Monday, December 31, 2007

The Story of the Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Location: Sumter Oaks Park, Bushnell, Fl

On my last day in this park, the Barred Owl I have been searching for showed up! And I heard his story from some folks who were staying here last year:

Once upon a time, there were two Owls who lived in the great Oak Trees that ring Sumter Oaks Campground. Mama and Papa Owl were very much in love, and soon their nest was filled with cooing baby owlets! Mama Owl went hunting one morning, and probably saw a tasty Mr. Mouse scurrying along the roadside. She fixed her gaze on Mr. Mouse, and began her Dive of Death. Oh, no! Mr. Automobile came around the bend, just as Mama Owl reached the road. Splat! Mama Owl died there on the asphalt. The Humans in the campground found her, and they felt sadness for her and for the motherless baby owlets. "What would become of them?" they wondered. But Mother Nature understands how to care for Her offspring, and gave Papa Owl the wisdom and knowledge to care for his baby chicks. And this he did, and when they were old enough, the baby owlets flew from the nest and began their Life on the Wing. Who knows? Maybe this owl was one of those chicks. Or just maybe it was Papa Owl himself! Probably, though, it's just some owl that wandered into the campground and doesn't really give a hoot about any of this.

Second Seminole War Begins - A Reenactment

Location: Bushnell, Florida

On December 28th, 1835, Seminole Indians fought U.S. soldiers under the command of Major Francis Dade, on a field which would eventually become part of Bushnell, Florida. The battle, the first of the Second Seminole War, is reenacted each year on the weekend after Christmas at the Dade Battlefield Historic Park.

Click for Larger Image of the Battle ReenactmentThere were three Seminole Wars, (First: 1817 to 1818; Second: 1835 to 1842; Third: 1855 to 1858) but the Second is the one that has gone down in
history as the longest lasting war in American history. The conflict between the U.S. government and the Seminoles began during the Revolutionary War when the Seminoles were recruited by the British to fight against Georgian settlements. Long story short, a treaty in the First Seminole War required all Seminoles to relocate, by 1835, to what is now Oklahoma. While many did, some understandably resisted being forced from their home and land. They fought back, attacking plantations and a militia wagon train. Major Dade, with 108 men, was dispatched to reinforce Fort King near Ocala. As he passed through the Bushnell area, the Seminoles ambushed and killed all but two of the soldiers, one of them subsequently dying within a short time. Major Dade was one of the casulties.

In January, 1836, Dade County in Florida (now Miami-Dade) was created and named for Major Francis Dade.

Click for Larger Image of Seminoles Arriving At the BattlefieldAs the reenactment began, the "Seminoles," who had minutes before arrived in golf carts, hid in the thickets. The narrator, who played the part of the eventual sole survivor (on the soldier's side), entered from a path on our left, followed by the two companies led by Major Dade. When they stopped to rest, the hidden Seminoles attacked, "killing" all but two of the soldiers. As the battle ensued, the narrator followed the action from his point of view, which was very much "us versus them," and interspersed with colorful language urging his fellow soldiers to kill the Indians. There was no narrator for the Seminoles.

Click for Larger Image of Victorious SeminolesHistory is a complicated business. Although the victors write the story, there is always another side. The Seminole's story has not been lost, but I found this reenactment to be very one-sided. The only attempt at providing a balanced experience was a folk singer who, before the reenactment, sang some moving ballads about the Seminoles losing their homeland. I would have liked to have seen a joint narration, one soldier, one Seminole. As it was, it felt more like the old "Cowboys and Indians" games we used to play as children, where the cowboys were always good and the Indians were always bad. This was a bit different, though. This time the cowboys didn't have horses or ten-gallon hats, and the Indians didn't lose.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Florida Arachnids

Location: Bushnell, Florida

After braving the crowds at Wally World (AKA grocery shopping), I wandered the campground in search of insects or other small creatures to photograph. The colder weather in Texas had sent most of them for cover, so it was with a sense of excitement that I found a couple spiders that are still out enjoying the Florida warmth. As usual, click for a larger image.

  • A Golden-silk Spider (Nephila clavipes):
    Click for larger image of the Golden-silk Spider
  • A Crab-like Spiny Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis)
    Click for larger image of the Crab-like Spiny Orb Weaver

Friday, December 28, 2007

Dry Camping On The Way To Florida

Location: Bushnell, Fl

I have just spent three days on the road travelling from Livingston, Texas to Florida. I had planned a more leisurely trip, with a two-day stop in Alabama, but I wound up driving more miles on Day One than I had planned, and it seemed a waste to only go two hours on Day Two. So I decided to save Alabama for a return trip, and pushed on to Florida.

I stayed both nights while on the road in a Flying J. Flying J's normally have a front area for cars and RVs, and a back lot for 18-wheelers. The front area has several long parking spots for RVs, and these are where the "dry campers" park for the night.

When I pulled in on the first night, those long front spots were cordoned off with tape. A Flying J employee was on hand to explain that they were setting up a fireworks tent at 5 am, so they were asking RVers to park in the back with the 18-wheelers. When I pulled around, there was only one pull-through site left -- the others were either sites that were against the back fence (requiring backing into now), or doubled in the second row behind a truck that was already parked (possibly requiring backing out in the morning if the front truck had not already left). I don't back well, and doing it in front of fifty truckers who DO back well would be just too embarrassing. I took the last pull through.

