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  • Archive for April, 2016

    +Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors: I really loved this book! If you like to read stories about the outdoors, this book is for you. The premise is that the author is working as a journalist in NYC when one of his friends let’s him know that a fire lookout job is available in New Mexico. He’d previously spent some time in a tower with this friend and really enjoyed his time out there. Well, one thing lead to another and Connors ends up spending half the year looking for fires in the Gila Wilderness and the other half tending bar.

    What I liked about this book was that it wasn’t strictly about the life in a lookout tower but also about the history of the USFS, our country’s history with fire and fire control/suppression, and some interesting local knowledge about tribes that lived in the area. There’s an especially heartwrenching portion of the story about a fawn he finds—well, I can’t tell you about that, you will have to read it. Heartwrenching, though!

    Highly recommend this one!

    +The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom: This book. This book was full of dumb-asses. I started saying ‘dumb-asses’ in my head so much I started channeling Red Forman.

    For starters, I’d flagged this book for a hold as it was recommended to me on my digital Overdrive account. The premise sounded interesting when I borrowed it: 1790s southern Virginia plantation, a six year old Irish girl who’s forced into indentured servitude because her parents died on their way to America, she’s separated from her younger brother who is sold to someone else. The first dumbass in this book is the captain of the ship and the plantation owner. He’s a dumb-ass because he never corrects his wife and young son’s thoughts that Belle, a mixed-race slave and secondary narrator, is his daughter and not his mistress. Gah, if he’d not had his head up his ass about this, everything else in the book wouldn’t have been so damned bad. The thing is everyone and their dog knew the truth the entire time I don’t understand how the wife, Miss Martha, never figured it out. Or how the son, Marshall, didn’t figure it out. Cue dumb-asses.

    Without going into crazy detail about this book, I’ll say that it started off well. It was a semi-typical antebellum story and moved along well which is why I kept reading it. Lavinia, the Irish girl, grows up living among the slaves but it is clear that she’s kind of in a limbo; she’s not high enough to live in the Big House but she isn’t quite low enough to be totally mixed in with the slaves. That’s another thing that bothered me, while it was apparent this was slavery and the issues of owning people was brought up many times, the use of the word servant was thrown about far too much for me. This isn’t Downton Abbey servants. Her slave family are slightly elevated slaves as they are the kitchen and house slaves, not the field slaves. The author does make a decent distinction between how each of those two groups lived, one fairly better than the other.

    Something I also had trouble with on occasion was picturing the scenes. I kept envisioning a modern kitchen, or at least a late 1800s kitchen, not a late 1700s kitchen. My kitchen kept having a sink. Yeah, I don’t think that happened!

    This book is full of death, rape, violence, child molestation, mental disorders, drug abuse (good gravy, the trope of laudanum!), alcohol abuse, and all sorts of other crap. The author pulled all the tricks out for this book and most of the time I couldn’t wait to see what other sordid thing she was going to bring out next. Honestly, the first half of the book I thought was decent. Lavinia was a little dense but I figured she’d grow out of it, that the elders in her life would actually educate her a little bit about the ways of the world. But no, the girl never gets any common sense and never becomes any kind of figure you are rooting for.

    I rated this 3 stars on Goodreads because it was a page turner and easily readable. I found a lot of fun in reading the 1 and 2 star reviews because they were all lamenting, like me, why on earth the book had so many 4 and 5 star reviews. I did find out there’s a sequel that just came out. I’m not sure I have it in me to read it, but I am kind of curious about how a few people ended up!

    In other words, don’t waste your time on this book!

