Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fort Worth Botanical Gardens

The Fort Worth Botanical Gardens last September.
The Rose Gardens were built by the WPA during the Great Depression. 
The local builders used native sandstone and limestone to build the
hard-scape of the the gardens.

"This too shall pass...this too shall pass...."  I keep repeating this phrase to myself each time I drive past dried up, scorched fields with a few skinny cows looking for grass or count the growing number of brown, sagging trees that have already dropped their leaves and gone into early hibernation.

Have you heard about these?
Thundershirts are suppose to help
dogs who are scared of thunder.
Who knows maybe they work.  Nothing
helped my Border Collie but a tight hug,
and I couldn't keep hugging him
for an entire storm.
We've experienced droughts before and lived to tell the tale...we'll make it through this one, too.  Some magical night in late September, we will have one of those North Texas storms with thunder so loud it shakes the house to its foundation, sets off all the car alarms in the neighborhood, and sends the pet owners scrambling to find the doggy Prozac.  "Honey, where are those storm pills?  We're never gonna get any sleep with Sweet Baby Dog howling under the bed!" 

If we're really lucky, we might get some rain, too.

Until then, we're looking for relief,...drinking big glasses of iced tea...eating Popsicles and ice cream... hiding inside in the air conditioning.  Today, in desperation, I started looking through my photo files for pictures of cooler, moister times.  I ran across some pictures of the Fort Worth Botanical Garden.  Around here we call it The Botanic Gardens.  These photos were taken last September when weather conditions were more normal and amiable, when it actually rained, and plants had blooms.  These pictures were a sight for my sore eyes and they help me to keep believing, "this too shall pass!"  Enjoy.

Red Spider Lilies!

This spray of Confederate Jasmine looked and smelled gorgeous.

These are School House Lilies.  The early settlers planted them close to schools and churches
where they quickly naturalized and spread.  They use to be common, but they fell out of
style.  Now they are hard to find.  The Fort Worth Garden Club sells them at their
twice yearly plant sales, but you have to get there early to snag them. 

 The School House lilies were scattered all over the Gardens.

 How can a plant as beautiful as Jimson Weed be poisonous?

 A few years ago, the city raised this bronze statue to honor the brave women who
moved to Texas in the early days.  These hearty women tamed the lawless towns,
built the first churches and schools, and brought culture and art to Texas.
These pioneers were the archetype of the "iron fist in the velvet glove."

 The gardeners fill this garden with colorful annuals each season.

 Wisteria, trumpet vine, Texas sage, artemesia, and healthy St. Augustine.  Ahhh!

 Pecan trees make the best shade and squirrels love them.

 A pretty little bridge over the creek is shaded by a nice oak tree.

 This little lizard was so well disguised against the hosta that I almost didn't see it.

 Turk's Cap.  I love the bright little swirls.

 Caladiums, begonias, and wood fern may be a garden staple, but I still love them.

 One of my favorite parts of the Botanic Gardens is this shady walkway that meanders
under the live oak trees.  The arms of the live oaks are living sculptures.

This is a nice little spot to stop and be serene.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When the Bluebonnets Bloom

Everybody loves Bluebonnets!
My latest favorite song in "Bluebonnets" by Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed.  Every April the highways are lined with people taking pictures of kids, pets, and families in the bluebonnets.  It's a much loved and time honored Texas tradition.  Canada wrote the song after his young son's first bluebonnet pictures.
Here's the link.

Friday, when we reached the Texas state line, we slowed down and sang "Texas Our Texas" and recited the Pledge to the Texas Flag.  After all, we were back in the Promise Land and we were all proud sons and daughters.  "Texas, our Texas, all hail the mighty state.  Texas, our Texas, so wonderful, so great."

