and the leaves are toxic. Worse, they can alter the chemical makeup of the dirt, which can kill off any species that is not a chinaberry. They do have some pretty flowers in the spring, but these don’t compensate for the messy berry droppings.

These are nasty things. If you step on them, they form a gluey mess on your shoes that is almost impossible to remove. And where there’s a berry, there will be a chinaberry tree. Worse, they got into the pine straw mulch and the only way to get rid of them was to get rid of the mulch. Twenty bales of straw, gone.

This last year we planted sunflowers, zinnias, and marigolds in all of that exposed dirt and had some success with the zinnias, marigolds, and Mexican sunflowers, but the rest was a bust. So, lots of weeds. Lots and lots of weeds.

planted bushes and flowers


We asked the HOA to clean up the chinaberry trees, but they blew us off. They’re ‘healthy’ trees they claim, though in this city and county chinaberry trees don’t fall into the ‘keep the trees’ laws. We can prune the trees ourselves, but as I noted above: cut one branch, get a dozen in its place.

Now our plan is to convert the carved out garden areas back to grass—not to make it back into a lawn, but grass can form a good ground cover and it’s relatively simple to clean up the berries off of grass. Then we’re going to uncover patches for new bushes and trees, and use raised beds for any areas we want to reserve for annuals.

We can cover the raised beds with plastic during berry falling season, and use a shop-vac to vacuum up the berries on the grass. We’ll still be able to have the plants and flowers we want, without the weeds from bare ground and the chinaberry dilemma.

In the meantime, I found a terrific writing on the history of Savannah and the part it played bringing these nasty trees to the US.


Just Shelley outdoors

Our new home’s location

We saw a deer on the nature trail yesterday.

The number one reason we bought our house is the location.

The house is in excellent shape, but the kitchen is small, as are two of the bedrooms and the second bath. In fact, the second bath isn’t even the standard 5 x 8. Our neighbors are 10 feet away on one side, 12 feet on the other. We had hoped for at least 20 feet. We like the house, the price is good, but by itself, we wouldn’t have bought it.

Now, I’ll show you the primary reason why we bought it.

Outside our door is a sidewalk that can take us to the Coastal Botanical Gardens or Chief of Love Rd. The Chief of Love Rd has a Nature trail that parallels it. It’s the one we take daily.

Today, we discovered there’s a nature preserve at the end of it, with a beautiful 1.3 mile nature walk.

All of this, from our front door.

And today I discovered there’s yet another reason why I’m so glad we moved to Savannah.

Look at this Rails to Trails.

“From its trailhead just 15 miles east of town, the trail parallels the South Channel of the Savannah River, a major shipping route and entry point to the Port of Savannah. Short bridges spirit you across saltwater marshes. Cord grass, cabbage palms, yaupon holly and coastal cedars line this beautiful trail, and interpretive signs list the native wildlife, including the eastern box turtle, American alligator, diamond back terrapin, bobcat, osprey, red-tailed hawk and brown pelican. Be on the lookout for these, as well as frolicking dolphins in the river. Conveniently placed benches allow visitors to pause, take in the scenery and enjoy a picnic.”

Gators, bobcats, pelicans, and dolphins! And a little down the road, we can add manatees, too.

It was worth making a major move during a pandemic.

outdoors Photography

Fall 2007

My fall color photos for the year. From trips to the Botanical Garden and Shaw’s Nature Center.

Shaw Nature Center

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Critters outdoors Photography Places


The weather actually cooled sufficiently to go outside on both Friday and Saturday. The humidity was high, but with the car windows down, driving was very pleasant.

Now is the best time to take photos of butterflies in this area, and so I packed up the gear and headed to the Busch Nature Center on Friday to take pictures of butterflies. We’re not a natural enemy of butterflies and dragonflies, and if you stand still and don’t let your shadow fall on them, it’s really quite easy to take photos. More, they’ll fly about, and even occasionally land on you–a fun experience when one lands on your glasses frame.

