Exploring a New Section on the Lone Star Trail


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Flowering Spurge, Euphorbia corollata

Last weekend we ventured out to do a new to us section on the Lone Star Trail. We originally wanted to hike starting at the Cotton Creek Cemetery Road trailhead near Huntsville but when we pulled up to turn down the road we found it looked like it went through a ranch and there was a no tresspassing sign. A man in a truck pulled up after he saw us sitting there contemplating our next step and after we told him what we were looking for he said that it was down a different road behind us. I pulled up the PDF maps and he was referring to the Bath Rd. Trailhead. I still haven’t figured out what is up with the other trailhead and the no tresspassing sign but I suspect we could actually access it. We didn’t want to deal with it and the other trailhead was just as easy to get to so we opted to head there.

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Texas Ironweed, Vernonia texana

The trailhead wasn’t really labeled and we had to look for the metal blazes to make sure we were at the right spot and not wandering off into someone’s timber land or hunting club. Needless to say, no one else was on this section of trail! That said, it was actually maintained fairly well except for a couple of small sections between some creeks where it would be hard to haul out a lawn mower.

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A lovely nearly ‘alba’ beautyberry! This section of the Sam Houston NF must have had rain recently because none of the beautyberries were drooping. The section closer to our house had beautyberries wilting under the pressures of our drought.

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Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Climbing Dogbane, Thyrsanthella difformis

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A couple of fruits on Carolina buckthorn.

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This stumped me for a while. I thought it was nandina at first but it was in the middle of the forest (which means nothing, birds can drop seeds) and usually there are a lot around if you spot one nandina. There were three plants and I think it might be Maryland Senna, Senna marilandica

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All of the creeks out there were bone dry. If anyone planned to hike on the LST as an overnight right now I would bring ample water or put out water at trailheads.

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Another creek dry enough to walk down and explore.

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This was also a great section to look for Texas Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia reticulata, which we found! Now that we know the habitat it is pretty easy to keep an eye out for them. I suspect there are far more out there than anyone knows because no one is actually looking for them!

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At an overgrown forest service road (FSR 243) we stopped to look in a creek and Forest and I crossed the creek and walked in the very overgrown road on the other side. It looked as if the road once went across the creek as there were exposed metal culverts there but that had since washed away in some previous storm event.

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Bitterweed, Helenium amarum var. amarum

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This is probably late boneset, Eupatorium serotinum, but I wasn’t totally sure.

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Not sure which wasp this is on this croton but it was interesting enough to get a photo of!

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First Elegant Gayfeather, Liatris elegans of the season! Looking forward to seeing more of these over the coming months.

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A rock-like mushroom

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Forest enjoyed the little meadow and wanted to take photos and luckily I had his camera in my bag from a previous trip. I need to download what is on his SD card to see what he’s got on there that might be worth sharing here.

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Pencil Flower, Stylosanthes biflora

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I’m still unsure on this particular plant but iNaturalist is suggesting tropic croton, and I’m leaning that way, but still not quite sure.

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Downy Lobelia, Lobelia puberula – another first of the season.

This was a later hike than we had been doing this summer but it wasn’t terribly hot—I’m mean, yes, plenty warm, but not so suffocating that we were miserable. It had a slight tinge of light that reminds me of autumn hiking and I’m really looking forward to the next couple of months and getting some trail time in.

Quick Check-In


Hey! Yes, I’ve fallen off the face of the blogosphere! I should probably do this as a Life Lately post but I’m short of time so this will be a quick update and eventually I’ll do something a bit more in depth.

