Sunday, March 25, 2007

Small Joys

"Oooh, neat!"
-Miniwether as she watched the wall of water smash everything in its path.

I was happy. Everything worked perfectly and the resulting destruction revealed a new souce of excitement: a tarantula!!

But I should start at the beginning. Once again Saturday was spent out at the new nature preserve off Riley-Fuzzel. I and my girls and Clark and his daughters were mainly just hanging out making sandcastles on a clean, white sandbar, talking to fishermen (and playing with their fish), and chasing butterflies. There's something about little girls that turn he-man adventurers into wussies.

Eventually we convinced the girls to take a walk into the woods. There was a beaver-filled pond nearby that I wanted to check out. A two-minute walk brought us to its shore. No beavers were in sight but the girls quickly invented "slime-fishing" and forgot all about looking for beavers.

Ah, slime fishing, truely the sport of kings. You take a long stick and use it to drag a wad of green algae out of the water. The girls squealed in delight each time they managed to get one ashore. "I caught one! I caught one!" they'd yell and Miniwether would even "take it off the hook" for the Clarkettes. Mambowether thought the green slime was so neat she decided to make some of her own. Not a problem though. I've changed poopy diapers on a bus careening through Chinese traffic. Changing a diaper in the woods was easy and afterwards Mambo smelled of beech leaves.

Just kidding about the beech leaves. There's no way I waste something as yummy as them on a baby's bottom! While the girls fished I introduced Mambowether to food on sticks. The area out there is filled with edible plants. Young beech leaves were everywhere to nibble. We also found lovely, giant prickly pears. Each pad was as large as my hand. One pad came home with us and ended up diced in a pot of chili. There were also lots of wild strawberries and blackberries (not ripe yet), bullrushes and water lillies (left alone but marked the location), and bamboo/river cane shoots (also left alone for now). The best find though was a wild mulberry tree. Talk about happyhappyjoyjoy!! I think mulberries are my favorite fruit. A local Librarian (everybody, say, "Hi!") has a young mulberry tree growing on her property and I keep bugging her for some of it's babies. Unfortunately, her tree is still too young to produce fruit. The one I found was a good twenty feet tall and already loaded with young berries. In a month or so we are going to have some really, really good eating. Trust me, if you can find a mulberry tree you are in for a FEAST (uh, and also lots of messy purple birds poop)!!!

But what I really want to talk about is the warm parental glow a daddy feels when he and his daughters discover a deep mutual bond. The fact that this warmth came from destruction and mayhem will probably not be a shock to any of my regular readers.

So, what happened was we came across a narrow tributary which had cut a deep gully through the sandy bank down to Spring Creek. The gully was over four feet deep and about the same width across. It was very easy to dam the rivelt up with sticks and sand. Soon the trickle of water was blocked and the reservior behind it began to fill. As it got deeper and deeper it would start to break through in areas but the girls were right there plugging it up. We then directed them to take make mud houses downstream from the dam. Soon several large clumps of mud were patted into Guggenheimish buildings, their occupants unaware of the doom soon to befall them.

Water began as a trickle over the dam's east corner. The girls wanted to staunch the flow but we held them back. Within seconds the small trickle turned into a wide stream then Clark pulled out a key branch and resevior burst out in a massive wall of destruction! The girls jumped up and down in excitment as this wall of water smashed into the mud houses and ate them away in a flash. The wall then hit a flat part of the sandbar but instead of spreading out and losing force in punched a six-inch deep channel through the sand in seconds!! The girls squealled in delight!!

Near the original dam a large branch had spanned the gully. As the water torn past under it a new thrill emerged. A giant, hairy spider crawled out from underneath to on top of the log. This thing was almost 4" tip to tip. Of course we had to poke at it with a stick.

Wrong idea!!!

Apparently having it's home destroyed by rushing water made this spider really, really mad. It LUNGED at the stick with fangs bared and dripping! Both Clark and I jumped back in startlement at the spider's ferocity! The beast took this as a sign of weakness and lunged at us again three more times before strolling off, confident that it had taught us a lesson.

Meanwhile, the Wethergirls and Clarkettes were "oohhing" and "aahhing" as the final trickles of water flowed out of the reservior. The topography downstream of the broken dam had undergone a radical change and Miniwether was especially taken by the speed and force of destruction wrought by the water. With eyes big and shiney she turned to me and said, "Ohh daddy! That was WONDERFUL!! Let's do it again!!!"

Adventure! Excitement! Annihilation!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Kachinas Have A Sense Of Humor...

"I'll get the bandages."
-Misseswether, on finding me laying on the floor Sunday morning when she and the girls got home from church.


So, Saturday's plan was I get up at 6am, carry Kon Texi down the railroad tracks to Spring Creek, launch by 7:30am, float by the Riley-Fuzzel canoe/kayak landing grand opening just as they opened it, and wave to all the people in their $$$ canoes/kayaks as I went by in my $20 inflatable raft. Yep, mucking about in boats and startling people, two of my four favorite pastimes.

