Thursday, July 28, 2005

I can see my RAV4!!

I can see my RAV4!!
Originally uploaded by merriwether.

Those who know me know what a huge fan of Apple computers I am. Well, last night for the first time I considered switching to a PC. In nine years of computer ownership I've never come across a game, application, or media that has made me even glance at a PC wantingly. Then last night I played with GoogleEarth over at Clark's house.

Oh. MY. GOD!!!

This is unbelievable! Go there! Try it! You'll spend the next five hours of your life exploring every place you've ever lived, worked, visited, or dreamed about!!!

And if you are really lucky you'll spot your own car.

Luckily they will be releasing this for the Mac otherwise I shudder at what I'd have to do...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Originally uploaded by merriwether.

I like to refer to myself alot as an adventurer, an explorer.
But today I was reminded what a true aventurer is.

Everyone in the building was gathered around the big projection screen this morning.
Silent, raptly staring.


And the smoke began.
And the fire burned.
Seven explorers launched themselves into the void.

We watched, still silent, still praying.

"Main throttle go!" and we exhaled.
"Solid boosters ejected" and our hands began to unclench.
"Tank has separated" and we cheered, we yelled, we wept!

God bless you on your journey, Discovery!!

That's all the words I have.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I think she's ready.

Well, the canoe is fixed up and ready to go! Miniwether and I are very excited. I scraped the registration numbers off the side, but the glue is still there. I may bring something home from work to do a better job of removing that stuff. I tried "GooGone", but that hardly touched the glue. Once the reg. # is completely gone I can put her name there. Okay, I have to actually decide on the name, but once I do it's going on the bow. Adventurers can be a bit vain.

Sadly, we weren't able to try it out this weekend do to scheduling problems with Clark. Next weekend we're heading to Austin to do a little adventuring there. Okay, *very little* adventuring, but a whole lot of partying with the Great and Powerful Oliana! Should be fun, I need a break.

Oh, and yes, this picture was taken in my backyard. Adventurers need trees around them and a path which they can't see to the end. You ought to see the firepit.

Adventure! Excitement! Large, hammer-based repairs!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Canews (ha ha ha)

Okay, the seat has been rebuilt, waterproofed, and drilled, but not yet attached. The bow point also needs to be fastened down securely so that we can use it as an anchorpoint when tying it to vehicles. Hopefully I'll do that tonight or at worst early tomorrow morning. Clark and I want to test this lady out tomorrow on nearby Woodlands Lake. This lake is populated mostly by kayakers from the surrounding affluent area. I've seen some pretty $$$ kayaks, all kevlar and glass, on this lake. It'll be fun to show up with this ancient canoe. Adventurers really don't fit in well with "polite company". Note, I don't have anything against rich people and I plan on being one some day. I just don't think you can get rich while spending big bucks on toys. Spending money on something that costs money makes you poorer, spending money on something that makes you money makes you richer. If you aren't at the very least taking advantage of IRA stop reading this now and go open one!

How the heck did this turn into a philosophical screed on money?

Anyway, we hope to take the canoe out Saturday. Our families will be along, which will be fun. I can't wait to take Miniwether out in the canoe! She likes sitting in it in the yard and likes looking at boats in the water, but this'll be her first time in a boat on the water. I expect various squeals of delight. I bought her a life jacket yesterday. She thinks it's pretty cool and wore it to check mail last night. Miniwether's life jacket matchs mine (ug, I hate it when parent and kids wear matching outfits!) but I had little choice. The interesting thing is even though her's is a child's-sized version of my life jacket it cost almost twice as much. Go figure. I still need to get a life jacket and paddle for Misseswether. I thought she'd want to pick out her own, but she's leaving it up to me. She did like the one I got for myself so I'm having these horrible visions of all three of us in matching outfits. *shudder* Adventurers are independent souls.

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Just sit right back and I'll tell a tale...

You may want to make yourself comfortable, perhaps grab a drink. Snacks might be good to if you don't mind a gooey keyboard. This is going to be a long post, so sit back and read on.

It was like a Bizzaro world O.J. Simpson chase. I was slowly driving down Cypresswood Dr. past McMansion after McMansion with a six-deep line of Mercedes, BMW's, and Jaguars pacing me about thirty yards back. Tied precariously to the roof of our Honda Pilot with yards and yards of blue rope was battered, partially burnt, forty year old aluminum canoe. This explained why all the lovely cars of this subdivision were keeping their distance.