Highlights:
+Online school is going. That’s about it…going. I wish he was at school but we’re opting for online at the moment. Needless to say, during the week trying to navigate that plus work keeps Chris and I both busy. We are alternating who is doing school during the week so we can each get time at the office to actually work. More on that later!
+Tropical systems—are they coming here, are they not? First it looked like Marco was going to be the one with the impact but increasingly it is now Laura who will have the impact around the upper Texas coast. Just where—we don’t know. We’ve been preparing through the weekend, picking things up in the yard, cleaning the house, getting on top of laundry. I’ll probably do another go through on Tuesday/Wednesday so we aren’t caught with a backup of anything should the power go out. Since we’re on the north side of town we won’t have as much impact as everyone towards the coast but any kind of high winds means the chance for power to go out. Luckily this doesn’t appear to be a Harvey rain event (hey, just about three years ago now!) and we’re in a deficit for rain so any rain will be good to a certain point. I took photos of the pond to compare just how much we actually end up getting.
+I’m going to be pushing hard to edit photos this week and get some posts scheduled in case things go sideways for power so I’ll have some writing out into the ether. We’re coming up on a year from our Alaska trip here in a couple of days so I really should finish all of that plus a trip to the Big Thicket back in late June and then a short hike on the Lone Star Trail we did today on a new to us section.

That’s really the highlights for now…to keep it interesting here’s a short video I took of some long-tailed skipper caterpillars!

August Insects


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Yellow Star Grass, Hypoxis hirsuta

Last weekend I noticed that the mountain mint was abuzz with insects so I grabbed my camera to see what I could a snapshot of. It turned out we had quite a few interesting characters in the garden!

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Common Thread-waisted Wasp, Ammophila procera

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Two-striped Forceptail, Aphylla williamsoni

I caught this one out of the side of my eye and thought it was a small bird at first. When it finally settled I realized it was a really large dragonfly and one I hadn’t seen before. Since it was quite distinctive it was relatively easy to figure out what it was when I popped it into iNaturalist. My reading say that it isn’t a species of concern but sightings were scattered in east Texas and along the Gulf Coast with most sightings in central Florida. So, relatively uncommon around here!

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Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae

The gulf frits are back in force as per usual for August. We’ve had several transients throughout the summer but their peak really starts happening right about now for us.

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This female was egg bombing the passiflora vine so I know we will have plenty of caterpillars soon!

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She chose the oddest place to lay her eggs! Seems a bit of a pain to go to this much effort when a fenceline of leaves was available!

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I just love how she’s grasping onto the leaves in these two photos! It makes me see her and all of the other beings in the yard as these remarkable individuals and parts of a community, the circle of life if you will. Doing their own things, living their lives, and interacting with every other creature they come across. It is probably a bit anthropomorphized but I really appreciate them so much!

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Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis – A much more common dragonfly to see around here.

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Four-banded Stink Bug Hunter Wasp, Bicyrtes quadrifasciatus — hunt the stink bugs!! This one seems more interested in a sip of nectar, though!

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Clipped-winged Grasshopper, Metaleptea brevicornis — sporadic sightings across central and east Texas and throughout the southeastern US. These were found along our pond.

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Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia

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And her dragonfly catch remains in her web!

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And one of the few monarch we had from a mating pair of adults from a few weeks ago. Which I found the wasps had been picking off and Forest and I watched it happened in action twice! I ended up saving two of them and putting them in the cage to let them finish out their larval stage.

Video here:

I later learned the wasp chews up the caterpillar, rolls it into a ball, and then takes it back to the nest for the larvae to eat! I knew wasps were a major predator in our garden, they are constantly patrolling, but hadn’t realized how quickly they take down caterpillars! It was very interesting and sad at the same time!

I will probably get back out there this weekend to see what else I can see since it is high summer and everyone will be making the most of nectar and availability before the season changes!

Denali By Bus: Part IV


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One of the highlights on any trip to Denali is of course the chance to see brown bears! And while we had encountered them from a distance on our way into the park, seeing them up close like this was amazing! This is really just me spamming you with brown bear photos! Gah, it really makes you want to reach out and touch them–they look so cuddly! Instead, they would rip you to pieces!

(Oh, yeah, something I’ve been meaning to share here but haven’t yet but this seems like the appropriate place: Grizzly Bear Attack: A Breakdown. This is by a hiking acquaintance I met back at Billy Goat Day in Florida in January, Larry Boy. (I later had him on my FT podcast here.) As the that link suggests, he had an encounter with a grizzly in Wyoming a few weeks ago and managed to live to tell what happened!)

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Back to our bears here—they were digging up roots near the road, scrounging for calories to tide them over for winter.

