Sometimes in life, you see a road and wonder what is down there. For the past few years, that road for me has been 955. Just past Hruska’s on Highway 71 Austinbound, there at the 955 junction a sign says “Fayetteville” and points east. I took us down that road, to settle my curiosity about what we would find.
We knew at least a few things we would find, from experience and poking around the internet. I read about their historic town square and antique shops, and noted a couple of restaurants that were worth trying. I also knew it was close to Rohan Meadery, a place that is dear to our heart. I also know it was close to places on Hwy 71 that I wanted to stop in at and spend some time. I also learned that this town is very close to the locally famous Round Top, which draws huge crowds during their antique weekends. Due to this tourist surge, there are several B&B and AirBnB type rentals around the area. Browsing the Chamber of Commerce page, I found several places to choose from, and ended up renting us a room at Granny’s Retreat.
Granny’s Retreat has several rooms to choose from, and this newly built “Breakfast Pavilion” that would be great to hang out in with a group. I spent some time daydreaming about what kind of group gathering I could have here, but I haven’t come to any conclusions yet.
The place was conveniently located right down the road from Lake Fayette Oak Thicket Park, and even though that park was not initially on my radar, we spent some time exploring this park throughout the Saturday we spent out here. After a hearty breakfast at Orsak’s Cafe in the town square, we explored the town square for a bit. An old courthouse stood in the center of the square, and you could go inside of it to see what it was like in the olden days. Jason took the boys upstairs, where they got a sense of how lawbreakers were kept in the past. We also poked around in the general store, keeping a safe distance from the dogs that were in the back of trucks in the parking area. One truck had a big sign saying “Beware of Dog” and that truck needed an extra wide berth. The dog was chained to the truck and perched on the window, and about jumped out at the kids even though they were several feet away. After this, we headed over to Oak Thicket Park and waded and splashed in the swimming area of the lake. After a couple hours of this, we went back to our digs, got cleaned up and rested for a bit.
Midday, we hit the road to explore the two places on 71 that we are always zooming past and never have time to stop in. The first place we had to check out was the Industrial Country Market, a “Non-General General Store”. If you haven’t stopped in, you really should. There were some real treasures in there. The best part about this experience was that they were having a sale due to the Royal Wedding, and everything in the store except consignment items was 50% off. My middle son had his wallet with dollars he was dying to spend, and he and I both bought all kinds of fun finds. There is a whole outdoor area we didn’t even explore (including a greenhouse, a pond, an art walk and a model train layout), as we were taking turns sitting in the running truck with the sleeping toddler. Next time, we will try to plan to arrive when it is not his nap time, so we can all explore inside and out.
Then we stopped at Rosemary’s Winery so I could dash in and sample some wine to figure out which bottle to buy for us (Blanc de Bois was the winner). Soon after this, the sleeping toddler woke up and it was time to eat lunch. We had several choices in La Grange, and decided on SeaLand because the middle son wanted calamari. The calamari was good, but the other food was just okay. We had enough leftover from this meal that it also served as dinner back at the property later in the evening. The kids enjoyed playing the old arcade games and putting quarters in the machines for little treasures in plastic eggs.
After this, it was time to go to Rohan. This meadery is also part of Blissful Folly Farms, where they grow the honey to make the honey wine. Typically, there is live music on Saturday afternoons in their outdoor pavilion. I purchased us some delicious Peach Bellini wine slushes to sip on while we listened to the music and watched the youngest make new friends. The kids picked out honey sticks to suck on and played with the giant honey comb jenga set.
On the way back, we decided to go for an evening hike at Oak Thicket Park. We had two choices in trails – the six mile round trip trail, or the 1 1/4 mile nature trail. We were warned that the rangers had not checked on that trail for a while, so it was a little rough. We decided we liked it rough and tried it anyway.
The trail went down to a lake and probably circled it (appeared to on the map), but we lost the trail going around the lake so just went back out the way we came in. Everyone had a good time but we did get too close to nature on this walk, as we all took turns pulling down spider webs across the trail, and all but the toddler ended up with chigger bites afterwards.
Some of the best times of the weekend out in Fayetteville was our down time. The porch in front of our room was a lovely place to watch the clouds float by. We watched a tractor bailing hay in the nearby field. Sebastian made some bubbles, but that was very short-lasting because he immediately spilled the bubble solution. We watched a wren in the bushes and had close encounters with wasps. We had several conversations with Rinn, the owner of the place, who was so much like my former mother-in-law in her mannerisms and way of speaking that I kept feeling transported back in time about twenty years. Even some of the decor in the room was much like the house I lived in with my first husband when we first moved in together, a house in the country that belonged to my in-laws. The scenery and sounds were much the same – fields of hay, mooing cows – and I kept expecting to hear the sound of a crop-duster zooming overhead. Despite the fact that I left that place in my past and have no desire to return to it, I would want to return to Granny’s Retreat, and bring some friends next time. At the very least, this area is worth another day trip sometime, as it was really enjoyable.
