It's been a quiet couple of weeks at Casa de Fire Ant, at least from a trapping perspective. I haven't bothered to bait the raccoon trap for a variety of reasons -- laziness being at the top of the list -- although the armadillo trap has been armed and routinely ignored. I assume that either (1) the armadillos have evolved intellectually to the point where they recognize and avoid the danger, or (b) the trap has lost its scent. I'm going with (b) because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.
Alert Gazette readers will recall that I recently expressed a bit of frustration at what I believed to be theft by fox. I didn't have conclusive proof that I was being flimflammed by a fox, but the circumstantial evidence was powerful.
That changed last night.
I decided to risk another 88¢ can of sardines (the money is beginning to add up, folks; I'm thinking about starting a GoFundMe account to defray trapping expenses) as bait. I slid it into the trap around 10:00 last night and set the game camera on the ground a few feet away.
When I checked the trap this morning, the bait was gone and the trap was unsprung and empty. However, the game cam was finally able to record the canine caper, and here's the proof.
It may not be obvious from the video, but the fox actually steps on the trip plate. However, it appears that its weight is on the other forefoot and so the plate doesn't spring the trap door. That's fine with me; I don't really want to trap a fox. On the other hand, I also don't want them grabbing all the bait intended for raccoons.
If you're wondering what it appears to be eating just before entering the trap, I pour the juice from the sardine can onto the ground just outside the entrance as a way to entice animals to enter.
Gray foxes are pretty common around our neighborhood. On one occasion, as we drove into the neighborhood at night, we spotted three of them within fifty yards of each other. I don't know if the group is a family unit, or if there's just good hunting in the vicinity.
Some people incorrectly identify gray foxes as red foxes, presumably because the former do have some red fur on their chests and underbellies. But the two don't really look that much alike, and aren't even in the same genus. We may indeed have red fox in our area, but I've never seen one.
Another difference between the two species is that gray foxes are good climbers while the red species are not. Alert Gazette readers will recall this video of two (2!) gray foxes in our Midland back yard a couple of years ago. As you can see, they're quite adept at climbing trees and fences. I actually have a photo of a gray fox reclining on top of our roof, watching the world go by.
It's Sunday morning and I'm losing a fight with a cold and/or allergies, and I'm taking the lazy way out by blogging someone else's material...in this case (because, really, most of my stuff is stolenplagiarizedborrowed from someone else) some music videos from Scott Bradlee's Post-Modern Jukebox. SBPMJ (hereafter referred to as PMJ for purposes of brevity) is one of the most imaginative and musically gifted groups around, and they probably don't get as much publicity as they should. (Alert Gazette readers will recall that I've mentioned them before on the pages of this here blog-like thing.)
PMJ's gift is taking songs by other artists and reworking them in ways that often elevate the musicality of those tunes, or transform them into a completely different genre. The musical genius is compounded by the absolute attention to detail in the videos the group assembles.
We're fortunate that many of their performances can be found on YouTube, but I'll save you the clicks as well as the mental/psychic effort of deciding on the standouts by presenting the following list. Trust me; I know these things.
Barbie Girl - In the style of class Beach Boys
This song was originally recorded by the Scandinavian pop group Aqua in 1997, and a few years ago was voted "Worst Song of the Nineties" by those Rolling Stone readers with the mental wherewithal to work a mouse and browser. It also prompted Barbie maker Mattel to file an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit claiming copyright infringement. And, of course, the lyrics do not stand the test of time insofar as they are egregiously anti-feminist. (Here's the original video.)
Other than that, it's a wonderful little song...at least in the hands of Master Arranger Scott Bradlee.
Morgan James, the lead singer in this performance, plays the part of Barbie with a self-awareness that sustains the overall ironic tone of the arrangement. Her vocal chops are astounding, especially in the section where she simulates a theremin.
