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.

Hike It Baby – Terry Hershey Park

Close to the time my maternity leave from work was ending, I stumbled upon this group online that seemed congruent with my current lifestyle –  Hike It Baby.  The Houston branch is part of a national organization dreamed up by founder Shanti Hodges of Portland, Oregon in 2013.  There are branches in 100 different cities and two countries, less than two years after she put her idea into action.  The purpose of the group is to get families out into nature by offering hikes and urban walks, submitted and lead by local participants.  Although kids of any age are welcome,  primarily the group seems to attract parents of infants, babies and toddlers using various types of baby gear (carriers, strollers or wraps) to walk with their children through both forests and interesting urban environments.

hike it baby terry hershey

For me, this organization provides a social opportunity, a chance to meet and interact with other parents who already have something in common with me – the desire to introduce their children to the outdoors.  If you have read any of this blog before, you already know I am the “outdoorsy” type and that my kids and I spent a lot of time in nature.  I don’t need another motivation, per se.  However, what I do need is a group of my peers; other parents of young ones to talk with.  Because I have this second family going on, most of my friends with kids have older kids, like my first set, but I want to find friends for Sebastian and other mothers to discuss baby milestones with.

hike it baby sebastian crop
Sebastian sleeps through one of several Hike It Baby “hikes” he has participated in over the past few weeks

I also really needed to get out of the house during my leave and talk to some adults.  In the last two weeks of my leave, I participated in four Hike It Baby walks, and then I did another one in the evening when I started back at work (that just happened to be hosted at my favorite local place to take a walk – the Cinco Ranch Nature Trail).

I decided that since I enjoyed this so much, but that most of the walks were scheduled during the week when I was at work, that I would submit some of my own on the weekends to see if there were others for whom that time and day would work as well.  Plus, there were no hikes scheduled on National Get Outdoors Day (this past Saturday, June 13).

So I submitted my first hike through the online submission form, and I was excited when it finally posted.  I had invited my friend Misti, whom I met online through blogging, and it was a good opportunity to get our babies together (although Sebastian slept through their first meeting, naturally).  It was awesome to see her again, since we have only seen each other in person like once a year since we met (but always with intentions for more interactions, because we both really enjoy the outdoors).

Finally, it was the day of the hike, and I wondered if anyone would show up.  Besides Misti and her family, we had about seven or eight other families join us on the short hike on the Terry Hershey Hike and Bike that I had planned.  It was a bigger crowd than I expected!  It made me feel glad that I decided to plan a Saturday hike, and hopeful that this meant that the “Saturday, once a month” hike time that I had decided on would also work for other families, which meant I would have company (and someone to talk to).

Here are some shots from the trail:terry hershey hike n bike 2

terry hershey hike n bike








A night heron fishes for his lunch near the Highway 6 bridge  terry hershey night heronWe basically just walked a mile from the Barker Reservoir towards Eldridge, then turned around and walked back again.  I had Jason come with me for support (and to find the geocaches along the way), and although he enjoyed talking to the other dads, his feeling is that he would have wanted a faster pace.  I had forgotten to tell him that you set the pace expectations on the online listing, and I had said that this one was casual and that kids could walk.  The next one I have organized, at Arthur Storey Park, I set the pace for “fast, adult-paced” walk with a stop for the kids to play at the end.

I have been a little obsessed with the idea of this group lately.  I think it is an awesome idea and I am glad there is someone out there like Shanti to dream it up, and like the branch leaders in each of the 100 cities to have the motivation to keep it going with her original vision intact.  I am looking forward to more opportunities to interact with other Houston families out on the trails and on walks through interesting places.  Be expecting more on this subject this coming year

A Morning at Gulf Coast Bird Observatory

wpid-img_20150117_103924.jpgAs we walk along the trail heading north back towards the nature center, we heard bird calls that were louder than usual, and saw a couple of people threading their way through a side trail ahead where the noises were coming from.  As we came upon the intersection, I realized why the noises were so loud, especially given the human foot traffic – they were coming from a cell phone perched on a nearby post.  A fine black net was strung along the tree line here at the junction.

One lady was walking away, and shared some information with another lady walking up.  “There’s a hermit back  there,” she says.  That meant little to us, but the approaching lady knew exactly what it meant, and she walked a few strides and then bent down.  We could see now the fluttering of a bird caught in the net, and the lady began to untangle its fine little feet from the net to bring it over to the table set up in the pavilion here at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson, to get measured and have a little band placed on its delicate legs to follow it from year to year.

I had actually seen this lady earlier in the day.  She was decked out in that look that certain older outdoorsy women get.  I wondered if I would ever look like that, but it did occur to me that women who dressed that way were usually either flying solo or in the company of other women (although I am not sure why).  She was wearing sunglasses and a broad-billed hat to shield her from the sun, and was carrying a pack with all sorts of supplies in it.  She had on comfortable long shorts made of the sort of material that wicked away sweat and dirt and hiking boots.  I decided right then and there that women like that were my idols.  I am sure she is probably a master naturalist.

Earlier, she had stopped for a moment to patiently educate my child wpid-20150117_110234.jpgwhen he had asked me why we couldn’t just capture the wild birds and keep them as pets.  Here in this moment, she stopped again, drawing the hermit thrush out from her hand to show my children and explain to us how to identify this species in the wild.  She gently showed us the red feathers at the tail and compared the ranges of this species to the other thrushes.

