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Posts from the ‘Travel & Places I’ve been’ Category

Sweet Gum and Pitchers

Fall in Southeast Texas is not nearly as dramatic or colorful as it is in Wisconsin where I grew up—but if you look hard enough, there is some color to be found.

We live on the outskirts of the Big Thicket. The section near us has a wide diversity of plant life and ecosystems ranging from pine forests to cypress swamps to marsh. During our time here, we have hiked many of the trails in the several sections here. One section features a controlled burn every so many years.

Then there are the sundew plants—and the pitcher plants—insect eaters. We did not expect to see the sundews but there were plenty of pitcher plants.

Is that an Alligator?

The day was a bit chilly with a bit of a breeze but sunny, a good day to take a walk around the levees at Cat-Tail Marsh in Tyrell Park. It is the tertiary treatment area for the city’s sewage system and although that sounds rather off-putting, it is one of our favorite places to go walking.

The ponds are separated by various levees all topped with either gravel or grassy roadways perfect for walking/running/bicycling. I don’t run anymore, unless someone yells fire–and in which case, it might actually be a fast walk. But it is a lovely place to walk, there are birds everywhere, some days more than others.

Today we saw egrets, ibis, a little green heron or two plus lots of coots and gallinules. The gallinules seemed to walk on water as they traveled across the water hyacinths in search of lunch/supper. I suspect they don’t really separate out meal times–it is just eat all day as long as the sun shines and even if it doesn’t.

We were thrilled to see what we thought was an alligator with just its eyes and snout showing above the water line–and worked hard to get some great photos—but after a bit of maneuvering decided it was just a bit of vegetation floating along—and then we did see an alligator on the opposite bank–but neither of us wanted to venture close enough for a great photo.

see the snout and the two eyes
his head was stuck under the vegetation

Even so, it was a pleasant day—and we returned home–me to my sewing room to work on a project, Glen to look at his photos. I’m starting to compile this year’s photos in a single album labeled Texas 2021. I suspect we will have much more of pandemic lock-down/limited travel. I miss my friends and my family—the orchid society, the astronomical society, my quilting friends, the motocross/racing…..but then missing them will make the time we can meet again all the more sweeter.

Buzzards on the prowl

There is an old German axiom that whatever you spend New Year’s Day is how you will spend your year. In the past, i have spent the day dismantling the Christmas tree and putting away the decorations while watching the Rose Bowl parade. This year is certainly not traditional. I’ve done assorted things ranging from a hike/working/cleaning and organizing my work area. But this year is clearly not a usual year.

We are fortunate to live on the western most reach of the Great Mississippi Flyway which means there are migratory—and stationary(?) or perhaps residential is the proper term for the shore and water birds. We are also fortunate to have ready access to several wildlife refuge areas including Anahuac National Wildlife Nature Preserve. There is a new visitor’s center just out of Winnie but it is currently closed due to our need to social distance.

Sunny skies, no rain or wind but more than a tad chilly at 55 degrees projected to be the high for the day meant a good day for seeing birds. We remembered a previous year in which we participated in the annual bird count—great fun–we got to ride on a RollYGon–a kind of arctic marsh vehicle through the swampy areas definitely off the beatend path—–but we were terrible at identifying all the birds we saw that day—easy to count the dead alligators lying on the side of the pathways. Not sure we should feel pleased or aggrieved we were not invited back to help out the next year.

A few other people were out–and all of them with what looked like fabulous photographic gear—I have a Canon SX 50–light enough for me to hold relatively steady and a foldout screen to accommodate my fairly large blind spot. Coots…..a black duck type bird with a white bill swims along with its head down scanning the undergrowth in the water, then dives down and all you will see is the concentric circles in the water–then it pops up two or three feet away.

A caracara flew past us with a brown feathered object dangling from its claws. Three buzzards were intensely interested in this event; as we drove silently along–Tessie is a great bird-watching vehicle–needs a convertible top to be truly useful—the caracara would fly a few feet with the buzzards walking solemnly but purposely behind.

We spied a large groups of birds on what we might call an island—with one of the faboo photographers taking photos—it was a flock of egrets mingled with spoonbills. My camera would not zoom close enough to see those awkward bills but I did see the pink plumage.

A bit further down the road was a /green heron, a snowy egret, and cormorants perched on a road sign.

But we needed to hurry home for our cabbage, black-eyed peas, Mexican cornbread and champagne to welcome in another new year.

