Saturday, March 28, 2009

Two men and a bar.

Nah, I don't want any oatmeal for breakfast, I already had some fig newtons and beer.
-Merriwether, Sunday morning at the bar.


It's been far to long since I woke up fully dressed, all foggy and damp, and smelling of rotted cheese. Yeah, sometimes one just has to find a bar and cut loose!

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This is not my beautiful house.

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This is not my beautiful wife!

As winter turns to spring here in the borderlands white bass begin their yearly migration up the rivers and streams to their birth waters. The bass start their whoopee-run in late February-early March and go for maybe three weeks. During this time it takes little more than a line, a hook, and something shiny to catch your limit. As long as you are at the water when they are in the water you'll catch them.

So of course we missed them by one week.

The plan started out with a whole group of us paddling up the west fork of the San Jacinto river. Our launch site was Jesse H. Jones park (don't forget to fill out their permission slip) on Cypress creek. Our landing was at Edgewater park on the San Jacinto, just passed Hwy. 59. Between these two places a night would be spent on a secluded sandbar three hours of paddling upstream on the San Jac.

As usual, people canceled as life got in their way. In the end only Beau and I were able to go. Sucks to be all the rest because it was a perfect trip.

The trip down Cypress creek took us past many other fishers ranging from the shore-bound to families in nice power boats to a group of flyfishing kayakers. None had managed to catch any bass, but that didn't seem too take away any of their happiness.

An hour down from the Jesse H. Jones launch site Cypress Creek joins the San Jacinto. Beau and I stopped at the junction to stretch our legs and explore a bit. This spot was a favored campsite for Caddo Indians and the occasional arrowhead can still be found poking up from the dirt. We found signs of beavers, cows, deer, and coyotes but no arrowheads.

The San Jac's current was non-existent and the wind was at our back so we flew upstream in Beau's canoe (I don't think it has a name). Since we were making great time we finally had a chance to explore many of the tributaries that feed into this river.

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One of several navigable tributaries.

In most cases our way up these small streams ended up blocked by fallen trees. However some opened up into large, secret ponds untouched by anyone else.

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Large, secret pond untouched by anyone else.

We fished for bass in each of these ponds but still had no luck. However, alligator gar were constantly breaking the surface of the water then diving back down with a splash. I didn't have the proper gear for these monsters. Not time I'll be better prepared!

After five hours of exploring, fishing, and paddling we reached the sandbar that would be our manhome for the next twenty hours. This particular sandbar is the only one along the San Jac that isn't touched/trashed by people. No ATV trails lead to it, the water is too shallow before and after it for most power boats and it's too far away for any but the most dedicated/foolish paddlers...namely us. It is about 200 yards long and 100 yards wide of nothing but sand, scrub, and animal tracks. In other words, heaven!

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Heaven. God is off to the left just out of the shot. He doesn't like getting his picture taken.

So, what do manly men do in heaven? Well, burn stuff, drink beer, fish, and tell tall tales (usually about the previous three things)! A campfire was made, venison sausages were cooked, a few libations were consumed and then it was time to bring out the fishing poles again! The bass were a bust so now catfish were the goal. Beau had a container filled with his secret, homemade catfish bait. This dark, foul mass contained the long-dead bodies of small fish, cheese rotted in the sun for months, and assorted other unmentionable ingredients. The smell was like a punch to the nose followed by three pints of tequila delivered straight to the stomach. As a chemist I've created some pretty loathsome smells in my time but Beau's bait was in a class all by itself.

Reaching the water's edge we were dumbfounded to see a small johnboat parked off the sandbar. The thing had a draft of less than six inches and he had made it all the way up to this point using only a small electric trolling motor. Happy greetings were tossed to him and his lady, then we continued our dumbfoundedness as we watched them reel in catfish after catfish including one as long as my arm (which is a very long arm, indeed). They were using shad and it was driving the catfish mad with hunger.

Sadly, Beau's bait wasn't nearly as effective. We both only had a few nibbles while the johnboat couple continued their haul of plenty. They finally left and Beau took his canoe out to the exact spot where they had been fishing. He managed to finally catch three catfish, though one was too small to keep.

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Success!

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Cleaning.

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Cooking.

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Forks ready...

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The remains.

