Nature up close: A Piney Woods Christmas

American Holly.

Verne Lehmberg

By "Sunday Morning" contributing videographer Judy Lehmberg.

While much of the northern U.S. celebrated a white Christmas this year, those of us in warmer climes celebrated as we normally do, with cool temperatures, green grass, and the last of the autumn leaves falling.

Everyone has something that puts them in a holiday mood. For me it's holly trees, goldfinches (which are only here in the winter), and our ever-present, bright-red cardinals.

We live in southeast Texas, the part that got 53" of rain during Hurricane Harvey. We've dried out since then. We even got a little snow a couple of weeks ago. We can go years without snow, but we rarely go a month without turning on the air conditioner. 

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Northern Cardinal.

Verne Lehmberg

Snow is something we rarely see and get super-excited about when we do. Schools shut down, snowmen get built, and we attempt to make snow angels, even if it is only a dusting. lt isn't something we ever expect to see on Christmas.

While standing on our front porch early this morning I heard the unmistakable sound of sandhill cranes calling to each other as they flew over. Then I heard other birds much closer; cedar waxwings in our female holly tree enjoying an early Christmas breakfast of berries. We have a few robins in the winter here who also love holly berries. This year there is one robin who thinks it owns that holly tree. If it spent half as much time eating as it does trying to chase away the cedar waxwings, it might be able to survive until spring. We can always count on the hollies and yaupon to provide pretty red berries just in time for the holidays.

East Texas is a mixture of pine and hardwoods, which characterizes much of the southeastern U.S. It is also where, biologically, East meets West, where huge, long-leaf pines, magnolias, sweetgums, and a multitude of oak species, beech and hickory share habitat with yucca plants and the occasional prickly pear cactus. That is why it is known as the "Biological Crossroads of North America." Eastern species literally meet, and blend with, Western species resulting in very high species diversity. We have more than 30 orchid species and nine species of carnivorous plants.

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Cedar Waxwing.

Verne Lehmberg

As the last of the autumn leaves fall, Spring is just barely beginning here. The trees have new buds and the first wildflowers have just started blooming. Oh, and the grass needs mowing. Gardening is a seasonal activity in much of the U.S., but not here. We can always find something to do 365 days a year. We don't have to mow as much in the "winter," but we never put the weed eater away for a season. An occasional cold snap in January will wither the grass, but a few days of warm weather and green begins to return.

So, Christmas is not a white blanket as it is in New England and the rest of the northern states. A Bing Crosby Christmas is a rarity in our part of Texas. Rather, it is a time to poke around fallen pine needles and leaves to see the yellow false wild strawberry flowers and the violets struggling up into the sun. 

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A Wild Violet on Christmas Day.

Verne Lehmberg

Judy Lehmberg is a former college biology teacher who now shoots nature videos.

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