It’s a spring morning in Texas in the middle of peak migration. A flock of birders is collecting in the parking lot of the Boy Scout Woods, one of the four Houston Audubon bird sanctuaries at High Island. Their colors vary, but mostly stick to a neutral beige, brown or tan in order to blend in with their surroundings. Their field marks include binoculars and/or cameras and/or scopes hanging from their necks, along their sides or tucked up under their arms. Some might have eye rings, but most are missing wing bar coloring or crown or median stripes.
This roughly-assembled lot will migrate a short distance en masse to check in and pay their small day use fee (unless they already have their yearly High Island patch, a collectible badge of honor among birders). The leaders of the bird walk appear, healthy looking fellows from exotic places like Guatemala and Ecuador, and they begin to set the rules and expectations for the walk. Then the flock returns to their original spot, as the parking lot of this sanctuary is actually a high point in the walk. Several orioles and tanagers are spotted.
After this, the group migrates en masse to a small field behind the little house that serves as the Houston Audubon’s field office in this little town. There is a rope that serves as a boundary between the world the humans are allowed to exist in and the world in which only the birds belong. There are three guides and probably thirty birders standing along the rope boundary with their binoculars raised. Every few moments, someone would call out a birds name and point.
More often, a person would gesture or say a few words of description, and somehow with this abbreviated type of communication, those cued in nearby would look and add to the descriptions, until the bird guides put it all together into words that everyone could understand. For instance, one birder says, “fork in the tree”, and a second person might add, “yellow breast”, and then the bird guide says, loud enough for all to hear, “Yellow Throated Vireo, four o’clock, on the right branch of the fork in the second tree back”. Or, “something’s moving over here” (gestures loosely in a direction), “blue”, “Northern Parula, everyone, three o’clock!”.
Some birds would make the group gasp when they appeared, in mutual excitement and appreciation. Then, there would be the more rare sightings, excitement evident in the guide’s voice when he rang them out: “Chestnut Sided Warbler, everyone!”, “Yellow Billed Cuckoo, in the back”, “Cerulean Warbler, just dropped down in the back area of greenery”. Times like these, the excitement of seeing something new would start running along the spine, the message starting in the brain and moving all the way down to the body’s posterior, sending dopamine surges along with it. During these times, I realized that at this point in my life, these kind of experiences have actually become more enjoyable than sex, more exciting than the prospect of taking off clothes and moving around in conjunction with another human being. The group bird-gasms from seeing new birds appear, spotting them in the binocs or the scope and getting a good look, were activating my reward center in my brain more than (or at least as much as?) reaching a climax in intimate partnerships. Is this what happens when you get old? Is this what happens after three kids and a long monogamous partnership? Or is this just what happens when you reach maturity?
We don’t have great pictures to show for this excitement, but perhaps you would prefer to imagine your own anyways. Trust me when I tell you, this experience was definitely worth the journey. 10/10 would do it again.
We spent the afternoon yesterday exploring a small part of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and the Trinity River area. The daily total was 29 species seen, for a total of 49 for the year so far, not a bad start towards my goal of 200 species for the year.
I did not see the rails I came here to find, but we did have a rare treat while walking along the Willow Trail: a bald eagle was spotted overhead, and then we spied another eagle sitting at the top of a nearby tree. It was huge, much bigger than we would have expected a Bald Eagle to be. It was brown and white streaked, even on the head, not solid brown on top like a juvenile Baldie. We suspected what we saw was a Golden Eagle, which has been reported over there in that area (although maybe not in January?). It would have been awesome to have a picture to show for that, but Jason did not bring the camera while we were walking around (what? why?). Now that I am thinking about it, though, perhaps it was a big red tailed hawk?
We drove around Shoveler Pond (2.5 miles), and it ended up being a slow drive because these two ladies in a pickup in front of us kept stopping to look at the birds with their binoculars. I get it…that is what we were all doing….but they did not have continuous forward movement and did not use pull outs to move aside for faster traffic. There was a LOT of stopping and no way around them.
I was feeling some anxiety because my older kids were at home and had some issue with the oven while trying to bake a pizza for lunch – turns out they child-locked it, I did not even know that was a thing – and also wanted to get home to make use of some Sebastian nap time to get things done. Also, after a bit, it was the same birds over and over again. Look, more coots, more herons, more egrets…okay nothing to see here, time to move on. I don’t know what is the proper etiquette for this kind of thing, but I felt like giving those slow ladies a piece of my mind. At the very end, they finally pulled to the side at one of the pull outs, and then gave us a dirty look while we passed. I gave it right back! Thought about adding a hand gesture, too. I don’t know what that says about me.
