Sunday, August 24, 2008

Just Another Weekend...

Sorry we're running a little late, we found a bowling ball.
-Me on the phone to Misseswether.

Obviously not a bowling ball.

There's a certain pride a dad has when his 5-year old daughter is holding a snake. To be perfectly honest though the pride turns to boredom when there's a lot of snakes to be held.



Manbowether wasn't nearly as enthralled by the snakes, but then something else caught her eye...

Turkey legs! The big, red one is from a male and the smaller was female.

Of course everyone knows that where there's snakes there's pony rides. Miniwether loved this, too. Especially when her pony pooped (sorry, no picture of that).

The event had been set up by the Christian outdoors group Legacy Outfitters. They had bouncy castles, free sno-cones, ponies, snakes, animal parts, and assorted RV's. In other words, the perfect place for me and the girls to spend a morning.

Sunday I was kid-free (mine anyway) and finally back on Spring Creek in Seeker's Fate. The recent rains had sent a look of water into Spring Creek, however by Sunday afternoon flow rates had dropped to under 100 cfs (cubit feet per second). This meant occasionally we had to get out and push. Worse, the ATVers were out in force tearing up the river, even though this is against the law ($500 fine).

But the saying is true, the worst day on the water is still better than the best day at work. This is even more true when you have a bunch (nine this time) of friends along. Add to it one has been a friend (Hey Jen, you're now famous!) for the last 22 (23?) years and it makes it that much better. She's been my friend since 1986 even though she hits me a lot. Funny thing, we met in Hawaii then didn't see each other again for 11 years (though we wrote a lot). We managed to meet for a few hours in 1997 when we were both at the Houston airport. Two years after that she ended up moving to Houston and now works at a business less than two miles from our house. How cool is that?

Exploring a side tributary.

Spring Creek is beautiful.

The strainer.

The only tricky part on Spring Creek is under a railroad bridge. Old pilings and chunks of concrete/rebar make this spot a thrilling ride. There's only one opening big enough for a cane to pass through and since the water levels were low we ended up having to get out and drag the boats over the broken concrete.

After that it was a peaceful float down a lazy, Texas stream. We stopped at one sandbar to hunt for Akokisa Indian arrowheads. No luck finding any.

We were only doing a short run from I-45 down to the canoe launch at Riley-Fuzzel. It took us about two hours, even with assorted stops. It's a great way to spend an afternoon.

And now for "What did Merriwether learn?
1. Bowling balls float!

2. Seven adults and two children are easily amused by a floating bowling ball.

Peace be with you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Brain

Here is another great article about the effects on the brain when throwing things at stuff:
The Throwing Madonna

Monday, August 18, 2008

Outside With the Brain of a Child

But dad, we haven't been outside since this morning!
-The Wethergirls as I try to watch the Olympics

I consider myself blessed in that my two little girls love the outdoors. Asking if they want to run to the nature preserve is always answered with loud cheers of joy. They'll spend hours splashing in the creek, chasing grasshoppers, or collecting pretty rocks. Every night after supper we have to go for a walk around the block so they can pick flowers, play with grass clippings, or make dog-poop jokes (people, PLEASE pick up after your pooch!). I take great joy in their demands for the outdoors.

Uh, unless I'm exhausted from work... I must admit there are some evenings when I wish they could be mindlessly, effortlessly entertained by the dusty, black box in the corner of the living room.

Especially during the Olympics. They weren't astounded by the synchronized diving, the uneven bars, or the fact that Michael Phelps is really Aquaman (that last bit is understandable considering how lame of a superhero Aquaman really is. I mean really, you know The Batman and Wonder Woman makes jokes about Mr. Fishy behind his back. Superman is too goody-goody for that. I'm guessing Superman invited Aquaman to join the Justice League out of some sense of Noblesse Oblige... uh, but I digress). Miniwether did find the women's pole vault to be pretty cool, but now I'll have to keep an eye on her and my collection of bamboo poles...

Anyway, my girls get about ten hours of outdoor's time per week, which, compared to my childhood is NOTHING. Still, it turns out this "green time" has benefits above and beyond wearing them out so they'll sleep well that night.

Recent studies have shown kids diagnosed with ADHD show much fewer symptoms after playing in some natural setting. Luckily for cityfolk, "natural" is defined as any place with a few trees, some shrubs, and a patch of grass.

The working theory is playing is such an environment stimulates all the senses at the same time. Touch, smell, sight, hearing, and even taste are being bombarded with inputs that mankind evolved to notice, lest he becomes lion food. Without this rich mental activity the brain starts to pace like a wild animal in a cage. The results can be...disruptive. One does not get such rich nerve stimulation unless maybe they live in a very windy bakery.

Now, if you really want to get your kid's brain pumped there's one thing in particular you can do with him/her while outside:

Throw things at stuff.

I'm not kidding! We are a species of thing-throwers. Our brains, eyes, and arms are fine-tuned to throw rocks at meat. Kids who spend time throwing things at stuff develop much better eye-hand coordination, but they also develop a better understanding of physics and trigonometry. It's not easy, there's a bunch of subconscious calculations needed to accomplish that feat. It's a heck of a mental workout.

Plus, it's all a lot cheaper than a Wii.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Apocalypse Mall

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

I've been wanting a forager's bag for when I'm teaching wild edible plants. It needs to be made of heavy-duty cotton, have plenty of large and small pockets, no velcro, a nice shoulder strap, and preferably leather and metal hardware. Something like this or this.
Something kind of rugged and manly, if I may be so vain.

Not finding exactly what I wanted at the local Army/Navy Surplus stores I decided to go to the mall and see if the Banana Republic, Ambercrombie & Finch, or some of the other manly store might have a manly bag. Misseswether was kind enough to let me go alone as I've been really stressed out at work and needed a break from things (ie, two little girls who love their daddy and want him to spend every minute with them).