The Texas Panhandle Plains
There's not much to distract the philosopher from his thoughts
on that long, lonesome highway between
Amarillo and Fort Worth.
We might have been back in the Promised Land, but honestly, there was not much to see in West Texas.
There never is!  On the trip out to Colorado, we tried to pass the time in West Texas by playing I Spy.  But we had to stop after a few rounds.  There was just nothing left to spy.  It went like this.

"I spy with my little eye something brown."
"Ummm.  Is it...the dead grass?"

"I spy with my little eye something green."
"No you don't!  There's nothin' green out here."
"Uh huh!  Look at that roof on that ranch house."

"I spy with my little eye something white."
"Is it the clouds?"
"Well yea, but which one?  Huh!  Huh?"

A West Texas Dirt Devil
Ultimately we found that resistance was futile and gave in to the mind numbing monotony.  Everyone, except my long-suffering brother who was driving, plugged in to their electronics of choice or napped.  But, I was riding shotgun.  I had to stay awake for the driver.  At first I counted dirt devils.  Next, I counted the burned out patches on the side of the road left from recent grass fires.  I found, though, that counting dirt devils and wild fire spots is a lot like counting sheep - sleep inducing.

Finally, I tuned in my mental I-Pod and noticed the words of "Amarillo By Morning"buzzing around in my mind.  It's a beautiful, but sad song with a very singable melody.  It always makes me think about a student I had a few years ago.  This kid was the "real deal."  Every morning he worked on a neighbor's ranch for two hours before school, feeding, watering, and exercising the horses.  On the weekends he rode bulls and saddle broncs in the rodeos in the North Texas circuit.  During the summer, he competed all over the country.   He'd broken more bones than I even knew we had. Once I asked him if he preferred to ride bulls or broncs.  To my surprise, he told me that saddle broncs were much harder to ride than bulls. 

"Amarillo By Morning" 
"Broncs, hey, they're smart an' mean.  They can twist on a dime and they bite.  Bulls.  Yea, they  look tuff, but you can out run 'em - most of th' time." 

He was one tough kid!

Then I started to think about all the songs about Texas and the musicians who come from this desolate area of the state.  Buddy Holly, Mac Davis, Roy Orbison, Bob Wills, and Vicki Carr just to name a few.   I realized that  I only know one or two songs about New Mexico and only four or five songs about Colorado.  There's quite a few more about Oklahoma, thanks to Merle Haggard and Broadway.   But Texas?  I could name ten songs off the top of my head, without even thinking about it. 

How many songs are there about the Lone Star State? 

I started listing songs in my head. "Waltz Across Texas." "All My Exes Live in Texas." "El Paso." "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind." "The San Antonio Rose." "Songs About Texas." "Amarillo Highway." "The Yellow Rose of Texas." "Lubbock, Texas In My Rear view Mirror." "The Bluest Eyes in Texas."

"Fort Worth Blues" Guy Clark
You get the idea. There's a lot of songs about Texas. I started to feel like Bubba in Forest Gump. "Coconut shrimp...shrimp gumbo...shrimp cocktail..."

When I got home I was still curious, so I googled "Songs About Texas."  Man alive, there were more sites than you can shake a stick at!  It seems that no one really knows how many Texas songs there are. One man said that he and his family started making play lists on their annual vacations. After five years, they had accumulated 640 titles and still weren't finished! Now I don't know if that's true - Texans are known to exaggerate a little bit - but that's a long list!

"Hum...," he thinks to himself, 
 "the lack of oxygen must be giving them the sillies!"

Colorado was fabulous!!! 

We had a fantastic time!!! 

But, whenever I come home, whether its from London, from San Fransisco, or from beautiful Colorado, I can't help but think, " it ever so humble, there's no place like home!"

Here's a  play list.