Hmmm, perhaps I should back up a bit. I bought a canoe! Well, most of a canoe anyway. It had seen some rough times over the many decades of it's life. The owner claimed he had bought it second-hand over thrity years ago. It's a bit crumpled. The most recent damage occurred when a large tree branch fell on it while it sat moldering in the owner's back yard. It had been sitting there for the last eight years after an owner's friend borrowed it and managed to pour burning gasoline into the bow floatation chamber. This melted the big chunk of flotation styrofoam and scorched the inside front of the canoe. To put out the fire the friend ripped the top bow panel off the canoe. Sometime between the fire and the branch the wood of the front seat rotted away, causing its aluminum shell to fall out. $80 and the beast was mine! The owner helped me tie it to the roof of our SUV while his wife entertained Miniwether with a can of Diet Pepsi and the Cartoon network. (Sidenote: Your bargaining position is greatly strengthend when you show up with an incredibly cute little girl.) Once it was tied on I went to open Miniwether's door and realized why I didn't like this guy's method of tying down the canoe, we had tied the doors closed! The choices were to either spend twenty more minutes in the burning sun redoing the ropes or "Dukes of Hazard"-ing ourselves through the windows. Do you have to ask? Miniwether thought going through the window was really cool and now wants to do it all the time.

Okay, now we're to the spot where you came in. To get home I had to drive through one of the ritzier parts of town, hence the parade of luxury cars. None of them wanted to get close to me. Actually, I get that quite a lot. Anyway, once home I realized I couldn't climb back out of the Honda's window so I had to untie the knots by feel. I had briefly considered just cutting the rope, but an adventurer NEVER cuts rope unless it's a life or death situation. Rope is valuable. I could have called Misseswether on my cell phone from our driveway, but I didn't feel up to the teasing I knew would follow. So, after a few minutes of puppet show/bondage games I was free of the SUV. My neighbor helped me get the canoe down and Miniwether jumped aboard it yelling, "Kaynoe! Kaynoe!". Hey, close enough for a two year old.

After a quick supper I was back outside admiring/fearing my purchase. With repeated blows of a rubber mallet the large dent loudly began to be beaten out. Miniwether thought that was great fun and convinced me to let her help. (Sidenote: if you let a two year old help you pound out dents with a large hammer be sure to hide the hammer when you are done. Otherwise she'll continue to help you by pounding dents out of end tables, frying pans, cats, etc. Thus speaks experience...). An hour of pounding had smoothed the dent out somewhat and driven all the neighbors in earshot completely nuts, so I turned my attention to the burned, panel-less, melted-styrofoam front end. I did have the panel, it just wasn't attached to the canoe. Preliminary examination of the panel and the canoe revealed that the canoe had sprung open about four inches wider than the panel. It was going to take some creative squeezing to get everything back together. Night was falling so Miniwether, me, and my hammer went inside. Twenty minutes later and a percusion discussion with Miniwether, the hammer was placed on a high shelf. Sometimes being an adventurer means the occasional hammer-shaped bruise on your knee.

The next day the lawn needed mowing before I could tinker with the canoe. I finished up mowing and trimming and as I was putting the weedeater (biggest friggen horse-power unit on the civillian market!) away I had (at the time anyway) a brilliant idea. The canoe had a line of three-inch tall registration letters/numbers on each side. Texas doesn't require them, so I wanted them off the canoe. I fired up the weedwhip and gunned it to full throtle. The plastic "whip" of the weedeater made a bizzare sound as it struck the aluminum canoe, kind of like an army of cicadas fighting back an alien invasion from space. I'd seen this thing cut through 3/4" weeds like butter so I figured nylon decals would be blown away. Nope, they didn't even show a scratch after three minutes of serious weed-whipage. However, the mold, mildew, and burn marks were coming off! Cool! I started running the weedwhip over the rest of the canoe to clean it up when out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone watching me. Actually, just about everybody was watching me. Did I mention that the canoe was in my driveway?Most of my neighbors were standing in their front doorways staring at me and exchanging glances with each other. They seem to do that a lot.

I put the weedwhip away.

Later that night Clark came over and we tackled the damaged bow. I gathered a collection of tools I thought we might need, a large hammer, assorted peices of wood, pliers and a vicegrips, a pop-rivet gun, assorted rivets, an electric drill, rope, and all the chunks of styrofoam I could find. Two hours and five pop-rivets later (all in the same hole) we were frustrated, sweaty, covered in mosquito bites, friction burns from the drill and red welts from misfired rivets. We were ready to give the damn boat to the recycling center. Suddenly the second rivet went in and stayed! And then another!

And then the first rivet popped out again.