I have this idea of exploring all the wildlife refuges within driving distance of Houston this year, and this was a nice start, despite those ladies.
When it started out, I was moving along with the intentions I set forth the winter before: investing time in planning adventures with outdoorsy friends, working on growing my birding year list, trying new state parks with my family, hiking, camping, taking little trips to explore nature, doing a little geocaching and biking here and there – the typical things my family does, usually because this is what I want to be doing.
But then something happened, and I guess really the seeds of what happened were planted in November, with the election. I had some feelings about the election that I was working through. I wanted to take the feelings of despair I was feeling and use them for motivation but I didn’t know what to do. On the way to work, I would typically listen to the Thom Hartmann show, because it came on before one of my favorite programs, Democracy Now. Thom’s radio show would usually end with some call for people to get involved in our democracy, and he also made some statement that resonated with me about “now is the time to double down our efforts”. Also, I had this desire to find people in my community who were more “like me”, who thought like I did.
Somewhere in there, I had been spending an occasional Sunday afternoon in a cooking group that I had found via Facebook. It seems we must have gotten together soon after the election and found ourselves talking about it. We all realized we were all on the same page with our thoughts. Later, the woman who hosted those events invited me to another group. We started meeting in homes together about once a month following the Women’s March.
In the spring, the March for Science was happening and I planned to go. My friend from the cooking club and then the neighborhood club had introduced me to yet another group or two, and next thing I know, I was making signs at the house of another woman, and meeting a few other women from this other new group at the march with our signs. There were so many new groups forming and so many people to meet, so many chances to get involved. By the time March rolled around, I had fully become a part of the Resistance.
In the end, I found my tribe through all this. I became much more interested in these efforts than in the hobbies that I previously was spending my time in. This is why I wasn’t writing much in here anymore. I felt like this journal was mostly for my outdoor experiences, and I was having tribal experiences instead.
I made like 50 new friends this year, several of them that I consider my “inner circle” now, and we did so much together. We met to write postcards, to meet candidates, to hear speeches, to plan events, to support those running for office, to engage voters, to stand up for the things that meant something to us. We were calling our representatives on a regular basis to voice our opinions. Some of us were able to sit down with our local reps and talk to them, or be involved in virtual town halls. We attended rallies and marches together. We ate and met for drinks together, even howled at the moon together to express our frustration with the political theater and yet our strength in our female pack. We made signs, hosted fundraisers, listened to (and sometimes critiqued) speeches, and went block walking. We spent time learning about election strategies from various courses and classes, learned about environmental issues from the Citizens Climate Lobby, and went to listen to former politicians talk to learn from their experience (Al Gore, Joe Biden come to mind). Many of those people in the group were getting on the ballot themselves, running for everything from precinct chair to running for Congress. We were registering voters and working on getting the vote out. And we will be doing MORE of those things this year, to prepare for the 2018 midterms.
This is a photo from an event I planned in September to bring candidates and voters together. I was very proud of this event. This was a helpful kickoff event for some campaigns and helped the candidates get their petitions signed to get on the ballot without having to pay a fee:
I feel like through all of this, I have learned so much about myself, about what matters to other people, about leadership and about politics. This is something that is bigger than any of us as individuals, and it is part of the legacy we will be leaving. I was so proud to see my middle son decide on his own to write a letter to his Congressman expressing his thoughts on climate change and a desire to move away from the use of fossil fuels, and it was so exciting to see that he got a letter back in response (even though it was full of typical GOP speak). It has not been in vain, this example we are setting.
There were a few other surprises this year. I did not think at the beginning of the year that I would be invited to speak at a conference in Connecticut and get to go exploring their wineries with a former colleague and her friend, or that I would end up visiting Reno’s wild horses and hiking in Lake Tahoe, and the trip to Switzerland came out of nowhere. I still have stories I want to write about that trip.
This coming year, I know a little about where it will lead but not all. I just found out that I was confirmed to be a speaker at a HUGE conference in Denver in the summer, so I know there will be a trip to Colorado next summer, and that I will visit Bastrop again in the spring, and I am sure I will keep birding, geocaching, hiking, biking and exploring the state parks with my family. Also, though, I will be keeping the Resistance alive, because it has become a part of me now that I feel I won’t be able to let go. I know there is a tough fight ahead of us but I really feel like the left has been energized so much through this past year, that there is no way that there will not be a blue wave coming in 2018, and it will be so exciting to feel like I was a part of it.
I still don’t have a pussy hat, though. 😉