Posted in Life

Surviving My Morning Walk: A Brush With Nature

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 11.26.52 PM

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is an “internationally recognized botanic garden dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants in natural and designed landscapes” located in Austin, Texas.* In other words, it’s a pretty, outdoor-y, nature-y place where you can take walks, learn about flowers, swing in swings, watch turtles and owls, look at art, climb a tower, listen to giant wind chimes, eat a snack, and generally enjoy the outdoorsiness and leafiness and buzziness of life with your friends, your family, or yourself.** And I am incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of it. I love visiting the center and have always wished they were open longer hours, especially in these warm summer months.*** Well, I must have wished loud enough because they now stay open until 8PM on Tuesdays and open at 7:30AM on Thursdays and Saturdays. Hooray! Thank you, whoever made that decision!

* From the Wildflower Center’s website
** For some reason, the Wildflower Center did not ask me to write the text for their website. ???
*** It’s only June and already our nightly low is 77 degrees. Did you get that, northerners? Our LOW temperatures are almost 80. Yeah.

So last Thursday morning, in an effort to adhere to my summer goal of making exercise a habit, I got up at 7:30 and walked to the Wildflower Center. I was looking forward to seeing the place at a new time of day, to see what was awake at this early hour and maybe catch a glimpse of a new bird or cute critter. As soon as I got there, I hit the trails. I’d passed a couple of employees on the way in, but I didn’t see or hear any other guests. It was just me and the blue sky and the bugs. I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. No distractions. I didn’t even bring my cell phone. I smiled.

Then I came around a bend in the path and saw a giant snake skin hanging from a tree. It was at least four feet long, and it hung from a branch at least ten feet above the ground.

Now, let’s get something straight. I am not afraid of snakes. I respect snakes and am appropriately cautious of them, especially the dangerous ones, but I like snakes and enjoy seeing them in nature from a safe distance. However, there is one thing that I just do not agree with about snakes, and that is their ability to climb trees. No. No, no, no, no, no. Just no. Snakes should stay on the ground, as the universe intended.

20140619_141922
This is not at the Wildflower Center. This is a photo from the day a six-foot-long coachwhip decided to come to my backyard to eat its lunch, which happened to be a two-foot-long garden snake.

Also, I had just read an article the day before about a man in Corpus Christi who cut the head off a four foot rattlesnake and then got BIT BY THE SEVERED HEAD. The man survived but was in really bad shape. So, I’d just come up with a new rule that dead snakes should stay dead and not bite people.

Furthermore, I was not actually looking at a snake in its natural habitat. I was looking at a large snake SKIN. In a TREE. Which meant there was a EXTRA-large (too large to fit in that skin), fresh, tree-climbing snake somewhere nearby.

I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. I DIDN’T EVEN BRING MY CELL PHONE!

Despite coming down with a severe case of the willies, I did not turn back. No, not this determined trail-walker. I forged ahead, staying on the path and keeping an eye out for fresh snakes above, below, beside, and all around me. Once, when I got too close to the edge of the path and a piece of spear grass brushed my ankle, I let out a high-pitched squeak that a person sitting on their porch in my neighborhood probably mistook for a coyote bark. But all was well. I made it out of the Wildflower Center alive.

My Good Deed for the Day

When I left, more morning guests were arriving, which made me happy because I want them to keep these new hours. In the busy parking lot, I saw one of my favorite critters: a large, brown, Texas tarantula. She was on the move, scurrying quickly, obviously with places to go. Unfortunately, the places she needed to go were on the other side of the driveway, and a car was coming. I couldn’t bear to see her get squished, so I stepped in front of the car, pointed at my little friend, and mimed for them to please wait until she had safely crossed. They did.

I recently learned that while male tarantulas often don’t live more than a few months, females can live up to 40 years. I don’t actually know the gender of the one I met, but I like to think that I helped a little old lady cross the street.

IMG_5274
This is a Texas tarantula next to my hubby’s hand. Both of them were very good sports for this photo.

I survived my morning walk. I got some exercise. I saw some sights. I plan to go back this week. I think maybe this time I’ll take my cell phone with me.

Posted in Life, Random

1,237 Miles in 42 Hours OR The Story of the Little Green Rock

Cow

Road Trips

My dad loves to take road trips. For him the phrase is literal. He simply likes to traverse the roads of Texas. There are destinations, but the path to get there is the real fun, full of photo opportunities and yellow and black diamond signs* and miles and miles of Texas scenery. There’s a lot of Texas, and my dad has seen most of it. Last year he completed his goal of visiting all 256 counties. Now, he’s trying to hit as many border towns as he can, outlining the state that he’s already pretty well filled in. But honestly, even if he’d traveled every highway and farm-to-market there is, seen all the cities and every ghost town in between, I still don’t think anything could keep him off the roads. He likes the drive, he likes the company, and he likes taking pictures of it all.