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Look at that bear butt!

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Views from the Teklanika River rest stop.

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And of course all of this traveling and early rising and wacky still-light-late-at-night shenanigans were wearing on the newly minted 5 year old but the adults all got some zzz’s in as well on the way back!

And that was it for our sightseeing adventure within Denali National Park and Preserve. We did a short hike closer to the visitor’s center that I will share and I have a few more scattered photos from around the cabins we stayed at and the town that I will share as well. But since we’re coming up quickly on a year from this trip I really should work to get everything posted before then!

Denali By Bus: Part III


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Eventually we made it to the Eielson Visitors Center, where a decent crowd from earlier buses were already inside. Bathrooms, water bottle refilling stations, a gift shop, and other exhibits were open to learn more about Denali.

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I was captivated by the artistry of these art quilts that captured the essence of the park. I had my long lens on and for some reason I’m not finding a lot of photos that didn’t involve my zoom lens so I guess I didn’t take any phone photos. Why, past self, why????

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I believe we had about thirty minutes at the visitor center and if we wanted to board the same bus we had to stay within that time frame.

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This was our view of Denali! Socked in with clouds! Visibility was very poor. Should visibility have been better I think we would have stayed around the visitor center longer to explore and enjoy being able to see Denali. As it was, we decided to stop back at the Toklat stop and explore the river there.

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At Toklat we hauled out all of our gear and the car seat and asked if we could leave the car seat in a corner at the gift shop there. When there weren’t any buses it was spectacularly quiet there.

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I think we spent a good hour or so wandering around the river, poking around, and Chris was looking for any kind of animal prints to take castings of. Eventually he found what he was looking for and while that was setting we moseyed around the river and gift shop.

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Marsh Grass-of-Parnassus, Parnassia palustris

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Arctic Ground Squirrel, Urocitellus parryii

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We came around from the river and up an embankment and found this chubby ground squirrel who immediately posed for us in a manner that looked as if he was accustomed to begging for food from tourists. Instead of food I took plenty of photos of him and we moseyed on down the way.

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A few buses came through but none had room for us. Eventually we found some room on another bus and made our way back towards the entrance of the park.

Pre-Birthday Hike on the Lone Star Trail


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Our last hiking adventure has been a few weeks now, the Friday before my birthday. I took the day off and after we’d decided to back out of our initial idea of going to the beach, we opted instead to go for a hike on the LST and then head over and check on our Texas pipevine plants to see if they had set any seeds.

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Arrowhead Rattlebox, Crotalaria sagittalis
I noticed this interesting plant on the way into our hike and on our way back out I kept an eye on it. I hadn’t noticed it before but after I identified it as a crotalaria I was surprised I didn’t figure it out on the hike because I was familiar with many of the non-native species that I used to see in Florida.

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Ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata
We weren’t but a quarter of a mile or so down the trail, when as the trail slopes down to a drainage, Forest said he wanted to go off and have a look. It timed well because another hiker was coming our way and we gave her wide berth and hopped down to explore.

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Anglepod, Gonolobus suberosus

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Southern Pearly-Eye, Lethe portlandia

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Green Branch

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Wild yam, Dioscorea villosa
This area of Texas has both the native wild yam but also the invasive air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera. Thankfully I haven’t come across the air potato that often, though I often do a double take every time I see the wild yam. This was the first time I had seen it with seed pods and thought they were very interesting and quite decorative!

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Of course the highlight of the hike was when Chris found a Pandorous sphinx moth caterpillar, Eumorpha pandorus. This one was on a sorrelvine, Cissus trifoliata, a member of the grape family and among the host plants for the caterpillar. Such a cute and chunky caterpillar! I second guessed myself on the sorrelvine because it is usually found much more commonly west of here but it appears there are a few sightings in this region of Texas.

I’d like to get back out for some hikes soon. We’ve been sticking close to the house the last few weeks working on various projects and honestly, just resting and relaxing! Plus, we’ve had some rain events on weekends as well. I’m ready for a cool down and some backpacking and camping weather!

