Texas round-up

Foxy and I are preparing to leave Texas for the first time together, friends. It’s a momentous occasion. It’s been over two months since I started this little jaunt – I can scarcely believe it! – and I have several times been thrown off the track I expected to take. But it’s all good. I’ve been having the most amazing time, astonished by the freedom of total spontaneity and having no one to answer to but myself. The beauty of the world, and the joy in discovery. I’ve loved riding my bike, of course; but I’ve been equally pleased to hike with Hops, who is as crazy for trails as I am. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the generosity of people everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve overcome a few challenges along the way, and I feel ever more ready for the next.

More than two months just driving around Texas! (Well, there were interludes.) It’s a big place, of course. I estimate that I drove through 80 counties, of the 254 in the state, and I carefully counted 14 state parks/sites and 5 national parks/areas (the state and national parks passes I purchased have already paid for themselves, and then some). I have been hosted by some 13 friends & families, in one form or another (laundry! showers! toilets! warm indoor haunts!), and Ritchey’s ashes have flowed away in 7 bodies of water (I’ve been remiss, actually, and missed the Rio Grande). It all feels like a promising and auspicious start on my journey. As Foxy crosses her first state line (with me, that is), we’re hopeful about the future. And looking forward to seeing Delaney very soon!

Onward with joy and (as Jerko says) deep peace. Cheers, friends.

McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge: birds, more birds

We had the most amazing day at the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge! And as I’ve done before, I wanted to list a few birds here.

Not a lot of pictures here, because birds are hard to photograph. But would you look at this list! My friend Barrett and I counted twenty-three species, including: European starling, osprey, mottled duck, lesser scaup, red-breasted merganser, Wilson’s snipe, tri-colored heron, American coot, northern harrier, great egret, brown pelican, tropical cormorant, double-breasted cormorant, great blue heron, turkey vulture, black vulture, blue jay, killdeer, little blue heron, great-tailed grackle, boat-tailed grackle, rock pigeon, and snow goose. We also saw four little alligators. Maybe two to three feet in length; not so little that I didn’t watch Hops carefully.

But the part I was most excited about were the roseate spoonbills, the bird I most wanted to see, and sure enough, we rounded a bend on a gravel road and there they were, six or eight of them. They are so pink, and I was so excited. I didn’t get a great picture or anything, but we can call this proof.

The next day, driving east, I added a red-winged blackbird and belted kingfisher to my list. Coming up: Louisiana.

Port Arthur, TX

I met up with a friend for a few days in Port Arthur, on the Texas Gulf Coast and on the Louisiana border. It’s not a famously beautiful town; it’s an oil town, which makes for the stinky smells and a somewhat one-note local culture. One would not normally travel to Port Arthur for pleasure, but this is where we were able to meet up (seeking, among other things, warmer temperatures than the ones I’d been finding in northeast Texas). I set us a challenge: to find something beautiful in Port Arthur.

And we found lots to do and learn. We started our one long full day with a few paying-of-respects trips to a few artists.

at Janis Joplin’s birthplace (the house behind the marker)

Janis Joplin is the town’s most notable person.

Next we drove into the town of Groves, where Mary Karr comes from. There’s no childhood home to visit here (for one thing, her mother burned it down; also, location unknown), but we visited the neighborhood, and the American Legion post that might be the one where her father spends so much time in The Liars’ Club.

Next, we drove around the old downtown, which is decidedly rundown. But we found some gorgeous – and tragic – old buildings to photograph.

We visited the Museum of the Gulf, which was a surprisingly large place with a surprisingly wide range of stuff: history including geology, biology, and human war and industry, and the modern story of Port Arthur, including local and regional notable figures. Janis Joplin, of course, figures significantly.

We moved on from there just a few blocks to the campus of Lamar State College, contiguous with the library and Lions Park.

And then the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site, where Hops was relieved to stretch his legs. (He may have had a few fried crawfish tails for lunch. It was a good day for Hops.)

Hops runs wild with munitions magazines and drilling equipment

It was quite a long and satisfying day… so we finished up at a local brewpub.

Sippin’ Pretty, by Odell Brewing, and some live music

Whew.

Sea Rim State Park: birds

My birds list is pretty haphazard so far, but I did want to note a few spotted in a southeast Texas coastal park. In a very brief visit, I saw: great blue heron, herring gull, willet, brown pelican, great egret, and, of course, plenty of vultures (I think all I saw were black vultures).

While still in the DFW area, among others, I saw a bunch of Canada geese.

Here I should plug my bird ID app, which I’m crazy about – they pay me nothing for this: check out Merlin Bird ID from the Cornell School of Ornithology. It rarely fails to help me feel confident in identifying the birds I see. Mine are almost always big birds: they’re easier to spot, especially when I’m not wearing my spectacles (which I rarely am). But I think I like the big birds the best, anyway. They feel easiest to identify with, have observable personalities. (Look out for a bird book review to come over at pagesofjulia any day now!)

upkeep

It’s been a big week for Foxy! We got new tires! (I’d been kind of waiting to get something a little beefier.) And repaired a leaking gas line. And rewired a headlight that had been blinking off and on; and caulked up yet another potential source for a persistent leak (those last two courtesy of the gracious and generous and handy Jerko). So far – fingers crossed – the leak is absent.

I had my first dead battery, which I was able to jump-start with a jump-starter I’d bought ahead of time so as to be self-sufficient; and then the second time I had to get a jump from a park ranger. I had the battery, starter, and alternator tested and all looked very good by the time I’d hit my next city, so go figure. I’m glad to have experimented with the jump-starter, at least.

One would like to avoid all such issues and costs, of course, but it feels good to have a little more experience under my belt, and a little more knowledge of the aging and lumbering beast that is Foxy. Onward!