SignPicMonkey Collage
*About fifteen years ago, my dad and brother started “collecting” all the different yellow and black diamond road signs. They now have photos of over 2,000 of them. Any difference counts. For instance, none of the three signs above are the same. Image from http://www.smartsign.com

Happy Trails

This weekend, my husband and I accompanied my dad on one of his “quick trips.” The destination was Presidio, Texas, a border town of about 4,000 people, but there were plenty of stops and tangents to take along the way, both there and back.

On Thursday, my dad drove down to Austin with my mom from their home in Richardson. On Friday morning, Mom stayed at our house to pet sit for us while my dad, my hubby, and I hit the road at 7:00 A.M.

The route
The route

1,200 miles is a lot of road to cover, and we covered them fast in my husband’s Jetta (a.k.a. “the Jitney”). It would be impossible, or at least quite time-consuming, for me to share every sign and windmill and roadrunner that we encountered (there were many), but here are a few highlights from the trip:

PresidioTripCollage

 

  • A café called The Mercantile Garden on Main Street in Sonora—They have a sandwich called The Hobbit that hit the spot.
  • The Balmorhea State Park Pool—It wasn’t the right weather for trying out this spring-fed swimming hole, but it is definitely on my to do list now!
  • Buying some Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans in Fort Davis—Mark got black pepper, I got sausage and cinnamon, Dad got booger and vomit. Poor Dad.
  • The sunrise in Presidio—Beauty in every direction that Saturday morning.
  • Driving out to Ruidosa, TX to see what was there—The answer? Nothing really, except the Chinati Hot Springs, an unexpected oasis very much off the beaten path. I may have to take a writing retreat there someday.
  • Taking my first trip (via rowboat and burro) into Mexico—The hubby and I spent a couple of hours in Boquillas, just across the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park. Dad, who doesn’t have a passport, waited for us on the Texas side. He and my brother took that rowboat journey in the mid-nineties when things at the border were less complicated.
Donkey Cam
Donkey Cam

The Story of the Little Green Rock

Traveling with my dad is fun. Having said that, it can also be a little painful. One common injury suffered on long road trips with him is a strained cornea due to all the eye-rolling you end up doing throughout the trip. The term “captive audience” is never more true than when you’re in a car, in the middle-of-nowhere-Texas, with no radio, no cell phone service, and no traffic in sight. Dad knows this. Dad uses these opportunities to tell stories.

Some of the stories are great—he tells old family tales and army anecdotes and talks about how the landscape has changed since he was a kid. Some of the stories are obvious jokes or outlandish lies, and those can be okay too. But some of the stories begin in one category before subtly sliding over into the other, and before you know it, you’ve been got. Trapped in the car on a lonely stretch of country road with not even a cow to commiserate with, you sigh and roll your eyes and push the accelerator a little closer to the floor.

This weekend, my dad told the story of the little green rock.

LittleGreenRock

When my dad was a little kid, his family drove out to the Panhandle to visit his grandparents, Pap and Grandma. It was winter, and it had been a hard one in West Texas. The temperature was in the upper twenties and had been for days. The ground was frozen solid and icicles hung from the roof of the farmhouse.

Dad’s father and grandfather walked out into the pasture to check on the cattle, and my dad went with them. He was dressed in his warmest clothes, but it didn’t matter. That cold wind blew straight across those flat plains and right through him. He was shivering and wanted to go back to the house, but he wanted to stay with the men more, so he did.

While they were out walking that frozen ground, my dad looked down and saw a little green rock. It was shaped kind of a like an egg, but smaller, and very smooth. He picked it up and put it in his pocket. Finally, the men turned to head back to the warmth of the house. My dad was more than ready to follow them.

When they got inside, they shrugged off their coats and their extra layers. My dad emptied his pockets, putting his little green rock on the table. They stoked the fire and got it going good, and everyone sat around thawing out and warming up.

After a few minutes, when the feeling had come back to my dad’s hands and feet and he was starting to feel alive again, he heard PHHFFFTT! He looked at the table and saw that his little green rock was gone.

It turns out, it wasn’t a rock at all. It was a frozen fart.

(I warned you. Be grateful you got the short version.)

TheEnd

 

The End

We left at 7:00 A.M. on Friday, spent the night in Presidio, and arrived back in Austin at 1:00 A.M. on Sunday morning. In the 42 hours that we were gone, we put 1,237 miles on the Jitney. Dad slept for a few hours and then he and Mom hit the road again, heading back up to Richardson before the bad weather arrived.

The whole thing was a whirlwind. Honestly, I probably won’t even remember it all until I see Dad’s pictures. (I didn’t take very many, but he did.) Some people probably can’t understand the point of a trip like that—so much driving (all done by my husband), so many hours in the car and so little time spent in any one location. But we covered a lot of ground and had some good conversations and kicked up a lot of dust behind the Jitney. We drank some coffee and collected some more yellow and black signs and learned a lesson about picking up little green rocks in winter.

To us, the trip was a success.