Denali By Bus: Part II


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Eventually the bus climbed around a pass and we came to a second stop, Polychrome Overlook. We had about 15 minutes to walk a short trail and take in the very scenic views.

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Several braided rivers were in the distance and all I wanted to do was get five days of food on my back and head off into the wilderness to explore!

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Honestly, the photos speak for themselves.

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Eliana looking a bit wistful.

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After our short foray at Polychrome we boarded the bus once again and it wasn’t long before we saw more bears!

Denali By Bus: Part I


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To explore Denali beyond the Savage River you need to access the park system’s bus services. There are several options designed for various experiences, including guided tours and buses that just get to a destination. They are also various lengths as some buses only go to certain locations and turn around. The longest bus ride would be to the end of the Denali park road at Kantishna, some 90 miles down the road. We opted for a transit bus which its sole goal is to deliver visitors to certain destinations along the way. You can also get out at any location along the way as off-trail hiking is encouraged within the park and is really the main way to explore.

My one beef with the bus system is the requirement for a car seat for kids under a certain age. (Looks like it is an AK issue). It would make/makes it incredibly hard to do that off trail exploring when you’ve got to keep an eye out for/lug around a car seat. We hopped onto a bus for the Eielson Visitor Center, mile 66, about a four hour ride down the road. You may wonder how such short mileage makes a four hour bus ride but these are dirt/gravel roads, fairly narrow in areas, plenty of stops along the way for wildlife, plus passing other buses, a couple of pee breaks and stops at other viewpoints—and that all makes for a long bus ride. We would have loved to have gone all the way to the end but didn’t know how Forest would handle such a long day in a bus and car seat so the Eielson stop made the most sense.

Our goal was to stay on the bus to Eielson and then decide to stop wherever we felt like on the way back. You can basically hop on any other transit bus you see on the way back as they regularly traverse the road throughout the day, as long as there’s room on board for you. Of course, bring all food and drinks with you! I know you can refill water at a couple of stops but otherwise there are no food vendors within the park that far in (that I saw—maybe at the last stop?).

And so, we set off very early for the Eielson Visitors Center!

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While the transit buses aren’t really guided, some of the bus drivers are more chatty about their knowledge of the park and more willing to stop and look at wildlife. That was the case with our first bus driver who did a great job of dishing out information along the way. And stopping relatively close in to the beginning of the park to get a glimpse of a couple of moose!

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Descending towards the Teklanika River.

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It was a very moody early autumn morning.

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Sometime after the river another passenger noticed a dead lynx along the side of the road. The bus driver said it had not been there the day before so perhaps a bus had hit it the night before? Sadly, this was my only glimpse of a lynx on this trip, though Chris ended up getting sight of one darting across the road on the return trip closer to the park entrance.

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The colors are just something to soak in here! I’m really sad I won’t be experiencing this kind of fall color this year.

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We’d been keeping our eyes open for wildlife and then, finally, brown bears!

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The bus slowed and stopped while all of us tourists oohed and ahhed and paparazzied them from afar. They ambled over the hill ridges and as the road curved around we were able to keep our eyes on them and watch from other angles.

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It was really a sight to behold, to watch as they dug for roots and berries to fatten up before winter set in. And the colors here, the cranberry and gold—so good!

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Eventually though we had to keep on down the road and around the next bend.

This will be at least a five part series! Stay tuned for more!

Life Lately | Late July 2020


Thinking:
Covid as per usual. And we’re 100 days from the election. All I’ve got to say is that I hope the aftermath isn’t a shitshow, either in that he’s out of office and doesn’t go off the rails for the few months until inauguration, or in that he doesn’t win. No winning. No winning. No winning. Because we are well and truly screwed if he does.

I’m not really in the mood for a comprehensive write-out of what I think but here are a few items of note:


AOC’s speech to Rep. Yoho the other day.

The Poison of Male Incivility – RE: AOC and Yoho

To Be a Parent Right Now Is To Be A Liar — this whole thing speaks to me. I’ve tried to explain to Forest that he won’t be seeing his friends from daycare again. He used to mention it more often and I’ve had to tell him that it likely won’t happen. You can tell it doesn’t quite sink in but that it is also painful for him to think about. I’m constantly thinking of when he will get to play with kids his own age again. Since we’re starting kindergarten with online learning he won’t even get the kid interaction. And it isn’t even like he would have gotten the kid interaction as well if it was in person with so much social distancing happening. It honestly breaks my heart.

