Saturday, July 29, 2006


And when the Earth convulsed and screamed that Man had gone too far--who led the pagan nation from the flood to Ravenscar?
-Ode to the Magus Constantine

I'm tired. The weekend was spent moving 1766 pounds of landscaping boulders in 104F heat. Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, the Batman has his Batcave. Me? I have Ravenscar.

When we moved into our house the backyard was a 30' by 70' plat of flat, boring grass in flat, boring suburbia.

May 1999
Ravenscar-00 Ravenscar-000

That was seven years ago. Since then I've hauled in 10 tons of boulders, 1 ton of gravel, and 15 tons of dirt to build myself a meandering path through four hills.

March, May 2002
Ravenscar-4 Ravenscar-7

Most of the trees were put in in 2003.
Ravenscar2003 Ravenscar2003-2

Since 2003 the trees, shrubs, ferns and flowers have been thriving. When sitting by the firepit you can't even see our house even though it's only 20' away. During the fall, winter, and spring we like to have fires here and camp out.
MisseswetherFire RavenscarCamp

This weekend I hauled in the last rocks. Once they are set in place my forest, my sanctuary, my Ravenscar will be finished. I grew up with endless woods right outside our backdoor. Seven years of back-breaking, sun-burning, heat-exhuastion labor has given a small slice of that paradise back to me.

Once the final rocks are in place I'll post more pictures.

Adventure! Excitment! Peaceful Interlude!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Thanks for the ride, lady!

And what a long, strange trip it's been... Thirty-one years if I've done my math right, though only once in person in the last twenty years. So why does she still look great and I look like I've been rode hard and put away wet?

Oh yeah, the snakes, wild pigs, dehydration, occasional deep burns, etc... Hmmm, maybe there is something to staying home amongst loved ones and comfy, tasteful furniture.

I'll probably never know. Oh well, here's looking at you, lady (and looking and looking and looking, yummy!)

Adventure! Excitement! K-12!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lake Stubblefield, the pictures...

And in the morning light everything glowed...

Sailors on a sea of green.

Green behind except for our path.

Up the San Jacinto River.

One does not play in the water here.
There are actually three gator burrows in this picture, but two are hidden behind roots. The one in the center is only about 18" across, the rest were bigger...

Biggest spider I've ever seen.
But can you see it? Look to the right of the top of the plant. This beast was 5 1/2 inches from front foot to rear foot! I only discovered it when I reached out to push the canoe around the big stump.

Lunch stop.

Captian Merriwether.

Mutiny on Seeker's Fate!
Marooned on Lake Stubblefield.


It's handy to have a bowman who can walk on water.

Done for the day.
Just another day in the life of Misseswether's Honda Pilot.

Miniwether wants to be just like daddy.
She kind of looks like a turtle...

I didn't take any pictures of thr featureless swamp south of the launch site because, well, it was featureless...

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Peacefully, Lake Stubblefield

It is now a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, to intentionally feed an alligator.
-Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife

The sun in front of us was just a handspan above the horizon. Filtered golden light brought brilliance to all the colors around us, the pale green leaves, the dark green vines, the emerald green water... Okay, the colors around us were pretty much variations on the theme of green, but they were all glowing magically in the morning sunlight. Once again, Clark, I, and Seeker's Fate had scored the prefect day for a great adventure.

It has been HOT lately, 99's for the daytime lows and little rain for weeks. Clark and I were both dying to get out in the water (uh, perhaps a bad choice of words...). Lake Charlotte is always awesome, but we wanted to try something different. Clark had heard a lot about Lake Stubblefield so we decided to check it out.

Now before us lay green upon green. Pines, oaks, and cottonwoods lined the shore and Duckweed covered the water. Behind us was the same green water, but cut through with the path of our canoe. The path we made didn't last long as the Duckweed flowed back together at the edge of sight. The air was suprisingly cool and filled with all types of birds and their songs. Occasionaly a big alligator gar would break the surface.

No turtles, though.

Raising up from the water around us were hundreds of tree-trunks, the source of Lake Stubblefield's name. When the San Jacinto river was dammed to create Lake Conroe thousands of trees were flooded and died. Now all that remains are their weathered stumps sticking out of the water like the ribs of long-dead whales. Most of these tree stumps were removed from Lake Conroe but as the resevoir grew it eventually filled a second shallow spot north of Lake Conroe. This shallow depression became Lake Stubblefield.

