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Eco Park

Friday, 23 Sep 2016, 20:36 UTC

Dude. Have you even looked for it?

For what?

For that tree. For those trees you say you planted way back then. For the trees you say aren’t there. That Google doesn’t show.

Yes. I’ve looked. They aren’t there.

You’re wrong, man. They’re there. 

Show me.

Right here. Just south of the Eco Park Apartments, man. Just south of Eco Park Drive.

What are you talking about? I looked. The trees aren’t there.

Look for yourself, man. Here: just north west of that lagoon. Look at all those trees, at that woods.

What woods? There wasn’t a woods there… then. Oh, I see. Eco Park. What a nice sound that has. And… I think I can see my tree. OMG, this multiverse has fewer dimensions today than it did yesterday!

Tricked

Friday, 23 Sep 2016, 19:19 UTC

They tricked me back then and had me plant a tree. Out on the west side of town. Dig a hole with others and put a young tree in it. They tricked me, and we planted those trees that I thought would grow into a grove. But they didn’t. I’ve looked at Google, and they aren’t there.

They tricked me back then and took me to an election night celebration. A middle school boy with grown-up high school girls in the big city on the big night after weeks of walking door to door distributing leaflets. “You’ll be able to tell them about the great election of ’72,” he said. But I can’t. No one wants to know.

They tricked me back then and took me to the moon. To the moon and to Mars. To Mars and to Jupiter. They said we’d go to those places, and I believed we would and couldn’t quite understand those who didn’t think we should. But we haven’t, and we won’t. The robots do it better, anyway.

They say we live in a multiverse. I say we do, too, because I find myself in a place where those trees don’t grown, in a place where that election is an embarrassment, stuck down here looking around in a place that I don’t quite recognize.

Oh my god, David. You can’t send that. Your mother will cry.

It’s not so sad. And anyway, it’s not really true. But still…

The Corner Spot

Monday, 19 Sep 2016, 01:40 UTC

We were talking about the stories behind these pictures. So what’s going on with this one?

Hmm… there’s no stunning story, here. Yet…

First of all, this is the top of the hill where the breeze comes out of the west (to the right in the picture) and blows the mosquitos mercifully back into the woods. You can see the evidence on the left side of the frame, where one of the big White Pines, barely present in the picture, is leaning to the left, leaning with the prevailing breezes. That tree has been there a very long time, and it clearly knows how to go with the flow as does the young one in the foreground — the one that looks like a tetherball pole. That young tree was a volunteer just a few years ago. You had to be careful not to trip over it in the dark. But um… you can see that my just-a-few-years-ago must indeed be quite a few years, because, well, that baby tree’s done grown up.

Secondly, how many years have we hung our towels on that line? Summer after summer, year after year, I have photographs that feature colorful arrays of towel-and-swimsuit hanging there on that cord strung between the trees. In fact, that left-most towel, has likely been featured in family photos going back two generations. It is a good towel, and it has kept me warm when the air was cool and the wind was… making the trees lean.

Thirdly, this is the edge of the wild. When we were very young, the backdrop here was a solid wall of green pine needles on young White Pines. But those trees have grown and their green needles are now up high, out of the frame of this picture. So unlike back then, today you can gaze into the woods and follow the path down to the swamp with your eye, the path that used to disappear into the young pines. Mimi used to warn us about that swamp. I remember her telling Stevie to tell us about it and about the quicksand down there. It was years before I ventured very far that way, and I was stunned to discover how beautiful it was.

And finally, the tent. This is our spot. Somehow Ben and Trudy and I have come to earn this particular spot as our own. (Although, Ben has long since graduated to a tent of his own that he pitches off to the left.) Year after year, summer after summer when the family pitches tents up here, even if we arrive late, it seems this spot is saved for us. I’m not sure how we got this honor, but I won’t complain, as the view out the tent windows to the west has much to offer. Well… it wasn’t always this tent. This is our second. The first was a huge REI dome tent that saw some pretty nasty summer storms in this spot. One year, the rains were so bad that everyone got wet and the wind was so fierce that some tents ended up in the woods… everyone except us, because that REI tent stayed put and didn’t leak. Indeed, the rains came down so torrentially that year that this particular spot had standing water several inches deep, and the tent was standing in it, and even then it was dry inside. Have you ever heard of such a thing!? It was a good tent, and when I look at this picture, I don’t see the blue tent you see here, but I see that white and yellow and blue REI dome tent that served us so well.

Spiny Lizard

Sunday, 18 Sep 2016, 18:21 UTC

We sat in the front yard on the bench, Izzy and I. It was shady under the Monterey Oak, and we both needed to cool down. So we just sat there looking around and enjoying the breeze.

Then something caught my eye. Against the house. Behind the Coral Honeysuckle. In the dappled light. Between the vine’s leaves and the brown cedar of the trellis. There was a pattern that didn’t belong. Some kind of camouflaged thing.