Plumbing, Coots, and a Great Blue

Living in an old house on the Texas Gulf Coast where houses are not designed for cold weather and freezing temperatures……let’s just say the house is charming but challenging at times. I had noticed a black spot appearing on the hallway ceiling over the front door. We speculated replacing the front pillars some years ago–they were rotting with some plastic ones had altered the roof just enough to permit water to run in; then we also thought perhaps the shower pan was no longer functional and discovered a place where the grout had fallen out on the side of the walk-in shower.

Husband crawled up there on our ladder and after some poking and sawing away of the drywall we had put up instead of the plaster in repairing the shower pan leakage incident, found a hole in a pipe—a pipe that ran underneath an electric wire. That repair necessitated turning off the power and the water to the house while a patch was attempted.

I repaired to the shop where I started quilting a surprise for my oldest son—well, maybe not a surprise if he reads this; and after rethreading the Gammill twice and taking out some bad stitches, I called to inquire about the status of the repair.

I will spare you the images of the hole in the front hallway ceiling but instead end with this photo taken of the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge and direct you to my gallery featuring more photos of the afternoon. Coots were in great abundance and I took dozens of photos but they do not pose as nicely as do the marsh reeds and other vegetation.

For more photos of the day take a look at this gallery https://www.smugmug.com/app/organize/Anahuac-2020

There are two other galleries featuring our trips to Anahuac https://www.smugmug.com/app/organize/Texas/A-day-at-Anahuac-March-6-2016 AND https://www.smugmug.com/app/organize/Texas/A-day-at-Anahuac

There are better photos of the coots and a great one of an alligator swimming in the marsh.

We didn’t drive along the entire roadways there, just the one loop.

Flying high (Eventually)

There was a car/plane show at the municipal airport this past weekend. We arrived just as the planes were beginning to fuel up and return to their respective homes. I have been to several car shows but never a plane show and this was interesting.

I learned it is very difficult to get good photographs of planes. They are Big! Even the ones that are meant for just two or maybe four people, it is hard to get a good photo. And then I was shooting into the sun or had my shadow included in the photo.

Getting a good car photo is also not so easy–and there was a Delorian—such a fun car—and Back to the Future!

As we wandered around the planes, they were fueling up and taking off–again hard to get photos as the runway was to the west–and that sun which made such a wonderful day at the beach made for ‘no photos of planes in the air’.

But we did find one guy who knew the answer to my question—what sort of plane did Sky King fly? It was the Cessna Songbird. And now you know too.

Here is the link to more photos from the day and if you keep scrolling through you will also see the beach images.

https://www.smugmug.com/app/organize/Texas/Texas-2020

Happiness is

A day at the beach!

We had planned to take a short trip for nearly a week, hoping the weather would cooperate—-and it did. Sunshine, a tiny bit of a breeze, and temps in the low 70’s made for a perfect day. We also had the beach mostly to ourselves–a man with his daughter played in the surf and a Hispanic man fished the surf with three lines (didn’t catch anything while we were there).

While many people go to the beach in the summer, we far prefer the winter time. I think it is the solitude–the quiet–although the waves and the surf were rather noisy yesterday. A huge flock of gulls congregated near the water’s edge and I took dozens of photos. This wasn’t the easiest as I cannot use the viewfinder due to my eyesight, but must use the little fold-out window. But the shells and the feather held quite still for me.

As we had considerable number of miles left on Tessie’s battery, we stopped by what used to be Dick Dowling Battleground–now renamed in view of political correctness as the Sabine Pass Battleground. A dozen or more fishers lined the bulkhead, a few tourists arrived and wandered around the various markers—a miniature set-up of the guns and the ships–the USS Clifton, USS Sachem and one other were arranged in the grounds. And then there was the huge walking beam used to power the ship.

We ate our lunch of sandwiches, a satsuma, and two chocolates at a picnic table under a tree while Glen threw bits of satsuma peel at the grackles who had already decorated our table—I always bring a small hand-towel to use as a table-cloth–so no worries.

Next up was a trip to Riverfront Park in Port Neches, everything due to the pandemic (will it ever end?) Several groups were having outdoor birthday parties with balloons marking their tables.

And then home to a pot of rice and pinto beans and two dogs who smiled as they ventured out to the dog park.

It was a good day.

Some of my photos of the day are posted here:https://www.smugmug.com/app/organize/Texas/Texas-2020

Cotton Fields

My grandmother had picked a stalk of cotton during one of her trips to Georgia and displayed it in a vase on top of her upright piano. In that same vase were some stalks of oats I had picked for her on the edge of one of our fields. She had covered the grains with brightly colored aluminum foil–a painstaking task occupying many hours. I always wondered where she had gotten so many different colors–purple, green, blue, red—we only had the plain silver. And now that I think back on it, I am sure she scavenged that foil from floral arrangements from the three cemeteries she maintained as one of her means of income.

