Monday, November 16, 2009

Too many (expensive) hobbies

It seems I have an outdoor hobby for every season. September 1st always brings hunting season, the spring is fishing and gardening, canoeing and trail running can be done any time. My latest obsession is rock climbing. I started getting an interest in climbing at A&M because they have a huge 50 foot indoor wall. I never climbed there because you had to pay to climb and rent equipment and go through a safety course. It was just too much hassle. At Baylor though, they built a 53 foot rock wall, to outdoor A&M of course, and it is free to climb there, so naturally, with the hassle removed I started climbing there. I bought the basic climbing gear, a harness, shoes, belay device, and chalk bag (about $150) and fell in love. As the title implies, all of my hobbies seem to be expensive. I just bought a rope with birthday gift cards ($100) and now I want all the outdoor climbing gear available but that will take several years to buy up that stuff ($1,000 easily). A new indoor gym just opened here in Amarillo and Matthew and I went climbing this weekend. It was a blast and it just added to fuel to my climbing fire. I can't wait to get into outdoor climbing more but until I can I will settle for some indoor training. I am excited because climbing is something the whole family can enjoy and we can do it all together.

This weekend I also got to go goose and duck hunting for the first time. We didnt' get to shoot any geese, but my friend and his cousin (they run a hunting guide service here in the panhandle) and I shot 11 ducks in about 10 minutes and had a blast. They let me take home all the birds so no Marie and I get to try some duck meat for the first time ever. Yet another expensive hobby, but luckily I already had almost everything I needed. I already had a shotgun and hunting license, but to hunt duck and geese you have to have a federal duck stamp ($17) and special shotgun shells ($13) that shoot steel shot instead of lead.

Outdoor adventure can be expensive, but to me it is well worth the time and investment. I just hope I don't take up too many more expensive hobbies as they interfere with each other. If only I could pick one and stick with it, I could focus my extra time and money into one thing. There are just too many things to do outside that I love.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Relationship Advice

This past Sunday, I went for a run in the canyon and discovered I didn’t really feel like running at all. I have hated running most of my life, but in the last few years have found it to be an enjoyable way to stay active and healthy. By combing that joy with running on the trails first at Cameron Park in Waco, and now in Palo Duro Canyon, I found trail-running to be doubly enjoyable. It was always so nice to be outside enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. Lately, with training for the PDTR 50k, running has started to lose some of its original appeal. I have begun to lose that initial excitement I felt from getting out to the canyon in the coolness of the early morning and running over the trails while looking at animal tracks and rock formations. So on Sunday, I stopped running and just went exploring. I climbed up the side of the canyon to a mesa that provided a wonderful view of the canyon floor below. I felt that sense of excitement and wonderment return with slight fear of losing my footing and slipping down the steep gravel of a gully that let to the canyon rim. When I made it to the top, I heard the silence, if that is possible, took in the view, and enjoyed being in the canyon again. At one spot on the top of the mesa, the canyon dropped away very steeply on either side with the flat area on top being only 3 or 4 feet wide. It was exhilarating knowing that a small stumble or strong breeze could leave me sliding down a 60 degree slope. I doubt it would have been deadly, but it definitely would have hurt. After taking in the view and the silence from the top of the canyon, I made my way down another gully and reluctantly headed back to the car. What I discovered and contemplated on my short jog back to the car was that I had forgotten why I loved the canyon so much. I realized that with most things that we love in life, we can sometimes let the monotony of the day to day events that occur around our love can get in the way of what we fell in love with to begin with. I think this is true not only of places we visit or hobbies we enjoy, but also our family, spouses, and children. Sometimes life gets in the way of the enjoyment we get from the things we love and every once in a while it helps to do something to remind ourselves of the things that made us fall in love in the first place. Take a moment and remember the things you love…go for a hike at your favorite outdoor place, go on a date with your spouse or significant other, give your kids a hug and a kiss, and remember what it is about those things that made you fall in love. My Sunday run in the canyon helped me to remember to enjoy life and to not let the mundane details get in the way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hello Again

I haven't written anything on here for several months now...I have been pretty busy. In July I finally defended my dissertation and am now officially Dr. Parker!! It was all very anticlimactic though. When you work towards a goal for 11 years, the final step isn't really all that exciting. I have heard a quote, probably more than a few, that say something about the fact that it isn't the destination that matters, it is the getting there. One great thing about finishing this whole thing though is the gigantic salary increase I will get, but most of it will be going directly to student loans, so even that isn't that great. I am still very happy to be finished and look forward to my future as a college professor.

We just started classes on Monday and I had to prep three lectures this evening. I didn't end up taking too long on them and had some extra time...that is why I am writing this blog. I have one supplement study currently going. It is a supplement called phosphatidylserine (say that three time fast, if you can even say it once). It is supposed to improve mood, cognitive function, and reduce the cortisol response to stress. I will be testing 15 males for this study. They have to take the supplement and a placebo, each for two weeks, then do a really difficult leg workout and have their blood drawn a total of 13 times. They are also doing a mood state questionnaire and a cognitive function test called a serial subtraction test, where they have to subtract the number 7 from a random 4 digit number over and over again for two minutes. I hope the results show something remotely interesting. I am also planning on handing out a running injury survey to the participants in the Palo Duro Trail Run to see how training on trails vs. roads vs. treadmills might affect the frequency of running injuries.

Speaking of the PDTR, I have been ramping up the training some in the last couple of weeks. I hope to get up to running at least 20 miles prior to the big race on October 17th. I am really looking forward to that race because Marie, my brother, my sister, and my sister-in-law will all be running it with me and my mom and step-dad will come up as well. It will be really nice to have the whole family up hear in the panhandle for a visit.

I have been reading quite a bit this summer. I just finished a couple of books (A Walk Across America and The Abstract Wild) and I am almost finished with a third (Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy). One of McCarthy's best books in my opinion, The Road, has been made into a movie and will be released some time in October. I am really looking forward to that movie. He has already had two other books made into movies, All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. I read a couple other books earlier in the summer, but I have forgotten which ones now. I am also reading a book about that movie Alive that is a true story about a Uruguayan rugby team that has a plane crash in the Andes. I am actually going to be a "expert" on cold weather and altitude physiology for a question and answer deal that Amarillo College is having with the author. AC is encouraging all of their freshmen to read the book and then listen to the author speak about his experience. That should be a fun experience.

I haven't really gotten too many opportunities to do outside stuff this summer. I have been really itching to go up to the mountains in new mexico for a camping trip, but we just haven't committed to making the trip yet. While we were visiting SA my brother, Matthew, and nephew Tyler did a nice little 5 mile canoe/kayak trip down a portion of the San Marcos. The water was beautiful, but we only caught one fish. It was a whopper of a sunfish weighing in at about 3 ounces. We kept it anyway and Matt and I fried it up in some butter and ate it. I also got to go hunting on my good friend Josh's Dad's ranch in Pleasonton with Matt and my step-dad Marcus. They both missed some long shots at feral hogs, but I was able to get a fallow doe. Josh's dad has high fenced his entire 1600 acre ranch and stocked the place with fallow, axis, white tail, and blackbuck antelope. The ranch is absolutely gorgeous. All three of us split up the meat and we have enjoyed quite a few venison dinners. I am also in the process of tanning the deer's hide. Fallow deer have reddish fur with white spots and look quite amazing. The hide is pretty much done, I just have to rub it down with some oil and work the leather to soften it up, then I will have a nice deer fur rug or wall hanging...Matthew has already laid claim to it. This is my first ever hide to tan, but I dried several snake skins as a kid and have also dried a squirrel skin once. I really enjoy practicing some of the dying arts that our ancestors relied on just 100-150 years ago.

I had a nice summer garden this year. We have had an abundance of cucumbers and I have made 6 quarts of pickles. We are all sick of eating sauteed zucchini and yellow squash and zucchini bread. I also got a decent tomato crop, most of which I ate right of the plant. I had a bumper crop of jalapeno peppers, most of which I have given away or had to throw away because I just can't eat too many of them. This fall I plan on planting some lettuce, beets, carrots, and radishes. Hopefully we will have some nice salads before this fall's first frost.

I am sure that is all much more info that anyone has ever wanted to read about another person's summer, but I had a lot to catch up on. I hope to have some more outdoor essays written in the near future.

Enjoy your fall!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Backroads and Weddings Part II

This past weekend it took me 17 hours to drive from Amarillo to Rockport. I had to stop along the way to pick up my canoe and some flies from my friend Jason. He is a great friend. I mentioned to him that I would be doing some fishing on the coast and he tied me up about 15-20 flies for saltwater fishing. I then traveled on down to Austin to pick up Kevin, stopped in New Braunfels to pick up a few things from my brother's house, dropped off Marie's Grandma in SA, picked up Kevin's brother Brandon on the other side of SA, drove to Pleasonton to pick up Josh, then finally drove down to Rockport. The whole trip was for a suprise bachelor party for Josh who will be getting married to his long-time girlfriend, Valerie this coming Saturday. Marie and I will be making another long road trip to SA on Thursday.