"Bob Wills Is Still The King"

"The sage in bloom is like perfume, deep in the heart of Texas..."
"Deep in the Heart of Texas"

A typical Texas A & M home game.
"You're Not From Texas" by A & M alum, Lyle Lovette

"The Front Porch Song" by Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovette
Tubin' on the Guadalupe should cure the "London Homesick Blues."  
This is better known as "I Wanna Go Home With the Armadillo" 

"Texas In My Rear View Mirror" by Mac Davis

I saw Willie Nelson in concert at Texas A & M.  Afterwards, I came upon him accidentally as he was fixing to get into his tour bus.  Overcome by awe, I couldn't move.  I was five feet away and paralyzed.  He saw me standing there frozen, mouth hanging open, and took pity on me.  He walked over and shook my hand.  Now that's a true gentleman!
"Faded Love" by the incomparable Bob Wills, but sung by Ray Price and Willie   

"Long Tall Texan"

"Pick Up Truck Song"

"When I Die" by Tanya Tucker
Just remember that old Texas saying, "It ain't braggin' if it's true!"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I'm Singing and Dancing In The Rain!

Today, August 12, 2011, it RAINED!!!

Friday afternoon I was standing in the cafeteria of the high school with about a hundred adults and incoming Freshmen.  We were there for "Fish Camp."  Suddenly we heard a long, deep, roll of thunder. The entire cafeteria instantly hushed which is quite remarkable if you know anything about fourteen year olds.  I think everyone of us was trying to decide if we could trust our ears.  Was that really thunder?  In August?  Then ten seconds later, the sky opened up and rain poured down.  The room erupted into applause and cheers.  RAIN!  It's raining!  Everyone rushed to the windows, and about half the kids ran outside.  I heard more than one person singing or whistling "I'm Singing In the Rain."  It was glorious.  It rained hard for ten minutes or so, and then it stopped.  We didn't mind, any rain in August is a godsend.

It's hard to express how good it feels to see and smell and touch the rain during a drought.  It's relief and gratitude and joy all rolled up  and tied together with a smile. 

When I was a kid I could never understand the words to the rhyme, "Rain, rain go away; come again some other day."  I wondered why anyone would want to send away any rain.  When you grow up in a dry land, you appreciate rain, deeply.  So, I made up my own words.  "Rain, rain, don't go away.  Come and stay another day." 

Then, this morning, I opened the blinds to discover more rain!  Will wonders never cease?  As the British say, I was  "gobsmacked."  The first thing I did was move the houseplants outside into the rain. Then  I lingered for a while, just enjoying the novelty of the moment.

The best part?  It's after lunch and the still raining!


Friday, August 12, 2011

"...Where the Buffalo Roam..."

Buffalo in a field somewhere around Westcliffe, Colorado.

Friday morning.  French toast.  Last minute packing.  Group pictures.  Time to go home. 

Nobody wanted to leave beautiful Colorado!  Nobody wanted to spend two full days in the car.  And everybody dreaded returning to the heat. On top of all that, I felt guilty about leaving the grandparents with the task of getting the flat tire fixed or spending a good portion of their day buying new tires.  Joy!  They reassured me that they didn't mind, but really, who enjoys buying tires? 

But time waits for no one, so we loaded all our things in the van, grabbed the car snacks, hugged the fabulous Grands goodbye, waved farewell to the cabin, and headed southeast for Texas.  At least, we consoled ourselves, we would still be in the mountains for most of our first day of travel.  The song stuck in my head for the morning was "I'm Coming Home." 

From Alma, we took Highway 285 through the stunning Collegiate mountains.  We stopped at a well placed scenic overlook to take pictures because the morning sun was gracefully highlighting the Collegiate peaks and flattering the valleys.  It reminded me of some couture fashion photographer playing with the light to bring out every ounce of beauty from his model.  Gorgeous.

The Collegiate Mountains.  Each peak was named
after a famous university.  Mount Harvard...
Mount Yale... but there was no Mount Aggie!
We took our time and stopped at the Walmart in Salida for gas and foot apparel for Shoeless Joe.  Someone spied a Sonic across the road, so we had to made a Sonic run for ice tea and diet coke and Dr Pepper and jalapeno poppers and tator tots and a breakfast burrito. 

