Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pain, Fear, Horror, Death

New Orleans is destroyed.

Other towns in the area are GONE.

Lives are shattered.

It's up to us to fix it.

Please, please help.

Red Cross

Catholic Charities

This isn't an adventure.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

...and in the darkness bind them


I'm a baby cave troll.

Well, that's what the body scanner at the travelling Lord of the Rings exhibit determined I was anyway.

Kind of depressing. I was hoping to be a Uruk-hai, but I was too large. Miniwether, on the other hand, didn't even register on the scanner. She may be tall for two, but in Middle Earth she's not even a Hobbit. Misseswether came in as a very tall dwarf, much to her chagrin.

The exhibt was pretty good though to be perfectly honest, as a long-time attender of Rennaissance Festivals there was little there that I haven't seen before. Miniwether thought it was all pretty cool and spent almost ten minutes talking to the life-sized cave troll statue. She thought he had pretty eyes.

Adventure! Excitement! Depressing Body Image!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

First voyage of [Insert Name Here]: Part 3

We could hear sounds of traffic again.

The maiden voyage of [The Gray Angel?] was coming to an end. Clark and I stopped talking and stopped paddling as we rounded the last bend and the Riley-Fuzzel bridge came into view. Drifting, we watched people zoom by in their cars.

We landed under the bridge and got out to stretch our legs. With an easy heave we pulled [Rugaru?] up onto the bank, then carried her up the hill to the road's shoulder. People gave us big smiles and waves as they whizzed by. I guess the sight of two muddy, grinning guys carrying a canoe along the side of a road in Texas amuses people. I gave Misseswether a call to come pick us up then stood by the canoe returning people's waves while Clark poked around an interesting rock pile.

"You know, I bet we could hitch a ride home.", I said to Clark. He was a bit doubtful, but right after saying so a car stopped and a young guy asked if we needed help. We explained that we'd just finished paddling down Spring Creek from I-45 and we were now waiting for our ride. He thought that was pretty neat. We chatted a bit more then he took off with a wave. A moment later Misseswether pulled up, camera in hand.


She took a picture, then suddenly took off running for her Honda. I was confused, then saw Clark swat at something on his leg.

Oh, mosquitoes.

Being an adventurer means dealing with harsh weather, snakes, weird food, venomous creatures, and mosquitoes. For some strange (God blessed!) reason mosquitoes rarely come after me though. Misseswether is just the opposite. In the two minutes she spent taking our picture she suffered 17 bites! While standing beside the road for half an hour Clark picked up four bites and I was bit zero times. On the other hand, I do seem to end up impaled on branches, thorns, and the occassional peice of rebar fairly often. Sometimes being an adventurer means being on first-name basis with the nurse in charge of tetanus shots.

It was time to go home. We were muddy and smelled of river and sweat. The canoe was covered in clumps of sand from being hauled up the hill to the roadside. We were grinning like idiots and babbling to Misseswether and Miniwether about all that we had saw: the fish, the water, the rapids, birds, turtles... Miniwether laughed and mimicked our wild hand motions, completely forgetting how we had sailed off without her.

Yeah, I was sad, too. I know, it's almost trite. But post-partum adventure depression always creeps in after a trip. It's not easy to balance adventure with being a husband, a dad, a gainfully employed scientist. I took a employment skills test years ago in high school, it recommended I become a wagon-train master (it was a small school in the middle of nowhere, some of it's resources may have been a bit out of date). I always thought I wanted to be a scientist, but what I've figured out is I want to be an explorer. I want to go see what's around the bend, over the mountian, across the desert and then tell people about it. This leads to some amount of frustration in this day and age. That is why I wander the borderlands, seeking really, well, just to seek. I guess that's just my fate.


Introducing, Seeker's Fate

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

First voyage of [Insert Name Here]: Part 2

Five minutes into the trip Clark speaks up, "We're taking in water. She's leaking around the bow seam."

Luckily it's a very slow leak, only a drop or so every minute. No worries. Being an adventurer means a small leak just makes things more exciting.

Rivers change, that's what makes them interesting. When they are low the banks and gravel bars offer up new discoveries, when the flow is high they offer a wild ride. Spring Creek was flowing half way between these two extremes as we floated along. The sounds of I-45 and Miniwether had faded away leaving only burbling water and the occasional splash of turtles launching themselves off logs. It was ten degrees cooler on the water and the current was pulling us along quicker than mosquitoes could fly. Absolute heaven in an aluminum shell!