We kind of ruined the surprise when Brandon and Kevin where with me. It was just supposed to be me and one other friend of Josh's going to the coast, but about 15 of his close friends and relatives were able to make it down there. We had a great time fishing...even though we didn't catch a damn thing worth mentioning. I will mention the fish I caught anyway. On Friday night we were catching little croaker off of the Vestal's private 600 foot pier that juts out from their 6000 square foot beach house...lucky, rich punks.

After my 17 hour drive, I stayed up until 4:30 drinking and catching up with friends. We woke up at 6:30 Saturday and fished for 7-8 hours. While fishing on Saturday I caught one hard head catfish and one ladyfish, both of which aren't worth eating and went right back in the water. One thing that happens when you hang out with Josh and his dad is that drinking beer begins with breakfast. Running on two hours sleep and a days worth of beer, I was out by 10 pm on Saturday trying to sleep through 5 or 6 more hours of bachelor party shenanigans. There was only one toe injury so the party didn't get too crazy. Apparently Josh was dared to jump into the water and he cut his big toe on a barnacle or oyster shell. During the following drunken first aid attempts, Brandon kept pouring vodka on his toe, which apparently Josh did not appreciate. While trying to sleep I also overheard an unsuccessful attempt to get strippers to come over...apparently there were none to be had. I was sad to have slept through the party, but glad the next day when I woke up refreshed and everyone else was hungover.

On Sunday we slept in until 8:30, a very late morning for a fishing trip, and didn't make it out on the water until noon. We fished all over the place and again only caught little dinks. I caught two more ladyfish, but not a single game fish. I also was unable to catch a thing on my flies that Jason tied for me. I was really looking forward to catching some new species on my fly rod, but that will have to wait until another time.

Kevin, Brandon, and I left Rockport Sunday night around 9:30. We dropped Brandon off in SA by 1 and got to Kevin's house in Austin at 3. I woke up at 8:30 and was back on the road again by 9. It took me 8 1/2 more hours to get home from Austin, but arrived safely yesterday at 5:30. There weren't as many backroads on this bachelor party trip, but I certainly had a lot of fun. I am completely exhausted and have spent the afternoon napping. I feel sorry for my friends who are working today after that long weekend and I am looking forward to seeing them all again in a few days. We will also get to spend some time with my Mom and her husband Marcus, my sister, and My brother and his family. I love road trips!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

An Update

I have a few outdoor topics to talk about and another as well. First of all, the other kids are beautiful! They are currently running around the house...all playing together (which is very rare) and showing the largest, most perfect smiles I have ever seen! I went to The Canyon yesterday for a short run. I didn't run a whole lot, but just enjoyed being alone in the wilderness. I love hearing the breeze flow through the trees and cacti. I love seeing the clouds pass overhead. I love not hearing another human being. I love being outside. I picked up a small lizard that thought its camaflouge was enough to keep it safe, saw at least 8 different species of wildflower that I had never seen before (spring time has come to the Canyon), picked up a four inch grasshopper that pierced my fingers with it's leg spikes while spewing forth vile, brown liquid from it's mouth, and found two very interesting rocks that I brought home to add to my windowsill collection. The cottonwoods have all leafed out along the Prarie Dog Town Fork of the Red River and the mesquites are now beginning to leaf out while the prickly pear are beginning to develop thier flowers. I can't wait to both see and smell their beautiful flowers. If you have never smelled a cactus flower, you are truly missing the meaning of life. My latest outdoor focus has been on gardening. Over the last two weeks I have gotten a small garden growing. I have planted two tomato plants in pots, a jalepeno plant, a serrano pepper plant, cucumbers (pickling and slicing), radishes, carrots,and lettuce. I am eagerly awaiting my first crop of radishes (two more weeks) and eating home grown salad with lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. I am not sure if they will all be ready at the same time, but I am excited either way. I will officially be teaching Outdoor Living this first summer session. I had to have 10 students sign up for the class and I have 13 currently enrolled. I cannot wait to teach this class! I cannot believe I am going to get paid to make people read Ed Abbey and talk abuot hiking, backpacking, and fishing. I love my job! I will soon be making a trip to Rockport for my best friend's bachelor party. We will be fishing and hopefully camping on a barrier island. I am eagerly awaiting my trip to the coast! I will provide a full update of the multiple species of fish I hope to catch and eat (if all goes according to plan). I wish you all a happy spring and a fruitful summer!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood

I know I am getting lazy and just posting other people's writing, but my friend Jason told me about this poem and I understand why he likes it so much. Enjoy...

Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs
No school of long experience, that the world
Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen
Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares,
To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood
And view the haunts of nature. The calm shade
Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm
To thy sick heart. Thou wilt find nothing here
Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men,
And made thee loathe thy life. The primal curse
Fell, it is true, upon the unsinning earth,
But not in vengance. God hath yoked to guilt
Her pale tormentor, Misery. Hence these shades
Are still the abode of gladness; the thick roof
Of green and stirring branches is alive
And musical with birds, that sing and sport
In wantonness of spirit; while below
The squirrel, with raised paws and form erect,
Chirps merrily. Throngs of insects in the shade
Try their thin wings and dance in the warm beam.
That waked them into life. Even the green trees
Partake the deep contentment; as they bend
To the soft winds, the sun from the blue sky
Looks in and sheds a blessing on the scene.
Scarce less the cleft-born wildflower seems to enjoy
Existence, than the winged plunderer
That sucks its sweets. The mossy rocks themselves,
And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees
That lead from knoll to knoll a causeway rude,
Or bridge the sunken brook, and their dark roots,
With all their roots upon them, twisting high,
Breathe fixed tranquility. The rivulet
Sends forth glad sounds, and tripping o'er its bed
Of pebbly sands, or leaping down the rocks
Seems, with continuous laughter, to rejoice
In its own being. Softly tread the marge,
Lest from her midway perch thou scare the wren
That dips her bill in water. The cool wind,
That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee,
Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass
Ungreeted, and shall give its light embrace.

by William Cullen Bryant

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Some Wise Words From TR

The following is the foreword to a book I am currently reading by Teddy Roosevelt (one of 35 he authored) called, A Book Lovers Holidays in the Open. I felt he described my feeling about the outdoors quite well. TR was perhaps one of the greatest outdoorsman ever to walk the face of the earth, in my opinion. He travelled the world hunting, camping, fishing, and most importantly of all helped to establish five of our National Parks while serving as President, in part due to his friendship with John Muir and other conservationists and naturalists of their time.

"The man should have youth and strength who seeks adventure in the wide, waste spaces on the earth, in the marshes, and among the vast mountain masses, in the northern forests, amid the steaming jungles of the tropics, or on the deserts of sand or of snow. He must long greatly for the lonely winds that blow across the wilderness, and for sunrise and sunset over the rim of the empty world. His heart must thrill for the saddle and not for the hearthstone. he must be helmsman and chief, the cragsman, the rifleman, the boat steerer. He must be the wielder of axe and of paddle, the rider of fiery horses, the master of the craft that leaps through white water. His eye must be true and quick, his hand steady and strong. His heart must never fail nor his head grow bewildered, whether he face brute and human foes, or the frowning strength of hostile nature, or the awful fear that grips those who are lost in trackless lands. Wearing toil and hardship shall be his; thirst and famine he shall face, and burning fever. Death shall come to greet him with poison-fang or poison arrow, in shape of charging beast or of scaly things that lurk in lake and river; it shall lie in wait for him among untrodden forests, in the swirl of wild waters, and in the blast of snow blizzard or thunder-shattered hurricane.

Not many men can with wisdom make such a life their permanent and serious occupation. Those whose tasks lie along other lines can lead it but a few years. For them it must normally come in the hardy vigor of their youth, before the beat of the blood has grown sluggish in their veins.

Nevertheless, older men also can find joy in such a life, although in their case it must be led only on the outskirts of adventure, and although the part they play therein must be that of onlooker rather than that of the doer. The feats of prowess are for others. It is for other men to face the peril of unknown lands, to master unbroken horses, and to hold their own among their fellows with bodies of supple strength.

The grandest scenery of the world is his to look at if he chooses...the beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of present travel. He can see the red splendor of the desert sunsets, and the unearthly glory of the after-glow on the battlements of desolate mountains. In sapphire gulfs of ocean he can visit islets, above which the wings of myriads of sea-fowl make a kind of shifting cuneiform script in the air. He can ride along the brink of the stupendous cliff-walled canyon, where eagles soar below him, and cougars make their lairs on the ledges and harry the big-horned sheep. He can journey through the northern forests, the home of the giant moose, the forests of fragrant and murmuring life in summer, the iron-bound and melancholy forest of winter.

The joy of living is his who has the heart to demand it."

-Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, April 10, 2009

An Enchanted Place

Getting outdoors can be done just about anywhere. It can be as simple as playing catch in the backyard to as complex as a two week hunting and fishing expedition in the Canadian Rockies. Any time spent outside is time well spent, but sometimes it can be so much more. Everybody has a special place that they love above all others. A place that feels like home…that provides a sense of belonging and comfort. These special places make that time spent outdoors rewarding, invigorating, and relaxing. For me, that place has and always will be Enchanted Rock.

E-rock as it is lovingly called by its many fond visitors is truly a special place. It has been so for hundreds of years. E-rock is located just north of the small German town of Fredericksburg, known for its wineries, quaint shops, peaches, and great German food. This particular rock just so happens to be the second largest pluton in the US, after Stone Mountain in Georgia (another really neat place). Plutons are also known as monadnocks, depending on which geologist, or in my case, wanna-be, you talk to. Plutons are composed of what is called intrusive igneous rock that forms from cooled magma and is then exposed as the earth around it erodes and/or it is thrust up through the Earth’s crust. When multiple plutons from near each other, they are known as a batholith as is seen near E-rock. E-rock is a single pluton that rises about 400 feet from its base and covers an area of about 600 acres. It truly is massive! The Tonkawa Indians believed the rock to be inhabited by spirits due to groaning and cracking sounds that can be heard from it at night. These sounds are actually just caused by the expanding and contracting of the rock due to heating and cooling from day to night. Never mind the scientific explanation for the noises, this rock really is something sacred. The plant life around E-rock is similar to other places in the hill country. There are the ever present junipers (or cedars), blackjack oaks, cedar elms with there little leaves that always end up stuck in the tent, and plenty of mesquite and prickly pear cactus. During the summer you can even pick muscadine grapes and slip their gooey white insides out of their thick purplish-black skin. The white-tailed deer are plentiful and so tame that they will wander through the campgrounds looking for handouts or leftovers from careless campers too lazy to clean up after themselves. There are also neat little black squirrels and lizards that hop along the rocks and trails. On one visit, a small fox was exploring the outer edges of our campsite, also likely looking for something to eat. The wildlife at E-rock is just as nice to see as the rocks themselves.

My first trip to E-rock took place when I was 10 or 11. I went on a church camping trip with my good friend Mikol. Upon driving down the farm road that leads to the park from Fredericksburg, I immediately fell under the rock’s spell. Even at that young age, I had a fond appreciation for the uniqueness of this place. As I recall, we spent several hours exploring the boulders and climbing to the top of a smaller dome next to E-rock called Little Dome. As the day was ending, Mikol and I waded barefoot through a small creek that ran through the park and caught a frog and a strange, small fish with bumps on its head. That night, we sat up by the campfire with other boys on the camping trip and joked around and a great time. I was immediately hooked on the beauty of this distinctive part of Texas.
During high school I made several day-trips to E-rock with friends. The most memorable trip I took there during high school was with my brother. I don’t remember all of the details, but I think he was visiting or had just moved back from his two year stint in Canyon. We made the hour and a half drive from San Antonio in his little blue Ford Ranger with the Rebel flag sticker on the backglass listening to Jerry Jeff Walker, Everclear, and Sublime. We spent the entire day hiking, scrambling over some of the thousands of boulders, and exploring little caves formed by the exfoliating chunk of granite. Life’s little quirks are really funny sometimes. I made my first trip to Palo Duro Canyon with my brother when I was a freshman in high school and he was a freshmen at WT. I think he made his first trip to E-rock with me a couple years later. Now he lives close to E-rock and I live close to Palo Duro.

For several years in a row, our family made habit of camping at E-rock with our friends the Millers. It started with Marie’s first camping trip with me. That Thanksgiving weekend, we were probably the most under-prepared backpackers ever. We reserved a site that required a 1.5 mile hike and all we had was car camping gear. So…we made the 1.5 mile trek like pack mules as we carried a large tent, sleeping bags, an inflatable bed, ice chest, and other cumbersome and unnecessary gear. We were happy to set up camp among the oak and mesquite trees and relax with our beer and wine-coolers, which later in the night led us to make a trip to the composting toilet, read outhouse, in the camping area. The 40 degree morning found us shivering and damp as our hand-me-down cheap tent did not breathe too well. We reluctantly broke camp and made the pack mule trek back to the car with a new found hobby that I think I enjoy much more than she does, but she has definitely made a great effort to come along with me on my outings and has begun to love the outdoors as much as I have. Marie enjoys our camping trips much more when friends come along, so the next year and several thereafter we made our annual Thanksgiving Pilgrimage with our friends the Millers. Through those trips we made numerous memories of bouldering with babies, low-crawling through a tent to photograph deer walking just yards away from our tent-site, making the perfect s’mores, a must for Christine, picking cactus thorns from little hands, and otherwise having a great time in the woods.

It has been several years since my last trip to E-rock. In the mean-time we have camped in several other places across Texas and hiked several more across Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. Each place we go is equally as wonderful as E-rock, but none provide me with that feeling of belongingness, if that is a word. There is truly something enchanting about Enchanted Rock and it will always be my special outdoor place.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Life List

Float Green River, Rio Grande, Devil’s River, Pecos River, Possum Kingdom to Whitney on Brazos, Texas Water Safari
Rim to Rim to Rim hike of Grand Canyon
Havasupai falls
Climb Denali
Climb Whitney (maybe run the Badwater??? Really wishful thinking)
Pacific Crest Trail
Appalachian Trail
Continental Divide Trail
At least 10 of the Colorado 14’ers (Long’s Peak for sure)
Copper Canyon Mexico
Canyonlands National Park
Arches National Park
Zion National Park
Big Bend National Park
Yosemite National Park – climb half dome
Yellowstone National Park – fly fishing Wyoming
Glacier National Park – fly fishing Montana
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge – Search for Abbey’s grave
At least one summer as a fire lookout
Etc., etc. etc. – I need to get started soon, huh!?!

Friday, March 6, 2009

PDTR Here we come, maybe...

What is a PDTR? The Palo Duro Trail Run! You know how you always hear how guys have a commitment problem? Well, I certainly have no problem with committing to my wife, but lately I have had a hard time committing to my running. So last night I called up my brother Matt and said he has to do the PDTR 50K with me, thus officially committing to this thing. He already had a yearly goal to run a 50K, so everything seemed great. Today I went for my first official training run in the canyon. I did a 7 mile run that had a trail register at the halfway point. My entry to the register was, "PDTR 50K here I come". On my drive down into the canyon I saw three muleys, I spooked up three more on the trail, and saw one turkey on my drive out of the canyon. I also spooked up an LL Bean model during my run. I ran up behind a 60-something lady wearing hiking boots, nylon pants and longsleave shirt, wide-brimmed, foldable hat, and matching trekking poles. I thought I was gonna give her a heart attack, but I guess she was okay after I left. I felt bad for scaring her, but not too bad because I was too focused on the scenery. While running, I also saw the tracks of coyotes (maybe dogs, but there were no matching human tracks), bobcats, birds, squirrels, and a porcupine. Later, when I got home, Marie and I were talking about the race and we decided it would be a great idea to invite Amber (my brother's wife) to run the race (the 20K) with Marie, while Matt and I ran the 50K. While we were at it we thought it would be a great idea to have my Mom and her husband Marcus (also a runner) come too. Also, if Lisa (my sister) and her fiance came, we could have the whole family up here for a nice visit. As our discussion progressed we said, "Oh shit, when is Lisa's wedding?". Well, it just so happens that Lisa's wedding is the exact same day as the PDTR. So I did what any sane person would do and I called up my sister and asked if she could move the wedding date. Luckily she had nothing reserved and she may be able to move her wedding date so that we can all get together for a wedding and a race all in the same month. Anyway, I am excited about the race and I hope the scheduling of races and weddings can all get worked out. If not, obviously Lisa's wedding is much more important than a race. Now that I have committed to my brother and the handful of people that read this post, I will hopefully become an official ultra-marathoner by October 17th.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Backroads and Weddings