Of course, to pull this off we needed rain. Lots of rain.

So many people prayed for rain. Lots of rain.

Each was answered.

In series.

Saturday morning Spring Creek was flowing at over 4,000 cfs (cubic feet per second). It's considered unsafe to be on it if it's over 400 cfs. So, let's see. It's overflowing by an order of magnitude. What does Merriwether do?

He chickens out.

Logs 18 inches across were being swept downstream. Kon Texi is not designed for that sort of punishment.

flood.jpg
4080 cfs...

Perfection.jpg
Same spot at the normal 25 cfs.

So instead of floating by the Saturday festivities I, Miniwether and Mambowether were one of many members of the crowd at Riley-Fuzzel listening to speakers and looking forlornly at the rushing water. Well, I was watching the water. Mambowether was chewing on my sleeve and Miniwether was running around picking dandelions.

Then a guy came over, shook my hand and said, "You must be Merriwether!". Ah, the cost of being famous... He introduced himself as the owner of the debris shelter I found last week. He grew up along Spring Creek and we talked for an hour about adventures along its banks. He turned out to be a great guy (as I expected from his handiwork).

Eventually, Mambowether finished eating my sleeve and demanded more substantial food. We left the Riley-Fuzzel launch site and returned home.

Of course, my weekend's adventure did not stop there. Having been deprived of my float trip and knowing how sad that made me, Misseswether graciously allowed me to disappear into the borderlands on foot Sunday morning (normally I take over parenting and cooking duties on Saturdays and Sundays so that Misseswether can have a break. In return holidays from work are all mine but I can trade these holidays in for weekends if I desire. It's a great system that keeps everyone happy. But I digress.)

So, Sunday morning 6:30am found Clark and I walking through the dark neighborhood with springs in our steps, knives on our hips, and packs on our backs. Unfortunately, our flashlights were in our packs so we don't know what the big, dark shape that raced away from us into the woods was. All we could see was that it didn't run like a dog and it was over two feet tall at the shoulder. Note to self: keep a flashlight accesible!

After the big shadow the only other tricky part was sneaking past the bum living under the I-45 bridge. Luckily he was asleep/passed out. When he's awake he throws empty cans of Foster's Lager at us. His "home" is littered with dozens of empty Foster's oilcans. I'm talking beeramids several feet tall! Apparently panhandling pays well. But I digress.

Once into the woods things quickly settled down as the sun came up. Our goal was the sandbar I found several weeks ago. We took a roundabout way to get there and in the process startled the biggest deer I've ever seen in the wild. It's too early in the year for him to have antlers but just his height and breadth put him in the monster-buck class. He was beautiful. My mouth watered just looking at him.

The path lead us past some abandoned oil wells which someone had put to good use years ago. Now the feeder was just a rusted pile of junk. More interesting was the hole in the concret slab below the feeder. Water was seeping out of it's top and a long stick pushed down into it hit mush but no actual bottom. Freaky!

Eventually we made it to the sandbar and set up camp. A fire was built, food was cooked, Clark put up his hammock for a nap and I threw sticks into Spring Creek and watched them race downstream. It was wonderful.

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Clark displays his amazing pyrokentic powers!

food.jpg
Food ala freezer-bag cooking in my new Swedish Mess Kit.

After a few hours it was time to go back. The fire was doused and buried, the area was policed and then off we went. On the way back we detoured past my favorite swamps.

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Obligatory beautiful swamp photo.

Discovered fresh dropping of some sort...
fresh.jpg
Anyone ID this?

And managed to sneak up on two small deer as they grazed.
What, no photo? Oh sorry. Okay, on with the story..

It was good hiking weather, cool and partially sunny. A slight breeze and no mosquitos. The bum under the bridge was just waking up and half-heartedly just rolled one empty beer can at us as we passed. The bad part was the ground was still very wet from the rains (see earlier part of this post) and my feet got soaked early on. I could feel my wet boot/sock rubbing against my heel but it didn't feel overly bad.

So I was a little suprised when I got home, took off my sock and a large chunk of skin came with it. And then the pain hit bigtime. ye flippin' Gods it smarted. Note to self: moleskin and two pairs of socks!!!

Luckily, Missewether got home a few minutes later and quickly bandaged it. She's the best!

Adventure! Excitment! Change of Plans!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Nessmucking About in the Borderlands.

Go light; the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest material for health, comfort and enjoyment.
-Nessmuk

One of my woodsman heroes is "Nessmuk" (real name: George Washington Sears). He was an avid outdoorsman and writer back in the 1800's. His books on woodcraft are still considered biblical throughout bushcrafting circles. He was legendary for spending weeks in the woods with nothing more than two knives, a hatchet, a sewing kit, and a 10-pound canoe.

I'm pretty sure he was up in heaven laughing at me Sunday.