That's when we were reminded that we were indeed travelers in a foreign land. 

 My brother asked the waitress for some picante sauce for the burrito.  "What?" she asked.  "Could you say that again?"  He repeated, "Picante sauce," and then realized she had no idea what he was talking about.  He quickly changed to Salsa-Talk 101, rephrased the question and said, "Could we get some hot sauce, please?"  "Oh!  Sure!" she said.  We all just rolled our eyes.  Hot sauce is not even an accurate term!  Hot sauce is that thin stuff made from Tabasco peppers.  Picante is salsa, or as it's better known, Ambrosia, food for the gods.  How could she not know what picante sauce is?!?  Good grief!  My grocery store devotes an entire aisle to salsa.  Come to think of it, there is as much space given to salsa as there is to bread! 

Here's a link to great Pace Picante Sauce

From Salida, we took Highway 50 through a narrow valley filled with large ranches and a few tiny towns.  Suddenly, my sister-in-law spotted a sign that said "Beware of Buffalo."  We were talking about this and wondering who in their right mind would try to mess with a buffalo when we spotted a cow and her calf cavorting alone in a huge field.  We stopped excitedly to get pictures and then spotted about twenty more cows and calves.  We thought that was it for the bison and drove on over the next hill only to be surprised by the bulk of the herd.  It was enormous!  I've never seen so many buffalo!  There must have been three to four hundred in the herd.  It was a small vision of what it must have been like for the settlers who saw entire prairies covered with thousands of buffalo.  I'm glad ranchers and conservationists are bringing these majestic natives back. 

You probably don't need a link to "Home on the Range,"
but this is a version by Marty Robbins.

Around 4 o'clock we pulled in to Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.  From the top of the extinct volcano you can hike down a half a mile into the crater, or you can hike up to the top of the crater and walk a mile or so around the rim.  The views were incredible, not Colorado incredible - New Mexico incredible.  The Ranger explained that all the mountains we saw from the top of Capulin were also volcanoes. We could see a hundred of them for miles and miles in all directions. 

Everyone of those mountains in the distance is an
extinct volcano.  I love the scent of Pinon pine
 and the volcano was covered with them.
While we were there, a large fast moving storm system came from the west.  I counted at least six separated thunderstorms spread across fifty miles.  It was quite something.  The Ranger said that New Mexico has also been suffering from the same horrible drought devastating Texas and huge sections of the West.  But just the day before, they had a storm.  Before the storm, the land was that dead yellow brown color we see all the time during the summer.  After the storm, the land immediately greened up!  In fact, when I looked over the rim into the valley, the grass looked healthy and alive. 

But that storm had been violent.  As so often happens when there hasn't been rain in a long while, the storm caused a flash flood.  The parking lot filled with eighteen inches of rain in fifteen minutes.  On the day we were there, the Rangers weren't taking chances.  After a quiet walkie-talkie conversation, our Ranger stopped swearing in young Junior Rangers and started telling the hikers that the park was closing due to the incoming storm.  We hated to leave, the breeze was cool and the lightening in the distance was beautiful, but you don't argue with a National Park Ranger about a storm warning.  Reluctantly, we took off and instead enjoyed watching the storms follow us across New Mexico.

But just like that, as soon as we crossed the border back into Texas, the storms withered up and disappeared! 

Dag Nab  It! 

Can you see the lizard?  He's so well camaflaged that it takes a second to find him.

New Mexico - the land of enchantment.
I wonder how many miles we could see from the top of the volcano?

At first, it was all blue skies and prickly pears....

and then the storm clouds started to gather.

The storms chased us to the border of New Mexico and Texas and then they just disappeared.
The cowards!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Geocaching, Shoeless Joe, and Al-Mart

Windy Ridge Lake
It took my breath away!

Have you heard about geocaching?  No?  Neither had I.