There is a song by the Bois D’arcs called “Backroads of Texas” that celebrates, as the name implies, the backroads of Texas. I highly encourage you all to listen to this song and travel the backroads, as they really are much better than the interstate highways. This weekend, Marie and I headed down south to the land of the pines (another song reference for those of you who are familiar with OCMS) for the wedding of my long-time friend, Larry Jordan. We had a wonderful time driving first to OKC to drop off the kids with the in-laws, then to Waco for a visit with our good friends there, and finally via various backroads to Tomball were we spent two nights with our friends, Kevin and Allison and their newly born son Bryce (Brice?). The wedding was typical…there were exchanges of vows and rings, the “I do’s” and the kiss. We spent very little time with Larry, but it was nice to see him and meet his wife. We also were able to visit with his parents, brothers, sister, and nieces. The wedding was an early wedding so we were back in the hotel by 3:00 pm. We, Marie and I, Kevin, Allison, and “Baby”, and Josh and Valerie, spent the rest of the day drinking too much, eating dinner, and having semi-intellectual (with a stress on the semi) arguments about politics and God, and planned for upcoming visits. Josh and Valerie will be promising themselves to each other in May, so some future backroad traveling will be done by me and Marie in just a couple of months. Valerie has a bachelorette shower in early May, a bachelor party is planned for Josh on Labor Day weekend, and the wedding is on the 30th.
On Sunday, we had the wonderful pleasure of traveling 600 miles from Tomball to Amarillo. It ended up taking us 11 hours, with a one hour stop in Ennis for a visit with another of our Waco friends and her daughter. A large portion of this trip was on main highways, but we decided to take a backroad through North Texas on highway 180. I love roads like this. After about 30 minutes of traveling through Weatherford (a nice town) and Mineral Wells (not so nice) we finally struck out on the flat, straight road west towards Snyder, 200 miles in all at a safe and sane 80-90 mph. On this stretch of road we passed mesas, wind mills (both old water ones and new air power ones), three road runners, and an armadillo. I was staring out the windows taking in the view and the time flew by like the dead skunks on the side of the road (about 20 in all). The final stretch up I 27 got to be a bit long, but we made home by 7 and we were in bed by 10.
We had a great time and I am looking forward to my travels down south for Josh and Valerie’s wedding and parties and I will surely pick as many backroads as possible.

p.s. look for pics from our trip on Marie’s blog, I am sure there will be many.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Post Post Script

Have you seen the latest Yahoo! headline? LA is rationing water due to a three year drought. "What does that mean?", you might ask. There are too damn many people in LA using too much water. There isn't enough fresh water on Earth to support continued population growth. Here in Amarillo, our primary supply of water, Lake Meredith, is about 50 feet below normal. I remember constantly seeing reports of Edwards Aquifer depths on the SA news stations growing up. I once even got a warning for washing my car during a period of water rationing when I was in high school. During the summer months, as much as 40% of water use goes towards watering lawns. Aren't there some better uses for all that fresh water? What can you do to use less water? Our family's favorite saying about water conservation is, "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down". Build a rainwater catchment system at your house. If you have gutters, buy a few 50 gallon plastic barrels and catch water under your gutter spouts for use in watering your lawn and garden. Plant drought resistant plants and grass, or better yet, use xeriscaping to completely do away with the need for watering your yard. If population growth continues, the day will soon come when all major cities will need to start rationing water. Remember Atlanta last summer? Imagine what would happen with a prolonged drought in central Texas. Last year was bad enough, a year or two more of the same weather patterns could cause some serious concerns for all you central Texans. Anyway, I was just sharing my thoughts on the latest headlines.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Adventure in Palo Duro Canyon

My brother took a trip to Big Bend National Park, the lucky bastard, for a weekend of hiking and backpacking around the Chisos Mountains with his 10 year old son, Tyler. I would have liked to have gone along, but I didn't want to leave Marie at home on Valentine's Day and I had to go to work on Monday, so I would have ended up driving 18 hours for only one night of camping. Anyway, it had been awhile since my last outdoor adventure and I was beginning to get a little grumpy. Just ask Marie. So Friday morning after dropping the kids off at school I headed out to visit Palo Duro to get a little outside time to try to relax a bit. When I arrived, I bought a state park pass which will allow me to enter all parks in Texas for free for a whole year, which I have been meaning to do since we got here, then headed out to the Lighthouse trail (nice run-on sentence, huh Rachel). On The Lighthouse Formation is a big stone pillar that rises a few hundred feet into the air and if you ever see a picture of the canyon, it is usually a picture of the Lighthouse. I have now been out to the Lighthouse several times, so I decided to try out a new trail that leads away from the Lighthouse trail after about a quarter of a mile. It proved to be a great decision. As I jogged along the trail I scared up a cottontail rabbit and crossed paths with a four-point mule deer and his female companion. I followed the trail for a couple of miles then came upon a great pile of limestone boulders, perfect for practicing some rock climbing on. Evidently others had been there before as one of the rocks had "Brian's Castle" and "Dan" carved into it. After hopping around the boulders for a few minutes, I continued up the trail to the top of the mesa and the canyon rim. Here the trail disappeared. I had absolutely no desire to backtrack the several miles I had already come, so I went off trail in the general direction of the parking lot and trail head. After tip-toeing as daintily as I could around the dozens of patches of prickly pear, not always successfully, and getting scratched up a little by mesquite trees, which only grow about 8 feet high in this dry climate, I made it back to the canyon rim overlooking my truck about a mile away. I had no other choice but to scramble down a steep wash filled with little boulders and loose gravel. It is at times like this, when you know one slip could leave you stranded, off the main trail, and in trouble, that you truly begin to feel alive. I may be over-reacting to my own, not fear, but excitement, but I certainly felt a sense of necessity to be extremely cautious. I safely descended to the canyon floor and made it back to my truck on shaky legs from the eccentric contractions of walking downhill. On the way out of the park I passed a flock of 29 wild turkeys. I couldn't resist the temptation to do my best impression of a tom turkey as I stuck my tongue out and shook my head as fast I could to try to imitate a gobble sound. It must have been good because ten hens came running up to my truck. I didn't have any food for them so I drove out of the park feeling fully satisfied and ready to go back into the real world. I love being outside and on Friday, as the Abbey quote goes, my trail was "crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view".

Friday, February 6, 2009

Connections with Quanah

John Parker, no blood relative of mine but related by name alone, moved his family and several of his dozen or so children’s families to East Texas in 1833. With the help of his sons, he built a fort near the Navasota River near present day Groesbeck. A re-creation of this fort stands today as part of Ft. Parker State Park. A visit to the park, one my family made with our friends the Millers, will give a small idea of what life was like for the Parker clan in the early part of the 1800’s. The supplies on their trip to Texas were limited due to the carrying capacity of the wagons used. Therefore, in the absence of nails, being too heavy to transport, all of the wood attachment was done using pegs inserted into holes dug out by a hand auger. The six small cabins where they lived were just large enough for a wood burning stove, a bed, a table and maybe a couple of chairs. The construction of the fort’s walls was rectangular in nature, with two tall gun battlements at diagonal corners to each other. These allowed for protection of all four walls. There was also a trap door of sorts that allowed the pioneers quick access to a nearby spring to resupply drinking water during times of siege. The work involved in creating a fort of this type and magnitude must have taken a great deal effort. It is hard to imagine the fortitude that our pioneer ancestors must have had in order to not only attempt to survive on the frontier, but in many cases thrive despite being far from home, in hostile territory, and having no means of resupplying the necessities of life besides those available in their surroundings.
The need for a fort of this scale, and likely one much grander, was demonstrated on May 19th, 1836. On this fateful day, a large party of Native Americans, including Comanche, Kiowa, Caddo, and Wichita, raided the fort and killed 5 of its inhabitants, including the Elder John Parker. His mortal wounds included castration and scalping. The majority of the Parker clan was able to escape the bloodshed due to the bravery of the men who stayed behind, knowing full well they would die, to delay the Natives. Two children of the clan were captured and taken to live with the Comanche. Cynthia Ann Parker and her brother John Richard were taken and raised as Comanche Indians. John was ransomed six years after the massacre, but later returned to the Comanche tribe he left because he could not adapt to the lifestyle of the white settlers…imagine that. Cynthia Ann lived among the Comanche for 25 years, married the Comanche chief, Pete Nocona, and mothered three of his children. One of the most well known of the three being Quanah. During a raid on her new family, led by Sul Ross and the Texas Rangers, at the Battle of Pease River, Cynthia Ann was taken captive by the whites and later identified by her uncle. She died soon after her unhappy return to white society by starving herself following the death of her daughter, Prairie Flower. The fact that two different children raised among the Native Americans would rather stay with their captors than their own people raises great questions in my mind. How fulfilling must the Native American way of life been compared to the “civilized” way of life of our ancestors? What has the “civilization” of our country by European settlers done to the people that originally inhabited our homeland? We will never know.
Quanah, Cynthia Ann’s Comanche son, a famous Comanche who I share a name with, and the last the chief of the Quahadi Comanche Tribe, was the leader one of the last free tribes roaming the panhandle of Texas in the 1870’s, at a time when other tribes were being forced into submission by the Texas Rangers and sent to live on reservations in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Quanah led his band of Quahadi Comanche into Palo Duro Canyon, my new favorite place to visit, in an attempt to hide out from a band of Texas Rangers led by Col. Ranald Mackenzie. Here, Quanah’s tribe, along with other Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians, attempted to hold out for a winter by stockpiling food and supplies. Palo Duro Canyon is a somewhat hidden location on the Llano Estacado. Due to the long, flat plains of the panhandle, one has a very limited sight distance, so while traveling along this part of the country, it can be quite hard to see the canyon until you are within just a mile or so of the canyon rim. On September 28th, 1874, Col. Mackenzie led his group of Rangers up the canyon from the south in an attempt to trap the few remaining free Indians in their canyon hide out. The Indians were quickly chased out of the canyon, with only a handful losing their lives. With the Indians gone, the Rangers burned all of their winter supplies and captured 1,400 of their horses, the majority of which were later slaughtered to prevent the Indians from getting them back. Without their supplies and horses, most of the Indians returned to the reservation at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. When I hike in the canyon, I often think about what it must have been like to make that canyon home. I wonder if I am walking a path that was walked by Quanah and his tribe and what they might have been doing in the place I know see.
Quanah eventually became the appointed leader of all of the Comanche in Oklahoma. He took on many white customs and habits, learning the English language, dressing in business attire, and practicing white farming techniques. His cooperation with the whites helped end the Comanche resistance, a fact that led some Comanche to dislike Quanah. He also started the Native American Church Movement after seeing Jesus while tripping on peyote (a powerful hallucinogen), which he had consumed for its antibiotic qualities to treat a wound he had received in battle. Quanah later became wealthy from the Church and its trade in peyote. He eventually died on February 23rd, 1911, as we all have the pleasure of doing some day, and is buried next to his mother in Ft. Sill. For a long time I have had a strong interest in this man, mostly due to the fact that we share a last name. Reading about his story and visiting the places in Texas that are associated with his past bring a closer understanding for me of this great Indian leader.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Post Script