At this point another neighbor showed up with his dad's WWII-era rivet gun. It turned out his dad had been a commercial airline mechanic and he had passed all his tools to this son (a commecial pilot) upon retirement. The pilot fired up his monster of a rivet gun and proceded to have no better luck with riveting the canoe than either Clark or me. This made us feel a bit better. The bow was being squeezed together with a combination of ratcheting tie-downs and a dangerously tightened rope which was beginning to give way one popping strand after another. With a mad flurry of hammer blows, pop-riveting, prayer and testosterone we finally got the panel back on. Releasing the tie-downs and rope did not result in an explosion of rivets, aluminum, and styrofoam chunks, so we're thinking we are now sea-worthy. However, our significant others are requesting that our trial run take place in a nearby lake on a calm day. Hah, we are adventurers and we scoff at such advise! Scoff I say. Scoff! Scoff! To the river we go! Ignore the flooding! Ignore that strange squeeking noise!

Well, maybe not quite yet. I still need to do is rebuild the front seat, finish scrubbing off the mildew, and buy some paddles then we are good to go. Oh yeah, Misseswether just reminded me that I need to get life jackets, too. Smart adventurers listen to their wives, it's just easier that way...

Anyway, the canoe is looking much, much better now. Once the repairs are finished and it's cleaned up it'll look like it just rolled out of the factory (and then down a flight of stairs and into some light traffic...). But hey, it'll float and that's what's important! I still need a name for this lady. I want some that captures the beauty of gliding silently up rivers at dawn, something that gives a Tolkien-esque feeling of elven magic I get in the woods, something that isn't overly poofy. Right now I'm leaning towards "River's Mist". Other names include:
Far and Away
The Dawntreader
River Lady
Venus Descending
Morning Star
Far Traveller

Leave a comment on which one you like or if you have a name you think might be good.

A hard bargainer:

Almost done...

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Oops, they are toxic...

Oops, they are toxic...
Originally uploaded by merriwether.

I did a little more info gathering on my six-legged sky-prawns. Turns out they are Southeastern Lubber Grasshoppers (Romalea microptera).

"large, lethargic grasshopper that cannot fly, it has powerful legs armed with short spines. Aposematically colored due to it's toxicity (enough to make a raccoon sick) they feed on many different herbaceous plants. Their prefered habitat is pinewoods, weedy fields and the tangled vegetation along roadsides but they often invade gardens and yards. They can be found from central North Carolina to Florida and west through Georgia, Alabama, southern Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. These grasshoppers occur throughout the year in Florida. In the cooler parts of their range they have one generation per year, with eggs beginning to hatch in late February, and populations increasing in March. There are five instars, each lasting seven to ten days (after these five stages the nymph is considered an adult). Nymphs are dark brown and in the melanistic southern form, the adults are as well. The highest number of adults can be observed in July and August during which time many eggs are laid in soft soil. Adults are active until winter."

Apparently I shouldn't have eaten them. Oh well. Sometimes being an adventurer means eating the wrong thing...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

These are the places in my neighborhood...

When one looks around one begins to notice places. Places that to some yell "Stay Out". To an adventurer these same places whispher, "Come in." I'm lucky because my neighborhood runs up against the borderlands. But in a few places the borderlands have crept into my neighborhood.

The Burned House:
BurnedFront BurnBack
In January of 2005 a nearby house caught fire under mysterious circumstances. The insurance company has refused to pay for repairs and the owners have disappeared. Seven months later it still stands gutted and broken. The landscaping is dead and weeds have started entering the house through cracked windows and broken doors. The pool is filled with green algae and slowly bobbing lawn furniture. No one appears to have been in the house since the owners left even though the doors are unlocked and many windows have been broken out. Very soon I'll have to go exploring.

The Storm Sewers:
sewer2 sewer1
Before the houses were built, before the roads were put in, giant concrete culverts were buried deep under the neighborhood to flow away the tremendous amounts of rain we receive. They pass unknown beneath living rooms, back yards, and garages for miles as they protect us from flooding. Nothing calls to an adventurer like a big hole in the ground!

Other Mysteries, Unknowns, and Callings
The borderland fingers run through other parts of our neighborhood. There's the abandonned plant nursery on the west side with bamboo and other weird plants running rampant. On the northeast side is the flooded, bottomless gravel pit. And finally, the dam pumphouse.

Monday, July 11, 2005

They taste kind of like steak.

Ummm merinade





Adventure! Excitement! Bug eating!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Alligators, crabs, and cows, oh my!