The truck to my right had his engine running, and I was hoping that it would not run all night. Of course, it did. Truckers usually run their engines for two reasons -- to keep the fuel from gelling in extreme cold, and to keep their battery charged to power accessories like heaters, refrigerators, and TVs. It wasn't cold enough for diesel to gel or to need heat inside the cab, and I doubt that the driver was planning to watch TV all night. But he didn't seem to be turning it off. So I resigned myself to a sleepless night, but an odd thing happened. I found that the diesel's rumbling provided a kind of blanket of white noise, and I actually had a very nice night's sleep.

The second night I parked in the front of a different Flying J, and had other RVers for neighbors. Here I could dimly hear the background noise of the station -- cars coming and going, piped music on the pumps, people on cell phones -- and, while much quieter than the diesel, I found it to be more annoying. I did sleep through most of the night, but I woke much more often.

I am now in another park run by the Escapees and will be here until January 1st when I will move to another RV park one exit away. Other RVers have told me that a family of barred owls frequent the large oaks here, so I went "hunting" just before twilight. I didn't see an owl, but I did see two wild turkeys looking a bit out of place as they perched high in a tree and made flapping motions towards each other. It feels like summer now, but the weather forecast calls for the first freeze in five years by the beginning of next week. At least it doesn't call for snow!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Festivities At Rainbow's End

For the Christmas Eve party at Rainbow's End, we were told, "bring a $10 gift, finger food, a pencil, paper, a pin, scissors, tape, and paper." Later it became apparent that confusion reigned -- the person giving those instructions had a Texas accent, and no one was sure if the "pin" was the kind you stick into a cushion, or a "pen" that you sign a check with. A clarification was then made -- we should bring a "rotten pen." Silence descended quickly as we all tried to parse this into something that made sense and actually reduced the confusion. Oh!!! We all got it. A "writing pen"! OK, then!

Christmas Eve arrived, and everyone showed up in their holiday finest. Now for RVers here in Texas, that may be a snowman sweater with blue jeans, sporty reindeer ears, or a Santa hat perched on top of a cowboy hat -- or nothing more than normal attire. Everyone was, however, chatty and festive, and we played a few paper and pencil games and socialized as people kept arriving.

Click for Larger Image of Donna DressingClick for Larger Image of Donna on StageOnce everyone was there, we found out why we had scissors and tape. We divided into teams and moved to rooms that had been set up with wrapping paper, bows and other decorations. We had 20 minutes to "dress" one member of our team any way we liked. We wound up dressing Donna in a "bikini" and headdress. As she came out, I sang Mele Kalikimaka. Let me repeat that. I sang Mele Kalikimaka, with a mike, to an audience. Halfway through I realized I should be petrified, but I found I didn't really care how it sounded. People were, of course, paying more attention to Donna in a wrapping paper bikini and a "Madonna" bra made of foam drinking cups than they were to my singing, so that kind of took the pressure off! We then played a holiday-themed memory game, and a game of Holiday Musical Chairs.

Finally, Santa arrived! He had everyone get in a large circle holding their $10 gift. He then read The Night Before Christmas, slightly altered with the words "right" and "left" added here and there. Each time "right" or "left" was read, we passed the gift in our hands in that direction. It got very confusing and turned out to be a lot of fun.

On Christmas Day, we again got together for dinner. Below is a picture of most of those at the Single's Table (Donna is missing -- she was out searching for Lemon Pie). After dinner, some of us hung around for a rousing game of Mexican Train (I know it sounds vaguely risque, but it really is a domino game). It was a fun way to spend Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Two Surprises

When I walked out of the rig this morning, I found two surprises when I looked at my truck. The first was the frost all over the windshield! It got down to 28 degrees last night. I didn't have the furnace on in the rig, and it was 48 inside. Fortunately, I was snuggled under both a quilt and my low temperature sleeping bag, and the rig is small enough that it heats up quickly.Click to view large image of Frost on the Truck

But what's that on the windshield? Everyone seemed to have one on their vehicle. On closer inspection, it appears that Santa made a Christmas Eve Eve visit to all of us who were naughty! (If you have trouble reading the note, mouse over the image or click to view a larger image.)You've Been Naughty This Year, So Here's the Scoop -- All You Get For Christmas Is This Elf Poop

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Solstice

This is the day when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky, and, in the northern hemisphere, marks the point at which the sun will begin to "come back" as the days grow longer. Today the folks at the north pole will not see the sun, and those at the south pole will not see the sun set. No wonder Santa makes his trek at this time of the year -- he's just searching for some Vitamin D!

People have celebrated solstice since they began tracking the movement of the sun throughout the year, and many holidays -- Yule, Saturnalia, Christmas, and the births of Dionysus, Osiris, and Mithra all occur at this time.

Today is a fine day for starting your photograph of the analemma, but there is no reason to try to stand an egg on end -- gravity and eggs are the same today as they will be the rest of the year, and gravity usually wins.

Happy Solstice, everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Perils of Geocaching (or Duck! Duck! Goose!)

Click for Larger Image of Goose on PathIf geocaching is supposed to be my new hobby, I thought I'd better go out and actually find a cache or two. Friday was a beautiful day -- temps around 72 degrees, sunny, and just one of those "gee it's good to be alive" days. So I jumped in the truck and set off for Livingston.