A few weeks ago I wrote a very optimistic blog about the excessive growth and materialism our country is so enamored with. While listening to the radio this morning on my way to work I heard multiple reporters with somber voices discussing our tanking economy. Every week there are 500,000+ new jobless claims, many big companies are announcing layoffs in the 10's of thousands, and today the big story seems to be the drop in the GDP by 3.8%. My response to this news is, "no shit". I just can't seem to wrap my head around the idea that if we aren't making newer, bigger, shinier things, we are doing something wrong. Did all of these big companies really think that people would keep buying more and more houses, cars, and other various things that they already have several of? I say a little decrease in the economy is great...maybe it will curb our appetite for crap we don't need (and I am just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to buying crap I don't need, just ask Marie). Anyhow, I just wanted to air my thoughts out after listening to the news this morning.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Good News

I found out today two bits of good news. This summer I will be teaching Outdoor Living during the first summer session. I am going to get paid to talk about the outdoors!! Also, I received an internal grant from WT for a research project I submitted last fall examining the effects of a supplement called phophatidylserine on changes in hormone levels and mood states following an exercise bout in males. Yippee!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why Outside?

Some people may wonder, many already know, why being outside is so wonderful. It is something that can’t simply be explained, but can only be understood through experience. I think this is true for most things in life. You can always be told how it feels to see your children born, but there is absolutely no possible way to understand that feeling until you experience it for yourself. The true meaning of love at first sight cannot be better known than to see that gruesome sight of a little hairy head protruding from…well you know what I am talking about. Enjoying the wilderness, what little of it there is left to enjoy, can truly only be understood when you get out of your house, out of your car, and onto your own two feet. When you see the gory, bloody, disgusting truth of the fact that nature doesn’t give a damn about you, means you neither harm nor good, but only is, do you begin to realize the beauty inherent in it. Through evolutionary processes only, have we as humans developed the cognitive ability to contemplate not only our own ultimate fate, but the fate of all things…they will all end eventually…for eternity. With this realization we are able to quantify and qualify the goodness and perfectness of the natural world and understand the miniscule role we each as individuals play in it. Through knowing how little time we truly have here, if we take the time to pay attention, we can more fully appreciate our world and its inhabitants, all of them. Too often do people, myself included, get lost in their own struggle for survival that they forget to look beyond themselves to see that everything and everyone around them are also struggling for survival. We are all in this together, humans, plants, animals, nature…think about it for awhile. By visiting the wilderness, and I don’t mean driving through a park, I mean getting OUT into and within the wilderness, we are better able to appreciate the glory around us. I am beginning to ramble on about the same thing here, but I do think it is a valid point. The point I am making is that I really like getting outside. I like walking on a trail and seeing the tracks of animals and wondering what they were doing when they left those tracks. I like even better to walk up upon those animals and see them doing what they do when nobody is watching. I like learning about, and then tasting, the edible plants that grow all around us. Some of the best tasting in Texas include mesquite beans and prickly pear fruit, for those of you who are interested. I like watching birds of prey soar above us, watching us and waiting for us to meet our fate. I like watching and listening to the little birds I can’t identify flit in and out of scrub brush. I like the power felt when I pull a paddle through water knowing what swims just beyond the bow of the canoe. If you look closely you can see the bluegill, carp, catfish, bass, and gar avoiding the oncoming vessel. I like even better the power I feel being exerted through a fishing rod as I reel in another fish. Even better still is the smell and sound of a freshly filleted white bass being fried over an open fire of oak in a cast-iron skillet on a cold January evening. While reading these things that I like, you will see my point. Those that have experienced the same things I have will have a feeling of reverence and longing to be there again. The poor souls who haven’t experienced the same things I have will see only words without meaning. When I read other’s tales of great adventure that I have yet to experience, I sometimes see words without meaning too, but more often than not, I am able to feel that longing to be where they have been. The places I crave to experience include hiking Copper Canyon in Mexico, floating through southern Utah on the Green River, fly-fishing in the mountains of southwest Montana, grouse hunting in the Sangre de Cristo, laying on a beach on the Baja peninsula at night with my wife next to me as we watch for shooting stars and contemplate our future together, all of these things and more. I realize I will never do all the things I want to, I realize I will never be able to fully satisfy my lust for nature, but I am damn well going to die trying.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you -- beyond that next turning of the canyon walls."
— Edward Abbey

Sunday, January 11, 2009


An online outdoor magazine is going to publish "Into the Arms of God", but I don't now when yet. The website is if you are interested in seeing what else they have on there. They said they would be interested in flyfishing with dad if I rewrite a little bit of it, so I will be doing that soon to hopefully get that one on their website as well.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Life on the High Plains

We moved out to the panhandle this past summer so I could teach at WTAMU, my first real job in 29 years. Any move is always fraught with lifestyle changes, large expenditures, and the pervasive smell of cardboard, dust, and tape. We have all adjusted quite well to our new surroundings, new schools, new apartment, well maybe not the little apartment, but hopefully we can find a place to call HOME in the next few months. One of the biggest changes I’ve experienced in our move out west is the lifestyle, the people, the minute differences that many people might not always notice. Being in a crossroads of sorts between five states (New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado), there are an abundance of non-Texans around. Growing up in central Texas, we didn’t see too many people from out of state…it would have taken them 8 hours to get to San Antonio from just about any of the surrounding states. Up here in the panhandle, folks are driving through all the time on their way east or west on I40, what used to be Route 66, the great highway to the West. We also see a lot of “cowboys”. Just the other day, Marie and I were in a store when a guy wearing a cowboy hat, grape smugglers, and vest passed us. Morgan yelled out, “He’s a cowboy!” This morning, while pumping gas, I heard a strange jangling noise behind me that I wouldn’t have been able to place without knowing that a “cowboy” had just pulled up in the stall next to me, towing a gooseneck stock trailer behind his heavy duty Chevy diesel, a tumbleweed stuck to the undercarriage. In the back of the trailer were two horses, one gray and one sorrel, in the truck bed, a blue heeler with one white eye. The noise I heard came from the guy’s spurs as he walked around his truck to top off the oil. That is a sound I don’t believe I have ever heard in San Antonio, College Station, or Waco, unless I was at the stock show and rodeo. These little differences in the people make Amarillo a very different city than those of central Texas that I am more familiar with. Perhaps the most amazing thing about living in Amarillo, besides being a short drive from Palo Duro Canyon, is the sunsets out on the plains. Our apartment sits on the very western edge of town and faces west overlooking a vast swath of open prairie, the only obstruction being a 6 foot wooden fence. As our first day here began to wind to a close, I was finishing up the unloading of the U-haul when I looked out west over the plains and saw the gorgeous sunset. For the next several evenings, I made sure to look out the window or go outside to view the amazing sunsets of west Texas, unhindered by trees, or houses, or hills. I don’t know what it is about that light being radiated from our Sun, refracted by our atmosphere, and then reflected off of the clouds that never ceases to fill me with awe. Last night found us rushing outside once again to view another sunset. Even after four months of seeing the things, we can’t get enough. Amarillo still doesn’t feel like home, perhaps it never will. We will likely move from here in the next several years. Although this city will probably never be home, who can tell for sure though, I will always have a special remembrance of the people and the amazing view to the west as the Earth completes one more revolution.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Is It Time?