Gardening:
The edible garden has slowed down in production as heat increased and rain disappeared. We’ve gotten a great soaking from the far outer bands of Hurricane Hanna this weekend so we’re very thankful for that!

Mercer Arboretum had an online plant sale last weekend. All you had to do was order and then pick up a few days later. I bought a couple of gingers and a silphium and ended up getting two extra gingers because the lady giving out the plants was being extra generous. Chris bought two Texas sotols for the cactus bed and a Hercules club tree! I’ve been searching for that for several years now.

I need to get on top of weeds again and made an effort for about twenty minutes today before another round of rain came through.

Loving:

+Live Rootbeer Kombucha still!
+I made bagels. A few months ago I made pretzels and the recipe for the dough is the same and the process is nearly identical. I had a hankering for bagels and made them up Friday evening. Delicious!
+Bike Rides!
+A hammock that I got for my birthday! It hasn’t been up all week due to the rain. Ready to get back into it

Reading:
I recently finished A God in Ruins, a sequel to Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. I’m currently reading Wild Island: A Year in the Hebrides by Jane Smith. It’s a journal of sorts with entries and watercolors throughout. It is an easy and lovely read. I’m also reading Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a book I’ve wanted to read for years but never made the time.

Making:
I’m working on an iris painting in the studio that I should be wrapping up this week. I have also been painting in a watercolor sketchbook with some new paints I bought for my birthday. My friend Meghan convinced me to actually buy some professional grade watercolors instead of something of lesser quality. I went with Daniel Smith brand and have been loving them! I also bought some water soluble pastels from Caran D’Ache and those have been really fun to play with. Now I’ve become a person who goes down watercolor journal flip-through rabbit holes on YouTube!

I’ve been thinking of doing some more crochet again soon.

Watching & Listening:

I have literally never listened to a Taylor Swift album in my life but someone mentioned there were Lana Del Rey and Lorde vibes and so I gave it a listen and have been blown away. I might actually buy the album! It’s a great art studio album!


Always love The Chicks and this album is a stunner! Lots of subtext about Natalie’s ex husband in there! March March is my favorite but I also love Texas Man and My Best Friend’s Weddings.

On the watching front:
I hit the bottom of Netflix a while back and hadn’t been interested in anything. But I finally gave Cable Girls a go. I remember trying to watch an episode a few years ago but because it is a Spanish show you either need to put captions on or listen to it in dubbing. I was doing a lot of work in the evenings when I needed this so captions weren’t going to be feasible. It starts in 1928 in Madrid and focuses in on 5 women who work as cable phone operators as Spain’s phone system starts broadening. Lots of flapper vibes and intrigue in the late 20s and early 30s. I actually had to do a lot of reading online because I didn’t know women didn’t get the right to vote or divorce there until the 1930s. The latter seasons jump to the end and aftermath of the Spanish Civil War so you see how the rise of fascism happened there and how the social justice movements slid backwards for nearly 50 years until Franco died in the 1970s. Highly recommend it if you can deal with dubbing and/or captions!

I also really loved the rebooted The Babysitter’s Club on Netflix. This series was what catapulted me into being a devout reader. I was a little wary at first because of some changes to the cast but honestly, it was the right thing and everything goes so well! Unlike the Anne of Green Gables reboot on Netflix, this one is a homerun!

And I’m back on a “there’s nothing to watch!” phase so I’m starting Alias again. It’s on Amazon Prime. The last time I went through that was when we moved in here 8 years ago. It’s very funny to see how the tech aged now that it is nearly a 20 year old show!

Looking Forward:
Lots of birthdays—mom turns 60 tomorrow! Then my niece turns 12 next week and my nephew turns 9 in mid-August. And of course Forest is also antsy for his birthday in early September!

