Sunday, October 30, 2011


Suna says: It was time for our monthly trip to see Lee's dad (delayed so I could sing a solo at church last weekened), so we rumbled off as soon as I could get away from work. Lee had the day off, so he had Ursula ready to go as soon as I got home. We had a very pleasant drive with little horrible traffic to deal with, though now that it's fall, it's hard to get anywhere before dark. I remembered the blanket that was supposed to go in Ursula when I finished knitting it, plus Lee had bought me a lovely pansy plant. We looked quite civilized!

Ursula's interior with her nice blanket and pansies.

We did get to the Farm in time to chat with Lee's dad and Chris, so all was well. We enjoyed looking at brochures for the nice new tractor Lee's dad had bought that day. His trade-in on the old tractor was for more than he's originally paid! Wish it worked like that with cars! I am go glad Lee's dad is enjoying his time right now. He looked pretty good, though his bladder cancer treatment is going slow. We hope it can get going again after he gets checked out again. After Lee's dad went to bed, we talked to Chris for a long time--there's so much to catch on every time we visit, plus there is all the necessary joking, kidding and poking fun that has to happen. We heard lots of owls and coyotes.

Chris and a tree

We woke up at a reasonable time Saturday morning. It had been pretty chilly at night—we inaugurated Ursula's heating system, which worked just great. Lee made us a nice breakfast of eggs and toast, then Chris brought kolaches, so there was plenty of breakfast. We spent most of the day hanging out at the Farm. I was trying out my new roper-style boots and Stetson hat that Lee had bought me last week. Both worked out GREAT. I had gotten the hat a size big, and the guy had put some foam inside it. That has made the hat incredibly comfy. I wore it all day Saturday and it did not hurt a bit.

Chris and Suna survey Dad’s domain

The new DeWitt County icon

We all walked over to the pad to see how the oil company had painted the well and storage equipment all a lovely shade of tan. Chris and I climbed the stairs up to the top of the storage tanks (they store water and only smelled a little like the city of Luling). You could really see a long way--lots of the new RV parks that have sprung up, and plenty of oil equipment.

Quite attractive water storage tanks

View from the tanks, with Lee and his dad discussing the lovely tan paint. The green stripe is the grass that got patiently irrigated all summer. Soon it will be a pasture.

Much of our time walking around was spent in the endless quest to eliminate the evil "smell apples" from the fields. Lee's dad hates them. After a great deal of searching, I found that these are an invasive species called the dudaim melon (or smell melon or apple melon, thus the colloquial smell apple). They do seem prolific, and pretty useless. Apparently they came from Iran--those darn terrorists. OK, really they came from Persia, which was before Iran was there, so no bad intent, ha ha.

Smell Apples

Suna actually pulled the smell apple pictured above. See! Here she is pulling it.

The grass that Lee's dad so diligently watered during the drought has taken hold and looks really good. He and Chris have also planted a field with a mix of oats and rye grass. We spent some time trying to figure out which were the oats and which were the rye--as seedlings they look pretty similar, but by pulling a couple up and seeing what seed was attached, positive identification was achieved. Judging from Lee's photos, it was pretty hilarious.

This is what Dad’s jigs looks like from the ground. Some of the runners are almost four feet long. Hard to imagine that it started out looking like hay being plowed into dry soil.

Dad calls these, “Those damned yellow flowers." Suna calls them by their botanical name. I just call them “pretty.”

Here they are up close and shady

This coy beauty posed for us on the walk back to the house. Growing up, I never knew scissor tails were so colorful.

#10 lets Suna pet her nose.

Speaking of hilarious, when we got back we were chatting, when one of the cows (good ole #10) came up and looked like she wanted something. She had heard the rattle of the paper bag my knitting was in and had hoped it was a feed bag. She is like a larger version of Scrunchy the Pug I guess. So, Chris gave me a handful of feed and after a bit of patience, she came up and ate it out of my hand. A bit slimy, but really a lot of fun to be licked by the big, black tongue! Then ALL the cattle showed up. I ended up quite the popular human, and got to pet one of the little bulls quite a bit. Both the little bulls are very sweet—too bad they have to go somewhere else so that inbreeding doesn't happen. They are each nursing off the same cow, since one of them decided to wean her calf. The poor nicer cow gets quite bothered when they both are thirsty at the same time. Mostly they eat grass—they are almost a year old.