Blue Wing Butterfly

I decided to drive around when I was finished, to enjoy the sun that wasn’t trying to kill and just being outside. I love listening to cicada from a car, sound rising and falling as you approach and then pass. I enjoy being on a gravel road when no one’s about and the only thing you have to watch for is a pothole or rut in the road.

There were no one out fishing in the bright of day (the best time to take butterfly photos), and I walked around a couple of the larger lakes. Typically the fishing boats are used by fishermen, but I’m thinking of renting one just to explore. To be out on the water. It’s been so long, though, since I’d been in a rowboat.

Going past the wetlands, I spotted a great blue heron in a tree, fairly close to the road. I rarely get a chance to take photos of birds in the summer here–too much growth. I didn’t think he’s stay long enough for me to frantically put on my longer lens with the 2x converter, but he did. Most of the photos didn’t turn out because the light was too harsh and the background too busy. A few worked well enough.

Great blue heron

When I had stopped to take photos of the heron, I stopped dead, right in the road. A few people passed while I was taking pictures, fishermen most likely, but they didn’t honk or sit behind me, getting impatient. They just carefully moved around me. That’s what I like about people who fish: they understand these things.

Yesterday I decided to go ‘milling’. The weather was going to be overcast, which makes for better mill pictures. I took I-44 to Cuba to head down highway 19 to Dillard Mill. The expansion construction is still ongoing, which makes the I-44 corridor a bit like damnation alley at times. Still, most people weren’t too terribly impatient at the slowdown.

A SUV in front of me had it’s back door lid pop open, immediately dropping a shoe–a pink flip flop–on the road. That car was packed with people and vacation gear, suitcases crammed behind the last row of seats. Two young women seated in the back tried to shut the latch but couldn’t. We all watched as the driver moved forward again, and a bright red camisole top floated down and eventually underneath my car (we were all going about 10-20 miles per hour). A young man sitting in the second tier of seats undid his seat belt and tried to reach up to shut it, and that was enough for me. With visions of the car being rear ended and the kid flying out the back, I hit my emergency lights, put the car in park and got out, gesturing at the cars behind me that there was a problem and not to pass. I got to the back of the SUV just as the driver reached it and we both slammed the lid shut.

We did not, though, attempt to retrieve the pink flip flop or bright red camisole.

Once off I-44, the driving was really lovely. It was still overcast, more of a misty, humid fog than anything; cool enough, though, to allow driving with the windows down. I stopped in Steelville at the Mobile for gas, as I always do. The first time I stopped there, I was waiting in line to pay for something I had bought in the convenience store. I noticed how the clerk exchanged friendly banter with each person in front of me, and remembered thinking to myself that everyone in town must be buying gas at the same time. When my turn came, she was just as friendly and happy to see me, and I realized she probably didn’t know any of these people.

Ever since, I always make it a point to stop at the Mobile station in Steelville on my way into the Ozark interior. I think next time through, I’ll stay a while and take pictures.

goose on log

My first mill was Dillard Mill in Cherry Valley. There was no one about, which wasn’t surprising because of the high humidity. Luckily I remembered to bring a couple of paper towels to ‘dab at my perspiring brow’. Sounds better than sweat running in rivers down my cheeks, doesn’t it?

Speaking of sweat and dabbing, a few weeks ago, I tried to find a store that sold handkerchiefs. No such luck, I couldn’t find a one. Do people not use handkerchiefs now? At one store when I asked about them, the young woman looked at me, puzzled, and said, ‘Do you mean scarves?’ No, I meant handkerchiefs.

When I was a kid, a favorite Christmas present to make and give was personalized handkerchiefs. My mom would buy plain, white handkerchiefs–the really nice white cotton ones–and I would embroider them for gifts. Men usually got a bird or a tree or a leaf; women would get flowers. All would get their initials. Others who were more talented than me would crochet edges on their handiwork–or border the entire sheet. Others less skilled would buy them already daubed about with finery. They really are the epitome of grace–a marriage of beauty and utility.