My first stop was a cemetery with an "easy" cache. Right. After wandering around, looking like a fool as I carefully examined all sorts of graves, trees, and bushes, I just couldn't find it. If this is easy, I may need a new hobby! So I drove on to Pedigo Park, where another was located in an area where one could "sit and watch all the ducks."

Click for larger image of Goose Displaying AggessionPedigo Park is a lovely municipal park, with a fish lake, ball field, and a monthly flea market. This time of year, there is also a drive-through display of lighted santas, horse drawn carriages, snow people, toys, and the like. I parked, and found the small paved path that leads to the lake and the benches where, as the cache description stated, I could "sit and watch all the ducks." In the first photo, the benches are under the trees at the end of the path, beyond the goose. I'm sure you are now asking, "but why is there a goose standing on the path?"

Click for larger image of goose showing aggressionThere is a goose standing on the path because he flapped out of the lake a minute after I sat on the bench. He stood there staring at me, making aggressive neck thrusts and occasionally flapping his wings. I hadn't found the cache, but he was making it difficult to look, so I started back down the path towards my car. He followed. I moved. He moved. A couple times he started coming towards me, neck either held high or low and stalking. He charged a couple times and then backed off. Once when he charged I dropped the GPS receiver (you can see it on the ground in the photo), and I had to wait until he retreated somewhat to get it. Of course, when I went forward to get the GPS he charged me again.

He seemed to really get ticked off if I bent lower to the ground, which I was doing when he charged once more. I quickly turned to leave, being quite tired of Sheriff Goose running me out of town, but this time he didn't back off the charge and got the back of my leg with his beak. I did report the incident to the park office, and they will have someone investigate. Maybe they'll invite me for a goose dinner one night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Azaleas In Bloom

December 16th, and -- at least some -- azaleas are in bloom here in Texas. The low tonight is supposed to be 28 degrees (yes, Fahrenheit), so they may be gone tomorrow!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Two Firsts

Click for Larger Image of GeocachersThe First First:
I went Geocaching. Geocaching is a sport that was born along with the easy availability of handheld GPS receivers. Caches, consisting of containers with various objects in them, are hidden in a public place, and then the latitude and longitude of the cache uploaded to the website. It is then up to the geocachers to find the hidden cache, using the coordinates to get close and then searching the area. It is similar to Letterboxing, but Letterboxing involves providing written directions to the location of the hidden cache. This photo was taken by a passing Skip (member of the Escapees, or SKP -- say the abbreviation out loud) who had previously located the cache we were looking for and had stopped by to watch three fools turn over rocks, kick leaves, and look behind and in trees. Mike, on my right, was an experienced geocacher but this particular cache was new to him, and Mark, on my left, was also a geocache newbie. FYI, we did find the cache, and a second one, too, both hidden at the Escapee Rainbow's End park (behind us in this photo).

Click for Larger Image of Habitat for Humanity BuildThe Second First:
I participated in my first Habitat for Humanities build! There were three houses being built on adjacent lots in Livingston -- the Escapees house was in the middle, to our right was the Methodists' house, and to our left was, as they called themselves, "The Christun Motorsickles" group's house. We were to meet at 7:30 A.M., but a torrential downpour coupled with a thunderstorm pushed the start back to about 9:00. The slabs had already been poured and hardened, and a huge pile of wood lay on palettes on the road. We started moving wood to the slab, and nailing specific pieces of wood together that would later be needed in the framing to make doors and windows. I carried a lot of wood around, guarded the blueprint from being disintegrated by water that had puddled in the red clay surrounding the build, and generally tried to help out wherever I could.

Click for Larger Image of Habitat for Humanity BuildAs the day progressed, the weather cleared and got quite chilly (we are expecting a freeze tonight with wind gusts around 40 mph). Our neighbors both had their walls framed and erected long before we did, but we quickly realized that they all had nail guns and we only had Senior Citizens with Hammers. But we managed to get all the walls framed and in place by the end of the day, and it looks great! The next work session isn't scheduled until January, and I will have left Livingston by then. Next time I'm in town I'll have to stop by and see what it looks like!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warm Weather Holiday Spirit

Location: Still in Livingston!

Click for a larger image of the Polk County CourthouseThis is my first holiday season in a warm climate, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The biggest surprise is that people here decorate with snowflakes, and I'm sure some of them haven't seen one for twenty years! I asked one native if she had ever seen snow, and she said, "Oh Yes!" like it happened all the time. She then went on to explain that she had seen snow once in the 6th grade, and once in the 10th!

Click for a larger image of the Chandelier of LightsLivingston had a "Hometown Christmas" celebration recently with arts and crafts vendors, a car show, live entertainment (mostly grade school choirs for whom singing in key was more a suggestion than a rule), a petting zoo, carriage rides, a parade, and Santa at City Hall. The brochure also said there would be "Propane Street Heaters," but the temperature was in the 70s so I never did find out what they were. It was very odd to me to be at a winter holiday event in shorts, and I kept having to remember that this was NOT a July 4th event.

Click for larger image of a decorated house in LivingstonLivingston did a fine job of decorating the town, from the huge American Flag in lights on the County Building to the Chandelier in lights over the craft tents. Houses along the streets were decorated, too. The parade started after dark, and each float and wagon was lit with battery powered holiday lights. My favorite was the men and women who rode their horses along the parade route. The men were dressed in "rhinestone cowboy" attire, and the women in red and white "Mrs. Santa" outfits, riding side-saddle. The bridles and reins of each horse were outlined in white lights, and the effect was stunning. There also was a square-dance float with a live caller and 16 dancers. The wagon was decorated in red lights, and each person had white lights running down their arms and legs. It was fun to watch the lights floating around as they danced!