Then again, he probably never took a one year old and a three year old into the borderlands.
WagonTraining1.jpg

Warm sun, cool shade, happy laughing girls...and a diaperbag assembled by my wife. In a wagon. Pulled two miles through soft, white sand.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We were in the borderlands of Spring Creek checking out the new nature preserve/canoe launch. As mentioned in earlier posts, the whole length of Spring Creek is being turned into a giant nature preserve.

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Riley-Fuzzel canoe/kayak launch.

Yep, soon the wilds will be tamed into a museum of naturalness. Hiking trails, biking trails, canoe/kayak launches, portapotties, parking areas, families having fun, etc...

The bastards.

Okay, sorry. I guess a preserve is way, way better than turning Spring Creek into a concrete-lined drainage ditch with houses and strip malls along it's edge like every other waterway in Houson. But I'll miss it's decadent borderland beauty. Not to mention the great fun of setting off explosives in the quicksand. A hissing fuse followed by great gobs of flying mud, now that's a great way to spend an afternoon!

But I digress.

The young Wethergirls just liked being out there with daddy. When Miniwether saw the new, four-lane bridge over Spring Creek she had to run up underneath it.

Wethergirls.jpg

She made it all the way to the top but when she came back down she confided in me that, "That was really scary!". The noise of all the cars whizzing by over her head freaked her out a bit. Still, she went all the way up without any coaxing from me. She's awesome.

Meanwhile, Mambowether decided the white sand was a yummy treat. She got two handfuls of the stuff in her mouth before I could stop her. Dang she's fast!

The most interesting find of the day was yet to come. Now, I rarely stick to established trails unless there's an ecologically-sound reason for doing so (delicate tundra, man-eating alligators, etc...). I have a hunter's eye for gametrails and an immunity to pokey things that allows me to follow them.

Even when pulling a wagon loaded with girls, snacks, water, etc...

A promising looking gametrail sprouted off the main path. There was minimal undergrowth in the area so I was able to pull the wagon behhind me as I followed it. It made several twists and turns following the landscape going deeper and deeper into the woods. The trail seemed suprisingly large and clear. Having encountered wild pigs out here I had to ask myself if dragging the girls down this path was necessarily a safe thing to do. They were quite happy with it and I wasn't completely unarmed so we continued down the track, around a bend and...

Ye Flipping Gods!

We weren't following an animal track.

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It seems I'm not the only guerilla camper in these parts. Someone had constructed a very nice debris shelter out here!

Apparently the person was also a follower of Nessmuk for stuck in the top end of the ridgepole was a sprig of green wood. I don't know why Nessmuk always topped off his shelters with the greenwood sprig, but he did. He'd put a fresh sprig as needed until he left. My theory was it was a way to let others know that someone was currently using the shelter. Anyway, this sprig on this one looked about a day old.

DebrisShelter2.jpg

Inside the shelter was a fire bow drill, some extra cordage, and some palmetto leaves. The fire drill did not look like it had been used yet. I spent some time explaining to Miniwether how debris shelter's were made. She through it was kind of cool but overall she prefered poking a big spider with a stick. That's my girl!

After the spider escaped I decided it was time to head back. Judging from the condition of the shelter I thought it was quite possible the person would return soon, perhaps was even watching us at that moment. I would liked to have met the builder (assuming he/she wasn't some sort of lunatic). I left a note with this blogs URL in the shelter then rounded up the girls for the trek back.

Once back on the main path we passed many people. Joggers, fisherman, and bicyclists passed with smiles and waves.

I guess I'll either have to get used to that...or head deeper into the borderlands.

Take my love, take my home
I don't care, I'll still roam
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the woods from me
Take me out to the green
Take a look, I'll never be seen
Burn the sky and boil the sea
There's always borderlands to walk free
Where I find serenity
You can't take the woods from me...

-My version of the Firefly theme song.

Adventure! Excitement! Nessmuk!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Testing new stuff.

Ah wine, sweet giver of sleep. Half a bottle (hey, I'm a cheap date) and the trains, traffic sounds, street lights and landing aircraft fade away. My backyard leaves suburbia and retreats to the deep woods.

It was some very good wine.

Clark and I tested our new bivy sacks in my backyard Friday night. His was a sweet Eureka model. It was loaded with all sorts of features yet was incredibly lightweight. It'll be perfect for our backpacking trips. If I were half a foot shorter I'd be tempted to get one too.

Unfortunately, being a freak of nature I have to rely on alternate forms of cover. In this case my "tent/bivy sack/thingy is a 10'x10' square of ripstop, waterproof nylon sewn together for me by Missewether. I just wrap it around my sleeping bag and hang the head zone from a tree branch. It's fast to set up, light to carry and suprisingly warm in cold weather. The downside is it doesn't "breath" and so the inside became coated with condensation. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

And maybe some more of that wine...

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Left: my tarp. Right: Clark's Eureka.

Adventure! Excitement! Pre-trip testing!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY COOL!!!!!

Tuesday night I met GEORGE FOREMAN!!!!!!!!!

George_Foreman.jpg

AAAAAAAAAAAEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

GEORGE FOREMAN!! GEORGE FOREMAN!! GEORGE FOREMAN!!