It didn’t move, but it was the kind of motionlessness that leaves you knowing you’re being watched.

I kept my eye on it. Was it a snake? No, it was just about the length of an outstretched hand. Not a snake. And anyway, our rat snake lives in the backyard.

I looked down at Miss Izzy, to see if she saw it. But she was napping. I looked back up at the thing, and then it moved. One tentative flick to a different spot where the sun dapples fell differently on the vine and I almost lost it in the shadows. And then it moved again. And again. 

There was a long, skinny reptile tail. And some cross-hatched, zig-zaggy lines. And then a Spiny Lizard head staring directly at me while I stared at it staring directly at me.

And then it disappeared behind the trellis and was gone.

Cold, Sweet Grapes

Saturday, 10 Sep 2016, 11:48 UTC

I started out slowly, quickly dropping toward the back of the back. When we got to the water stop a mere mile into the run, there were other people behind, but I kept going and many of them turned around at that point, so I was quickly at the end of our line of runners, I mean the very last person.

That’s ok. It’s meditation for me. Good exercise too, of course, but most of the time I’m entirely inside myself, so it’s not about the people ahead or the people behind. I’m fine finishing a workout dead-last. Which I did. Well, not quite. People continued to string in for a very long time, but these were runners returning from 20 and 22 mile runs, so… you know. Once upon a time, that was me. Not any more.

I sat for a moment in the shade under the Hackberry trees, stretching my back muscles and letting the mercifully cool breeze blow across my sweaty face. I took off my shoes and joined the others walking in a circle doing our foot strength drills (toes pointing in, toes pointing out, feet rolled in, feet rolled out, walk on your heels, walk on your toes).

“There’s some grapes,” someone said as I was just about done.

I walked around to the front, to that shady spot, and there was indeed a plate of grapes — frozen red grapes that were so cold the humidity was condensing on them as ice.

I took three and put them into my mouth one at a time, biting and chewing on each, relishing the coolness and the sweetness. 

I have never experienced anything so wonderful in my entire life.

Taking Out the Compost

Friday, 09 Sep 2016, 20:45 UTC

The compost pail was chuggin’ full. There were a day’s worth of coffee grounds from work in a Folger’s can on the counter. And there was a bowl of vegetable scraps from the tasty treat Trudy was preparing. Time for a compost run before it got dark.

This is the contract we have, the fair and industrious Trudy and I: she makes tasty treats, and I deal with the compost. (Who’s got the better deal?) So with evening setting in, I set out with my arms full. Trudy handed me the bowl of scraps with a twinkle in her eye and then quickly pulled the patio door shut.

It was dusk — that time that isn’t day and isn’t night. The time when things disappear from plain view before your eyes. The time when screech owls screech and scurrying things skitter around in the black shadows. The time of rummy-gumpshins and nick-tal-roos and wild augerhandles. (You know the kind of dusk I’m talking about?)

I walked thru the gate into that skinny slice of yard that we call our “Back 40”. I had to tilt my head to avoid the Common Hackberry coming up behind the fence. (I gotta cut that thing down this weekend.) But it’s leaves rubbed my neck, and I could feel my skin trying to decide whether to complain or not.

An owl soundlessly swooped before me and glided in an arc around the yard and into the alley behind us. I made a motion to set my load of pail and can and bowl of scraps down.

But I stopped short. Something wasn’t quite right. I squinted to see better in the dim light.

There was a snake. Lying still. Hidden in plain sight on top of the compost pile. Mottled pattern on scales against the mottled texture of dead, decaying leaves and grass. I recognized the markings: a rat snake. Indeed, it was our rat snake, whom we haven’t seen in a very long time, who we were dreading might have succumbed to the axe or shovel of a neighbor.

It looked at me. I looked at it. For a moment, neither of us moved. Then I tossed a chunk of watermelon rind, hoping to encourage it to move so that I might bury my scraps. It didn’t move. We both held our ground, staring at each other. Then I took a step forward. And with that, the snake turned and began to slither off the pile and into the undergrowth. It slithered shockingly quickly, but this was no small snake, so it took a fair while for it to clear the area.

I watched it as it retreated. I took another step, so that I might estimate its length: at least six feet long. As I said, no small snake. 

When it reached the fence, the snake stopped to watch me, and then he slithered behind a sheet of corrugated metal leaning against the fence back there. (I need to do something with that some time.)

Big snake. Lucky us. The rats in the alley don’t stand a chance.

That Amazing Thing

Tuesday, 06 Sep 2016, 20:04 UTC

It was a long weekend. It was Sunday, so we parked at Spec’s and walked to the Violet Crown Trail trailhead where we began our hike.

As we walked thru the Oak and Juniper and Elm forest, the path descended into a canyon. We stepped on white limestone ledges. Years and countless years of encroaching and receding Cretaceous seas. Endless years of shallow tidal marshes and lagoons. Of reef detritus and oolite shoals. Of carbonate muds and sands. Of waters lapping against reef trends. The hard, vuggy, cracked limestone remnants on which and over which we stepped.

