Monday, February 27, 2006

I'm no longer allowed to cook.

Though probably it was the timing of the question, not necessarily the question itself. All I asked was, "Why is cannibalism considered bad but organ, blood and tissue transplants are considered good?"

Aren't they really the same thing, just on a different scale?

Oh well, I'm sure I'll be let back in the kitchen by next weekend. The question arose in my mind while reading Alive. Okay, technically the question came to me at 3:30am Sunday morning while exploring a burned out house with a repo man after drinking too many rum and cokes (a totally different story), but I didn't actually ask it until having supper with Misseswether that evening.

For those of you who don't know, Alive is the true story of a group of sixteen rugby players whose plane crashed in the middle of the Andes mountains. They were trapped for seventy days with no food.

Well, no food except the 34 people who didn't survive...

So, thoughts*?

Adventure! Excitement! Loss of appetite!

*Note to Gizmo, I really am not a pycho.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Monday Morning in the Woods (or why I do what I do).

The tree was four feet across yet it had been shattered like the proverible matchstick. I'm not sure what had done this. The broken wood looked too fresh to be a remnant of Hurricane Rita yet what else would have had the force to tear it in half like that?
rb2 rb3

I was in the woods of Roy Cambell Burroughs Park between Tomball and The Woodlands. This park is under 400 acres, but whoever designed it knew how to lay a trail. At the front of the park are soccer and baseball fields, assorted playgrounds for kids of all ages, and even a fishing lake with trout, bass, and catfish. A third of the way into the park the asphalt and wood chips disappear and Texas pine woods take over. There's about five miles of trails cut through these woods and each step is beautiful. This is why I blog. In my adventures I find a world different from the normal and I want to share this world with others. "Dudes, check this out!" is my favorite phrase (and according to some, most likely to be my final words). I want to inspire you to leave your comfy life for a while and follow the trails I've blazed into the borderlands.

These woods are a mixture of pine, oaks, and underbrush. Game trails weave through the tangles and I saw signs of deer, coyotes, raccoons, flame beavers, and possums. An owl hooted in the distance while woodpeckers rat-tat-tatted above me. A rabbit ran off and a cardinal came to scold me. I hadn't seen a woods this alive since the snakes and hogs of Lake Houston State Park.

Deeper into the woods lay sloughs. Some look at muddy water and go "yuck". I look at muddy water and see this:


Beautiful, no?

Eventually the paths hit Spring Creek, one of my favorite waters. Clark and I had hoped to take Seeker's Fate down Spring Creek from the west side of Tomball all the way to the San Jacinto River, but here in the park I could see that such a trip would take either a really good chainsaw or lots of dynamite.
I'm voting for the dynamite.

As far as monsters, this park also has them. Marks of flame beavers could be seen on some trees. These creatures are facsinating though poking one may result in 3rd degree burns! Native to areas high in natural gas, the flame beaver is one of only three animals known to "belch" fire.
Through a combination of chewing and burning, flame beavers can tackle trees much larger than a normal beaver. I'm hoping to someday find the flint-like tooth of a flame beaver to add to my fire kit. That would be awesome!

Flame beavers are pretty cool (uh, you know what I mean) but mostly harmless as far as a fire-breathing herbivores go. The real monsters of Roy Campbell Burroughs park would have to be the giant Texas Clay Worms. These beasties reach fifteen feet in length and can swallow an alligator (or an unprepared adventurer) whole. The detris-rich, clay soil of Texas pine woods is home to these cousins of the smaller West Texas graboids. They may tunnel through the dirt, but these beasts are meat-eaters through and through! They are also currently on the endangered species list, so harming one is a big no-no. Even just poking one with a stick is punishable by a fine (and perhpas loss of an arm). This one seemed to have just finished eating a cow and so it was quite passive. Still, it was probably for the best that I didn't have my monster-poker with me.

Molted husk of another giant Texas Clay Worm.

Eventually it was time to leave the woods and return home. A long, straight path led along the side of the park back to the parking lot, my RAV4, and reality. I walked it slowly.

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Let's do the time warp again, again.

I've already posted several times about what a wonderful adventure vehicle our Honda Pilot is. Comfortable, spacious, good mpg, smooth handling, etc... By far though it's best feature is the factory-installed flux capacitor. Honda hybridization at its best! Off-road is fun, but through-time is even better.