After the feast came hours of poking fire with sticks, quaffing beers, and talk of the world. The only solution to the world's problems we could come up with is more people need to know how to do more stuff.

More fire, more beer, then bed. I'm not a big fan of tents or sleeping bags. This time I experimented with wrapping myself in poncho liners instead of a confining bag. Even though the temps dropped down into the 50s-60s I was plenty warm. I also replaced my tarp with a tent made of mosquito netting. It also did well though condensation was still a problem.

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To a man this is a beautiful home.

Morning came shrouded in heavy fog (see picture at top of post). The original plan called for a breakfast of oatmeal but like most plans, this one was screwed up by the convenient availability of beer. Wonderful, wonderful brew of the gods...

Okay, truth be told I only had one beer with breakfast, but dang it was good!

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Morning, with fog.

Beau had to be at work by 3pm so we figured we needed to be heading back downstream by 10am. The fog still covered the water when we said goodbye to the favorite bar, but that also meant there was no wind. The current was still very weak so we did have to paddle to move down the San Jacinto. Eventually the sun burned away the fog and brought up a wind. It kept us cool but blew against us as we headed downstream. It didn't become too troublesome though until we hit the San Jac/Cypress creek junction. There the river broadened out and was whipped into waves by the wind. Luckily it's only a short paddle down this section to Edgewater park (sidenote, it's sign on Hamblen road was blown down, just watch for the dirt road on your right just before the railroad tracks).

Beau's wonderful wife showed up a few minutes later and we loaded the canoe and gear into his truck (which I think also does not have a name (the truck, not his wife, she has a name)).

Beau and I were both pretty quiet on the drive back to his place. We are men, which means we don't need to talk. The river, the fire, the splash of the fish were our conversation. Words really couldn't add anything.

Adventure! Excitement! A bar of sand!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MerriTwitter

I may end up regretting this but I've set up my blog so that I can make updates via Twitter. Now I can be sitting on a sandbar living the good life and tell y'all, "Hey, I'm sitting on a sandbar living the good life!" right then and there, assuming I have cell phone connection.

Wow, I've fallen so far...


Unrelated, it's now time for another episode of "What has Merriwether learned!"
Today's lesson is for all my readers who have a Hunter All-Fan Ceiling Fan & Light Remote Control attached to their ceiling fan. ALWAYS be sure to turn off the ceiling fan's lights before replacing a light bulb. If you replace the bulb with the power still on you have a good chance of sending a power surge through the fan-mounted portion of this unit which burns out the circuit board. The whole gorram unit then needs to be replaced!

Adventure! Excitement! Electricity!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Frakkin Computer!!!

It was a beautiful post filled with lyrical prose, humor, and helpful tips. I had worked on it for three hours.

Then my computer crashed and everything went dark.

"No problem." I thought, "The Blogger auto-save is supposed to have everything I wrote.".

Turns out the auto-save system is VERY unreliable. It's supposed to save stuff every minute, but the last save it had for me was two hours old.

Everything was gone.

FRACK!! FRACK!! FRACK!! FRACK!!!!

Sometimes being addicted to blogging really sucks.

I'll try to rewrite the post, but it'll be a few days. Tonight is my work-out night and tomorrow I have to try and figure out why our ceiling fan blew up.

It was a great post of men and fishing and a night out on a sandbar.

Frakking five-year old computer.

Adventure! Excitement! Jesus saves but Merriwether didn't!

Monday, March 16, 2009

It takes more than Charles Atlas.

Oh Joe, you are a real he-man after all!
-Girl in comic book body-building ad.

I've written a number of posts on preparedness/survival. Suggested gear, assorted skills, tricks, tips, and even the occasional rant. In all these I've always neglected the most vital thing needed to survive. Without it the chance of living through a devastating emergency are just about nil no mater how prepared, smart, and even lucky you are.

The one thing you MUST have?

Simply the will to live. The deep-down strength to push on no matter what blocks your path. The fire to hold on to life no matter what pain lashes at you. The drive to return to your family, your friends, uh, your readers no matter what obstacles lay on the path.

Spending as much time as I have in hospitals I've been able to talk to lots of doctors, nurses, and orderlies. trust me, emergency room staff have the best stories! One thing that several ER docs have told me is that they can tell right away if a trauma patient will live or die simply by the attitude the patient has. Even when the patient is unconscious they can tell who is a fighter and who will just let life go. The doctors do everything they can for both types, but in the end it's as much up to the patient as it is to the blood transfusions, adrenalin shots, and emergency surgery.