We hiked back into time.

There were dry creek beds where sometimes the water flows and we thought on this day of this wet summer it might but it wasn’t. The trail flattened and the dogs began to pull. We heard the Mopac expressway to the west — the rush of traffic even on a Sunday afternoon. And we heard louder traffic on 360 ahead of us.

Wait… why is the 360 traffic louder? It shouldn’t be. 

Is wasn’t.

That rush of traffic was in fact the rush of Barton Creek tumbling across a broken limestone shelf. The water was clear where it ran swiftly, and greenish-blue where it slowed in a lazy pool below the rapids. Sunlight fell in dappled puddles on the ground, filtered thru Sycamore trees growing along the water’s edge, growing in the creek.

This is the place we chose to stop. To rest. To drink the water we brought with us. To eat an apple snack. Under the Sycamores. Beside the rushing rapids. In the water. We sat in awe of that amazing thing.

Liiiiiife!

Monday, 29 Aug 2016, 21:31 UTC

Rolling R’s

Wednesday, 24 Aug 2016, 20:35 UTC

This is hard, this business of writing the thousand word that those pictures are supposedly worth. No wonder I initially just posted them sans mots! So I’ve decided to take a little rest, as you perhaps can tell.

In the meantime, something else has come up. I’ve stumbled on an online language site that has consumed me. If those picture-words are hard, this business of speaking French into the microphone is… really hard.

Practicing French out loud has not only helped my French, but it’s given my neck and throat muscles a sorely needed workout — such a workout that it feels like therapy for the scalpel and radiation abuse. And here’s the best part: the other night after many lessons (which drive Trudy nuts), for the first time in many months I was actually able to roll my r’s again. It only lasted briefly — the r’s stopped rolling some time that night — but it was still a minor victory.

The doctors need to know this. They need to prescribe this. They need to tell us along with the stretching exercises they recommend. Practice French every night. Speak aloud. Repeat yourself over and over until your mouth wears out.  Because it will help. Because your r’s will roll again!

The Camper

Sunday, 21 Aug 2016, 18:45 UTC

1. Prelude

Ok, then. What shall we say about the humble little camper sitting there shining in the morning sun?

Some of you might have suggestions.

Maybe you’ll remind us that this was the place where Bunka slept. How you told us to be quiet when we walked by the camper late at night. Or maybe you’ll talk about how it used to come and go in his truck but has long since become a permanent fixture of this place. Maybe you’ll talk about how its roof required constant attention, to which I would add that the silver roof-sealing paint got splotched onto my favorite sweatshirt, and I still look on that splotch as a of badge of honor of sorts. Or you might talk about those years when Bunka talked about getting a bigger camper, how we’d stop at dealerships with him and walk thru the newest models, how he really wanted a fifth wheel trailer to pull rather than a camper to mount.

But instead, I look out my window here in Texas and see grey skies and falling rain — rain that has been falling daily for almost two weeks, and I am taken back to a summer on that hill by that lake. A summer when the rains never stopped.

I can’t pretend to understand what it must have been like for the adults that year. That place is usually a refuge for parents, a place where the kids can run in the woods, explore the swamps and wear themselves out in the water. It must have been horrible for the adults that year.

Thanks to the rain, there was virtually no swimming. And there was little walking in the woods, because the mosquitos swarmed thick around your ears as soon as you got away from the breeze off the lake. And the sand… oh, the sand! The kids were constantly tracking wet sand into the cottage, sand that had to be constantly swept off the dank concrete floor and tossed back outside into the falling rain only to be tracked back in moments later.

2. From a Kids Point of View

Although I can’t imagine what that rainy summer must have been like for the adults, I can imagine it as a kid. Because I was one.

First of all, we were in the habit of spending virtually every waking hour in the lake, so the rain didn’t bother us. And we were used to running around barefoot up and down the dirt-and-sand stairs and back and forth on the sandy beach, so wet sand on our feet didn’t bother us, either. But most importantly, we were together again — all us kids. Together again since last year. And there was a lot of lost time to make up for. 

Um… what about that camper?

Oh yes… the camper. It was our game room.

In there, we played cards and board games. We had Uno and regular cards. We had The Game of Life and Sorry and Space Chase. My brother could tell you the others. We had a bottomless supply of them stacked in a pile on the counter immediately to the right just as you stepped into the camper.

We’d sit in there, crammed into that tiny space, at that tiny table that doubled for a bed when lowered into position. We’d sit there with wet clothes, with wet hair, with damp arms rubbing against each other, with wet, sandy toes. We’d laugh and yell. We’d win and lose. And we’d stay in there hour after hour while a breeze blew in thru the slightly-opened windows and the rain made loud dripping sounds on the sand and pine needles outside.

We’d sit shoulder-to-shoulder in that space playing games day after day while the rain kept coming. And life could not have been better.