Have you noticed how quickly things are changing around here, on Earth that is? Last night on the History Channel there was a program called Nostradamus 2012 which covered the topic of the end of days…Armageddon. This show suggested that, according to the writings of Nostradamus, the ending of both the Mayan and Jewish calendar, and the alignment of our solar system with our galaxy’s center on December 21st, 2012, the end is near, or at least an extremely drastic change, a cataclysmic event. In all honesty, I think shows like this are quite silly, but interesting. In fact, I think some drastic change will occur despite the writings of Nostradamus, et al. As of 2005, the population of the US was at 296 million people. If current trends stay the same, our population will be around 438 million by 2050, with immigration accounting for 82% of that growth. The majority of these immigrants will come from Latin countries, and will be uneducated, poor, working-class people who will likely need monetary support from our government. In addition, the elderly population in the US will more than double in size, which means even more people depending on financial support from our government, as these people reach retirement age and start drawing social security and Medicare benefits. As it stands now, our government cannot afford to support the under-privileged of our country. How do we expect it to support the changes predicted to come in the next 40 years? It can’t and it won’t. Especially if we keep pissing away hundreds of billions of dollars a month on an unsuccessful war in Iraq and on banks that are keeping the loaned money to themselves to support the cost of private jets, spa treatments, and million dollar bonuses of their CEO’s while the average American is wallowing in debt, being forced from their overpriced homes, and otherwise having a pretty shitty year. Things are only going to get worse. Maybe not next year, maybe not in the next five years, but if things don’t change, our kids and grandkids are going to have a lot to deal with. I have only begun to discuss the big picture, this is just in our country, the wealthiest country on Earth. Our world population now stands at 6.7 billion, up from 2.5 billion some 60 years ago. In another 40 years our world population will exceed 9 billion people. What will this rapid growth in the human population amount to? Just look at India and China and the countries in Africa. There are already millions of starved, homeless, war-torn, diseased, uneducated people in these countries. The only reason there aren’t many millions more starving people in these places is due to the fact that the US and several other more prosperous countries supply these places with food and medication to prevent total collapse of these regions due to starvation and fighting over available resources. When our world population reaches 9 billion, this will only get worse. Once again, IF this happens, our country, IF it is still around, will be attempting to supply these people with food. In both of these examples, the most profound, scariest thing I have mentioned is the sheer growth in human population. We as a species cannot continue to grow any further without profound changes taking place. There are already too many of us for this planet to support. If this growth does not stop, mass starvation, war, rioting, looting, and very likely a pandemic disease (SARS, AIDS, BSE, the threat of Avian Influenza, to name a few recent ones) will occur by 2050. Then perhaps our population may decline to more sustainable levels. Edward Abbey had a great saying, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”. Our species has become a cancer to the body of our Mother Earth. We all know what cancer does to a body…it kills it. Cancer if allowed to grow uncontrolled kills itself…we are killing ourselves. Yet as our populations continue to rise, we are doing nothing about it. For some reason, our culture has the idea that bigger is always better. A drive down I35 from Austin to San Antonio is the perfect example of our demand for growth. When I moved to Texas in 1986, there was still some country on that corridor through central Texas. Now, there is a never-ending outgrowth of cheaply built neighborhoods (that will be slums in 20 years), there are never ending shopping areas (that will be closed in 20 years), and there is less and less wilderness (that will all likely be gone in 20 years). Thankfully our government has lain aside some very few square miles of protected land (National Parks, Forests, Grasslands, Recreation Areas, BLM land, etc.) that is supposed to save some of that wilderness, but the way our population in growing, this “protected” land is not safe. If we keep up our cancerous plague, we will eventually need the remaining fresh water, lumber, wild animals, space to continue to survive. I seem mighty optimistic, don’t I? Actually I am optimistic…that our population WILL eventually decline by force, not choice. What can we do to help curb some of this growth? Urge your friends and family members to use contraception. Urge your elected officials to stop or decrease the amount of immigration into our country (both legal and illegal, our poorest will do the jobs these immigrants come here for if they really have to) and protect and designate more wild areas. Urge everyone to be more frugal with what they buy, use, throw-away, etc. If all of that doesn’t work, learn how to grow some of your own food, plant a garden, raise some chickens and goats, and buy plenty of guns and ammunition (for both protection and hunting). We cannot wait until we are forced to do these things out of necessity; we have to start now...yesterday even. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I am just some loony, survivalist gun nut. Perhaps I am being a little over-zealous. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Something WILL happen…eventually.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My New Blog

Marie signed me up for a blogger site. I just finished reading another book by Edward Abbey, which wasn't really a book but a selection of his journal entries over the course of about 40 years. I guess I was kind of inspired in a way to start a journal of my own, now I can just do it here on blogger. I have attached two short stories I recently wrote while trying not to work. Let me know what you think... Hopefully there will be more to come. I'd like to start trying to publish some outdoor articles in actual magazines, but I am sure I will need a lot of practice writing and some more outdoor experiences to talk about.

Fly Fishing With Dad

I realize there are countless stories about fly fishing, perhaps the most famous of all being A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean. Many fly fishermen will claim to have been inspired to start fishing because of the book, or more likely the film starring Brad Pitt that was made from the book. Many fly fishermen refer to this particular movie as simply, “the movie”. The old timers may even blame this movie for ruining many fishing holes due to over crowding by the upstart fly fisherman. While I admit the movie inspired my fly fishing adventures to some degree, my interest started much earlier than when I first saw “the movie”. My dad was a fly fisherman who grew up in Idaho. He told me and my brother Matt tales of catching steelhead and cutthroat in the rivers near his childhood home. As a kid I even tied a few flies using an old fly tying kit my dad had in his garage, but that was only the beginning of my interest in the sport. My dad moved us to Texas when I was only six, and Texas not being a top fly fishing destination, he never taught us how to fly fish. His work got in the way of his outdoor hobbies, but he still managed to take me and Matt to the area lakes now and then. That too stopped after my parents got divorced. Matt and I have always cherished the times we spent on my dad’s old sky blue, outboard motorboat. It wasn’t much of a boat, but those memories don’t fade easily. I can still remember the mornings waking up before the sun and seeing my dad pack us sandwiches and sodas in a cooler and filling up his green Thermos with coffee. The excitement was palpable. We would spend the day at the lake fishing with our kid-sized Zebco rod and reel combos rigged with worms or minnows under red and white plastic bobbers hoping to see them quickly plunge beneath the surface. In the evening we would arrive home proudly displaying the days catch to our mom before my dad filleted them at the kitchen sink and fried them up in hot oil. At night I would have a hard time falling asleep, despite waking up early, because every time I closed my eyes it seemed that my bed started rocking like I was still out on the lake. Man, the memories.
Yet, I still wasn’t a fly fisherman. One winter, after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocked the local pond with rainbow trout, I called up my dad who was living in Albuquerque at the time for advice on how to catch a trout. He offered the usual spinner and Powerbait recommendation, but never mentioned fly fishing. The next day, my kids and I went to the freshly stocked pond and were given a phenomenal little lure called a super-duper by a nice man next to us. We caught 11 trout in the next hour, so when I got home I phoned my dad once more to see how to cook the little things. He didn’t answer the phone, but called back the next morning. I will never forget that phone call. I was excited about the fish and he let me tell my story, gave me a recipe, then said, “I just got back from the doctor’s office and I have a big fucking lump in my chest”. My heart sank. It was the worst news I had ever heard in my entire life. My dad had lung cancer. He died quickly, in a matter of months, at the age of 50. I could no longer call him up for advice on how to catch a fish, or tell him about my third child being born, or that I got that job I always wanted. That was a dark chapter in my life…that black cloud still hangs over me.
If anything good came out of my father’s death, it was my new found interest in fly fishing. I think of my dad every time I go fishing, and fly fishing lets me imagine what he must have been like at my age catching cutthroats on the Snake with a fly rod in hand and the ever present cigarette hanging from his lip. I bought a fly rod before a trip to Colorado to visit some friends who recently relocated there after their own tragic incident, but I will save that for another story. Kevin, my friend, and I drove the short 30 minutes down Foxton Road to the spot on the North Fork of the South Platte where I first fished for trout with a fly rod. I didn’t catch a thing. It turns out fly fishing is a bit more challenging than fishing with spinning tackle. I did bring along my handy, light weight rod and reel with that ever wonderful super-duper rigged up. I caught a 6 inch brown trout on the first cast to a whole behind a large boulder. I just knew that spot was holding a fish, and sure enough, I caught it in one try. I cast a few more times with the super-duper and eventually caught another little brown before handing the rod over to Kevin. He tried his hand with the spinning rod, but soon got hung up on a submerged rock and we lost our one and only super-duper. We left without catching any fish on the fly rods, but we both were hooked. Lucky for him, he can be on the water in less than an hour angling for the elusive browns and rainbows of the South Platte. I had to settle for large mouth bass and sunfish at home in central Texas. With practice I got the hang of fishing the fly rod, my fly of choice being a black or olive wooley bugger. On most outings I can catch at least one fish in the slow moving, warm waters of Texas, but it just isn’t the same as being in the mountains casting for trout.
Kevin and I fished the same area of the Platte last spring. The river still had a crust of ice hanging over the edge. Chunks of ice from upstream would break off and pass us by on their way down river. On this outing, I finally caught a trout on the fly. We were casting egg patterns held down by split-shot. I made a cast to a likely spot, saw the indicator stop short, and then set the hook. I landed a stunning rainbow trout about 10 inches long. I will never forget the excitement at landing my first mountain trout. The view of the mountains, the chill of the water, the smell of life in the outdoors, these memories stick.
During the fall, my family and Kevin’s met in Taos for a brief visit. The drive was nice, especially on the way back. We of course saw the mountains, seemingly ablaze with golden aspens, but we drove through a gorgeous canyon formed by the Canadian River in eastern New Mexico and saw dozens of pronghorn antelope. While in Taos, Kevin and I of course planned our fishing outing. Before heading to the river, we stopped by the Taos Fly Shop to get our licenses, some flies, and tips on fishing the area. Of all of the wonderful choices available, we picked the Rio Grande Gorge where it meets the Red River of New Mexico in the Wild Rivers Scenic Area near Questa. I have never witnessed a more stunning back drop for a fishing trip. The hike to the bottom was only a mile long, but descended 800 vertical feet. We knew we were in for it when the day was ended. We made the mile hike in around 15 minutes, brimming over with excitement of the fishing to come. We slipped into our waders, tied on a bead head nymphs below hoppers and started casting. Within a few casts I had a hook up, but failed to land a small brown trout. As I worked my way upstream, it was evident that fishing the Rio Grande was much different than the slow moving Brazos back home that I had grown accustomed to. I couldn’t seem to get the timing right, failed to perform a proper up-stream mend, and failed to catch any fish. None-the-less, I enjoyed every second of failure. Kevin, on the other hand, having fished several times on the Platte, was doing quite well. He landed two fine rainbows and a tiny brown. Ah, the envy of the better fisherman. We were too soon chased off by some looming thunderheads heading our way. As we reluctantly slipped out of our waders and packed up our gear, the rain began to fall, but was welcome as it kept us cooled off during our climb out of the canyon. The 800 foot climb back proved to be exhausting, but worth every second. We proudly made the climb in less than 30 minutes…much faster than the allotted 45 the guy at the fly shop suggested it would take. We hurriedly drove back to spend the rest of the day with our wives and children, with another fond memory stored away.
I haven’t been back on the water in months, but the memories keep me going, along with the hope of more trips to the mountains. As the death of my father continues to haunt me, the feeling that he has always been there, on the river banks watching, keeps me going back for one more chance to go fly fishing with dad.