A prime example of this just happened off the coast of Florida. Two NFL and two college football players went out for a day of deep sea fishing. Only one made it back. Their boat flipped. None of them were wearing life preservers, but they were able to get them on while in the water. After about five hours the two NFL players gave in, removed their life jackets and drowned. Two days later one of the college players hallucinated that he saw land and tried to swim for it, drowning in the process. Only one person survived. He was found huddled on the capsized boat 48 hours after the accident.

All four would have survived if they had just held on, not given up. One would think pro-football players would have the guts/never give in sort of attitude needed to survive something like this, but alas often that is not the case. Titan's quarterback Vince Young is another prime example of a physically strong but gut weak football player. People who follow the game were not surprised by Vince's actions. His college coach has a reputation for making great players that were emotionally weak. They lack the inner strength needed to handle hardships and failure.

This problem isn't limited to sports. I see it every day at work and among friends. Some people go to pieces when things go bad. Some just withdraw and do nothing. Luckily, some step up to the battle and push on, never giving up their belief that they will succeed. And of course they DO succeed. They may have to work through hundreds, even thousands of failures but they stick at it and eventually create something marvelous. The question is why do so many people give in rather than keep fighting?

I think it has something to do with our lifestyle, especially our childhoods. If a person never has to struggle, deal with hardship or adversity, and has everything handed to them it's unlikely they develop the internal fortitude they'll need later on in life. Childhood irresponsibility continues far longer than it ever has in the past. Many kids are not taught how to be responsible adults so when they need to be they just fold.

I don't want this to be the case with Mini and Mambo.

No, I'm not going to beat them and work them like children of Sparta. But they will learn how to hang in there, they will learn not to give in (Mambo pretty much already has that down!), they will learn what it takes to truly be consider an adult.

I started on this years ago through bathtime stories. In these tales Princess Sparkle and Princess Glitter overcome great challenges such as being captured by an ogre, becoming shipwrecked, having to escape the castle during war, etc... The princesses overcome these dangers through perseverance, smarts, trial/error, and bravery

But it's not just the telling of tales. Mini and Mambo know at some point they will have to make The Crossing.

Other cultures have had trials that a child must pass before they can be considered an adult. Vision quests, fasting, killing a lion with a spear, etc... all have been ways for children to leave the home and adults return.

No, I'm not going to make my girls kill a lion with a spear. Do you know how much a lion costs these days?!

At age fourteen they will have to go off into the wilds by themselves for two nights. They will have a knife, a poncho, poncho liner, clothes, a cooking pot, and a walkie-talkie (hey, not a complete hard-ass). They'll get a bit hungry. They'll probably get a bit afraid. But they'll survive and they'll know they can survive being hungry, being afraid...

Of course before The Crossing they'll have plenty of experience in the woods. Miniwether is already very good at identifying edible plants/bugs and catching frogs and fish. Both girls love to go camping. They are learning proper knife handling, fire building, knot tying, and shelter building.

But they are also learning that we won't let them give up on stuff. Misseswether is one hardass homeschooler. Miniwether has learned that she can't slide through her classes, she has to work and think and keep at the problems. if she gets really frustrated she can take a break, but the problems will be waiting for her.

Just like "real" life.

Miniwether understands what we expect of her and why we hold her to these standards and she accepts the challenge. She's admitted she's scared of The Crossing but at the same time she's looking forward to the adventure. Currently Mambowether just likes the outdoors time and the stories of Princesses Sparkle and Glitter. She listens with rapt attention, unaware that I'm telling stories about her.

Hopefully my plan will work and these two wonderful little girls will become strong, resilient women capable of anything they put the mind to. Wish me luck!

Adventure! Excitement! Success!

p.s. Two books that have helped shape my plans are:
Deep Survival: Who lives, who dies, and why by Laurence Gonzales.
Outliers: The story of success by Malcolm Gladwell

Monday, March 09, 2009

I refuse to die.

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I have way more holes in my body than most people.

The latest wounds are entering the itch-like-mad portion of the healing process. Tomorrow I go to the doctor to have some stitches removed and to get the test results on the things they pulled out of my body. I'm not worried about anything, though because even if for some reason things weren't what we originally thought there's ABSOLUTELY NO WAY I'M GOING TO DIE anytime soon.

