Solitude in Cross Creek Ranch

A rare thing happened last week.  My two year old came home from daycare and went to sleep.  Suddenly, we had spare time.  I offered my husband first rights of refusal, but he wanted to stay home.  Not me.

I left and headed out to my favorite place, the wetlands at Cross Creek Ranch.  I out some headphones on to listen to some new music I had downloaded (Missy Higgins, after my friend Mel recommended her to me).  On the way there, I felt the absence of a friend.  I thought in my head about what it would be like to be pointing out all the reasons why I loved this place to someone.

It has been so long since I have had some time to just chill out with a girlfriend, to paint our nails and listen to each other’s music, tell each other about our books, show each other our neighborhoods.  Perhaps this is just a function of age, of distance, of stages in our lives.  The friends I do have, we live across town from each other, and our conversations are always punctuated by side conversations with kids.  We only have time to talk to each other after work, before bed, or in between kids activities and dinner times.  It is not that often, and I feel like I just can’t get enough.

When I got to the wetlands, I was walking through the grass on the backside of the ponds looking for a rare red-vented bulbul (bird).  I was listening to my music at first, but then I realized that I was missing half of the outdoor program by having my ears plugged.  When I took out the headphones, I heard the raucous calls of the grackals and the coos of the doves.  I smelled something wild, something mammalian, and I made up some creatures that it could have been until I realized it was actually just the smell of cattle beyond the fence line.  I found a bleached out turtle shell, feeling the thrill of discovery and a childish desire to pick it up and keep it as a treasure.  I wandered further down a wild path than I intended to, trying to figure out what bird was making a loud alarm call (a green heron chick).  I spotted one of these chicks on a soft place beyond some reeds, all plump and feathery, walking swiftly on stubbly legs towards the safety of the water as I walked past.

I stood for a bit on on of the boardwalks, watching the water move towards me in gentle waves.  I wanted to put my hands on the railing, but when I looked down at it, I realized it was covered in white heron poop.  In fact, the whole boardwalk looked white-washed in it.  I kind of laughed at the absurdity, that these birds have claimed this place from us so thoroughly.  Again, I felt the pain of being alone, a wish that I had a friend who lived near me that I could share this laugh with.

If I had a friend with me, though, we would have been talking to each other, and I would have missed all of those smells, sounds, sightings, thrills and discoveries – all of those things that were so stress-relieving about this walk.  It is the full immersion with nature, a full disconnection with the exterior world of work and household chores and worrying about other people that makes this type of thing so rewarding for me.

It still would be nice to have a friend who lives close to me, though, to be able to call when I had a spontaneous hour alone, someone to join me in trying out that cool little coffee shop, farmers market, wine store, free yoga class – whatever.  I was hoping to meet someone like that in Hike it Baby, and although I did make one good friend sort of kind of through that, she still lives kind of far for spontaneous adventures.  I hope that I will meet someone in these new groups I have joined who can be my new neighborhood friend, but I am still in those early stages so I am not sure yet.

Later, over the weekend, I got the opportunity to spend some time with some friends, some old and some new.  I met some really awesome ladies and got to know some others better, spent time with a friend out at a park with our babies, and some time laying on another friend’s couch with my little one asleep in my arms.  I realized that missing a friend doesn’t mean that I don’t have friends in my life, but it is maybe just that I am missing a stage of having friends that is probably a thing of the past.   Maybe friendship just looks different in your forties.  Perhaps at this age, we can have friends on deeper levels – friends to learn from, engage in activities with, commiserate about motherhood with, experience new things with, march and resist with, and that’s okay.


McKinney Falls State Park, Last Month

Last month, we explored a state park we hadn’t been to yet, as part of my ambitious camping plan I planned out last fall.  The older boys opted to spend the weekend at Grandma’s house.  Somehow this was preferable to spending the weekend in close quarters with us, which might be a sign that we have been camping too much as a family lately.  It was nice to not have to worry about two additional sets of needs, though, as we had the dogs with us and a two year old is enough to worry about.

I do think we will need to come back sometime with the older ones, though.  There were rocks to jump off of and swimming holes and all kinds of fun for able bodied strong swimmers.  It was not the greatest place to camp with a two year old, though.  He enjoyed the water, but we were stressing about his safety around it.

Scout not wanting to leave the tent

The rocky areas were hard for me to walk in, given my ankle injury from years back.  I think Breeze liked it, but Scout was hating every minute.  She loves the water, but him not so much (one is a retriever and one is a herder – makes sense, right?) Scout is just too old and feeble now to go camping, so this will probably go down as his last big hurrah.