We were in no hurry so I just steered [How about Discovery?] rather than any active paddling. This allowed us to suprise great blue herons, white egrets and large snapping turtles as we slipped silently around each curve. Sometimes being an adventurer means life is great.

On an earlier trip Clark and I had noticed a medium-sized tributary emptying into Spring Creek. It looked deep enough to paddle up it this time, so of course we did. We had to pass over busted-up chunks of concrete to get into this tributary but [Maybe Dawn Treader?] has such a shallow draft that this was no problem. Once in this smaller stream the water became crystal clear revealing schools of medium-sized sunfish and even several small catfish. Eventually we could go no farther in the canoe, but the sound of falling water drew us forward on foot. Past a fallen tree was a large culvert and beyond that was a small pond. Awesome! Water trickled over moss-covered chunks of shattered concrete into a small pool flashing with fish. It was beautiful. It would have been a prefect spot to blow off some mortars. Unfortunately, we'd used them all up in some quicksand during an early hike in the borderlands.

Downstream from this secret side channel Spring Creek is crossed by a railroad bridge. Beneath this bridge are several rows of wood pilings which supported the original steam-train bridge. In the past we had portaged around this barrier, but this time the water was flowing high enough and fast enough to risk running through a small slot we had spotted. Paddling furiously we charged this small gap through the bubbling, frothing water. With barely and inch on either side [Voyager? No, too geeky after that damned Star Trek show] shot through as Clark and I whooped and yelled with the thrill. It wasn't much as far as whitewater goes, but when you're an adventurer in Houston you take what you can get.

A twisty mile farther downstream is a giant, sandy beach easily the size of a football field. As we rounded the corner to this beach we came upon a view straight out of The Road Warrior. Parked on the shore were two guys sitting in what appeared to be a steel-tube cage mounted on giant tires with a massive engine in front and a equally large radio in the back. These guys rocked! We pulled up and talked to them for a while. Their creation started life as '76 Chevy Blazer but over the years many nights of beer-fueled welding had converted it into the coolest mud-runner in the Houston area. They were very proud of their beast and enjoyed telling us about *every*square*inch* of it.

You never know what you'll see in the borderlands.

To be concluded...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

First voyage of [Insert Name Here]: Part 1

Tuesday evening saw large, localized storms pass through the area dumping lots of rain. Wednesday morning I recieved an e-mail from Clark stating Spring Creek was running at over 300 cfs and asking if I wanted to take [Insert Name Here] out for her maiden voyage after work. Hell yeah!!!! We e-mailed back and forth different launch/recovery plans and when we had it all figured out I called Misseswether to let her know what I was planning.

Five minutes later I was contacting Clark with Misseswether's new, better plan. She'd drop us off, she'd pick us up, she'd photograph the launch and recovery. This seemed to be a much better plan than the ones Clark and I had thought up (especially my plan involving two cars and the partial destruction of a bicycle).

The launch site was where Spring Creek flows under I-45 and recovery was to take place at the bridge on Riley-Fuzzel road. Supposedly it takes one hour to make this trip. Misseswether was still concerned about the sea-worthiness of [Insert Name Here], but I tried to relieve her by explaining [Insert Name Here] doesn't need to be sea-worthy, just somewhat-flooded-river-worthy. She didn't find that nearly as funny as I did. Sometimes being an adventurer means laughing in the face of Danger (or at least Danger's second-cousin, Wet Clothing).

Clark was already at my doorstep when I got home and he, Misseswether, and Miniwether carried the canoe over to her SUV. Miniwether loves helping with any job at hand, so Misseswether assigned her the task of "making sure the path behind them was clear". I love Misseswether. While we were tying the canoe down it was Miniwether's job to make sure the yellow rope had two ends.

It seemed appropriate at the time (her plan, her SUV, she'd be driving later) to let Misseswether drive the four of us (Missewether, Me, Miniwether, and Clark) to the launch site. For some reason it never occurred to me that this would be the first time she's driven a vehicle a) with a canoe tied on top, b) through Houston rush-hour traffic, and then c) 4-wheeling across a sand-dune and pothole filled dirt track.

Our marriage survived the trip, but it was a bit touch and go a few times. Sometimes being an adventurer means biting down really hard on your tongue. Sometimes being a loving wife means putting up with an adventurer who doesn't always bite his tongue.

Once at the launch site we took the obligatory family photo, though at the time Miniwether was more interested in all the beautiful sand. She couldn't wait to get down and start eating it. Just kidding, she doesn't eat sand (mulch on the other hand? Don't ask...)