This moment, and others like it, is exactly why I dragged my family out of bed early on this Saturday and twisted their arms to come with me here. Although we got to the bird banding a little late (typical for us) and the crowd had dispersed a little, we did get to join back up with the group after the capture of this thrush to watch Robert Lookingbill measure and band the birds while his wife Kay wrote down their measurements and tested the crowd on field marks of the species they had.  We saw quite a few cardinals this day, but we also saw Carolina Chickadees and learned how to distinguish the Lincoln’s Sparrow from the Swamp or Chipping varieties. This is exactly what I was after.

wpid-img_20150117_103957.jpgIn between banding, we took a walk along the short trails they have at the center.  I think I also saw a Tufted Titmouse in addition to the other mentioned birds, but other than that, we heard the birds more than we saw them.  Although I have been listening to my birding audio CDs some, I have to admit it has not been nearly close to the amount of time I have spent listening to the Game of Thrones audio books lately, and I still have a long way before I have the sounds committed to memory.  I couldn’t identify anything by sound, although I bet that naturalist lady probably could.  Although the trail was not long, it was nice and I enjoyed the time in the forest.  I was excited about the thought of wpid-img_20150117_103944.jpggoing to nearby Maclean Park and doing some more exploring/hiking, but we started to realize we were going to run short on time, and I wanted to take the kids to the Center for Arts and Sciences Museum, which we visited after this. That museum is free and boasts a huge collection of shells and gems, as well as other interesting displays, and I would recommend it to anyone heading out to that area.

wpid-img_20150117_121406.jpgI also wanted to find some geocaches, but we only ended up finding one, on the nature trail near the museum.  Just that one little find managed to F%# me up a little, as I now have a nice “trail badge” e.i. scratch on my arm, and also I think I got bit by a spider.  Even though I was wearing pants, I have a spot on my shin that is red and blistered, and originally swelled up to a head like an ant bite, but now is just festering.  Just my luck!

Between all that we saw and didn’t see, learned and didn’t learn that day, there is plenty of incentive for me to come back this way another day, although I am not sure if my family is as excited about it as I am.  It was a long drive, and the kids were a little sad about missing so much gaming time that day (especially since we went directly from here to Jason’s family’s house for the rest of the day, and didn’t get home until late).  Sometimes it is hard to balance all our needs and desires, but the kids also have to get out more and step away from their screens to experience the world outside, so I don’t feel too bad about dragging them out here.

Nature Fest

Yesterday we attending a great annual Nature Fest that I recommend anyone in the area who reads this to check out next year.  It is completely free, which will blow your mind when you witness all they have to offer, particularly for children, and yet through t shirt sales and donations, they are raising money for one of our favorite causes, the Katy Conservancy.  In the past few years, they have raised over $17,000 for this organization.

The event is in Cypress, Texas, and you can get more information here:  I found out about it from reading one of the local magazines, and we had anticipated going for about a month prior.By the time we got there, since we were held up due to soccer games and school band semi-commitments, we were all starving.  I had read about these food trucks that would be there, and was interested in one I had see mention of around town: Bernie’s Burger

Bus.  I am a burger aficionado, and Bernie’s did not disappoint, although it was terribly expensive compared to fast food ($39 something to feed the four of us, without drinks).

After that, we mosied along, checking out the nature exhibits by Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition (, local grown honey and plant suppliers before stopping to talk to an ambassador for the Houston Canine Frisbee Disc Club  We got there a little late to see the demo but did watch them goof around with their dogs and talk to that one fella who gave us some good information.  Mostly we were interested in where he got his dog mini-pool.

Afterwards, we watched the duck races, which was interesting, although the kids got bored about halfway through.  The kids got to ride a mini-train, race through inflatables, and play a game of laser tag, all which was free.  There were also pony rides, a camel ride, and a Living History Treasure Tour, which we did not do.  There was something called Armadillo races, although when we stopped by, the armadillos were not racing and were a little stressed.  Kaleb got to hold one and get a picture, though.

We had brought our kites because the map showed a kite flying area and we have been enjoying these kites this past week.  When the Birds of Prey demo came on in the afternoon, the boys were too excited and not interested to sit through it, so I set them up with their kites meanwhile in this area, which was right behind and to the side of the stage.  I didn’t catch who put on this demonstration, and I was a little disappointed that between the kids and my being thirsty, and the lines being somewhat cumbersome to get a drink, I probably missed at least a quarter to a half of the show.  The birds this man had brought included a red tailed hawk, an eagle owl like the one we saw from Earthquest, and three different kids of vultures, including the (rarely seen in these types of demos) king vulture.

After this, we were all ready to go.  On the way out, we saw this “ent”, or a man wearing a tree costume, which delighted everyone.  We also found a geocache in the area before walking back to our cars.  As we were leaving, J and I both remembered we really wanted to buy one of the t shirts to support KPC, so he dropped me by the corner to run back to the booth, buy the shirts, and come back, and then we found a few more geocaches on our way  home.

If you love the outdoors, or mostly if you love family festivals, I highly recommend watching for this festival next year and checking it out.  You cant beat the value – some of the activities were just as fun and educational as what you would see at the livestock show portion of HLSR, only at no cost.  I think it is awesome they had such good support base that they were able to charge nothing for all that we participated in.  We would definitely attend this again.