This last weekend I packed up Miniwether, Misseswether, and Poppawether for a trip back into the rugged past of Texas, the 1800's to be exact (if a century could be called "exact"). We had made this leap before and it's a great paronomasia time. The weather was cold and gloomy, but that just kept the rift-raff away. We spent several hours talking to soldiers, blacksmiths, woodworkers, spinners, Native Americans and other friendly citizens of that period. Miniwether was offered her fill of home made donuts, bread, and assorted other foods. People always want to give Miniwether food, do they think we starve her? I guess it's just because she's so cute and enthuziastic about everything. She and I had a great time looking at the sheriff's and the soldier's guns. They seemed a little suprised that a 2-yr-old knew the difference between a revolver, a rifle, and a shotgun and assorted blackpowder firearms.

Misseswether spent most of the time whooping it up with the assorted cooks. She was trading hugs for food, so she was fed as much as Miniwether. She also picked up a few new recipies such as baked apples, bearsign, and bread-on-a-stick (Mmm, food on a stick!). She also spent some time running a spinning wheel and working with some ladies sewing.

Meanwhile Poppawether was happily showing some of the ladies present how to properly butcher a hog, make blood sausage and prepare head-cheese. I'm not sure where he got the hog. They were also rendering the hog's fat to make soap. Their lye wasn't up to snuff though so the saponification process wasn't working. I considered showing them how to make lye from wood ashes, but you know, the butterfly effect and all that...

Okay, now for some pictures!

One of the many camps. Soldiers and their families hung out and ate beans. Lots and lots of beans.

Misseswether fell in love with this micro-sewing machine. Now I have to buy her one.

Cooking ala 1850.

Ready! Aim!


Yep, the 1800's are a great time. Go there if you can (but bring your own toilet paper)!

Adventure! Excitement! Beans!

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Luke, I am your father!
-Darth Vader, a big man in a scary mask.

Hug me, I'm a banana!
-Firefighter, also a man in a scary mask.


Some advise for parents: take your child on a tour of a firestation.

Now, Miniwether has had a fair amount of interaction with, uh, fire control experts. One of her earliest phrases was "Boom! Smoke! Firetruck!" She likes the pretty flashing lights and all the attention from the dashing men in uniform. For many kids though, their first experience with a fireman is as this masked monster tries to pull them out of their closet while the house burns around them. The child is already terrified and this creature is pulling them into the fire? The kid usually just hides even better. Not a good thing!

Miniwether and Misseswether got a chance to visit a firestation last week under non-emergency conditions. One of the first things the firemen did was show how they gear up. Starting from the normal uniform, one fireman put on his protective clothing, breathing pack and mask while talking about it all. That way the kids could see that it was just a man under all that scary stuff. Once he had all his gear one another fireman pointed out that they looked like giant bananas. They childern were told that if they ever see a fireman dressed like this in their home they should run to him and give him a big hug rather than hide. Then the kids practiced "hugging the banana" a few times. This way if they are ever in a fire they won't be afraid of their rescuer!


After that the kids got a chance to climb around on the firetrucks. They really liked that. But the best was when they got to try out a real firehose. I had visions of Miniwether flying around at the end of an out-of-control hose, but the firemen were also holding it. The children got to adjust the spray and aim it somewhat. They loved it.


So parents, take your child to a firestation. It may save their life (or at least give them an afternoon of free entertainment and a cool toy fireman's hat!). Now Miniwether knows not to hide if the house is on fire but rather she should hug the fireman. Most of the people I know agree that this information will serve her well.

Probably several times...

Adventure! Excitment! FIRE!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

There's a cow on my back.

Hi, my name is Merriwether and I'm an addict.
You know how they say try it once and you'll be hooked for life?

It's true.

I was just crusing the internet when I found directions on how to make the stuff in my own kitchen. Being a chemist I thought, a) it be fun to try as an experiment and b) I'm smart enough not to get hooked.

Stupid, stupid chemist.

Two days later the batch was done. It looked kind of weird, all dark and crumbly with strange streaks. One hit and I was down for the count. Within an hour I had gone through 1/3 of a pound! This stuff sunk in it's devil's hoofs and rode me like a bovinian succubus.


