Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Surprise, it is now 2022!

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Our 2021 Gingerbread House.

Happy New Year’s, if you see this by the first of January. The last two weeks have been full of seasonal music, foods, movies, friends and family. No heavy coats or gloves needed. The unseasonably warm weather interspersed by intense but fast-moving cold snaps is confusing to both plants and animals. This has been a year of surprises.

Where oh where did the cake go? My uncle is one of those folks with a birthday at Christmas time, specifically the 24th of December. So often Christmas babies have their great day of arrival on the earth combined with Yuletide festivities. Fruitcake and eggnog just do not seem right for a birthday.

This year Merritt’s Bakery in Tulsa created a lovely white cake with white frosting covered in coconut. I’m not sure about it being my uncle’s favorite cake, but my grandmother often had one of those small round store bought coconut cakes on her dining room table, so I figured that was her favorite flavor.

The cake was picked up the night before it was to be transported to southeast OK. The surprise birthday was planned two days before the actual day. My son and family went out to eat supper and returned to find the cake and box missing. After an intense search, the box was discovered….in the dog bed. The cardboard had not one scratch or rip. The top had been delicately opened, but half the icing and part of the cake was missing. WaTTson was standing in the kitchen looking totally innocent. The rest of the cake was rescued, but it was clear that cake was done for.

Next morning another trip to Merritt’s Bakery was made in hopes there were still some cakes available. One small Italian Cream Cake was the closest cake they had. It would have to do. The personalized confection rode directly to my uncle’s house where it and presents, both birthday and Christmas, were assembled in the kitchen with some fudge and cookies thrown in for the season,

My uncle was nowhere to be found. Someone saw him briefly at the post office, but he never came back home the entire afternoon, reported my husband and son. They spent hours tracking down a new storm door and installing it on my parent’s home, right next door to my uncle’s. It was dark before they both left. Hope my uncle is okay and was quite surprised when he did come back home.

Each night the lights on my tree were turned off before everyone went to bed. Lights were glowing brightly the next morning when everyone got up. A cheerful surprise, but there was no automatic timer controlling the light show. What was up? I kept an eye on the tree the next night after turning off the lights. Nothing. Then, out of the shadows crept Cleo, our tailless black and white spotted cat. She positioned herself on the warmish power strip and on came the lights. Quite pleased with herself, she sat under the tree looking for illuminated birds or other wildlife that should be up in there somewhere. Was it intentional?

Somewhat like the surprise that greeted us on one of our excursions in Cologne, Germany. Our little group had launched on a pub run to sample Kolsch beer in several establishments. We had to walk up two sets of stairs to cross over the busy road and descend down the other side in order to access the older part of town. On the way our guide warned us to not put our hands on the rails. Why?

Look up he said. We stared at the branches of the leafless trees. Dark shapes were lined up along many of the limbs. One person took the flashlight of her cell phone and beamed it into the trees over our heads. Birds. Green birds with red bills. These, dear ladies and gentlemen, announced our guide, are green headed parrots/rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri). The birds live up and down the Rhine River. A 2015 survey was conducted in Europe to count parakeet numbers. While Germany had about 11,000, the United Kingdom seemed to be a haven for the parakeets, with over 31,000 in city parks and gardens, especially around London.

The parakeets eat berries, fruits, nuts, and tree buds. People are told not to feed them bread. The cities are safe refuges for the rose parakeets which have origins in Africa and India where they live in grasslands, woodlands and wetland areas. Not only are feral populations living throughout Europe, but in Florida, California and Tehran. The adaptable escapees from pet stores and homes can tolerate low temperatures in northern Europe and a multitude of different climates. The cavity nesters will seek out tree holes and nest boxes. Predators include falcons, eagles, owls and other birds of prey as well as farmers and snakes.

Perhaps people should capture the birds. They should take good care of them by offering fresh food, water, and plenty of attention. These parakeets make good pets. A large cage is required to accommodate the long tail. The chewers are into wood and leather toys, ropes, ladders, swings and even pine cones. The parakeets are talkers that mimic human voices and can learn over 250 words. They like their humans to be active participants since these parakeets have a low boredom threshold. In nature the birds may live 25 to 30 years, but longer in captivity.

Rose Ringed Parakeet.

Parakeets would be in for a big surprise in my house of two rescue cats, both former hunters. Even the gingerbread house has not been safe. Sammy the tabby likes to lick the candy on the roof. Aren’t cats carnivores?

May all surprises in 2022 be great and wondrous!

Wattson looking out the door.