Click for larger image of Sally the camelI can't forget to tell you about my new friend Sally. Sally is a 4-month old camel I met at the petting zoo. She was friendly and nuzzly, and did not spit once! She did try to steal the rake from the pony ride next door when no one (but me) was looking, but gave up when the rake got caught in the fence. Maybe she wanted a present, too, and was afraid she was on the Naughty List?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another Night Of Texas Two Stepping

First, let me thank all y'all who took the time to express concern about my drifting toward being a real Texan. Oops.. did I really say "all y'all"? Not to worry, I'm sure it was a one time slip up!

Anyway, I did go back to the VFW on Saturday -- more dancin' but this time with a band. Them 'ole boys had dec'rated that there hall so purty! Lights everywhere and a big 'ol disco ball just a hangin' over the ceiling! So I'm fixin to dance the Texas Two Step all night, but dang if I ain't as bad off as a rubber-nosed woodpecker in a petrified forest -- I ain't got me no cowboy boots! But I didn't let that stop me -- I danced that two step all night in my sneakers! So you see there is nothing to be concerned about. I haven't changed at all.

I really don't have cowboy boots, I don't have a plaid shirt or cowgirl skirt, and I don't have a hat, but I did find a nice armadillo belt buckle that I wore on Saturday. And I learned a couple things about men's Texas fashion: the boots should fit tightly, there are different qualities of "straw" for hats, the degree to which the brim turns up is a personal choice and is accomplished through steaming and shaping the hat, and finally that the hat band is an accessory that personalizes the hat and is usually purchased separately.

I had a lot of fun line dancing and doing the two step -- and this time I was able to get through the moving-in-circles and twirls smoothly, looking more or less like I knew what I was doing. Maybe I should get a pair of boots! Yee haw!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Today I Really Am A Texan

Forget about the driver's license. Forget about the Livingston address, the voter registration, and the library card. All of that shows I intend for Texas to be my domicile, but today I became a Texan in a more fundamental way -- I went dancing at the VFW, and learned to do the Texas Two-Step. And this after having eaten fried okra at dinner!

Now I think I should be fixin' to get me some boots!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Location: Livingston, Texas

I'm still here in Livingston -- I've gotten my "real" driver's license, but I'm waiting for the registrations. The weather has been cold and rainy -- and I can hear some snorting from those of you who think by cold I mean 60 degrees -- but it really has been cold: down comforter for the bed and a hat and mittens for the body. The lows have been in the 30s, the highs in the 50s, and those temps have been accompanied by a cold, relentless rain -- once the rain even turned to hail, and it was VERY LOUD on my aluminum roof. The rain has now passed through, and the temps are going up a bit. The sun was bright and shiny today, and it sure felt good!

My day usually begins with an hour and a half of line dancing, and it gets me up and going. As a community service, the group dances once a week at area nursing homes, and, for the first time, today I went along. We all dressed in white pants and a red top, and did about 8 dances -- some to oldies like Chattanooga Choo Choo, and some to contemporary cowboy songs like "He Drinks Tequila (And She Talks Dirty In Spanish)". The residents seemed to have a good time!

During the day I do the fun stuff like going to Wally World or working on images, and then at 4 P.M. we all meet for social hour where we find out what is going on in the park. Then a movie in the evening, or a game of Rummykub, Dominos, or cards, and then back to bed so I can get up and start again.

There you have a synopsis of Life in Livingston!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey Day At Rainbow's End

Location: Livingston, Texas

First and foremost, let me thank all of you who are reading this blog for doing just that. I appreciate you more than you will ever know!

And now, Thanksgiving dinner at Rainbows End --- it was amazing. The plan was

  • Everybody signs up to sit at a table, 10-12 people per table.
  • Turkey, gravy, coffee, and tea are provided.
  • Each table has a volunteer "host."
  • The host gets together with the table members to decide what they will have at their table and who will bring it.
  • In addition to food, everyone decorates their own table, brings their own place settings, a platter for the turkey and a bowl for the gravy, wine if desired, napkins, tea pitchers -- everything else.
When I signed up, a woman, who I will call Marilyn, was listed as the host. I was signed up at the first table of "Singles," and eventually there would be a total of three Single's tables. By late last week, Marilyn had not contacted us or even showed up at Social Hour. As it turns out, Marilyn had hosted in previous years, but was now vacationing in Argentina, so some "friends" of hers thought it would be "funny" to sign her up as host, knowing she would not be there. Realizing that the only real outcome of this would be chaos, I volunteered to host our table. As time wore on, it became apparent that no one was volunteering to host the other two Single's tables, so I volunteered for them, too.

I got everyone together for a meeting, and we decided, for our three tables, to put all the food together. We would have dinner buffet style instead of each table having their own dishes. We made sure we had enough duplicates (e.g., at least three people bringing mashed potatoes), and called it A Plan.

On Wednesday, the tables were set up, and the three Singles tables were placed together at one end of the room. We came in Thursday morning and decorated all three tables and the buffet table. At two o'clock the dinner began.