Suna feeds good ole #10.

Dad and Chris recently planted a mixture of oats and rye grass to feed the cattle through the winter, but some other things are coming up in the mix. Here Chris and Suna try to discern which seedling is which variety.

As if that were not enough excitement, we then decided to head to Cuero for an early dinner. We did make a detour to see some donkeys, since I had mentioned, oh, once or twice, that I am interested in a spotted donkey. Yep, they were pretty nice looking donkeys down by the Yorktown cemetery. Most restaurants in DeWitt County close on Saturday afternoons, but we found a Mexican restaurant that was open. The food was really good and the servings were immense, but gee whiz the place was filthy. And the paint peeling. Well, as long as the food prep area was OK [I wouldn’t count on it; some things you’re better off not knowing], so were we.

Back at the Farm we enjoyed a nice sunset and watched Lee take photos. Then, we had a rather surreal experience watching a 1970s Lawrence Welk Halloween show rerun on PBS (watch link for a laugh--for a bigger laugh do a Google Image search on "Lawrence Welk Show Halloween" and note how many Saturday Night Live images actually appear). This is the highlight of the paternal week. The weird part was that while all the singers were dressed in Halloween costumes, the songs were mostly spirituals. Most...interesting.

Lee's dad thought he was coming down with a cold, so Chris and I went to the store and got him a variety of zinc, vitamin C and other things to head a cold off. It's always fun to go to the rural grocery store. All that got everyone tired out, so we returned to Ursula and relaxed with Chris a while, then turned in. Coyotes were really, really loud last night. And lots of mooing. Something must have been going on!

From the water storage tanks, it looked like the sky was on fire.

Dusk was nice, too.

Later that night, you could see the shadow of the moon through the trees. You could also see a couple of planets in opposites quarters of the sky, but those pictures didn’t come out well. I need a faster camera.

Eek! Something is eating the moon! And there’s a lens flare watching.

This time exposure of a car going down the road shows just how bumpy it really is.

This morning (Sunday) we had to get up early so Lee could go to a meeting at church at noon. We couldn't get there in time for choir, and I felt bad about that, due to there being only one actual soprano left. Ursula apparently did not like that, so she decided to make her alarm go off, trying to tell us the levelers weren't back up all the way, even though they were. Lovely. But we had a nice time going home a slightly different way, and made it in a timely fashion.

Next week we hope to get up to the Ranch (as opposed to the Farm) for rural camping in scenic Milam County. I hope we make it there by dark, since I am not exactly sure where Ursula is going to park. It's hard enough navigating a familiar pasture in the dark!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Inks Lake Campout with Live Oak

Suna says: Ursula got to head to the Hill Country this weekend for a campout with a few of our friends from Live Oak UU Church. We went to Inks Lake State Park, a place where we have been many times, even when the kids were little. Inks Lake is the smallest of the Highland Lakes, and is located near Burnet, Texas and the town of Buchanan Dam (guess what they have there? Yep, the dam that makes Lake Buchanan—pronounced Buck-annan). The park is really pretty, and huge. There are more than 200 campsites, and there are lots of trees. The lake is a constant-level lake, so the shore is where it’s supposed to be.

I liked the way the trees framed the lake here. The kid was not in frame when I snapped the picture. Only after I started working the pictures did I realize he was wearing one boot and one sneaker.
The main problem with this lovely place is that it is extremely popular. And this is the first weekend after a nice rain, so everyone in the world was here. This includes at least a dozen Cub Scout, Boy Scout, YMCA club, and other groups of young folks. They had a great weekend, judging from the screeching. But, of course, this is what they are supposed to be doing—learning about nature and the outdoors. Nonetheless, there is not a lot of restful nature enjoyment at Inks Lake, with all the tents, dogs, people and adults.