You know why? Because I REFUSE to go to my grave in the back of a friggin Grand Caravan!

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No.
Friggin.
Way!

Adventure! Excitement! Invincibility!

Sunday in the park with Miniwether and worms

Looked! It stabbed me! Isn't that cool!
-Miniwether

Miniwether LOVES to fish. She loves being out in nature seeing the fish/turtles/froms/algae/etc. She loves the daddy-Mini bonding time. She loves the breeze and the water. Mostly though she loves the worms. One needs to be a bit patient to fish with Miniwether as she has to closely examine each worm over and over before deciding which one to rip in half to bait the hook (I do the actual hooking part).

As much as she loves it, being only five means the whole fishing trip has to last under two hours or else she gets bored, even if she does have worms to befriend. If the fish aren't biting this time frame must shrink even more.

Luckily Sunday the fish (among other things!) at the pond in Tamarack Park in The Woodlands were biting like crazy. The first time I dropped the line into the water the bobber hit and immediately sank. I was rather confused by this until I saw it zoom off underwater.

Oh, a fish!

I thrust the pole into Miniwether's hand and told her to start reeling it in.

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Fish!

The fish were striking as fast as we could get the line into the water! It's strictly a catch and release pond, so all the beautiful bluegills we caught ended up going right back into the water. Miniwether wanted to hold the first one she caught. I n it to her and even though she did get poked by one of its spines she handled it perfectly while putting it back in the water.

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However, she would not kiss its boo-boo.

Fish were the only things going after our bait. We occasionally had to pull the line up when turtles came after the worm. The weirdest thing though was this giant bull frog. On the second cast this frog the size of a gopher came charging out of the weeds and attacked Miniwether's bobber! It looked like it was trying to eat it and probably would have succeeded if she hadn't yanked it away. The next three casts the same bullfrog pounced on her bobber before finally figuring out it wasn't a big yellow and orange beetle. I was really hoping she would catch the frog. The sign said all fish had to be released...but it didn't say yummy frogs had to be released! Mmmmm.

Adventure! Excitement! Everything loves worms!

Hungry for Nature

Wow, that's so cool! How do you cook it?
-Merriwether the Adventurer

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Rhinoceros beetle grub, nature's original Snickers Bar.

If you crave nature Houston is the place for you, believe it or not. There's always something going on at one of the many park, nature preserves, or greenways that dot this fine city. This last Saturday me and the Wethergirls spent the day playing with all sorts of wild things at Jesse H. Jones' NatureFest. It was a day filled with bugs, snakes, lizards, plants, and many other yummy parts of nature.

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Mmmm, catfish!

NatureFest takes place the first Saturday in March every year and each year it seems to get bigger and bigger. The main section of the park is filled with an assortment of booths and tents set up by Houston area nature groups ranging from the Houston Museum of Natural History to the "Keep (Insert town name here) Green!" as well as a number of hiking, paddling, and birdwatching groups. If you want to know where to go wildernessing around Houston this is a great place to find your options.

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Heading the the N'Fest!

The main parking lot is taken over by tents so everyone has to park in the axillary lot and then take a hay ride to the fest. They zip you along quite quickly, the girls loved this.

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One of several lanes. I'd say there were about five rows like this of stuff, plus live entertainment.

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Crab tank!

This is always Miniwether's favorite booth. The girl loves crabs. This year they added something else, too. Sea anemones!

At first the girls were afraid to touch the anemones. Miniwether was convinced it would suck her in and eat her, so I had to touch it first. They feel like marshmallows if marshmallows sucked on your finger. Sidenote: they don't taste ANYTHING like marshmallows. Once I touched it and didn't get eaten the girls were all over them.

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Anemones!

One of the ladies at this booth had a very nice ball python people could touch. For some reason she wasn't very interested in the Amazonian python cooking techniques. Oh well.
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Snake.

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Mambowether prefers meat with legs...and lollipops.

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Mmmm! Texas is home to forty different crayfish, all of which are edible!

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Caterpillars, butterflies, and moths! While many African caterpillars are considered delicacies, none of the one's on display at the NatureFest were edible. At least while the boothlady was watching, anyway...

