Hundred Acre Woods

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

20160220_150149This past weekend, we did go to others, specifically our friend Misti and her son Forest to explore, like Winnie The Pooh and his friends, the Hundred Acre Woods.

Ours, however, is a real place, made up of grass and trees and little dirt trails that beckon one to come explore them.  All the side trails eventually lead back to the blacktop of the Cypresswood Hike and Bike Trail system, which runs a possible additional nine miles.

The trails were developed with bikers in mind, rather than hikers (especially those with babes on their back), and there were i20160220_145553nteresting obstacles and challenges.

Up, down, around and back again…this is how our hike felt to the legs and  to my spirit.  Despite the new development of this little section of property that lies just west of the Cypress Creek YMCA since the donation of the land from the Houston Endowment to the Precinct 4 Parks Department in 2013, some of it was ground I traveled in my former life.

Before Jason and I were together, I didn’t live that far from here.  Sometimes I would come explore out here with my dogs, trail “running” or just exploring.  I recognized the section of creek crossing where large blocks of concrete, like graffiti covered tombstones, jut out of the culvert.  There was a familiar pipeline crossing Cypress 20160220_143018Creek at another point, a point on a landscape I remember, but the trail seemed like an unfamiliar new friend.  It was bittersweet in a way to remember that other time in my life, reflect on the way life had changed since then, and yet marvel at the improvements.

Although the Precinct 4 website states that this preserve contains two miles of trails, we ended up walking almost three and a half miles.  The extra steps might have been from the walk from the backside of the YMCA, though I could see later that there was closer parking.  The YMCA soccer field was a nice spot to let the boys explore their walking legs, though – despite the fact that they seemed20160220_155549 more interested in the parking lot and the wire rope fence.  These two boys (about seven months apart in age) hopefully have more nature exploring to do together in the future, as they both have parents who enjoy the outdoors.  This park is a great place to come back to sometime to do just that.

Weekend At Foxfire Cabins: Garner and Lost Maples State Parks

It’s early morning, and already baby is experimenting with natural elements.  He is checking out the properties of rock, wood and leaves.  Each new treasure he finds is tested for weight and depth, and sometimes, if he can manage it before mama catches him, taste and edibility.  The morning light is fine and crisp, and the sound of birds fills the air around us, including the cooing of the doves enclosed in the aviary.

foxfire pic 2_nThere are other sounds, too. Above us, the older kids are playing on the new playscape.  They have some complicated game going on involving light sabers and nerf guns.  A kitty or two stops to sit on the picnic bench nearby and watch the children play.  This is how morning begins on a relaxing weekend at Foxfire Cabins.

Inside the cabins at Foxfire
Inside the cabins at Foxfire

Jason and I had stumbled upon this collection of cabins right near the entrance of Lost Maples State Park a few years back, and had spent a night or two there when we didn’t feel like dealing with tent camping but wanted to enjoy the hill country.  Since then, we have tried to go back a couple of times (most recently to celebrate my 40th birthday), but had to cancel our reservations.  This time, we finally managed to get there, with a best friend’s family in tandem.

Swimming Hole at Foxfire Cabins
Swimming Hole at Foxfire Cabins

This first morning’s adventures took us to Leakey first, a town about thirty minutes to the west via Hwy 337, referred to by motorcyclists as part of the “Twisted Sisters” or “Three Sisters” route.  “Oh great,” my friend’s husband said (sarcasm unclear), “Keely’s bringing us out to dig in the dirt for an hour”.  And, we paid to do that, ha!  I had given in to my middle son’s latest obsession and looked online for a place for us to go arrowhead hunting, finding an affordable option at Sam’s Digs at the Frio River Landing.  For $5 a hour, we had all the dirt we could dig through, and could keep whatever we could find.  One of my friend’s son found an arrowhead, and I found a huge “Frio” that Sam and his cronies there at the park made a big fuss over.  Despite my son’s interest in this, in typical fashion he didn’t stick with the hard labor needed to find anything (like our trip to Crater of the Diamonds) and wandered about instead trying for a lucky surface find.  For the money, though, it was a good deal and something we would try our hand at again.

20160206_153945After this, we caravaned south to Garner State Park, a popular park in the summer because of the historic dance, but a lovely place to visit no matter what time of year.  We had a picnic lunch at the edge of the Frio River, then made a decision about a hiking trail to pursue.  Jason had his heart set on the challenging Mt Baldy Trail, so we agreed to try it.  I had tried this one back when Kaleb was a baby and AJ was about six, but had to turn back around because it got too tough with the baby in hand.  This time, even with the Osprey baby carrier, there was a time coming 20160206_145917down that the only safe way to approach the trail with a baby was to do a hand off, person to person, down the slippery and steep incline.  It wasn’t a long trail, but it was steep, and all had a sense of victory after reaching the summit and then making it back to the parking lot safely.

After this, we completed the Hill Country Square that we had started this morning:  Vanderpool west to Leakey, Leakey south to Concan, Concan east to Utopia, Utopia north to Vanderpool.  We ended the night with a fajita feast courtesy of our friends, and like the night before during our burger fest, we wandered freely between the two cabins.