You ever have one of those adventures where you go in with really low expectations and end up having the an awesome time? That happened to Clark and me Friday. We had been trying to set up some adventure this week but life kept getting in the way, not to mention the brutally hot and rainless weather. Streams weren't running, the borderlands were snake-filled ovens, and the humidity made it feel like you were standing in someone's mouth. Flipping through a Texas paddler's guidebook we found a note on Lake Charlotte, Texas. It's halfway between Houston and Bueamont just off I-10, and supposedly can be paddled all year. We figured it was some ugly little lake surrounded by industrial areas, but we didn't have any better ideas. I picked up a canoe from the great people over at Southwest Paddlesports Thursday evening and Friday morning Clarke and I met up at 5am to head out. Major storms had passed through several hours earlier dumping 3" of rain on the area and bumping up the local flowrates up over 400cfs, so we discussed re-running Spring Creek through the borderlands. In the end we decided to explore Lake Charlotte instead, even though both of us had reservations about it. 5:15am we were on the road driving through occasionally spits of rain.

Our misgivings were reinforced when 90 minutes later we pulled up to Cedar Hill Park (the put in site). Across the entrance was a locked iron gate roughly large enough to keep King Kong in and us definately out. The guidebook had said the park was always open so this gate really ticked us off. A few seconds later another guy pulled up with a kayak in the back of his truck. He was just as shocked by the gate. It was a good half-hour to the next viable put-in and we were all grumbing about this together when an old guy drove up. He gave us all a happy "Howdy", pulled a big key out of pocket and unlocked the gate (we all had to help him actually open it). He said he normally doesn't open the gate unti 9:30am, but he happend to be up and saw us do a u-turn in his driveway. He immediately threw on some clothes and came to open the gate for us. We all thanked him profusely and headed down to the lake. We had to drive through some woods to get to the lake and we completely unprepared for what we saw as we rounded the last corner.

In front of us spread a glass-smooth lake reflecting the glorious sunrise and surrounded by ancient cypress trees. On the shore were piles of fresh-water clam shells left behind by generations of Native Americans. The air was twenty degrees cooler than it had been in two months and a light breeze was blowing strong enough to keep the mosquitoes away. To the southeast we could see the remains of the storms blowing away and to the northwest high, dark clouds were drifting in. It was stunning! I pulled out my camera to take some pictures and discovered to my horror that it was busted! Aggghhhh!!! One of the most beautiful views of my life and I couldn't take a picture. You'll just have to take my word for it, though I definately plan on going back with a working camera.

We talked a bit more with the kayaker. He asked if Clark and I were biologists. We answered no and asked why. He responded that we were dressed like ones. He was in cut-offs, tee-shirt, and a baseball cap. We were dressed in high-tech, quick-drying cargo pants/long-sleeved shirts and wearing wide-brimmed (non-matching!) safari hats. Hey, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices! When you are an adventurer it pays to have the right clothing.

Anyway, a few minutes later we were in the water paddling towards a small island on the far side of the lake. The clarity of the air made distances misleading and it took us longer than expected to make it over to this island. On the way over we were amazed at how shallow the lake was (under 4' deep) and how many fish were jumping out of the water around us. The "island" turned out to be the fringes of a large cypress swamp. Without a word Clark and I paddled into the swamp and left the world of humans behind. Cypress trees filled with Spanish moss towered over us, Cypress "knees" 2-4' tall looking like frozen goblins poked out of the water everywhere. Herons, egrets, and many other birds cried out their warnings as we glided through their domain. It was wonderfully spooky.

We poked around the this swamp for an hour, never daring to go too deep into it. It's a BAD place to get lost in. According to our map there was an old shipping channel on the northwest side of the lake leading to the Trinity river. We found it with little trouble and headed down it. Suprisingly, it was much deeper than the lake itself. Fish were still jumping everywhere and large gar fish could be seen swimming just below the surface. Words can not do justice to how beautiful the channel was. It had fallen from use almost 100 years ago and Mother Nature had done a wonderful job of taking it back. Trees, flowers, fish, butterflies, vines...and me without a camera!!!

The channel was only about 1/4 mile long and emptied into the Trinity river. It was still early, so we haeded down the river in hopes of finding the "Lake Pass Channel", another old channel leading from the Trinity back into Lake Charlotte. The Trinity had very different flora and fauna compared to Lake Charlotte. The cyprees trees were replaced by willows, cottonwoods, and Chinese tallow trees. More importantly, there were ALLIGATORS!!!!! Woo hoo!! I'd never seen alligators in the wild before, so this was major excitement for me. We saw two differnt ones, each about 5' long. Way, way, way cool!!