Everything went very well, with only a couple glitches. One man seemed quite put out that his dish of Piping Hot Whatever would not be solely eaten by his table mates (he missed the meeting). Another couple, who arrived late, were miffed because there were no longer two seats side-by-side and they couldn't sit together (people had already begun eating so switching chairs wasn't a good option). And we realized that we should have set up the buffet table so people could go down both sides. But those were minor glitches, and no one went home hungry. All told, 32 Singles and a total of almost 200 people attended Thanksgiving Dinner at Rainbow's End.Click for Larger View of Dinner At Rainbows End

Monday, November 19, 2007

Space Center Houston

"Hey, Houston, we've had a problem here."
-- James A. Lovell, Jr.

Location: Day Trip To Houston

This is the real quote, rather than the often misquoted, "Houston, we have a problem," that began the nightmare of cascading failures for Apollo 13 and Houston Mission Control in April 1970. And I know this because it is displayed at Space Center Houston, which is half astronomy lessons, half real-time NASA Mission Control, and half hands-on science center (math majors, you may wince here). As you drive through the outskirts of Houston, you start to think that "NASA" must be the name of the town -- there is the NASA Souvenir Shop, the NASA Shell Station, the NASA Liquor Store, the NASA One Cleaners, and the NASA Pointe Mall.

Although the NASA name predominates, Space Center Houston is the jumping off point all things spacey in the area. It is here that you buy your ticket, go through a security checkpoint, and then choose whether you want to go to the theaters, galleries, displays, hands-on activities, eat spacey food or -- of course -- visit the gift shop. That was an easy decision for me -- a guided tour through the real NASA's Johnson Space Center topped my list.

I got in line for the tram tour, which began with someone taking the seemingly ubiquitous photo of each of us -- the photo that we would be able to purchase for a mere $20 at the conclusion of the tour (I declined). We had gone through a security checkpoint to get into Space Center Houston, but that had not been much more than a cursory purse and bag check. To get to the Johnson Space Center, however, we had to go through a metal detector, and we were issued a pass that we had to retain for the tram. There were three stops where we would exit the tram and tour a building -- and we were required to sit in the same seats every time we returned to ensure that no one was missing. We also found out that our souvenir pictures served a dual purpose -- they were a record of the people on each tram in case security was breached. Oddly, we got to keep our shoes on, and were allowed to take liquids with us!

Click for a Larger View of Tourists Seeing the Shuttle MockupWe stopped first at Mission Control. We were able to visit the actual, in-use-today Mission Control because it was a weekend and it was empty, but we could only see it from behind glass. Had our tour been during working hours, we would have visited a mock up of the historic Mission Control instead. We then visited a large, long room with mock-ups of the shuttle and every conceivable lab and module, but, again, it was behind glass. This room is used for astronaut practice and training. At our final tram stop we saw a huge Saturn V Rocket, laying on its side and taking up the entire length of an enormous bunker. This was the one thing that was not behind glass, probably because there isn't much one could do to hurt or enable it.

When I got back, I had time to do a few of the other Space Center Houston activities. The one I liked best was the gallery of spaceships, some the real vehicle, and some re-creations. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules were there, and looking very small and claustrophobic. The Moon rover looked like a fun ride, and the SpaceLab mock up was remarkably livable.

Click for a Larger Image of the Touchable Moonrock There also were moon rocks and core samples, all real, and a lab to study them, totally fake, including a mannequin researcher meticulously working on real moon samples. There were several moon rocks on display, and we could reach under a glass partition and actually touch a small piece of one. It was interesting to see the moon rocks, but my favorite artifact was the lunar soil. It was only a couple plastic bags filled with what looked like shimmery black sand, but I couldn't help but think how it must have felt to have walked on it, rolled in it, been covered with it, and then to have left it behind.

Click for a Larger Image of the Lunar SoilYears ago, I was looking at a book of NASA moon images, and ran across an image of Eugene Cernan resting after a moonwalk. While the picture is a bit out of focus, the look on his face says it all -- he has walked on the moon and is -- amazingly -- covered with moon dust. It is a moment unlike any other. I have never forgotten that picture.

We got a brief talk on the future -- a return to the moon by 2020, and a Mars landing by 2030. Someone who is alive now, but under 30 years old, will be the first person to walk on Mars. I have to accept that it won't be me, but I hope at least someday I can hear that person's description of what standing on Mars was like, and maybe even see a plastic bag or two filled with red martian sand. It's not the same as being there, but I'll take what I can.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oddities, Endities, and Left Overs

Item 1: Can I Have Some of Your Purple Berries?

Click for Larger Image of Purple Berries Say, can I have some of your purple berries?
Yes, I've been eating them for six or seven weeks, now.
Haven't got sick once; probably keep us both alive

-- Wooden Ships, David Crosby

I found these berries, new to me, growing along the roadside. They stood out because of their vibrant, and non-fall-like purple color. A web search turned up their name: Callicarpa americana or Purple Beautyberry. It's a shrub that is sold in stores, and no one seems to be calling the berries poisonous, so I guess David Crosby would be okay!

Item 2: Time Zones

I still don't know what time it is. I am in the Central Time Zone, but TV shows are sometimes broadcast at the same time as they in the Eastern Zone (for example, the Today show comes on at 7:00, just like it does in the east, and is a repeat of the show that aired one hour earlier), or they are broadcast simultaneously (the national evening news comes on at 5:30 here, broadcast at exactly the same time as in the east which is 6:30). Prime time is 7-10. To add to the confusion, I have a clock accesses the shortwave time band to set itself, and each time I set it to Central time it resets itself to Eastern time. So it is always off by one hour. The end result is I don't know when to go to bed, so I just stay up late. Good thing I don't have to get up at 4:30 anymore (and how did I ever do that?)