    I thought this was another interesting take on this book: from

    +Hiking the Florida Trail: 1,100 Miles, 78 Days, Two Pairs of Boots, and One Heck of an Adventure by Johnny Molloy: As I was reading this book I found several parallels in our hike as compared to his hike. As I said a few months ago I had held off from reading any trail memoirs as I was writing my book and found myself needing to know what some of the books were really about before I sent out book proposals. The writing was easy to read and enjoyable for the most part. Molloy hiked the trail in, I think 2005 or 2006, the book was published in 2008, so there were definitely some differences in trail routes from our hike in 2011. Like the The Florida Trail End to End that I wrote about last month, Molloy finished his hike at the Alabama state line in Blackwater River State Forest. It sounded like he had initially wanted to end at Fort Pickens but the effects of Hurricane Ivan were still on-going when he finished his hike and there were issues with closures along the beach, including at Fort Pickens. Also noted were more roadwalks than even we did, particularly in the panhandle. The Palatka-Lake Butler rail-to-trail hadn’t been added as a route to the Florida Trail at that point and so a lot of that was a road walk…which he opted to take a whirl on the rail-to-trail anyway and found it only recently cleared. Having barrled our way down uncleared rail-to-trail before I can’t imagine doing it on the Florida Trail! Also noticeable were longer roadwalks in the section from Econfina Creek west to Eglin. I’m so very thankful we got some new public and private lands to break up that roadwalk. One interesting item I noted, and even Molloy remarked about it a few times, was how he made a campfire every night and most mornings. Definitely not a common event among thru-hikers, even in areas along the Appalachian Trail, unless there’s a group of day or section hikers out. Overall it is a great book to introduce hikers to the Florida Trail. Easy to read and there was quite a bit of interesting facts about some of the locales that I didn’t even know about!

    +All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I’ve had this on hold digitally and for a hard copy at the library for several months now. The internet has been raging about this Pulitzer Prize winning WWII novel and I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and begin reading it. The hard copy came up for me but unfortunately I got about 30-40 pages in and it wasn’t doing anything for me. The ‘chapters’, if you can call them that, are 1-2 pages long and jump between the stories of the two main characters. Just when you are getting involved in a scene you are pulled out and flopped back into the story of the other person. It was incredibly annoying. I lost patience very quickly and because I knew I wouldn’t be able to suffer through it by renewing it, as there are other people on the wait list, I opted to return it. I’ll likely try this again another day/year when I can purchase my own copy to take my time. Or not. Who knows?

    On Deck
    +Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: Erin at The Familiar Wilderness gave me a heads up about this book not long before it debuted last month. I put in requests for my Overdrive to get a digital copy and I also reserved a hard copy at the library. It looks like I’m next up for the digital copy so I’m holding off on reading anything else digitally for now. Looking forward to this!

    +Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose: I first found out about Julie Zickefoose, gosh, maybe in 8 or 9 years ago when she was a commentator on NPR. I found her blog and followed her here and there but with our hikes on the AT and FT and then our field work, I stopped staying in the loop. Erin at TFW has been friends with her for awhile and I’d seen her post and converse with her in various social media outlets and so I started following Julie once again. She’s got a great blog and I love her perspective on the natural world! Well, she’s been working for years and years on this book, building a portfolio of baby bird paintings and finally the book was published. I opted to support her by purchasing Baby Birds directly from her site instead of Amazon as she retains more of the profit that way. I’ve just barely flipped through it but it is beautiful! Forest even liked the bird paintings but I have to be careful because I know he’ll go to town tearing pages!

    What are y’all reading?

    It’s been a hectic week here (sickies, flooding!), so I thought it appropriate to have a Friday Five for some warm fuzzies!