GPS track of our trip.
LakeStublefieldTopo LakeStublefieldSat

The lake itself is quite narrow and it quickly shrinks down even smaller as it meets up with the San Jacinto river. Once on the river the trees close in overhead given you blessed shade. The water was still green with duckweed as there's no real current here. That made paddling upstream easy. Better still, previous paddlers had sawn through the deadfalls which would have blocked our path.

It's definately nature at it's finest.

Well, nature at it's finest if you dig alligators, anyway. The banks were riddled with alligator burrows and slides. One does not dangle a hand in the waters of Lake Stubblefield...

Sadly, in the four hours we spent paddling we weren't lucky enough to see more than the occasionaly splash and a glimpse of the tail of these magnificant brutes. Apparently they have a healthy fear of humans and so they didn't sit sunning themselves on fallen trees like at Lake Charlotte.

Lake Charlotte gator.

I guess sometimes an adventure doesn't have to involve blood, sweat or monsters.

No, really. I'm serious. Sometimes a nice, leisurely paddle along an oxbow lake is a wonderful thing.

Lake Stubblefield lays within the Sam Houston National Forest. The boat launch is just beyond the Lake Stubblefield campground (which looked very nice, running water, toilets and everything!). The drive down to the boat lauch was a bit white-knucklely, but Misseswether's Honda Pilot handled it beautifully. From doorstep to first paddle-dip took just a hair over one hour, which isn't bad for Houston, especially when you include loading/unloading the canoe.

It's a beautiful spot for paddling. North of the launch site the lake is narrow and shaded by trees, then shrinks even more when you hit the San Jacinto river. This was where everything was green and the banks were loaded with signs of alligators. On a hot day this section is a cool oasis (albeit an oasis filled with very sharp teeth).

Heading south from the boat launch will take you into the woods then out into a maze of channels through grassy swampland. A GPS unit was very useful in this swampy area as everything looked the same. With no landmarks one could easily get lost in this trackless waste. The water was clear here and fish of all sizes could be seen swimming along side the canoe. One small stick of dynamite could have easily scored us lunch and supper...

We made the mistake of heading north into the shaded woods first, then came back to the swamp/grasslands during the hottest part of the day. After an hour of blistering sun we wisened up and returned to our starting point. According to the GPS we were only a quarter-mile from the northern boundry of Lake Conroe, but Clark was out of water and there was no clear path visible. We could have spent hours searching each finger of the delta to find one that would allow us passage.

All total we spent about five peaceful, beautiful hours on the water. I'll post the pictures in a few days, until then just close your eyes and visualize green.

Adventure! Exploration! Chekhov's Gator!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bones, too.

So tonight I decided to add up all the bones I've broke in my life.

Wow. 25

Let's see, there are 206 bones in the human body, so I've broken over 12% of my bones. Working from the feet up the list is:

Bone in left foot
Left ankle
Ribs (all 18, plus lost the bottom quarter of both lungs)
Sternum (two place, but counts as one broken bone)

Left elbow (three breaks in two bones)
Left pinkie
Skull (front right)

Actually, I'm not sure about my skull. There's an odd grove at my hair line running from the center of my face to my temple. I'm not sure what made this groove. I had my doctor check it out and all he said was, "Hmm, that must have hurt.".

The fractured elbow is a pretty funny story. Back in grad school I played on our department's softball team. The first game of the season the other team had a guy fresh off the boat from Pakistan who really wanted to take part in American sports (or at least drink large quantities of American beer). For whatever reason nobody actually explained the rules to him, they just gave him a catcher's mask and stuck him behind home plate.

It seemed like a good place for him as he was built like a tree stump rather than your average scrawny convenience store clerk.

I made it to second base on my first hit, then the next guy hit a beautiful shot out into center field. I charged around to third then home. I was running full-tilt then suddenly I was slammed down onto the ground and Mr. Pakistan is jumping around cheering, "I tackle him! I tackle him!". According to witnesses he ran forward, caught me below my knees, then used my momentum to lift me into the air, spin me around and smash me into the ground. I got up, walked off the field and threw up in the bushes. A friend took me to the emergency room and stayed with me until I got out at 2am. She then dropped me off at my apartment. The next morning when I got up I realized I couldn't tie my shoes.