It was Easter weekend, which I don’t think I realized when I booked it, and then I felt bad about depriving Sebastian of Easter egg hunting experiences, so we left the park on Saturday morning and drove fifteen minutes away to a rec center in south Austin to participate in an Easter festival.  What we learned this day: he doesn’t like cotton candy, he is very interested in hula hoops and ping pong games, Easter egg hunts aren’t really that much fun anymore because of the chaos that ensues, and he is scared of generally all characters dressed in full suit costumes (no Easter Bunny pictures for this guy).  On one of the evenings we were there, we left the park again to go eat some Mexican food and then watch planes arrive and take off from the Austin airport at the family viewing area.  Good times.

On the in-betweens, when Sebastian wasn’t napping, we went for short hikes to explore the park.  We would have taken longer ones, but poor Scout just couldn’t hang.  We saw a big group heading out to do a Yoga Hike, which kind of sounded fun to me, but maybe later on in my life (probably something I should have done earlier in my life).  We saw flowers and water and rock formations, and did not really find any birds or geocaches this time around.  Perhaps we are changing our focus.  Overall, it was a pretty park and a good time to visit, but probably won’t be one we spend lots of time at, although I do want to let the older boys see what it like to jump off the rock formations into the water like we saw others doing.  Perhaps we will do this on a day trip or a stop on the way somewhere else.

Here are some scenes from the park:

March for Science – Houston

My ten year old son stands in the right hand corner of this photo, trying to hold our signs up while I take the photo.  By this time, he is hot, tired and ready to go.  He wasn’t interested in finding a place to sit or stand to listen to the pro-science speeches after the march.  He mostly was just interested in twisting my arm to buy him a milkshake at this point.

I keep thinking about him and how he might have processed last Saturday’s event.  Sometimes he doesn’t think past his immediate concerns, and maybe years from now, he will only remember being slightly put-out and mildly uncomfortable.  I hope he will take away more, though.

For me, the moment that is standing out in my memory is an older activist lady with a megaphone getting the crowd pointed in the right direction and giving them a cheer to hang on to: “This is what/democracy looks like!”  I am not sure how much change the March will actually effect, but it did feel like civic responsibility to take a stand for something I believe in.  I was bothered by so many things in the past 100 days or so, but I think the part that bothered me the most lately is the threat of budget cuts to NIH, CDC, NSF programs, cuts so extreme that ongoing research will be stopped.  I was voting with my feet this day.

And I wasn’t the only one.  That is the part that is also sticking with me: the feeling of being part of something bigger.  I sometimes like to take small pride in being an original, eccentric, unusual type of human being.  Call it “marching ot the beat of a different drum” or just kinda of crazy, but I don’t want to be like everyone else.  One of my personal pet peeves is being “put in a box”, because I’m not sure my edges are so defined.  This day, though, I felt pride in being like so many others, and a sense of the comfort of the hive mind.

And there were just so many others.  I occasionally would prod my son and tell him to look behind us.  The people, they just kept coming and coming.  I have never seen such an orderly group of so many people moving in unison to a common mission.  When my son and I first arrived at Sam Houston Park, about an hour before the March started, we were trying to guess how many people were there.  At first we guessed about 500, and then about 800, and then over a thousand, but by the time the March started, there were thousands.  I have seen an estimate of ten to fifteen thousand.

Most of them carried signs, and some occasionally chanted, but for the most part, they were very quiet.  I had met up with ladies from one of the groups I belong to and we marched together.  One of them commented, “this is the quietest march I have ever seen”.  Occasionally a call of “Science, Not Silence!” would go up for a bit, but then die down after a few refrains.  “This is what democracy looks like!” started back up a few times.  But mostly we just marched, and when people left, they took their signs with them.

I didn’t see any trash (as the other side likes to report about) and absolutely no drama.  The weather was nice and the people I met were just friendly, if a little bit quiet.  And of course the signs were the most interesting part.  That is what I spent most of my time trying to take pictures of.

My signs would probably fit in just as well next weekend for the Circle of Resistance Climate Change March, but I don’t think I have it in me to march downtown two weekends in a row.  I have some preparations to make for a week out of town for work.  However, I will continue my resistance by making phone calls and sending letters to my representatives letting them know how I feel about the issues that are on my mind, and I am really enjoying meeting new people in my community who feel the way I do and are showing me the way to be more civic-minded and politically involved.

Estero Llano State Park, in Photos

*not pictured:  the Common Pauraque that we only observed from the ranger’s scope, nor the Golden Fronted Woodpeckers that were often seen, some even from just outside our hotel, and many others

Cinnamon Teal
Common Yellowthroat
Black Crowned and Yellow Crowned Night Herons
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Eastern Screech Owl (in the nesting box)
Tri-Colored Heron with Alligator escort
Another Alligator Friend
Yellow Bellied Sapsucker
Northern Shoveler and Mottled Duck
Northern Shovelers
Least Grebe
One of the three variety of teals that are park residents
Talk about having your ducks in a row!
Somewhere in this picture, a White Faced Ibis is hiding
We all marveled at this lovely turtle