Blurred Lines - Bluegrass Version
Musically-woke readers are likely wondering why an historically squeaky-clean Gazette would include a song with frankly pornographic lyrics (and I won't stoop to linking to the original video) that has been dubbed by some as the most distasteful song of 2013, the year it was recorded by Robin Thicke. Blurred Lines was co-written by Pharrell Williams (!) and Thicke (who later claimed he was stoned on Vicodin and that Williams did most of the lyrical damage). This song was also the subject of a [successful] copyright infringement lawsuit (appeal pending, as they wont to be). Gee, we seem to have a trend going here.
Well, the reason I've included the song in this list is (1) that genre-bending thing I mentioned at the top, and (b) the way PMJ has completely reworked the lyrics so they are much less offensive (IMO, anyway; I never underestimate the ability of some folks to be offended). You'll have to google the original lyrics yourself to see what I mean.
Single Ladies - Chicago-style
Let's switch gears and exponentially up the sophistication level of this list. Beyoncé sold about a gatrillion copies of this song beginning in 2008, and it's still probably the Beyhive's anthem. Also, AFAIK, no one has sued her over the song. [Original video here]
The lyrics are nothing special, but the real treat in PMJ's arrangement is the choreography, instantly recognizable by anyone even vaguely familiar with Bob Fosse's work. Even the costumes evoke films such as All That Jazz and Chicago.
Shake It Off - Motown-style
Bey's only competition among a certain demographic is Taylor Swift, who released Shake It Off in 2014. It debuted on Billboard's pop chart at #1 (only 21 other songs have done that). It also was the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit that was dismissed by the court almost as quickly as it was filed. People in the music business apparently love to file lawsuits. [Original video here]
PMJ's treatment puts a classy Motown spin on the tune and lead singer Von Smith, while not exactly pulling off the prototypical Motown look, certainly has the vocal chops to outdo the original artist (sorry, Swiftians, but you know in your heart of hearts that it's true). Make sure you stick around for the break at the 2:36 mark in the following video for proof.
Thriller - 30s Jazz Cover
This is perhaps the most logical, intuitive rework in this list. Lead vocalist Wayne Brady brings the spirit of Cab Calloway to life and it's the most natural thing in the world for Cab to croon the lyrics to Michael Jackson's 1982 classic. [Original video here, as if it's not already playing in your mind]
The genius of this arrangement is the inclusion of the diabolic tap dancers; no Thriller cover is complete without dancing.
Happy - Speakeasy Jazz Cover
Speaking of Pharrell Williams, he does compose non-smutty music, as evidenced by this 2013 song which was included on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, much to the chagrin of parents worldwide. [Original video here, if you're a glutton for punishment]
PMJ's version features the phenomenal Gunhild Carling, and not only does she sing and dance, but she plays ten (10!) different instruments on this video...including a trumpet balanced vertically on her lips, and three trumpets played simultaneously and in three-part harmony.
[If you want to see more of the amazing Ms. Carling, check out her PMJ-accompanied cover of Never Gonna Give You Up. Getting Rickrolled has never been more fun.]
Bad Romance - Twenties Gatsby Style
The only unusual thing about this cover is that Lady GaGa didn't do it this way herself. I mean, I could totally see her loving this arrangement, especially in light of her elegant collaborations with Tony Bennett. [Original video here]
It's hard to decide which is better, Ariana Savalas's vocals (and whistling) or the stupidly fast tap-dancing feet of Sarah Reich. But what's up with the disappearing horn section at the end?
Forget You - Thirties Jazz Style
OK, confession time. CeeLo Green's 2010 hit is the only song on this list that's in regular rotation on my iTunes playlist. And, in case you wondered, it's the "clean" version (if you're curious about why I make that distinction, you can look up his Wikipedia entry). [Original -- and clean -- video here]
PMJ's arrangement is classier without losing any of the intensity of Green's incredible vocal range. LaVance Colley matches him falsetto for falsetto.
