SMTX: Ringtail Ridge Natural Area

There is something exciting about following a path, not knowing where it leads you to.  Sometimes, you find something interesting along the way, something that sparks your curiosity and imagination, something that connects you to the past but then also makes you wonder about the future.  This is how we felt about the unexpected encounter with this tipi.

However, if you had been Todd (my best friend’s husband), you might have been prepared for this sight, because you would have looked at the trail map ahead of time and seen the tipi marked on there.  I wasn’t doing such things, but instead had, of course, loaded up a geocache on my phone for us to find.  And no one was surprised about that part.  There is something comforting about hanging out with people who really know you, know all the things that motivate you.

It was Todd’s idea that we check this place out after dinner, because he knew that exploring a natural area is something that our family (or at least the two parents) would be completely interested in.  Our littlest one had some fun finding sticks, of course – this is what he is completely interested in.

It was a neat place to check out, although I was starting to suspect by the end that it might have been a better idea not to go right after dinner, or on a day when we had two meals so close together.  We had a late lunch in Luling at the best BBQ in town (City Market), then had chased that with a pizza dinner at a place in San Marcos with really neat pizza (Pie Society).  We kind of lost some impetus at the end because I wasn’t feeling great, and we had allowed the toddler to be loose and explore, and he kept stopping to look at every rock and crevice.  We were much faster when Jason carried him on his shoulders (we had not packed our Osprey for this journey).

It is nice, though, that San Marcos has these kinds of natural places to go explore.  The city does a good job, from what we have seen, of allowing pockets of wilderness to exist within the city.  We were surrounded by apartments, but on the trail, you could easily pretend they didn’t exist and just focus on the shrubs, cedar, and stones around you.  This kind of focus allows your mind to wander into a more primitive place, a place I like to go because there, I can leave all the other things behind.  In this place, there is nothing but being aware and present, and taking the trail one step at a time.

 

 

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.

 

2015: To Sum, and What’s to Come

20160103_120914Last Christmas, my mom gave me this journal in the above photo, and it turned out to be my favorite item of the entire year.  I carried that with me during all my outdoor adventures and checked off all the birds I saw during the year on the master list in the back, as well as taking notes month to month.  Comparing that list to last year’s, I see that I observed roughly the same amount of species this year as I did the year before: 132 in 2015, 134 in 2014.  This is intriguing to me because we did a lot less traveling this year than the previous year, but I also had gotten a lot better at identifying birds in my own area.   My mind is just still preoccupied with this subject.

There are a lot of blank pages still left in this journal, and hopefully I will be filling some more up this year.  My goal for 2016 is to find over two hundred, and plan some trips specifically for the purpose of birding. However, even if we don’t travel much beyond Houston, there is so much to see within just a two hour radius of our town that I think I could still find that many.  I feel like I am already off to a good start on this goal, having identified 22 species over the past couple of days that I spent camping at Buescher State Park.

In this past year, the National Park’s “Every Kid in a Park” campaign resulted in all fourth graders in America being granted an annual parks pass that is good until August 2016.  We printed ours out (since we have a fourth grader this year) and would love to be able to utilize it this year to experience some more parks.  However, the cost of raising a baby has been eating into our travel funds, so it remains to be seen whether a big road trip will be in our budget this year.  I am hoping we can at least get to Big Bend or Fort Davis this year, or perhaps to Oklahoma or North Carolina to visit family, but we’ll have to see how things unfold.

My best friend Jen, who I just went camping with over the past two days, has an idea that she wants to go camping or at least hiking together like once a month over the next year, so that will provide some impetus for outdoor exploring, as well as my continued interest in being involved with Hike It Baby.  Jen and I both have this dream that we will be backpackers and complete a thru hike one day, so we want to increase our hiking stamina and try an overnight hike this year to see how we like it.  I also basically want to increase my physical fitness and overall health this year.

Another goal I have for 2016 is finally getting to 4000 geocache finds.  I’ve been saying this for a couple of years now, but I am very close (162 finds away) now.  However, we have really slowed down on geocaching.  I used to average about 500 finds a year, and last year I only found 171.  We did find three this weekend, and they were the kind I like (ammo cans in the woods) and so that did make me feel excited about finding more.  I have gotten burned out on urban hides, especially some in my area, and that kind of killed the urge for me.  If we are camping, hiking, and exploring parks, though, then I hope to combine geocaching with all that.