At some point, my best friend and I were sitting between the cabins with my oldest son, looking at awe at the multitude of stars we could see from this location.  It felt like we could see the whole Milky Way, and we identified which constellations we could and watched for shooting stars as we talked.

PANO_20160207_105818In the morning, we got up and baby resumed his experiments, trying to touch and throw all the leaves, rocks and sticks he could find.  My friend’s family played a little round of basketball and the kids continued their complicated Star Wars themed game.  After we were all packed up and fed, we went next door to Lost Maples and hiked a few miles round trip to “Monkey Rock” and back.  On the way home, we all met up one last time at the Old Spanish Trail Cafe in Bandera, a place where one could eat a down home country lunch buffet, where pancakes were served all day, and where, if you were interested, you could sit in a bar stool saddle.

It was a perfect weekend with friends, and I am already dreaming of the next time we can do this.  I don’t know if it will happen again this year, but perhaps next year we can come out in the fall when the leaves turn, or in the summer when Sebastian is old enough to come with us tubing on the Frio and Medina Rivers.  When we come, we will most likely return to Foxfire, a place that will always be dear to us, a place where I hope we come back to time and time again.

January: Winter Snippets

Winter, baby!

Well, winter is slowly heading into spring, and it feels like we haven’t done much of anything around here. No camping weekends, no fun little trips, playing it close to home for the most part, and my itch to get out there and see the world is still needing to be scratched. However, looking at my birding journal, I see that the month of January was busier than it felt.

I don’t have any huge stories for you, my friend, but I have little snippets of what it was like over in our world over the past four weeks since the last big trip into the “wilderness” (aka camping trip).

Caching in Cullinan Park

Late afternoon on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago, my middle son and I were briefly exploring Cullinan Park as we bid our time before a party started. Because I am nosy, I sidled up to a couple that appeared to have something interesting in their sights on the pier. “Do you see the Ahinga?” the man asked me. Not yet, but he had me intrigued, because I hadn’t seen one since I started counting my bird sightings in earnest. “Over there by the Least Grebe”. Sure enough, it poked its head up out of the water. “They sometimes call them water turkeys,” he said as it swam underwater, a brown bulb with a thin graceful neck speeding through the water. I asked him about the Grebe, since I had assumed that this one before us was also a Pied-Billed like the one I had spotted near the observation deck, and he explained the differences to me. I walked away happy about learning something new in the short time we had been at the park. Plus, we had added another “smiley” to our list by finding a geocache in the park before entering the pier area.

Big brother helps a baby learn to walk at Paul Rushing Park

A small flock of Eastern Meadowlarks light down on a field of lavender flowers somewhere out on the Katy Prairie. Hawks check over their range from power pole vantage spots. We stop to watch about a dozen Sandhill Cranes lower their huge bodies like parachutists, slowing landing with long legs into a field where they join about a hundred others of their kind. Their rattling calls rumble across the field, clearly audible to us standing on the dirt gravel road outside the field. A pond in the middle of a cow field has me scrambling through the bird guide to ID the big variety of ducks I see out there, some possibly still a mystery to me. I think about asking the birders we pass looking out at the same pond as we drive past them on the way back, but we are not wanting to wake the baby up.
The next weekend, I come back out this way to spend some time at Paul Rushing Park with the kids. I point out a Lesser Yellow Legs doing a funny little walk through the marsh grass on the side of the trail, and of course the nine year old has to stalk and then give chase, a bit like our kitty cat. We are shocked at the size of the Nutria on the islands out in the middle of the park. The baby falls asleep in the stroller as we walk around the ponds, I marveling at the variety of birds out here as the nine year old alternates between whining about how long we have been gone, helping me find geocaches, and telling me about Minecraft.

Cold smiles at Fiorenza Park

The baby and I have an afternoon at Fiorenza Park on a day he was still recovering from a two week GI illness. He smiles a timid smile at me and tries to wrestle the binoculars out of my hand. No birds, mama, just me, he is saying, so I stop and settle instead to write down what I managed to see in fifteen minutes of so of walking by the back pond, and marvel at the list for the Ebird report filed by the local Audubon member sent out (and her picture that she attached of a Bald Eagle photobombing the typical pod of White Pelicans and swim of Cormorants that usually can be seen at this park in the winter. On her report, she lists 767 Cormorants seen on one day!)

The “little duck pond”

The dogs walk, sometimes with the kids and often next to the stroller, with me as I make the circuit around our duck ponds in the neighborhood, sometimes venturing a couple of neighborhoods over to Cross Creek Ranch to visit Polishing Pond and count what is living there lately. Winter ducks usually include coots, shovelers, and occasionally Gadwall.  We’ve put in many miles of walking this month around the neighborhood, local bayous, and ponds (and local school tracks, but don’t tell the dogs, because they aren’t allowed).

Our whole family walking along the seawall in Galveston a couple of weeks back with Hike It Baby, and my eye catches the flash of Ruddy Turnstones flying above the rocks along the shore and Sanderlings at the waters edge.  With all the birds recorded along our ventures to all the above places, the monthly total is at 55 species, six more than at this time last year, and some new to the list.   Other than Galveston, all the places above are less than a half hours drive from the house.  I am hoping the next few months are a lot more exciting, as we might be able to venture out further.