Escape to the Beach


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Double rainbow over Galveston Bay

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A few weeks ago we talked ourselves out of going to the beach the Friday before my birthday. Not knowing what crowds would look like, it just made us nervous. That said, the beach was still calling. We decided to take a Wednesday off and go very early in the morning so we left the house at 6:30 and arrived at about 8:45.

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These last few years we’ve usually picked one of the public entrances on either side of Galveston Island State Park. I enjoy walking down the state park beach because it is a lot more wild and less maintained. Also, beach side entrance from the actual state park is still closed as it was last year because of construction in the state park so it was even more desolate than usual.

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When we arrived there were a few people on the beach but everyone was spaced far apart. The beach to the east, past the posts keeping you from driving down the beach, was fairly empty too despite being in front of the row of beach houses. There were folks out walking but it wasn’t packed. That area slowly increased in activity as time went on as did our little public access area.

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Forest was thrilled to be at the beach! He’s been practicing holding his breath under water this summer, something he has been too timid to try until now, and since he has this newfound skill he’s really become more of a water kid than he was before! Usually at the beach he likes to hang out in a little dug out pool of water Chris would dig for him and then sometimes splash at the water line but this time he was completely wanting to stay in the water the whole time to jump the little waves near the shore! I’m really grouchy at this pandemic because we were finally going to get real swimming lessons for him this spring and summer and now that is put off for another year (two?).

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It was a high sargassum time on the beach and I was glad that as soon as we got out of the car Forest asked “What’s that plant?” and wanted to play with it. We explained that it was actually a macroalgae and most people freak out about sargassum (it makes the beach “dirty” or they don’t like it brushing against them in the water) but he immediately took to it and was interested, especially after we started pulling floating sargassum up to look for marine life within it!

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One of the first things we found was a Sargassum Nudibranch, Scyllaea pelagica, something I had never seen in the sargassum! They were very cool and we found several throughout the day.

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And lots of Sargassum Shrimp, Latreutes fucorum

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Beach Morning-Glory, Ipomoea imperati

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I headed east down the beach early for a walk before more folks came to the beach. It was very pleasant along the walk and I ended up bringing a bag to pick up trash along the way, something I always say I’m going to do but never actually do.

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Open beaches!

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The handful of cars early on in the morning.

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A nudibranch egg case washed up on the shore.

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Blue Button, Porpita porpita

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A cute little crab that was commonly seen in the sargassum. I think this could be a juvenile blue crab but I’ve not been able to actually identify them quite yet.

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And of course our big find was seeing several Sargassumfish, Histrio histrio. It’s been many years since I’ve found one but we came across several that day. We kept our eye out for sargassum seahorses but no luck!

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Atlantic Sergeant Major, Abudefduf saxatilis

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A nudibranch on the left and an egg case on the right.

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Towards 11:30 the beaches got busier. The area to the east had more umbrellas and beach towels scattered as far as I could see down the beach. And our public area slowly added a few more cars. Everyone attempted to give those there a wide bearth but then two cars with an extended family group of 9 pulled into the east of us between the other car that was parked near the wood posts and we cringed. I was miffed they didn’t pull into an area further back that had a bigger gap of space but there they were, next to us. Under any other circumstances it wouldn’t have been a big deal but pandemic times? Too close for comfort, especially with the several kids they had. We put up with it for about an hour before Chris decided he was done with it and we packed up and headed out about 12:45. The rest of the area was also starting to get a little busier so it was only a matter of time before we would have left anyway.

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But before that I walked down to the Galveston Island SP side to get some quiet and see what I could find down there. It’s just always nice to be on a section of beach that barely anyone else is on—something you don’t get too much of in the height of summer in Galveston.

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There was a tropical disturbance earlier in the week that brought some rain to the coastal areas and that morning there were still showers coming in off the Gulf, which I think helped deter some of the people on the beach that morning. This little shower came in right before we left.

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A video of the nudibranch moving—give it a minute to load as well as the next two. Or click through to view it over on Flickr.

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I’m glad we were able to make it happen! Hopefully we can do it again next month or maybe in September. Once school starts things will quieten down a bit more so September will be a good time to go. Go early and avoid the crowds!

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