Everywhere you looked people were crawling over the park like ants. Oh, wait! These are ants!
You do get to watch people canoeing and kayaking, and that is pretty. People near us brought a small sailboat and we had fun watching them learn to sail it.

The little sailboat that mostly could.
Mostly we have sat around and chatted with our friends from church. There wasn’t a huge group, but it included many of our old friends, so it was fun to catch up.

Our circle the second night.Our “official” group photo……and our “official” stragglers
And speaking of old friends, when our friend Martha went into the park store, she recognized the woman working there as an early member ofthe church. She and her partner came by and joined us at the “campfire” last night, which was really nice. And as for that campfire—the burn ban is still in effect, so this is what we put together:

Our solar lights, Connie's solar lights, and Martha's fake candles cast a mighty light.
But I am ahead of myself. So…we managed to leave home at 5pm, which worked out well. We found a route that really didn’t run into any bad traffic—we made great time, and arrived before it was dark. And I didn’t rush Lee at all, honest. After some confusion as to which campsite was ours (and we got the better end of that deal—not next to the extra-patriotic Boy Scouts, we settled in and proceeded to hang out and laugh and enjoy wine with our friends until bedtime. That was fun.
I think they call it “The Devil’s Water Hole” because it is so hard to get to and in the middle of some very dry country.
Saturday morning was also very pleasant. After chatting and coffee, Lee and I were joined by our church friend Tina on a hike to the DevilsWater Hole. We sure got to enjoy the presence of a LOT of young people and their chaperones. There were lots of high pitched squeals, shouts, and boyish laughs.But we had a great time anyway. The area where this park is located is one of my favorite parts of the world (really—it feels almost as good as Gainesville,Florida and certain parts of Ireland). The terrain is karst—rocks on the surface with interesting wild flowers on it. The Burren in western Ireland is very similar. The rocks are mostly the amazing pink granite that they mine inMarble Falls, which is the material on the capitol building in Austin. Here are some photos:

It is so much fun to see the seams of colored rock wandering around.
We climbed all over the rocks, found a wren and some other birds, chased some lizards with interesting stripes on the undersides of their tails, and watched dragonflies in the process of making additional dragonflies.
These guys were having fun.
And this guy was hoping they’d come close enough for lunch.
We finally got to hear something other than angry bird sounds from this lovely.
Remove the pricks and prickly pears can keep you hydrated in the desert.