    1. Patrice emailed me a week ago to say that she had spotted my little old blog on a compilation list of Best Backpacking and Hiking Websites of All time. Whaaa? Having spent nearly 14 years writing on the internet it is pretty nice to get a little bit of acknowledgement that someone out there enjoys my blog enough to put it on a ‘best of’ list! I’m down there at 119. I liked this list because it gives me a few more blogs to check out that I didn’t know about!
    2. Little Bear Gets Real Part I and Part 2. I can’t remember when I started following this blog but it’s been a few years. When they had their son last year I wondered how they would incorporate some of their big explorations into the backcountry with an infant. I’ve watched them as they’ve done hikes, sledding, and little trips here and there, but this one takes the cake! Backcountry hiking and packrafting in Utah for a multi-day trip with an older baby? Successfully? Yes, they did it! Proof that with planning and patience, it doesn’t mean giving up some of the adventures you might have had pre-baby. Definitely a kick in the butt for us to get out next Fall when the weather cools off and take Forest backpacking. We’ve got the long day hikes and car camping down, I think we need to upgrade our backpacking gear and get after it!
    3. Props to the US Treasury for finally diversifying our money by putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Two thumbs down for keeping the man behind a genocide on the back side of the bill. *sigh*
    4. I’m trying to think if I actually ever met Paul when we lived in Florida, but he is one of Chris’ photographer/swamping/orchid friends. We have a photo of his on our wall! Well, he’s really made a name for himself over the last several years, enough so to get a photo of his from Everglades National Park on a stamp! Really cool!
    5. Monarch babies! Those eggs I posted earlier in the week hatched and we have cute caterpillars chomping away on the milkweed now! I took some photos earlier this week but need to head back out and see how they’ve grown. Yippie!

    What great stuff is going on with you?


    Up the Wolf Mountain Trail at the state park, not but a mile or so in, you cross Regal and Bee Creeks which feed down to the Twin Falls Creek. We only stopped shortly at Regal Creek, shown here with Chris flipping rocks over to find salamanders and other creek life, but spent more time scoping out Bee Creek which was wider and flowing more than Regal Creek.



    Bee Creek begged to be explored more. Chris poked around the creek for bit while I entertained Forest with a late morning snack in his backpack. On his explorations he found chatterbox orchids just out of reach of good photography range.



    Doesn’t that pool look enticing to swim in???



    Several singletrack paths lead off the main trail to the sides of the creek canyons. Had we not had a toddler in tow we would have definitely delved off more to see what we could find down below.



    We barely scraped the barrel in hiking the trails that the Wolf Mountain Trail connects to. There’s so much more to see in the backcountry areas of this park that we will definitely have to make a return trip in the coming years!






    We’ve never had a ton of monarchs in our garden, not compared to what we had in our Florida gardens, but they’ve always been a transient butterfly throughout the spring and summer migration months here in Texas. This year, however, it seems as if we’ve had a few more than usual and some have been laying eggs on the milkweed! I suspect we will be needing to purchase more milkweed soon. This particular milkweed is Asclepias curassavica, or tropical milkweed, though we have another species that we picked up at another nursery that was unmarked as to what species and hasn’t leafed out enough for us to try to identify. I also started from seed A. tuberosa and A. incarnata which are both starting to germinate and put on growth. In our neighborhood, in some of the right-of-ways and empty lots there is quite a bit of antelope horn milkweed growing wild. Chris has plucked seeds from a few plants before and we’ve thrown them in our right-of-way but haven’t seen any germination from them yet. We’ll likely try the cold stratification in the fridge technique for the next seeds we collect from there and start them that way the next time.

    I’m excited about our monarch eggs! I can’t wait to see them turn into munchy caterpillars!


    ‘May night’ salvia.


    A bee clinging to the ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia.


    We had an early foxglove bloom back in, I think December or early January, but the rest of the plants are just now sending out flower stalks.


    In our currently never-ending quest to pull the bazillion elm seedlings that sprouted in the flower garden, I found some eggs on the back of a tiny elm I pulled. I quizzed a few people on social media and someone chimed in that they were possibly ladybug eggs. Sure enough, the University of Google suggests the same thing. I put the leaf somewhere safe so I could keep an eye out on the eggs but the last I saw I think the leaf disappeared. Not sure what happened to it. I will poke around more and see if I can find it soon.


    Ledebouria socialis, leopard lily/silver squill blooms

    The garden is looking lovely these days despite some of the weeds!