Now, you can’t buy even plain handkerchiefs in most stores. Is it that people don’t sweat anymore? I must confess that I do when I’m out in the humidity taking photographs. Paper towels might work, but they also irritate. As for cloth towels, they’re not the same and far too bulky.

suspicious lizard

Back to milling. At Dillard, I walked to the river’s edge near the mill to take photos, enjoying the critters along the way. Now is when Missouri’s wildlife is at its most active. Wherever you go, there’s scurrying about, underneath or in the air. Unfortunately, as fun as it is to watch, it also makes it risky to walk in the woods. Ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes: oh my! However, I managed to only suffer limited grazing yesterday.

(Checking legs and feet…)

Well, relatively limited grazing.

After Dillard, I stopped by Alley Spring, but didn’t stay long as I was going to take the long way home. It was nice to be out and about, but it’s still August and the best time to visit the Ozarks is starting in mid-September. I can’t wait, because I’m really anxious to hit the trails again.

Dillard Mill

Critters outdoors Photography

In praise of lurking

3 Quarks Daily pointed to a BBC News article on deer antlers.

Yesterday, when out walking I came upon a group of deer, including a young male who was using fallen trees to break off parts of his antlers. Luckily, this time I had a camera and could get pictures–including the male who alternated aggressive behavior toward the does, with insecure wariness of me.


The males with their antlers and full, proud stances may make for better photos, but I hold the quiet, shy does in my heart. Their soft, sweet eyes and careful curiosity has accompanied me on many a trek through Powder Valley. Sometimes when I walk at dusk, I can feel them all around me, hidden in the shadows. Yesterday, though, for whatever reason, when I stopped and held very still, they entered and crossed the road around me–appearing back-lit by the setting sun, in a display of beauty and grace.


I have found if you wear sunglasses, deer will approach you more closely than if wearing clear lenses or no glasses at all. I think it’s because they can’t see your eyes, and they translate this into not seeing them. I have had deer, wild deer, approach within feet of me when wearing sunglasses.

My favorite interaction, though, is when the deer will remain in the bushes and when you look at them, they’ll hide their faces quickly behind a tree. They think they’re hiding from you because they can’t see you, but their entire bodies are out in the open: torso, legs, and especially, white tail. If you wait just a minute, they’ll peek back and when they see you still looking at them, back their head disappears behind the tree again.

It is humorous and endearing, but also a little sad.


I can empathize with the deer; to be in the woods and thickets and looking out, knowing, or think we know that we’re not seen.

My desk at home is in front of a set of screened, double windows on a second floor on a hill overlooking a large section of our housing complex. Sometimes during the day after I’ve had my shower, I’ll sit in my chair at my computer, naked, water falling from my wet hair, slipping down my back and across my breasts.

I’ll watch cars drive by, the mailman on his rounds, and people walking their dogs or going to the laundry room, and know they can’t see me sitting here, in my chair, in the shadows.

Of course, at night or very early morning, before the sun has risen, I can be sitting in front of my window with the lights on and be just as back-lit as the deer yesterday. When I start to get undressed for bed, I look over my shoulder just to make sure both windows are tightly covered. Even when I see they are, I undress and slip into bed quickly–not quite trusting the shadows I cast against the blinds. The only time I’ll open them at night is during a thunderstorm, when I can open the curtain and lay in bed, watching the light flashing against the rain blurred window.


Writing is a little like being the deer hiding in the woods, or sitting naked in front a window on the second floor of a house on a hill. We may think we’re in control, and that we’re exposing just as much or as little as we choose. However, sometimes curtains open a crack, or the light falls just right and our shadows give us away.

There is something to be said for taking time to lurk–to pull back deeply into the dark and watch, rather than be watched. To be still, and just listen. To appreciate others dance in the sun.