Item 3: Magnolia Seeds

I don't think I have ever seen magnolia seeds in the fall before. They look somewhat like furry pine cones, but then they get a bright red seed. Odd, but pretty:

Click for larger image of magnolia seed  Click for larger image of magnolia seed

Item 4: I Hit A Milestone

I qualified for a Senior Discount at Denny's. Whoopee.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sea Birds Flying In The Sun...Galveston

Galveston, oh Galveston...

I still hear your sea winds blowin'...

I still hear your sea waves crashing...

I watch your sea birds flying in the sun...

At Galveston, at Galveston

---Glen Campbell

Location: Day Trip to Galveston, TX

Click for Larger Image of Sea BirdsGalveston is a barrier island off the coast of Texas -- to the south is the Gulf of Mexico, and to the north is Galveston Bay. Galveston's name dates back to 1785, when the island was named in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, who never had -- and never did -- visit the island. He was a military leader who assisted the United States in the Revolutionary War. Galveston, because of it's strategic location, not only played a role in the American Revolution, but also the Texas Revolution and the Civil War. If that isn't enough, rumors still abound that the pirate Jean Lafitte buried treasure on the island, and it is just waiting to be discovered.

Click for Larger Image of Galveston and the Gulf of MexicoIn September 1900, Galveston was forever changed when a hurricane (then unnamed) slammed into the coast. Even after Katrina, it is considered to be the deadliest natural disaster in the United States. The storm surge was 15 feet, and the winds reached 135 miles per hour (an estimate, because the anemometer blew off the U.S. Weather Building). The death toll was between 6,000 and 12,000, easily topping Katrina's 1,600. A lesson learned, Galveston built a 17-foot seawall and numerous rock jetties (see photo) to protect the city. In addition, dredged sand was used to actually raise the city 17 feet.

Galveston has experienced other hurricanes, one which catapulted Dan Rather to fame. Hurricane Carla hit the island in 1961. At that time, weather reporters typically hunkered down and reported from safe locations. Dan Rather was the first to report from the middle of the storm, tying himself to the flagpole of the Galveston Post Office. A crew member drew a crude outline of the Texas gulf on a piece of clear plastic, which they held over a black and white radar display to show the audience the location and scope of the storm. His bravery and ingenuity caught the attention of CBS, and they offered him a job -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Click for Larger Image of King PenguinsGalveston is also the home to a wonderful aquarium with King Penguins, seals, sharks, Giant Tortoise, coral reefs and lots of exotic fish and sea creatures. I only had time to visit the aquarium, but the complex also contains a rain forest, IMAX, and a discovery zone, all housed in giant pyramids, visible in the Galveston Bay photo at the end of this entry. There is also a historic district that looks like a fun place to exercise my "shopping genes" that are expressed every so often (but now that I have so little room to store things, my buying impulses have been severely curtailed).

At the end of the day, the pelicans, egrets, gulls, cormorants and other sea birds are abundant in both the gulf and the bay. What better place for a pelican to engage in some last minute hunting than atop an old pier in Galveston Bay? Who knows -- maybe this pelican is hiding more secrets than the contents of his beak -- perhaps he is guarding Lafitte's treasure. But he's not telling.
Click for Larger View of Sunset On Galveston Bay

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Livingston Art League

I have now switched over my vehicle and RV registrations, registered to vote, changed my insurance, and have a temporary Texas driver's license. Yesterday I got a library card, and am feeling more and more like a Texan with each passing minute!

Click for Larger Image of Art ContestI also joined the Livingston Art League, which is a member of the larger Lone Star Art Guild. Today was their annual art contest, so I entered four pictures in the Photography Category (other categories included paintings, watercolors, stained glass, jewelry, and so forth). As you can see by this photo, taken by a friend, my "Union Bridge Rails" photo took first place in my division! I also received two Honorable Mentions. Now to be fair, there were only seven pictures in my division and category. But the first place will allow me to submit that image in the Lone Star Art Guild show in May.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Comet Holmes

Location: Livingston, Texas, where I have been showing off the comet to passerbys

Have you seen Comet 17/P Holmes? If not, don't wait too long!

This is a naked eye comet, meaning it is visible without the aid of binoculars or a telescope. The last real naked eye comet we had was Hale-Bopp in 1997. The brightness a particular comet will attain is not very predictable -- for example, Halley's Comet, famous for being a very bright, naked eye comet, was a disappointment during the last pass in 1986. This one, Holmes, was not expected to be bright enough to be visible through anything but a telescope, but it went from magnitude 17 to 2.5 in a few hours (the lower the numbers the brighter the object -- and really bright objects can have negative magnitudes) at the end of October. For comparison, the limit of the human eye is a magnitude 6; Sirius, the brightest star is -1.4; and the full moon is -12.5.

Now I don't want to hear any of the following:

  • I can't find anything in the sky (I am going to show you where to find it.)
  • I don't have a telescope (It will look very cool in binoculars, and you have those, don't you? Actually, this is one of those objects that will look as good in binoculars as it does in most scopes.)
  • I don't want to get up at 3 a.m. (No sleep loss needed -- early evening will be fine.)
  • I keep meaning to go out and look at it, but I forget (You didn't really forget, did you? You were watching Desperate Housewives. That's why The Flying Spaghetti Monster gave mankind VCRs -- tape it.)