We could go on and on. There are literally scores of additional PMJ videos on YouTube. Scott Bradlee appears to be a tireless arranger, and his musical interests range far and wide. Check out his Gershwin/Queen mashup (Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue) or this performance of Peggy Lee's Fever using an even dozen different musical styles.
The local raccoon population has apparently spread the word that my sardine-baited trap is to be ignored. For the past several nights, the bait has gone untouched and the trap unsprung. Photographic evidence of raccoon inspectors makes this all the more frustrating.
That's not to say that the setup hasn't attracted other, more exotic animals. A few nights ago, one of the local foxes actually made its way into the trap and escaped with the bait. To be honest, though, foxes are pretty ordinary compared to some of the other visitors.
Last night was a great example. Here's what the game camera captured during a brief 10-minute period.
Sadly, I was unable to actually trap any of these creatures, which will likely cause the more skeptical readers to doubt the veracity of these photos. I blame the current Fake News phenomenon for causing otherwise perceptive people to disbelieve concrete visual evidence.
In my role as a wannabe trapper I've grown accustomed to being outsmarted by raccoons, who have frequently escaped with the bait without being captured. However, I'm now being outfoxed by an actual fox.
Here's what happened last night:
I didn't catch footage of the sardine abscondishment, but the tin was missing in another video captured shortly after this one.
We've seen foxes hunting in our neighborhood almost every night (and occasionally during the day), and I've got other videos of them sniffing around the trap, but this is the first time I've seen one enter the trap. This one was a lot more cautious than the animation indicates; the realtime footage was 30 seconds.
So, as if I didn't have enough challenges, I now have to figure out how to keep the bait safe from an animal that's long to grab the sardines without stepping on the trip plate. I do have a glimmer of a possible inkling leading to the beginning of a potential partial solution, but it involves power tools, MIG welders, and sorcery. In other words...this should be fun!
New Year's Day in the Texas Hill Country was a cold, dreary, and breezy one. Temperatures hovered in the 20s for most of the day, and the sun never made an appearance. It was a good day for staying inside, eating black-eyed peas, and watching football.
That was basically my agenda for the day, until I happened to look out a bathroom window at a puzzling sight. It appeared that someone had let loose scores of white plastic shopping bags which the wind had wrapped around the unmowed plants in the vacant lot next door and then shredded. But those plastic shreds weren't moving in the stiff breeze. Hmm.
I did the only thing that I know to do when confronted with an outdoor puzzle: I grabbed a camera and heading into the cold. I quickly realized that what I initially identified as shredded plastic was actually ice which the wind had apparently molded into some fantastical and delicate shapes.
To deepen the mystery, there was no ice or snow anywhere else (we did get a light dusting of snow during the night, but it was gone by midday).
Later, I received a text from MLB, who was multitasking by soaking in the tub, watching the Austin TV news, and reading on her iPad (I know...I know). She informed me that the station was running a story on this exact phenomenon. The report said it can occur during the first hard freeze of the season, when the ground is still warm and water and sap in some plants is still flowing. When that fluid freezes, it bursts through the stem of the plant. As the fluid continues to flow into the frigid air, it freezes into these amazing shapes, which are known as "ice flowers" or "frost flowers." Wikipedia has a brief explanation; the In Defense of Flowers blog has a more detailed description of the phenomenon.
I'm not sure about the species of plant these ice flowers appeared on most often but it may be a variation of stinkweed, which is cited in the above-referenced blog post as being a common source of this phenomenon.
Below are some of the photos I took. Click on the small images to see a full-sized uncropped version of the photo; you can use the arrows on the popups to navigate through the slideshow.
This may be a fairly common sight in the Hill Country, but for me it was an unexpected reminder of the surprising beauty that nature offers even in the bleakest settings.
Update (1/2/18): A naturalist friend identified these plants as verbesina, sometimes called "frostweed" because of this very phenomenon. The ice formations are also known as crystallofolia.
Update #2 (1/4/18): This web page has a very thorough analysis of ice flowers, including historical references to the phenomenon.