    Wildlife at Pedernales Falls State Park was fairly abundant. There were a ton of doves, more than I’ve heard at a campground in awhile. It was a constant cacophony of doves cooing in the junipers. Some of the doves started sounding like barred owls, at least to me. Chris gave me the side-eye on that observation, but really, sometimes they had a little ‘who cooks for you’ going on!






    Western scrub jays were a fun addition to our birding list for the day. We hoped to see golden-cheeked warblers but alas, none were found. The scrub jays were just like their Floridian counterparts, rather tame and willing to pose for pictures. I’m sure they were really hoping to pick up a crumb or two from the campsite!



    On one of the trails by the river I found a caterpillar walking smack-dab in the middle of the trail. I know other unsuspecting hikers would have likely smooshed the poor thing but I rescued it and moved it off the trail. We knew when we found it that it was some kind of swallowtail, likely pipevine, and sure enough that’s what I later identified it to be, Battus philenor.



    I’m not sure what kind of grasshopper (cricket?) that this is. I tried Googling but I’m not sure where to even start with insects like this. Anyone?

    Texas earless lizard

    We found a Texas earless lizard, Cophosaurus texanus texanus, scurrying around on some of the rocks down by the river, too. I remember seeing a few others in the park throughout the weekend as well.

    Not photographed were plenty of vultures, deer, squirrels, hawks, and some turkey. I really love seeing turkey and miss seeing them as frequently as we did in Florida. They are just not as prevalent here in our region of Texas.

    All in all it was a decent wildlife weekend!





    Um, this sweet gum ball is rough!








    The title of this post should actually be Toddler-Who-Pulls-Labels-And-Gets-Into-Things…but that’s ok, our future gardener loves being outside and we (mostly) love chasing him around the yard. It certainly gets the Fitbit steps in even if Chris and I have to take shifts.

    Happy Friday! Hope you get some gardening in this weekend!






    Ever since I planted borage a few years ago I’ve typically never needed to reseed it in the vegetable garden, it has always come up itself in late winter. Usually it comes up in a vegetable bed but sometimes it comes up in the middle of the pathway. This year we’ve left several plants in the vegetable garden and they’ve attracted our honeybees and other native bees and pollinators, which has been a very good thing after we’d pulled the flowering greens. The flowering greens had been the main attractant to the vegetable garden up until February.

    I think parts of the plant are considered to be edible but we don’t use it as a culinary aspect, other than maybe it’ll wind up down the road turned into honey by the bees! It’s definitely a delight to be wandering down to the garden and see the bright blue flowers opened and a handful of bees bouncing from flower to flower!






    After we took a bushwhacking trail down the side of the ‘mountain’ from the Twin Rivers Nature Trail, we found ourselves walking adjacent to the Pedernales River. We walked along a wide ATV trail before Chris found himself a spot to fish for a few minutes. Again, I took the time to find little scenes to photograph and hoped that Forest wouldn’t protest hanging out in his backpack for a few minutes.



    I hung out for a bit with some ants walking up and down the base of a cypress tree and managed to get a few decent photos.



    I love this photo of Forest as he scans the sky for birds.


    And then as he’s mesmerized into daydreaming by the water.



    As full as the campground was, there weren’t a lot of people down at this section of the river. This section is part of the designated swimming area but the weekend was a little chilly for any swimming and wading. I’d packed bathing suits for Forest and me just in case.




    I took Forest out of his pack a couple of times for him to explore the shoreline, to play in the sand and bang smaller rocks on the large rocks that dotted the edge of the water. He was thoroughly entertained enough for Chris to get a few more casts out into the water before we needed to move on to keep the toddler happy. Our walk down the river put us in a predicament: retrace our steps back the way we came to the car or take the short swimming area trail up to the parking lot and walk another road back and cut through back to the campground using the Warfle’s Trail. We opted for the latter which put us back at our campsite and had Chris hoofing it down to the Twin Falls Nature Trail trailhead to get the truck.

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