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Big tortoise. Miniwether was really excited when she got to see it poop.

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Another snake. Lots of meat on this one!

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Boothman: This is a female Blue Skank from Austraila
Lady in jeans/white shirt: Hmmm, not exactly a good name if you're looking for a date.
Me: Oh, I don't know (wink)...
Lady: Laughs and pushes a strand of hair behind her ear.
Miniwether: Daddy, have we eaten one of these yet?
Lady in jeans/white shirt: Wha...?!

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Mosquitoes...more trouble than they are worth as far as eating goes.

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Done, heading home.

It really was a great time and they have all sorts of neat give-aways like coloring books, maps of local parks, stickers, and tons of useful literature. Bummer it's only once a year...then again, that does give them time to forget me. ;-)

Adventure! Excitement! Next time I'm bringing snacks!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Because blogging about pain makes readers happy!

It's never a good sign when the doctor lets out a long, low whistle. I should know, I have plenty of data points on this reaction. In this case it was a surgical specialist suggested by my regular doctor. My normal doc loves all the experience I give him, but he knows when it's time to let someone else have the fun (and boat down payment!).

So, what's going on? Just the dark side of one of my super powers. Cholesterol tends not to plate out in my blood veins, which is a very handy thing seeing I'd rather not suffer a stroke or heart attack. However, the cholesterol can't just ride the blood train indefinitely like some homeless subway bum, at some point the gooey little bits do start gathering in unruly, gelatinous mobs just below the skin. At this point it's a simple cut-n-flick to get them gone. Bu-bye, bad stuff!

Of course, if you get busy and put it off for a few years...then the procedure becomes much more invasive.

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Merriwether, post-invasion.

Good hospital though, they kept the blankets in an oven. Mmm, toasty! Oh, and if you are wondering what I was thinking in this picture it was, "Interesting, rays of colored light are shooting from my feet. Maybe I can fly? I swear to use these ray-shooting, flying feet only for good!"...at which point the nurse would shove me back into the wheelchair.

Which is way better than the gnomes Izzy and my brother report seeing in their post-op experiences. Gnomes scare me...they are so freaky short. I bet they'd love to cut my lovely long legs off with those little gnome saws they always carry around with them...uh, perhaps I still have a bit of Vicodin in the bloodstream.

Now here's an important post-surgical tip for all you readers out there. Never grow so big that no one in your household is capable of helping you to bed. Unfortunately in my case this stature was acquired well before ever meeting Misseswether. End result was me sleeping for four hours on the living room floor after we got back from the hospital.

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To big too move.

Eventually most of the anesthesia wore off and Misseswether was able to help me to bed. Understanding the potential humor of this situation, Misseswether handed the camera to Miniwether and told her to take pictures if it looked like daddy was falling over. I love how supportive my family is of this blog.

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Miniwether took this shot. If you look closely you can see that Misseswether just barely comes up to my armpit and I outweigh her by an amount she will not let me repeat on the internet.

I really don't remember much about the trip from the floor to the bed but I'm pretty sure my power of flight was gone by then. Probably for the best seeing as the bedroom is upstairs and THERE WAS A FREEAKIN ANNOYING BIRD OUTSIDE THE WINDOW WHICH WOULDN'T STOP SINGING AT THE TOP OF ITS FREEKIN LUNGS FOR HOURS AND FREEKIN HOURS!!! No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get my colored foot-blaster rays functioning again. Yes, killing that bird would have been using these powers for good as IT WAS A FREEKIN EVIL BIRD!!!

Uh, yeah. Anyway...let's have a look at the incisions, shall we?

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Me, before the surgery. I knew they were going to have to shave part of my head, so to avoid looking funny I shaved the whole thing two days before going in. This led to much whispering and speculation at work as to what was going on. I told them I had picked up my old job as a bouncer at a strip club to help pay the bills and had to look tough...can't wait to hear the rumors when I show back up at work all cut up.

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Bandages off.

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Neck: 2" incision.

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Shoulder: 3" incision.

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Back: 4.5" main incision with two 1" sidecuts. I'm hoping the doc didn't snag a kidney while he was in there...

So, that's the story. Sorry it didn't involve cougars or alligators or ending up impaled on a long piece of rebar. I guarantee you that it has been very painful, if that makes you feel better.

Adventure! Excitement! Medical Bills!