Although Miniwether has never been on a boat in the water she understands the concept and was very excited about heading down the river with her daddy and Mr. Clark! To help out she made sure no canoe-avore dinosaurs were around while we carried [Insert Name Here] down to the river.
Spring Creek at I-45

At the river Miniwether carefully counted the rivets to make sure our repairs had remained intact during transit.
1,2,3,4,7,9,8,3,7,10,5. Yep, everything looked good!

Everything was ready, Clark and I boarded the [How Hard Can It Be To Come Up With A Name?!], smiled bravely for the camera, and prepared to push off into the borderlands in a craft patched together with Walmart rivets and flatten Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper cans.

It was also at this moment that Miniwether realized daddy and Mr. Clark were taking off WITHOUT HER!!! Tears! Cries of anguish! Thrashing! Screaming! Begging! Pleading!! But to no avail, the swiftly moving current was quickly pulling [Insert Some Damn Name Here Already!!] away. Within moments we were around the bend and out of earshot.

Behind us remained one very, very sad Miniwether.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A moment of silence for Charlie

Charlie passed away sometime last night. He was an endless source of amusement and comfort for me and many others at work. People would stop by my office to see him or give him a peice of fruit from their lunches. I'd let him out of his cage while working on my computer. He'd hop from plant to plant, a nibble here a nibble there, or sometimes just sit on my computer moniter enjoying the warmth. I'm going to miss Charlie, he was one cool giant toxic grasshopper.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Poking monsters with a stick

"You know you just stepped over a snake?" said Clark from several feet behind me.

"Huh? A snake? Where?" Was my response. I thought maybe he just saw a snake-ish stick or something.

"Right there on the path. You missed him by six inches."

I looked and didn't see anything. It was just at dawn in the woods along Spring Creek and many things which wandered there at night had yet to retreat. We had entered into the borderlands several hours ago in hopes of spotting some of its rarer, night-active creatures. Twice this morning unknown beasts had burst from the undergrowth as we passed. In both cases the things were gone before our startlement passed.

After a moment I spotted the snake, a 18-20" copperhead stretched out motionless on the path between Clark and me. His coloring was a perfect camouflage against the brown leaves and dirt. This was my first encounter with venomous Texas snake in the wild. As I stared down at him only one thought was in my head, "How close can I get and still be out of striking distance?

Turned out, less than a yard.
Copperhead1 Copperhead2

Two pictures later and a new thought crossed my mind, "What'll he do if I poke him with my walking stick?". My stick is a 6' pole of bamboo wrapped in rope and I wasn't sure if the snake could climb it. I figured if he did I could probably fling it off before it got to me. Note to self, don't fling it towards Clark. Adventurers should never endanger their fellow explorers (unless it'd be really funny).


Damn, copperheads move really, really fast.

Turns out so do Clark and I, though he does it with much more grace than me.

It was a great walk in the borderlands of Spring Creek. I was up at 4:30am and met up with Clark a bit after 5am, ten minutes later we were walking in the woods along the river in the dark. We could just barely make out the white sand of the path but it was enough to go forward. Being an adventurer means sometimes sight is optional. Things were splashing in the river and occasionally a splash was followed by the frogs going silent. I'm not sure why some splashes would silence the frogs and others they'd ignore. I'm not sure I want to know... Sometimes being an adventurer means going, "Dute-a-dute-adoo, nothing out there is going to eat me."

As the sun came up the birds began to sing and we could make them out in the trees and along the streambanks. I don't know all the birds we saw, that's Clark's specialty. He seemed pretty excited about one or two of them, including a funny pink one. I think birds are pretty, but my my idea about learning about birds involves recipes rather than ID's. Mmmm, birds.

One of the problems with exploring the woods are spider webs. You don't see them and suddenly for face is wrapped in sticky gossamer threads. That happens a lot in the borderlands, especially when you're 6'5". It had been happening all morning long but once the sun came up enough I could start seeing the webs. This was a good thing because otherwise I would have been eaten by friggin Shelob!

The web of this spider stretched more than ten feet across between the trees. In the center sat a yellow and black monstrosity almost three inches across. Yowza!
Shelob2 Shelob

I didn't bring it home to eat.

We carefully crawled under the web, the last thing I wanted was for this thing to leap down on my neck. Once Clark and I were past it, well...


Damn, giant monster spiders can move fast!