Here is a map and here is a another map. Face north east -- the Big Dipper will be slightly on your left (FYI, the two right-most stars of the Dipper are pointer stars to Polaris, or the North Star, seen on the left side of the first map). Look for the big "W" (the constellation Cassiopeia) -- it is easy to see in the sky. In the evening, however, it will be tipped on it's side.

The first map is good, but it has more stars on it than you are likely to see unless you are in a very dark site. So, from Cassiopeia, look down and to the right. You will see a single star, and then a triangle just below it. Look at the left-most star of the triangle. Doesn't it look just a bit fuzzy? THAT is the comet.

Whether or not you have found it, get out your binoculars. If you aren't sure if you found it in the sky, use the binoculars to scan the area. What you are looking for is a big, fuzzy ball. It will be easy to find in binoculars.

You are not going to see a tail on the comet -- the sun is behind us, so the tail is streaming behind the comet and is, from our point of view, hidden by the comet itself. Some people with telescopes are reporting they are beginning to see a tail now, but you won't be able to see it. You may be able to see a brightening in the center of the comet, which is the comet's core.


Early evening, after it has gotten completely dark.

I have been showing the comet to people who wander by my campsite, and the response has been terrific. Don't wait too long -- it will be gone before you know it, but that Desperate Housewives show you thought you just HAD to watch will be in reruns and syndication for a long, long time!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Chewy the Chug

Location: Livingston, TX

Everyone, meet Chewy:

Chewy is a "Chug" or part Chihuahua, part Pug. In reality, she is a mutt that fetches (no pun intended) lots of money because she has a cool neobreed name. Puppy mill rip off or not, Chewy was a sweetheart. She belongs to the people who did the Texas inspection on my RV. She and I "bonded" while the work was being done -- mostly because I had the audacity to sit in her chair, so she felt compelled to sit in my lap. She is a little bit bigger than the traditional chihuahua, and full of self importance and pride. And a really cute under bite.

Her human, who is around 19 or 20 years old, is getting married this weekend. She has lived her entire life in Livingston, and will finally get out of Texas for the first time for her honeymoon in Louisiana. When I was her age, I had been to Montana and Niagara Falls in the U.S., the Canadian Rockies and Montreal in Canada, and Paris, France. I knew that there was more to the world than Bridgeport, Michigan. It struck me as sad that this girl's entire world view was Livingston -- a nice place for me to call my "domicile," but a small town by almost any yardstick.

Livingston's best shopping opportunity is Walmart. I know some of you have a problem with Walmart for putting "Mom and Pops" out of business, but here in Livingston it is the only place a lot of things can be purchased.

Livingston has no Target or Best Buy, no major grocery stores typical to the East, no Staples or OfficeMax, no Barnes and Nobles or Borders, and just a single movie theater with a single screen. No Trader Joes, no Cold Stone Creamery, no outfitters of any type, not even a mall. It doesn't look like they have ever had them, or anything close.

However, it is summer year round in Livingston. I asked the same girl if she had ever seen snow, and she said no. I also asked a 48 year old the same question, and she said once -- and then told me how much the thought of driving in it had terrified her. Tomorrow a cold front is going to drop the highs to somewhere in the 60s, but they should be back up in the 80s in a day or two.

Despite the low-key atmosphere, I plan to stay here for a short time while I relax and recover from the rather frenetic pace I've kept up since I went full time. It is great to be in shorts and shades when the snow is falling in Michigan!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Settled in Livingston

I'm now in Livingston, Texas, where I plan to be for a couple weeks. During this time, I'm going to do all those things I need to do to officially change my domicile to Texas.

What I learned on my way here is that there are a lot of pickup trucks in Texas, and some people put their dogs, unsecured, in the bed of the truck. I saw one dog standing on the tool box so he was actually higher than the top of the truck's bed, and another slipping around in the truck's bed with the tailgate down. Either could have bounced out of the truck, and the trucks were going 70 miles per hour. All I can say is, "Doggone!"

There is a lot to do at the campground -- a daily social hour, line dancing, bus trips to a nearby casino, bingo, and jam sessions, just to name a few. The weather has been lovely -- highs around 80 degrees. The weather forecast is calling for a cold spell for the next two days, however -- the highs will only be 68 degrees ... so how come I'm not feeling sympathy waves flowing in my direction?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Square States

Location: Texarkana, TX (but just barely -- I can almost see Arkansas from here)

I spent today crossing Arkansas, which is almost a square state. It was pretty much the same as crossing Kansas, an even squarer state, except it lacked the excitement of seeing all that corn.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I'm going to Graceland

For reasons I cannot explain

There's some part of me wants to see


-- Paul Simon

Click for Larger Image of the Mississippi RiverI began the day at my campsite, and this image was taken at first light. One of the many barges that ply the Mississippi River was slowly passing by just as the sun came out from behind a cloud. Watching the barges and following the killdeer that frequent the river are fun, but as it turns out I am twenty minutes from Graceland. How could I not go?