20151222_161326This year, Sebastian is going to learn how to swim (as much as a baby can learn), and Kaleb thinks he wants to try new sports, so there are some new frontiers there worth exploring as well.  Now that Sebastian is a little more mobile, I am looking forward to discovering new parks with him, the way I used to with my older boys.  We already discovered that a new one by our house is much more interesting than I anticipated, and I am excited by the idea of hosting his birthday party there.  If there are Hike It Baby hikes scheduled on the weekends in new parks, that will be even more reason to explore a new park.  Besides parks, there are other indoor areas around town that I haven’t shown my kids, or perhaps just not in such a long time that they might have forgotten them, so some exploring of Houston landmarks in general is still on our radar.

Basically, we’re not going to stop discovering the world in 2016, so stay tuned for more adventures!

 

 

Sahalie and Koosah Falls: The One-Hour Five-Minute Hike

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These pictures are from a hike we took more than a month ago, while we were making our way through Oregon to get to my work conference.  I haven’t had time to tell the stories, though, because that baby pretty much demands most of my time at home.  As a matter of example, I have been thinking about posting this for about two weeks, and then had the page up for about four hours before I was able to sit down to actually type these words.

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The trail running parallel to the stream

I still want to chronicle our outdoor adventures, though, and I am not giving up on that idea.  We’ll just have to get used to the idea that every post will be a past-tense situation, and not a regular update.

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Sahalie Falls

On the day I took these pictures, we were making our way from Portland to Eugene, and then from Eugene to Bend.  These waterfalls are a short distance from parking – so the information I read said – off Highway 126 (McKenzie River Highway).  The problem was, I didn’t identify which parking coordinates/spot that was from.  We saw a sign indicating a parking spot for these falls, as well as other points of interest, so we stopped, anticipating a five minute hike.

We ended up spending an hour out here instead.  We could have make the walk shorter, I suppose, by giving up on the idea of finding a second geocache in the vicinity that was beyond the falls (which it turns out we could not find, anyways).  We thought about turning back briefly after the first find (GC3Y0R7) but then made the choice to keep going.  I don’t think any of us regretted it.
_DSC1394 There was a time on the trail that everyone wanted to stop and get their pictures taken at various places along the path.  This is one example here.  We indulged the kids at first, but then it just got to be time consuming, so we told them we were just going to get to the end, then take more pictures on the way back.  However, as per the kids typical MO, they got it into their head to whiz back along the trail at hyper speed and not wait to see if we were keeping up on the way back, without thinking about the pictures they wanted to take.  I was torn between sticking with Jason, who had his camera out and wanted to take pictures, and keeping up with the kids, and then I lost visual sight of the older boys and had to hurry up to catch up with them, being annoyed at every turn that they didn’t stop to wait for us when they noticed we weren’t right behind them (or maybe not even noticing).  I finally caught up to them, but then we were over it and just wanted to get to the car.  It’s a good thing, then, that we at least stopped to take the few we did along the way._DSC1393We took some of the other pictures that we took along this trip and printed them out for a big multi-photo frame that I had recently gotten for a Mother’s Day present from Jason’s sister.  It’s going to be a memory that will be with us for a while as a result.

As we got closer to the top of the second falls, I noticed that we were passing another parking spot, and realized that this was the one we should have parked at for a five minute walk.  My oldest son and I remarked that Jason might be annoyed that I had picked the wrong parking spot, but when AJ went to talk to Jason about it, Jason was like, “why would I be mad?  This was an awesome walk!”  I agree that this walk was one of the best times of our year so far, one we would have missed out on if it wasn’t for that location mistake.
_DSC1380 The only reasons we should have parked closer was that we had other time commitments, and we hadn’t packed any water for the walk.  We were supposed to be meeting up with the kids dad and were now going to be about an hour late, and I was going to be late for the opening ceremonies for my work conference.  We all ended up being a little parched from the walk, as well.

In the end, though, I made it to the work obligations without having missed much, and we still found their dad and made it work, and I am not going to feel regret about making him wait, considering everything I have been put through due to him past and present.

_DSC1377I think that Jason’s response to AJ’s question about the parking is perhaps a response we could apply to life: sometimes we take the long way, but if it wasn’t for the long way, we would have missed all these other beautiful experiences.  I certainly feel like that could apply to my own life.  Sometimes it is the detours that make life worth it, or at the least, things still work out in the end, anyways.