I haven't been to the mall by myself in almost ten years. Most of my trips since then have been in the tow of Misseswether, which involves a lot of standing outside women's dressing rooms holding her purse while trying not to look like some pervert.

Nope, this time I was a freshly hair-cutted, treadmill-running, yoga-doing, push-uping manly man looking for manly stuff...

I completely forgot that school was starting in two weeks.

This was pretty much the last weekend for high schoolers to get their hot new duds (do cool people still call clothing "duds"?).

Now, I've faced down a herds of feral hogs, had 10' alligators bump my canoe, travelled to places where the next white guy was 500 miles (or more) away, work with hydrochloric acid at 300F under 3500psi on a daily basis...It takes a lot to scare me.

But there was no way I was going into Ambercrombie & Finch filled with 15-17 year olds! Or Hot Topic, or the store with the big picture of some topless guy blocking a direct view of the merchandise inside. I even turned and ran out of Spencer's Gifts!

There wasn't a store I could go into without feeling like some creepy old man spying on high school girls. That includes the Apple store! I just wanted a nice messenger's bag. Instead, I was forced to face the fact I was entering middle age.

No matter how much a 40-year old works out, he's nothing compared to the basic high school jock. To store clerks less than half my age I don't even exist. Never mind that I have a Ph.D. and patents, have traveled the world, solved million-dollar problems, and am a pretty good father/husband/adventurer. I may as well be a stinky homeless person to them.

Or worse, some middle-aged guy.

Peace be with you, because it isn't with me...


Monday, August 04, 2008

Improved Merriwether - Now With Added Class!

"I ran across your blog entry... "
-One of many emails I get.

I get a lot of emails about adventuring from people in the Houston area and I get a lot of emails about money from people in Nigeria, Hong Kong, and Ireland, but recently I got an email about money for adventuring in the Houston area.

Is that cool or what?! My blog is finally paying off and it only took 60,000 visitors!

Yep, someone down at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Preserve saw my edible plant posts and convinced the people in charge I should teach a class on the subject. Woo Hoo! So, this coming November I'll be teaching a five hour course on local edible wild plants.


Of course (ha ha ha) I need to brush up on things, so this last weekend I held a practice edible plant class over at the nearby Peckinpaugh Nature Preserve. I was able to convince two friends and three strangers to walk with me as I pointed out wild munchies and other useful plants.

Classy People.

Long-time reader "Wildcat" is the guy on the left with the stick. Various body parts of his have appeared in this blog but this is the first full frontal of him. Clark was the one taking the picture.

We are entering a good time for wild edibles. Elderberries, and prickly pears were juicy and ripe. Greenbriar shoots, tendrils, and leaves were in supple abundance. Saw palmettos were producing buds as usual but their fruit weren't quite ripe. Neither were the muscadine grapes, though Clark did find one that was ready to eat (which I ate). If you've only eaten store-bought seedless grapes you don't know what you are missing!

The bamboo shoots, yucca flowers and pokeweed were past their edible stages and it was far to early for acorns. Water lily seeds were also not ready, but canna lily roots were. Since I was the one talking I didn't get many pictures, though Clark taped the whole thing. With luck I might be able to do some YouTubing thing with that, but considering how little free time I would hold your breath...

The feedback from my students was way more positive than I expected and they want me to do it again with each change of the season. Being the egotistical guy I am, how can I resist? So now I'm offering my services as an wild edible plant teacher to scouts, youth groups, church groups, and cheerleaders. Sidenote: I don't have a lot of free time so I'll only be able to do about one class a month at most unless you pay me enough to make it worthwhile. By "me" I mean Misseswether as she'll have to give up some of her her usual "I'm not a mom" time.

Details and registration for the November class at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Preserve should appear on their website next week. Their price is $40 for Arboretum members and $65 for non-members. Prices for my non-Arboretum classes (aka bribing Misseswether) are open to negotiation. Boy/Girl Scouts and other youth groups can probably get me for a box of Hostess snack cakes and a bottle of Vanilla Coke. Cheerleaders can get me even cheaper...

And now, a few more pictures.


Pokeweed, which has very poisonous berries, as well as mature leaves, stems, and roots. The only time this plant is edible is when it is very young before it has any red coloring, and even then it's recommended that you boil it in several changes of water to avoid poisoning yourself.

Elderberries. Remember, only the flowers and ripe berries of this plant are edible, everything else is very poisonous. Also, you want to make sure the berry clusters are kind of flat like broccoli. Elderberries in globular clusters are toxic.

greenbriar root.jpg
Greenbriar root. These are rich in starch, but it takes a lot of work to free the starch from the giant, fiberous root/tubers. You have to slice it up, pound it some, boil it, then filter out the reddish gelatin-like material. This material is bland to slightly bitter and a tablespoonful of it will gel up one cup of water. Of course you realize what this means: Vegan jello shots in the woods! Um, Boy Scouts should probably ignore that last bit.

Non-vegan food source. We found this beauty crossing the path in front of us. The thing was almost as big as my head! We didn't eat it. Note, the cigarette butt above the turtle as well as an entire room's worth of carpeting, carpet padding, linoleum tiles, and wall trim were hauled out of the Peckinpaugh Nature Preserve Saturday morning. Thank you Montgomery County recycling center for taking this trash from me free of charge! Folks, don't dump this crap in the woods, okay? I'm out there a lot, if I catch you doing this you will not like what happens next.

All in all, it was a another great morning in the woods.

Peace be with you.

p.s. To learn more about wild edibles check out my Edible Wild Plants Blog