By then the sun was up and the temperature was begining to climb. That seems to happen a lot in Texas. We turned around and headed back along a different path. This way led under some giant (non-monsterous) powerlines. Here we had our last encounter with a borderland beast. Just before we entered the clearing under the powerlines we spotted a nice buck grazing on the grass. He realized something was up and looked our way, but he didn't run. Unfortunately he was too far away to poke with my stick. I was able to snap one picture, but that was enough to send him bounding away. He was fast, but I think the copperhead could have caught him.




Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Into the borderlands: Hiking Spring Creek

Nothing captures the essence of a borderland like Spring Creek, the divider between Harris and Montgomery counties. The Spring Creek borderlands form a huge triangle stretching from I-45 on the west to the west fork of the San Jacinto river on the east down to 1960 in the south. A half-hour drive from downtown Houston (or a three-minute walk for me!) puts you in undeveloped land filled with miles of pines, oaks, and cypress trees, some more than 200 years old. The stream itself is lined with large, sandy beaches and medium-sized cliffs. This is my favorite place to hike, canoe, fish, or just daydream.

One of my favorite experiences there occurred just last Christmas. Our house was filled with family (had been for days and would remain so for many more), and I needed to escape for a while. Early on Christmas Eve morning I bundled up (it was 25F!), grabbed some cup-a-soup and headed into the borderlands. By 7am I had found a secluded niche out of the cold wind where I could sit and watch the water flow past. The sky overhead was wonderfully overcast and gloomy, perfect for just being in the woods. I gathered some twigs and papery bark from a fallen river birch tree for a fire. It lit with a spark struck with my fire steel against a peice of flint-petrified wood found on a nearby sand bar. While the water came to a boil I carved a set of chopsticks from another branch of the river birch. After a few minutes of staring off into space the water was boiling and ready to add to cup-a-soup. I brushed a few flakes of snow off my bowl and...



IT WAS SNOWING!!!!! I couldn't believe it! Small, perfect crystals were falling down around me! I stood and opened my arms to the flakes, letting them gather on my face, my hair, my wide-spread arms. I breathed them in and felt them melt in my nose. It was wonderful. Being in the woods in the snow brought back warm(?) memories of my childhood in Minnesota. This snow melted as soon as it touched ground, but that didn't matter. It was SNOWING in HOUSTON for CHRISTMAS!!! I wish you could smell the blend of cold water, falling snow, and burning wood scents that I enjoyed that morning.

There are several paths one can take to get into this borderland. The easiest for a visitor would be to enter it from the Riley-Fuzzel bridge. There's room to park along the road or you can go down a small dirt road on the north-east side of the bridge which ends at a small, un-named lake filled with white bass, catfish, and alligator gar. Another good entrance is under I-45 where it crosses Spring Creek. Take the u-turn under I-45 south of Rayford-Sawdust road, then turn right (south) as you come out from under I-45. This will dump you onto a sandy area along the creek. Both the Riley-Fuzzel and I-45 spots can be used to launch canoe/kayak trips down Spring Creek.

Once you've parked (and locked!) your car, just look around for a path or trail to follow. This area is filled with miles and miles of trails, mostly made by people on 4-wheelers or in modified off-road trucks. I've been exploring this area for about two years and have barely scratched the surface. In it you'll find everything from 25' tall wild bamboo groves to wild hog tracks/scat. If you search hard enough you might even find the abandoned satellite uplink/downlink station. Why they built it there I'll never know. One of the many adventures Clark and I have planned is an expedition from Spring Creek to the west fork of the San Jacinto river sometime in the fall.

HAZARDS: Borderlands begin where civilizations end and this is definately true along Spring Creek. "Here be dragons" said the old maps. Well there may no longer dragons here but you do have to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, fire ants, poison ivy, wild hogs, coyotes, mad raccoons, quicksand, snapping turtles, etc. Generally all the things that make exploration adventuresome and exciting! Oh yeah, if you hear something roaring towards you step to the side of the trail. Not many people ride these paths anymore since the bill outlawing riding motorized vehicles through Texas streams/rivers was passed. The people you do meet may look scary, but I've always found them all to be a really friendly bunch.

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Monday, August 01, 2005

A short word about Texas snakes

Did you know that there are no poisonous snakes in Texas? There are several VENOMOUS snakes, but no POISONOUS snakes. In other words, all Texas snakes are edible. Just another fascinating fact from Merriwether's Journal. :-)

Miniwether thinks snakes are pretty cool.