Into the Arms of God

The Brazos River is, in my opinion, the best river in Texas. It may be rivaled in beauty by the Guadalupe and it tributaries, and it is certainly rivaled in size by the Rio Grande, but to me it has meant Home for the last ten years of my life. The headwaters of the Brazos are in New Mexico and far west Texas, but the actual river itself begins in north Texas, west of Dallas-Ft. Worth. Originally named Rio de los Brazos de Dios (The River of the Arms of God) by Spanish explorers, the name is fitting as the Brazos has thoroughly wrapped its metaphorical arms around me. I first moved near the Brazos in 1998 to the city of College Station, where I was a young, wild, and reckless teenager, and thought I was ready for the real world. I moved to College Station to attend Texas A&M University and pursue a degree in Exercise Science. Within a few months I had succeeded in drinking a year’s supply of alcohol, nearly failed out of school, and conceived the first of three stunningly beautiful children with my childhood friend and now best friend and wife. Within a matter of months I went from the wild and carefree teenager to a semi-responsible father and husband. Life happens fast. My wife and I both grew up in San Antonio, a short, by Texas standards, drive from College Station. Each time we headed home to visit friends and family we crossed over the Brazos just north of town, and every time, without fail, I felt the river urging me to climb down the banks and explore. For some reason back then I never followed that urge with much gusto. Sure, there were a few times I drove to some spot on the river to try to catch some catfish, at which I always failed, but I never really put much effort into it. After a long and difficult six years and a summer in college, I finally finished my bachelor’s degree, and then decided I still liked school despite the difficulties I had as an undergrad. So I enrolled in a master’s program, also at Texas A&M, which I was able to finish in just one year. Deciding that I still wasn’t ready to start working for real, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. so that I could spend the rest of my life not working for real. The life of a college professor is quite laid back with lots of vacation. There are of course the end of semester crunches to get grades wrapped up and research projects finished, but all in all, it is a great lifestyle. Let’s get back to the river though. I moved with my wife to Waco to work on my doctorate, which just so happens to also be situated along the banks of the Brazos. It is here that my true love affair with the Brazos begins.

Once on a visit to the McLennan County Library, I checked out a copy of the book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Aron Ralston. This book tells the fateful story of a guy who was canyoneering in Bluejohn Canyon in Utah and left behind a little piece of himself in the wilderness. While climbing over a boulder, he dislodged it from its precarious position in a slot canyon. The boulder crushed his hand literally, “between a rock and a hard place”. After five long days of being cold, hungry and drinking his own urine, he ended up severing his own hand with a dull Swiss Army knife, muscle by muscle, nerve by nerve, after first breaking the two bones of his forearm. Following his gruesome self amputation, he proceeded to hike several miles and repel down cliffs where he eventually stumbled upon some hikers who helped get him rescued. Aron Ralston’s story is a wonderful tale in itself, but it was the suggested readings he included in the back of his text that introduced me to my most cherished authors, Edward Abbey and John Graves. Mr. Ralston suggested to his readers that they look into the book, Desert Solitaire, by old Cactus Ed, and Goodbye to a River, by Mr. Graves. So, being a diligent student, I immediately sought these books out. As it happens, Goodbye to a River is a book about my river, the Brazos. Mr. Graves weaves intricate tales of Texas history into the undulations of the river, creek by creek. At the time, in the 1950’s, the US Army Corp of Engineers were planning an onslaught of dams on the Brazos, so Mr. Graves was taking a farewell trip through his boyhood backyard before it was stopped up for good. Thankfully, only one of those dams was ever built, and the Brazos flows freely and proudly through central Texas from Lake Whitney, 20 miles north of Waco, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to his trip, the Brazos had already been damned at Possum Kingdom, a name I have always found amusing, and Whitney. His trip consisted of a solitary three weeks in November down the Brazos in a canoe. He caught fish, hunted ducks, and just otherwise had a grand time on the Brazos. This tale of adventure in a canoe inspired me to eventually purchase a second-hand canoe of my own to begin my own trips on the Brazos. We’ll discuss more of this later. Edward Abbey, the Thoreau of the west, Cactus Ed, the monkey-wrench wielding anarchist, is truly the most inspiring writer I have ever had the pleasure to read. Perhaps his most well known work of non-fiction is Desert Solitaire. This book chronicles Mr. Abbey’s time as a park ranger at Arches National Monument (now a National Park) near Moab, Utah. He describes encounters with snakes, rabbits, clouds, and survey crews while espousing his vast knowledge of the desert southwest and his disdain for the modern-day way of life. His ability to transform his ideology into written word both logically and convincingly is unsurpassed in my, admittedly small, experience with literature. Like Mr. Graves, Abbey describes a very similar farewell trip to a river that he dearly loved as well. Sadly, Mr. Abbey’s river was damned up near what is now Page, Arizona. The Glen Canyon Damn backed up the Colorado River, effectively covering over 80 side canyons which contained beautiful grottoes, hanging gardens, and otherwise irreplaceable natural works of art. Now, the bottoms of these canyons are the final resting place of beer cans and plastic bags haphazardly thrown overboard by careless boaters. Just before the Glen Canyon Dam was finished in 1963, Abbey and a friend took a trip down the Colorado to say goodbye to their river. They similarly enjoyed catching fish and exploring the side canyons of the once great Glen Canyon. The accounts told by Abbey and Graves have forever changed my view of the world, particularly its rivers, and even more particularly, the Brazos River. It is a funny thing how the threat of loss makes us appreciate the things we would normally take for granted.