I wondered what fields of cotton would look like—maybe like a field of white roses near Geough Georgia, a small town consisting of a cotton gin, a post office/general store and a school. I had been volunteered as a newly minted MD to supervise a health clinic at the school– I think they mostly talked about diet and brushing teeth.

Texas does grow cotton and here is one of those fields. Menger was a cotton farmer who developed several different kinds of machinery to process the cotton. I stood at the side of the field to take this photo; there was cotton as far as I could see on both sides of the road.

cotton flower

A Bonsai Tree and a Fountain

Thursday I had a doctor’s appointment in Houston. I normally schedule these to include a trip to the art museum to see the latest exhibits and to check in on my favorites—Matisse’s bronze backs in the Cullen sculpture garden and the European impression wing; I’ve stopped by the Menil on occasion too–but the Menil is closed and the MFA is open by appointment. Not knowing how long a doctor’s appointment will last, I contented myself with a walk through Herman Park.

While it is not as large as Central Park in New York City, it is not small either. There is a golf course, a zoo, a small railroad, bikes for rent and many long trails and pathways for walkers and runners. The bird population is plentiful ranging from ducks and geese to pigeons and I’m sure others–but those were the ones I saw begging on the pathways. It reminded me of student days in Madison where no-one dared sit near the path–they would be covered with birds seeking bread.

img_4260-mThis tree near the ticket booth for the zoo has always fascinated me. Although it is full size, to me it looks like a bonsai tree—something a few of my medical school classmates and I tried during student days—not money involved in raising one from a tiny sapling dug from the side of the road somewhere and destined for mowing. My bonsaid morphed into miniature roses when I did my residency—but they stayed behind when we moved to Texas.

img_4262-mIt was warm—no–HOT—and this fountain looked deliciously appealing. Two paddleboats circled around it, the passengers laughing as they encountered the spray. Had I been more appropriately dressed and with a companion blessed with a good pair of calves, I would have joined in.

 

An Ocean View

shipThursday was a fine day for a trip to the beach and a picnic. We live just 30 some miles from the Gulf but our favorite time to visit is during the winter months. Quarantine days and social distancing have grown more than a tad old; our days seem to run together with little change. The weather is hot and humid but Thursday was clear and sunny.

 

I packed a simple lunch—yeast roll with cream cheese and slice of ham and a chilled wataermelon–did not think to provide a cutting board and utensils but I did remember to stick in a large knife.

We drove to McFadden National Wildlife refuge, opted to not drive out to the beach although Tessie si 4 wheel drive, walked up and down the beach. I had to get my feet and ankles and the bottom of my pants legs wet in the waves. There were a few other people there–not many as it was not yet the weekend.

A largish mesquite tree provided some shade for our lunch and we made a mess of the watermelon.

Our next stop was the Dick Dowling State Park. In the past, there were two restaurants offering barbecue crabs; they have been gone for many years—tax problems and there are no more re-enactments of the famous naval battle fought there. It has been renamed as a historical battlefield site. It also was nearly deserted but with a lovely long walkway along the river.

All told we drove about 120 miles or so—a fun day.

I’ve put a few more photos of the day in this gallery for your viewing pleasure without the heat and humidity—you’ll have to provide your own watermelon.

 

Zooming In

After taking Plaquenil for about six months, I began to notice some really strange visual things—sparkly colors, reversing colors of images. After reporting this to my ophthalmologist, I was scheduled to see a retinal specialist. He did some sort of fancy scans and it was determined I was one of the unlucky few to have Plaquenil deposits around both macula–the site of our most acute vision. Plaquenil was immediately stopped and very slowly some of my vision has returned. However, not enough to use that tiny little view finder on my camera.

I could be frustrated with having to use the pull-out window on my Canon SX 50 but sometimes the results are rather amusing particularly with the zoom feature.

One of our favorite spots is the tertiary treating area at Tyrell Park here in Beaumont. There are long walkways around each containment area, the occasional alligator can be spotted along with hundreds of birds.

This was an avocet on an overcast day and my attempts to get some good closeups. That camera can take photos of the water droplets on a duck from a considerable distance but that doesn’t mean it can tell I want the whole bird in the photo, not just its legs.

Tell me what you think!

Here is my subject.

wader204-m

First attempt with actual bird parts visualized. I omitted the ones of the just the water.

wader202-m

And another try.

wader201-m

so I back up the zoom and find that silly bird again.

coots-m

my best effort—and I decided it was going to have be good enough.

wader203-m-2