Click for Larger Image of of Young ElvisGraceland is, of course, the home of Elvis Presley, now turned into a living memorial to faux fur, shag carpeting, odd color schemes, and all those other things that we, and Elvis, thought were so cool about 40 years ago. I was surprised at how relatively normal, at least for the time, Graceland was. I had expected an house worthy of Liberace, and instead found one that, while obviously owned by a wealthy person who could afford whatever gizmos and thingamabobs caught his eye, was missing the Ultra Mega Bling Bling I had expected. Colors, lots of them, were there -- but the 1970s were like that (I had both lime green shag carpeting and an orange car once -- but thankfully, not at the same time). Graceland did have olive green shag carpeting on the walls and ceiling, stained glass peacocks, colorful fabric covering every inch of a room with a pool table, and a bright yellow and black room with silhouettes of guitars on the wall.

Click for Larger Image of the Living Room
Click for Larger Image of the Yellow and Black Room
Click for Larger Image of the Pool Room

Love of color didn't stop in the house -- in addition to the the infamous 1955 pink Cadillac, Elvis also had a 1956 purple Cadillac convertible. When we got to the outside, the extravagances that were missing in the house began to accumulate. Elvis owned some very pricey cars such as a 1973 Stutz Blackhawk and a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, plus numerous Harley Davidson motorcycles and race cars. His private jet, which we could tour, had a bedroom in the back -- and the bed, to comply with regulations, actually had a seat belt! Elvis had, however, replaced all the regular seatbelts in the jet with ones made of gold.
Click for Larger Image of the Pink Caddy
click for Larger Image of Purple Caddy

Elvis' grave site is on the grounds of Graceland, next to his parents and grandmother. Elvis had a twin brother who died at birth, and there
is also a memorial there to Jessie Garon Presley, who died January 8, 1935. Jessie's body lies elsewhere.
Click for Larger Image of of Elvis' Gravesite

In death, Elvis has become bigger than life. His awards, and his gold and platinum records were displayed everywhere. They lined halls and filled trophy cases. There were literally rooms of intricately designed white jumpsuits, all hand beaded and embroidered. There were amazing works of original art, mostly featuring Elvis and his family. Everywhere there were things to look at and stories to hear. I am glad I listened to that part of me, like Paul Simon, that wanted to see Graceland.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Location: Richmond KY to West Memphis, AR

Click for a Larger Image of Ken and Pam's ViewWhile I am now actually sitting in Arkansas, I need to go back a couple days to let you know about the fantastic part of Kentucky I saw while visiting Ken and Pam, who live near Richmond. Ken and Pam's back yard is a forest that slopes down to the Kentucky River. They had some interesting visitors while I was there -- hawks, deer, fox, and wild turkeys all came visiting. This image was taken on the last morning before I left -- there had been a frost the night before, and the morning mist filled the river's valley until the sun began to burn it off.

Click for Larger View of Car Ferry

Most of our adventures took place on the other side of the Kentucky River, and the easiest way to get across it was to take a free car ferry -- and that has to be a rarity! The Valley View Ferry is the oldest continuous business in Kentucky, and has been in existence 1785. Cars pull up to the waterline; when the ferry gets to that side of the river up to three cars drive on the ferry; the ferry goes to the other side where the cars pull off. Repeat with cars on that side. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat... This is apparently cheaper than building a bridge, and it sure was a lot more fun!

Click for Larger View of Sky BridgeThen we were off to the Daniel Boone National Forest, famed for several natural bridges, or sandstone arches, and we played on two of them. The first one was named Sky Bridge, and it was on a park loop that started with a trip through a tunnel that was very roughly chopped out of rock and very narrow, originally cut for transporting logs.When we got to the bridge, we were able to walk across it, and then hiked down a path to the bottom. The day was gray and rainy, but a lot of other people were milling about. Once Pam thought I might have fallen over the side when she looked back to where I had just been, and instead saw a group of people staring over the edge. No fear, I had just wandered off to photograph something or other!

Click for Larger View of Chair LiftThe second sandstone arch we visited was named "Natural Bridge" and the best way to get to it was by a sky lift -- fabulous view, pleasant trip, and a long, long way down! This was my first time on a chair lift, but I somehow managed to get on and off without embarrassing myself too badly. It was a spectacular view, and the best $8 (round trip) I ever spent!

Other Kentucky Fun:

  • We drove through Boonsborough State Park, where the RV park was filled with ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, and Halloween decorations of amazing excess. They have a huge Halloween party each year that is so popular they are already fully booked for next year.
  • We played a Parcheesi-like game called "Pollyanna" at which I, ahem, excelled to almost brilliancy.
  • We played Four Cards Down, a card game that depends largely on Chance to determine the winner, but Chance is fickle and only allows Pam to win (me: Whine, whine, whine).
  • We visited the Boonsboro Fort, where we petted a very nice horse, watched 18th century craftspeople do their crafts, learned that Celtic music spawned Bluegrass, took in the park's introductory movie in which every Native American looked like a white guy dressed up for Halloween, and found out that Daniel Boone once lived with the Native Americans and was suspected to be a traitor when he returned to the fort.
  • I learned that Ken has an obsession with finding the exact location of far off lights he can see from home, and that Pam can gobble well enough to fool a wild turkey.

The visit was wonderful, and it was over way too soon. I have now moved on to West Memphis, Arkansas, and am sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River watching huge barges chug up the river. It would be nice to see a wild turkey here, but somehow I don't really expect it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hello From Kentucky

Location: Richmond, KY

Pam, Ken and ZoAnn at Raven's Run
I am currently in Daniel Boone country, visiting my friends Pam and Ken. A kind passerby took this photo of us in a nearby park named Raven's Run. The river in the background is the Kentucky River.