It took two months of physical therapy to regain the use of my elbow after they took the cast off. Since then India has gained nuclear technology and has forced Pakistan out of the disputed Kashmir region. Ha ha ha!

Moral of the story: Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc.*

Have a good weekend everybody.

Adventure! Excitement! Fractures!!

*The translation if left as an exercise for the reader.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Too much bleeding.

I was supposed to donate blood today but when they checked my iron content I was found to be borderline anemic and wasn't allowed to give blood. The nurse asked if I had had any recent injuries resulting in unusual blood loss.

She gave me a quizical look when I burst out laughing and responded, "Not unusual for an adventurer.". I guess she's used to regular folks whose arms, legs, and back aren't a spiderweb of old scars and new gashes. Oh well. The minimum acceptable iron concentration for donating blood is 12.5 and I missed it by a hair with 12.0. She reccomended I eat more raisins, spinach and steak. Hmm, I wonder if I can get my health insurance to cover weekly meals at Texas Land & Cattle. That would be sweet!

Normally Misseswether and I both donate blood then gorge ourselves at The China Bear. However, since I still had all my blood (albeit a tad iron-poor) Missewether decided we should save the money and have me cook lunch instead.

That was a very practical suggestion. :-(

Sorry this post isn't more interesting. I had a really funny one ready based on donating blood, but when I got turned down it turned that story into a lie. It would have been really funny, but untrue. You'll just have to get your laughs this time by picturing me, a 6'5", 220lb fellow, turning out to be anemic. I guess that's funny.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"3" is a magic number

You know it was a good weekend when bandages limit me to only one hand while typing up my blog.

For the last two months Misseswether has been following the exploites of a family bicycling from Florida to Washington (the state, not the cesspool). The family consists of the dad, mom, and their 6-yr old daughter bicycling across the country.

All on the same bike.

Misseswether has been facsinated by their adventures and has been begging me to get a tandem bicycle. I admit, it looked like a lot of fun. It'd be like back in the days when Misseswether and I would spend the weekend exploring Texas on my motorcycle, except that Miniwether could come along and in-theory there'd be a lot less bug-eating... Of course, I was also a bit trepidatious as I still vividly remember all the close calls I had on that motorcycle.

You may not believe it, but people drive like @$$holes EVERYWHERE, not just where you live.

Anyway, I gave in part-way.

Missewether picked up this "trailer-bike" for a sweet deal at Target. It's an "InStep Pathfinder" and it's sweeeeeet! It clamps on to my bike via a nifty universal joint and Miniwether can either help me peddle or just coast. She usually prefers to coast (groan). It's made quite a stir in the neighborhood, everyone smiles and waves at her as we peddle by. Miniwether feels like a princess in a parade when riding it. Once the weather cools down and Miniwether has more experience Misseswether plans on us all making some long trips through the backroads and byways of Texas. It should be fun.

But right now it's too dang hot to be outside much. Luckily a nearby park has a great water fountian in which Miniwether likes to play. We've been going there on Saturday mornings. The park also sponsers a farmers market so it's a win-win situation. Miniwether splashes for an hour, then we pick up some fresh corn on the cob and a sheep. Yummy!!!

Okay, I know this is an adventure blog, but this is too cute to leave out. Miniwether had her fingernails painted for the first time this weekend. She had been wanting them painted for months and I finally made a deal that if she brushed Meowether-2 she could get her nails painted. Luckily, the cat loves being brushed, so he was okay with the deal, even with Miniwether's random-directional brush strokes. Soon he was clear of loose hair (hopefully reducing his penchant for vomiting up hairballs) and Miniwether was giggling joyously as Misseswether painted her nails. It was just too dang cute.
painted-1 painted-2

By now you are going, "Tell me about the hand you goober!" (am I right, Jen?). Well, in my defense, it mostly happened like I planned...

Only a lot faster.

Uh, and maybe the flames were a bit bigger, too.

The plan was this:
1. Wait until dark.
2. Place mostly empty 1-gallon bottle of Purell hand sanitizer (67% ethanol) in the middle of my neighbor's driveway.
3. Drop a lit firecracker into the mostly empty bottle of Purell gelled alcohol.
4. Run out of range of the big, blue fireball I hoped to create.
5. Watch big blue fireball appear.
6. Continue watching as my neighbor runs out of his house to find his driveway engulfed in globs of flames.
7. Have good laugh with neighbor.