Fish continued to jump around the canoe, and while watching them we spotted another type of weird beasty. Crabs were swimming past us heading upstream for some unknown reason! they were only about 5-6" across, but still looked rather tastey. Farther down we were suprised to see a cow laying in the water watching us. We headed over to us to see if it might be stuck, but as we got close it showed us just how unstuck it actually was. Swift paddling got us out of the way of it's attack. Only in Texas can you cruise with alligators but be atacked by herbivores... No wait, Jimmy Carter was attacked by a rabbit while fishing in Georgia. Okay, maybe it's a Southern thing.

Still farther downstream we pulled up to shore to strech our legs. Looking down we noticed the ground was moving. A closer look revealed that the ground was covered in giant grasshoppers! Way cool! I quickly emptied a spare waterbottle and tossed in a dozen of these monster bugs. I took them home and Miniwether thought they were pretty neat, but Misseswether won't let them in the house. My next-door neighbor saw them and asked if I was going to try eating them. He knows me too well, I had already downloaded some recipies for them. Native Americans used to roast them after removing the heads, legs and wings.

I'll let you know how they taste.

Continuing downstream was uneventful after the alligators, crabs, cow attack, and grasshopper rustling. We found the other channel and headed up it back to Lake Charlotte. This channel was more overgrown and not as pretty as the first one, but it was still nice and easily navigable, though a lot longer. A side channel lead off it to another small lake but we didn't explore that this time. Once back into lake Charlotte we explored the cypress swamp some more, then headed back to our put-in sight. We pulled up to shore about noon and were back in Houston a little before 2pm. What a great day. The temperature was kept reasonable by the overcast skies. The wind was strong enough to keep the mosquitoes away but didn't make paddling difficult. Fish were jumping, birds were flying, alligators were cruising, cows were attacking, and giant grasshoppers were creeping. Could a person ask for a better day? Once home I did some more research about the lake and discovered the the Sierra Club rates Lake Charlotte as one of the ten "Must See" sights in the USA. I don't usually agree with the eco-terrorists of the Sierra Club, but I do in this case. Go see Lake Charlotte!!!

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Surf Texas

I went to Surfside, Texas this morning to watch my neighbor surf. On the road at 5am, on the beach at 6:30am, back in the house a little after 10am. The surf was rocking due to a big storm out in the Gulf. Nothing like the tubes off Hawaii, but pretty much as good as it gets here near Houston. I didn't surf, rather I was on shark-watch duty. They've been thick off the Texas coast lately.

California, California...

I hate to say it, but California is probably the most beautiful state I've ever been to. It beats out Vermont in the fall or Hawaii any time of the year. I can understand why people used to consider it to be paradise. If someday the California government backs away from their desire to CONTROL EVERY ASPECT of a person's life I might consider moving there some day. Of course, I don't have any pictures of the beautiful California scenery. Sorry, you'll just have to go there yourself.

As far as Adventure, Excitement, Exploration, not much was done. It was more Eating, Driving, Weddinging! It was basically three days of driving from wedding event to food-based wedding event. Note, I'm not complaining. The food was awesome as usual. Greek and Indian food at the rehersal dinner, Assorted ethnically-diverse courses at the reception, and all the ribs, chicken and assorted Puerto Rican desserts at the family gathering the next day. Mmmmm.

The wedding was a good ol' Catholic event, which meant that Miniwether knew what was going on and how to act. The reception afterwards was held in a totally cool art museum. The only glitch was I forgot to pack a tie. Luckily it was California and I wasn't the only guy tieless.

The only siteseeing we were able to squeeze in was to The Huntington, an awesome art museum and botanical gardens. This place was amazing. We only had about two hours to spend there and only saw a tiny fraction of of what it had to offer. Most of the time was spent in the children's garden which Miniwether absolutely loved. Her favorite part was the "Valley of the Clouds", which was a sunken garden which every five minutes or so became filled with a thick fog. Miniwether couldn't get enough of that. Misseswether was estatic to see "Pinkie" and "The Blue Boy". I was excited to stumble upon "The Gleaners of the Fields", but I can't find a picture of it anywhere. There's a similar one by a French guy named "Millet", but that's not the one I know and love. The painting shows a bunch of serfs picking over an already-harvested field at sundown. It's an awesome painting. After the paintings and garden we stumbled into a library displaying famous works such as original works of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Thereau, and an actual Gutenberg Bible!!!

All in all, it was a nice time but we never ventured into the borderlands.

Wedding IMG_7351 KikisOfTheMist