Now I'm stockpiling London broil, Worcestershire Sauce, and assorted seasoning. Try and take some of my stash and you end up in the next batch!

My name is Merriwether and I'm a beef jerky junkie.


Addiction! Addiction! Addiction!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sailors on a sea of fog.

"There is nothing half so much worth doing as mucking about in boats."
-The Water Rat, Wind in the Willows.

Imagine a great, grey beast travelling through grey mist. Imagine a wan sun through grey scudding clouds. Imagine Houston lost under a blanket of fog. Imagine the hum of tires on pavement, the squeeks and whistles of a canoe tied to the roof of the vehicle, the beep of a gps guiding us through blindness.

Imagine mud and the smell of a river. Imagine paddling between concrete pillars disappearing up into the fog. Can you hear the traffic roar a hundred feet above you?

Imagine a river with no banks leading to a lake with no shores. Imagine a cypress swamp, all Spanish moss dangling down and gnarled cypress knees clawing upwards out of the murky water.

Imagine two sailors adrift in a sea of fog...
fogclark fogsailor

Driving through Houston in the blinding fog was interesting. The freeway signs were invisible and we had to rely on my GPS unit to get to the boat launch on the Trinity River underneath the I-10 bridge (N 29^o 50'15.6" W 94^o 45' 45.4"). We made it there without any major incidents, though one guy driving without lights almost ended up with a canoe in his backseat. What an @$$-O. We had been to Lake Charlotte before, but this was our first time launching on the Trinity river.

It was a easy paddle upstream from I-10 to the Lake Pass canal. This narrow canal cuts through cypress, pines, and oaks on its way to Lake Charlotte. Smaller streams branch off it leading to assorted smaller lakes or just dead-ended in a swamp. A beaver swam along side the canoe for a bit while chewing on a stick, but dived when I pulled out the camera.
roots LakeCanal1

And I, I took the path less traveled...

Fog changes things. As exited the channel weird white spots could be seen on the lake ahead. As we glided closer these spots took flight, giant, ghostly pelicans soaring away through the mist. We cut along the shore into the cypress swamps, looking for a good place to stash a geocache.
LakeCanal1 swamp1

After an hour of paddling through the swamps the fog began to burn off and the perfect spot was found. Rising up from the muddy water like a grasping hand was a circle of cypress knees. Red nylon rope became a bracelet around this hand and a treasure-filled bottle was clipped to the rope and placed in the hand. It's there if you want to try and get it.
cache cache

By the time we finished setting up the geocache (aquacache?) the fog had been burned away. The last time we had been here the swamp was dark and creepy even in the bright summer sunlight. Now it was winter and the trees were bare, letting shafts of light burst down through the skeletal cypress canopy.

Fish were leaping around us as we headed across the lake. Along the western shore we could see two kayakers, but Clark and I prefer our binary solitude so we steered far clear of them. At the northwestern corner of the lake Mac Bayou leads to a large channel which cuts east to an abandonned industrial complex and west back to the Trinity river. We paddled down the bayou to the channel and headed east to the remains of the industrial site. Seeker's Fate was beached by some railroad tracks which disappeared into water. Around us were the barest remains of docks and loading areas.
dock fallen
tracks2 SeekersFate

We wandered around a bit to stretch our legs and poke around. The area had weird mounds, leaking pipes, and assorted long horned cattle, so we didn't stay long. A picture of Clark next to a giant Ponderosa Pine and we were back in the canoe.

Launching again, we headed west down the channel. The sun was high in the sky making it was nice and warm. Clark and I weren't the only ones enjoying the sunshine. Along the bank alligators were soaking up the sunshine. Luckily, they were still pretty of lethargic from the cool morning, otherwise counting coup would have been a lot more dangerous.
gator1 gator2

The original plan was to spend most of the time exploring Lake Charlotte and the surrounding swamps, then have an easy paddle downstream along the Trinity river. Nice plan, too bad it didn't work. The wind was roaring straight up the river and we had a little under three miles to go against it. The waves were a foot high and white-capped. The gps told us our speed as we struggled. Against the worst winds we we barely going 2.5 mph, but when the wind dropped we made it up to 5.2 mph! It was a long, hard slog back to the launch site but we made it in a little over an hour. All told, we were on the water seven hours and covered approximately 15 miles.

It was so awesome!

Adventure! Fog! Alligators!