The plan was going smoothly up until step #3. It turns out even though the ethanol is gelled it has a very high vapor pressure. This resulted in the empty portion of the bottle being very rich in ethanol vapor.

Translation: the ethanol fumes ignited as soon as the lit fuse of the firecracker came into contact with them. Unfortunatly, the lit firecracker was still in my hand. As soon as the firecracker's burning fuse moved over the bottle's opening a burst of flame shot forth like a jet engine's afterburner. It was really cool, except for the resulting 2nd degree burns on my thumb and first two fingers. It also sped up the rate at which the fuse was burning. Luckily, I'm pretty good at throwing my body out of harm's wa...KABLAMM!!

The fireball turned out to be less spectacular than I expected. Most of the ethanol had been consumed in the first fire. The firecracker mostly just shot really hot, really sticky goo around. Potentially useful, but not very awe-inspiring. My neighbor didn't even come out to see what the noise was.

My hand:

So anyway, I'm ending this weekend with three bandaged fingers, a three-year old daughter going on thirteen, and a funky three-wheeled bicycle-thingy. Cool!

3 is a Magic Number.

Adventure! Excitement! 3!

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I was born to celebrate the 4th of July.

Sure, Halloween is a big deal for me. I also love Thanksgiving. But nothing compares to the sweet smell of gunpowder. Fireworks are banned in Minnesota (thought they recently legalized Sparklers). One of my uncles was in law enforcement and he used to have to confiscate hundreds of different fireworks people smuggled in from South Dakota and Wisconsin. Then he'd have to dispose of these contraband fireworks. He found the easiest way was to bring them out to Grandpa's farm and let us shoot them off.

Heh heh heh.

Have you ever seen two hundred forty-four bottle rockets launched at once? Very cool.

Fireworks are legal to sell in Texas and while many towns ban actually shooting them off, no such rules exsist in the borderlands. I go to the same fireworks shop every year. The owner breaks into a big smile when he sees me. Normally I'm a cheap bastard, but not when buying fireworks. Our nearby neighbors have stopped buying fireworks for the 4th of July because they know they can't compete with me. I have almost three decades of experience with fireworks. I know what's crap and what's awesome.

I also know that if you drop a mortar down into the storm sewers all the manhole covers for a block jump up an inch when it goes off.

The neighbors won't let me do that anymore though. Cowards.

Misseswether gets into the act also. She's known as the Sparkler Fairy and little children from up and down the block come to get sparklers from her. This has been going on for eight years now and we have yet to lose an eye (or anyone's house, though there were a close calls back in 2000 and 2002).

Miniwether entranced.

Where there's a smoke...

...there's fire.
boom2 boom1

boom6 boom5

boom4 boom3


Adventure! Excitement! Explosions!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Another Week in the Valley.

"In reality, the Rio Grande Valley is not a valley, but a delta or floodplain. However, early promoters of this region felt that the term "Valley" sounded more inviting to tourists and northern investors than did "Delta."

Word came to my lab the next six oils would be in over the weekend, so Sunday morning we made the long drive back down to the US-Mexican borderlands. As usual, there were sights here one does not see elsewhere.

Of course, when we got there they only had three of the oils. The last three were supposed to show up on Tuesday.

Or maybe Wednesday.

Friday at the latest.

Unless they didn't get sent out until the following week...

I've been on the road for three out of the last five weeks and one of the weeks I was home Miniwether and Misseswether were in California. I'm tired of travelling. I'm sick of eating out every night. I'm tired of being just a "phone-daddy". I'm tired of putting myself to sleep via beer. I'm tired of everything being built out of cinderblocks with a thin layer of bright paint. I've been told there are pretty areas of Mexico, but that's not where the oil is.

Okay, it may seem like I really dislike Mexico...

Well, yeah. I do.

Let's see why:

The job site.

Reynosa, Mexico.

On the way back to the USA peddlers give you one last chance to buy large ceramic turtles, roseries, paintings on velvet, or hard drugs.

Best sight all week.

Weirdly enough, the only pretty sights I saw in Mexico were the cemetaries.

I'm home now and it's the 4th of July weekend. I have four days off and there is probably not another person in the neighborhood as happy to be an American as I am right now.