I bought my used canoe in the spring of 2006 and soon was off on my own river trip. In this case it was on the North Bosque River, which is one of three Bosque Rivers that eventually make their way to the Brazos after passing through the dam that created Lake Waco. The other Bosque Rivers are the Middle and the South. Once leaving the damn, the three Bosques simply become the Bosque for several brief miles before it joins forces with the Brazos in a beautiful city park named after the Cameron family of Waco. My first foray on the North Bosque was fairly uneventful. As I remember, it was a cool morning. I think I may have caught one channel catfish on a trot-line to fry up upon my return home. I made several other trips to the North Bosque over the course of the next year. Perhaps the most memorable was one trip in which I took my son and nephew out to float on an extremely flooded river. The put in that I always used was just above Lake Waco, and being that we had an unusually high amount of rainfall that spring, the lake was about 15 feet above flood stage. The water was so high that we put in about 200 yards up the embankment from the usual spot. We soon found ourselves paddling among the treetops. It was quite an unusual experience to know that we were paddling through what just a few months before was just air. The high water forced all of the tree spiders, I am not sure what their real name is, but that is what we called them, to congregate in huge masses so that anytime we brushed against a tree limb, the boat was showered with long-legged spiders that scared the pants off of both boys. I soon grew weary of paddling the North Bosque due to the fact that I wasn’t having much luck with the fishing. Fortuitously, I met a guy named Jason, who was also working towards a Ph.D. at Baylor, had several small children, and shared a love for paddling and fishing. We soon became paddling partners, but struck out for another river. The Middle Bosque proved to be quite productive in many different aspects. The scenery is quite a bit more enjoyable than the North Bosque. There are rocky cliffs, not that high, but nice just the same, at several points along the river. The fishing was much better. It seemed I caught fish on every trip I took, including white bass, large mouth bass, sunfish, and my one and only small mouth bass. One particular spot on the river has a very rocky shore that contained dozens of fossils. We found wonderful specimens of ammonites and clams, and a few others that we couldn’t identify. Our children really enjoyed hunting these fossils, so when the fishing would slow, we would trudge up and down this spot kicking over the rocks in search of new treasures. On several occasions we would paddle down stream towards the lake where the river widens. Once scaring up a flock of hundreds of little black ducks of which I don’t know the name, but perhaps they were lesser scaups. On a couple of occasions we would paddle a very short way up the South Bosque, where it meets the Middle Bosque, but sadly I never explored that river much. At the confluence of these two rivers we found a tree that had been downed by a beaver, although we never encountered any beavers on the water it was exciting to see evidence of their existence in our small neck of the woods. As our paddling experience increased, our interest in doing a longer trip did as well. Soon, in January of 2008, we had an overnight trip down the Brazos planned. We were to put in under the Lake Whitney dam and take out at a run-down RV park 22 river miles down stream in the small town of Gholson. As always, the shuttling of cars and gear proved to be a logistical challenge, but by afternoon the first day we were on the water, in separate canoes, and catching white bass. We caught five in all that day, not a large catch by any standards, but just right for a fish fry in camp that night. The first day’s paddling was very challenging with a stiff breeze coming out of the south that produced small white-caps on the river. The scenery was particular nice that first day and far outweighed the negative feelings we shared about the wind. We passed several seep springs, some hundreds of feet in length, which overhung the river with dangling roots from the trees above. These springs made a beautiful tinkling sound as the drops of water fell to the river below. At one point on the river there were some unusual limestone overhangs that jutted out horizontally from the river bank between 5 and 8 feet above the river. I stopped here to enjoy the scenery, not knowing what this place had in store for me in the future. That first day, we paddled about 7 river miles before making camp at the most absolutely perfect spot. The site we found was sandy, but covered in leaves, which made for comfortable sleeping. There were plenty of dead oak trees around to provide fire wood which gave off a tantalizing aroma as dinner and coffee cooked on its coals. Jason, being fairly new to fishing, had never eaten any fish he had caught. I showed him how to filet the bass and we dredged the filets in a combination of white flour and cornmeal before frying them in a cast-iron skillet placed directly in the fire. Our meal was delicious, with a flavor amplified by the surroundings and the fact that we provided it ourselves. Overnight, a cold front blew in, dropping the temperature into the thirties, but we slept well despite the chill. We were woken early by the sound of something thrashing about in the water. Jason jumped out of the tent believing that the water had risen and was attempting to relieve us of our canoes. It turned out that a duck hunter was just setting his decoys up for a morning hunt just 75 yard upriver from our camp. Being that we had pitched the tent among some oaks, he didn’t see us in the low morning light. Within minutes of setting out his decoys he was blasting away with a shotgun that, had we not be awakened by his thrashing in the water, would have led us to believe we were being attacked. We made a quick breakfast of turkey bacon and egg tacos. Yes, I said turkey bacon. Jason’s wife did the shopping and in her attempts at healthy eating, bought us bacon that just isn’t up to par when compared to the delicious, thick slices of cured pork that I am accustomed to. If given the choice when the fateful day arrives, my final meal will consist of pan fried bacon and eggs. There isn’t much else on earth that tastes better. Soon after breakfast, we were broke camp and got back on the water. We had fifteen more miles to cover that day, with wives waiting at home for us to take over the childcare for the rest of the weekend, so we were diligent in our paddling. With the cold front that blew in came an uncomfortable drizzle that had we not been prepared with waders and rain jackets, would have soaked and chilled us thoroughly. None the less, the paddle down stream was a cold one. We stopped at one muddy bank to cook Ramen noodles which helped to warm us from within. Cold and hunger can make even the simplest food taste delightful. We made it home before evening with plans in the works for another trip. Jason ended up making a few trips on his own, perfecting the art of landing multiple large mouth bass seemingly at will, as I was busy with school and other things. But we did make one last trip that summer before I moved out of the area. Knowing that I would soon be leaving the Brazos Valley, Jason and I planned a short 8 mile float from the dam below Lake Whitney. He brought along his two eldest sons, and I brought along mine. We were all having a great time, but things would change soon after. Lake Whitney, being one of dozens of man-made lakes in Texas, was built chiefly for flood control and hydroelectric power production. Summertime in Texas can be a time of very high energy demand as folks at home are trying to cool their homes from the stifling heat and humidity. Each day, the dam at Whitney sounds three load bellows from warning horns that alert all downstream that the lake is about to open its gates. We heard the horns blowing, knowing the river would soon rise and the current would pick up. We were stopped on a rocky island for a quick snack to keep the kids satiated when the water began to rise. Soon our boys were riding the oncoming water as it flowed through a small depression in the island making a water ride of sorts. Jason’s son was swept downstream in what looked to be fun, but seemed to scare both Jason and the boy. After a ride myself, we got in our canoes and passed over a wonderful standing wave about two feet in height that provided a nice thrill. We fished as we made our way downstream to a campsite halfway to our take-out across the river from the strange horizontal rock formation I alluded to earlier. We set up camp and had more snacks, but soon decided to paddle back up river to fish and float a while longer. My son and I got ahead of Jason, and as we came alongside our campsite, I decided to get a picture of my son in the canoe with the overhanging limestone in the background. Being semi-thoughtless, or just my usual self, I figured I could dump an anchor overboard and take a quick photo with my wife’s expensive digital camera. What I didn’t realize was that canoes, anchors and swift currents down mix well. At first the swift current didn’t allow the anchor to find a hold along the rocky bottom, but it soon did and then all hell broke loose. Our canoe capsized in a split second, figuratively dumping us into the arms of god, with all of my loose gear flowing downstream. The PFD I sat on, instead of wearing, was gone, my two oars were gone, my tackle box was gone, but that was not the worst of it. In a panic, having the camera around my neck, I felt something pulling me down, so I reached for the camera strap and quickly slid it over my head, dropping it to the river bottom. My son was extremely scared as he watched me struggle to cut the rope that attached the anchor to the boat and attempt to swim the boat to the opposite shore, 30 yards away. We both had fishing lures stuck to our bodies, he a wooly bugger in his thigh, me two top-waters with treble hooks on my torso. Jason, seeing that we had flipped hurriedly made his way to our rescue. By the time he reached us I was exhausted and only halfway to shore, so he arrived just in time. He quickly threw me a line and pulled us to shore, about 200 yards downstream from our camp, which thankfully wasn’t still stored in our canoe. He then paddled down stream to recover what gear of mine he could, while my son and I recovered our composure. In all I ended up losing a camera, my tackle box and a hat. I also lost a bit of confidence in myself, but gained a new understanding of the importance of wearing a PFD and lashing all gear to a canoe. In the absence of idiotic mistakes, which for me can come all too often, you never really know what can happen on a river, thus the need to follow the old Boy Scout motto, “always be prepared”. I would add only to that motto, “always be prepared for anything”. That night, after making our way back to camp and quickly cooking dinner over hot mesquite coals as the sun went down, another front moved through, this time bringing with it magnificent displays of lightning and accompanying claps of thunder and blowing wind that almost took Jason’s tent with it. It began to sprinkle a little bit sending us to our tents for shelter, but soon passed and left us dry for the night, although the distant thunder left a nagging worry in the back of my mind about a middle of the night downpour which prevented restful sleep. Soon after the storm passed us, I grew uncomfortably hot due to the fact that our campsite had been baking in the July sun all day leaving heat that radiated from the ground for hours after dark. The heat drove me outside of the tent to gaze up at the stars, being far more visible several miles from the city, which peaked through the remaining cloud cover. In the morning we woke early to muggy dawn. A stroll down to the river, which had receded over night leaving behind a muddy walk to the bank, brought a fantastic display of fat-lipped carp slurping tiny, white mayfly spinners off the water surface. The mayflies where so thick, they appeared to be a mist hovering over the river. After breakfast, we soon broke camp and began our nervous trip, for me and my son anyway, to our takeout at a place called Dick’s, the only company providing shuttle service on this stretch of the Brazos. We said our goodbyes as we loaded up our gear with promises of future, albeit safer, trips some time in the near future. My son is still terrified of a return to canoe travel, but since our move to the Texas Panhandle, I have been longing for another trip. Jason keeps me up to date on his travels, while I yearn for a return to the river I have grown to love.