Eventually we even got to spend some time without other people around, and got to sit and look at the water. It was nice to see puddles of water in the crevices—I am sure they were empty all summer. Looking at all the pink, gray and white rock made the entire trip worth it, I just love this place—if it weren’t so crowded around here, I would love to live here.
Not sure where this honeysuckle gets its water from. It’s way up on a rock hill.
There really isn’t that much water here. I just took pictures of it all.
After the hike we had lunch and proceeded to pretty much hang out and talk the rest of the day. We kept moving as Ursula’s shade moved.Games were played, and beer and margaritas were consumed. It was a nice time.We were pretty amazed at how many grackles and starlings descended on our area sat sunset. Lee took some wonderful photos of the flock, flocking.
Remember The Birds?
This morning I am sitting and typing while our friends cook breakfast. It’s very civilized. I ate bread, so I am enjoying the smell of Janet’s eggs from her happy chickens as they turn into breakfast taco ingredients.
Suna takes time out from blogging to smile at the photographer.
Lee and I took another walk (even though all that climbing had my legs feeling a bit wonky) and saw two beautiful herons from the fishing dock. I also managed to have a lucky focus with the binoculars and saw a coot emerge from the lake with a fish in its mouth. That was fun to watch. Lee got a great photo of a duck with its mouth wide open and a couple of ducks landing, but that was about it for birds this trip. Too many people, I think.
Most of Sunday was spent looking at the lake, conversing about nothing, and cleaning Ursula up for the ride home.We had loaned out the restroom facility to our friends, so they would not have to walk all the way to the campground bathrooms, so a wee amount of dirt got tracked in. However, the reason we brought Ursula was to share her, so we did not mind one bit. She did a great job casting shade, too. A fellow camper walked by and said she was very nice. Then she related the story that she was in her trailer Friday when suddenly everything went dark. She looked up, and it was us lumbering toward our parking space. Yes, Ursula blocks the sun. She is mighty.
Hey, brother! Can you spare some nuts?
I have never tried fly fishing, and watching this guy didn’t inspire me to want to.
You can see the dam from the fishing peer.
Oh, and here’t the fishing peer
Trip Report
Highlight: Hike to the Devil’sWater Hole
Lowlight: Crowds. Lee said it was more like living in an apartment complex than a restful nature adventure. There were just too many people—like 300 campsites, nearly all full.
Park Review: Here is a great publication (PDF) about the Inks Lake State Park. It really is in a breathtaking location. I have always liked this place a lot. We camped here in tents last spring, which was not as much fun for me as Ursula camping. I wish I hadn’t gotten overheated setting up the tent that time, because hiking would have been more fun with fewer people. There are amazing hiking trails in this park—Lee andI went on most of them with a group of friends in 2007. The terrain and geological formations are simply fascinating, and unique to the area. The lake is not overly large, but perfect for canoeing and kayaking because there aren’t a lot of giant boats and jet skis buzzing the calmer vehicles. You can also easily take a swim very near most of the camp sites. This lake was NOT dry. A disadvantage of Inks Lake is that it is so popular. It is huge and crowded on weekends, though the store worker/friend said it’s not busy at all during the week. Next time we come, it will be a weekday adventure! Down the road from this park is the absolutely wonderful Longhorn Caverns State Park. This is one of the most fun caves I have ever visited, and I have also had the fun of attending a concert by my friend Jeff IN the cave, followed by a lovely dinner. I think they stopped having the concerts, but they sure were fun. If you live around here and have not visited this area, please do. It is especially beautiful I the spring, when wildflowers cover the rocks. Even if you live far away, this is a worthwhile destination.
Photographs can’t capture the awesomeness of the late afternoon light on the drought-stricken trees. Talk about making sadness pretty!
Good News Postscript: Part of the talking among the campers included planning for two future group events. We intend to visit McKinney Falls again at the end of January, and then Perdenales StatePark at the end of March. That will take care of my need for camping with people, and allow plenty of time for me and Lee to do individual introvert-style camping as well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stillhouse Hollow Lake Revisited (Part 2)

Suna: I didn't see this post with all the nice photos that Lee had started. Sorry, Lee. So, here is more from the trip I just blogged.

We arrived in time to make camp and see the sun set on Friday night.
Just sitting and watching the lake at night was enough to drain the stress of a month.

Here's a shocker:
Suna and Lee seldom have their pictures taken together on these trips because someone has to hold the camera. But Lee bought a tripod last time Ursula lumbered and here they are together!

Love the bird photos!
Lee startled this guy while trying to get close enough to photograph a deer who was keeping cool by wading in the lake. That shot did not pan out.

This is the heron, but we could see the ospreys just as close as this!
Sure was a lot of fun watching these guys hunt!

Ignore the poor dying tree.
This guy came to visit our side of the inlet.

We heard the killdeer more than we saw them, on this campsite, but we did see at least one!
This coy little [bird] wasn’t too shy for a picture.

Shocking! I am wearing a long-sleeved shirt for the first time since March, I am sure.
Suna wants Lee to look at something. What could it be?

Poor dry lake.
Did we mention there is a drought going on?
See the new plants growing in what is usually a lake bed.

The poor heron got splashed a lot from here!
There was a strong wind all Saturday night, and it continued Sunday morning.
See the whitecaps that occasionally splashed our friend standing on his growing peninsula.

Thank you, Lee, for such nice photos that I could probably have integrated with the other post if I hadn't been in a hurry. I hope some readers read this and also enjoy it!