Well, apparently it is a "treasure" hunting game that uses GPS to find things that other people have hidden.  When you find the geocache stash, you sign the log book, then you can either take the booty and replace it with something else or leave the original item for the next seeker.  Here's the link.

When my brother explained it to us, it sounded either like a giant scavenger hunt played with strangers or like a Harry Potter port key.  The port keys were always something that looked like a bit of old rubbish, a single tennis shoe, a tuna can, a baby's pacifier.  Once found, port keys allowed multiple people to apparate together at a specific time. 

Either way, it sounded intriguing!  So Wednesday morning most of the group set off to find some geocaches hidden around Alma.  Mother and I, both exhausted by our marathon of a day on Tuesday, decided to stay at the cabin.  Around lunch time they came back with their faces lit up and words spilling out of their mouths.  They hadn't found a geocache, instead they found something much better.  Back behind Alma there was a dirt road, a very rough dirt road, that led to narrow deep valley. In the valley we found a beautiful little alpine lake and at the end of the rocky road a private camping ground with numerous hiking trails.  Some of the trails, we discovered, led to the top of the 14ers that surrounded the valley.  After scouting it out, we decided to take the whole family in SUV the next day. 

Let me tell you!  SUV's are essential in the Rockies.  I don't know how people live in the mountains and drive regular sedans like Accords or Camry's.  My guess is that they don't, at least not for long.  After a day or two it was easy to spot the locals and the out-of-towners.  If the vehicle was old and beat up, was a truck, a jeep, or a heavy duty SUV, if it had two foot long shocks, and had thick, heavy-duty tires, it belonged to a local.  If the vehicle was clean, a four door sedan, a Mini or a mini-van or a mini-anything it belonged to a naive flat-lander, like us.  The concept of "form follows function" could have originated from a car designer living in Colorado.

Thursday morning we emptied everything out of the Highlander and piled all eight of us into it's interior.  We had to stow the kids into the very back area, the part that was intended for luggage and groceries.  Not exactly legal, but... My brother drove us into Alma and turned at the street next to the minuscule mining museum.  The paved street quickly petered out and became red dirt...then red dirt and rocks...then big rocks...then BIG rocks...then small boulders!  To say it was a bumping ride would be an understatement.

Oh!!! But it was worth it!

First, we went to Windy Ridge Lake.  This was quite possibly the prettiest small lake in Colorado.  Idyllic.  Beautiful.  Peaceful.  These words only hint at how truly gorgeous this lake was.  I just kept mentally humming the John Denver song, "Sunshine On My Shoulders."  We snapped endless pictures of the lake, of each other by the lake, and of the mountains reflected in the lake.  Once again, we became nature paparazzi. 

After a while, we piled back into the Highlander and bounced down the road to a beautiful spot further down in the valley.  There was a turn off close to a rapid mountain stream where two fields of wildflowers enveloped the trail.  We only thought we had seen beautiful flowers before we came to this meadow.   The flowers here spendiforous!  How's that for an adjective?  Wild lavender lined the trail!  We found flowers that none of us had ever seen before.  Who knows?  Maybe no one had ever seen some of those flowers before!

"If I had a day that I could give to you...
I'd give to you a day just like today."
Very quickly, we scattered in all directions.  The kids honored the call of the wild in them and headed for the river and the thick underbrush on the other side.  My sister-in-law followed, camera in hand.  My brother and dad started up the mountain meadow on the other side of the road.  Mother and I put our noses to the ground and oohed and awed over the flowers. 

Although we were spread out, we were all keeping track of each other in that subconscious way that families develop.  That's why we all heard the alarm cry.  Somehow, older nephew and middle niece had made their way to the other side of the river.  Coming back was more complicated.  The water ran fast, deceptively deep, and ice cold.  They decided that it would be safer to take off their shoes to wade back to the other side.  Oops!  Almost immediately, the water gods demanded their first sacrifice of the the day and took one of middle niece's tennis shoes.  Sister-in-law tried to save the shoe and instead gave the river her sunglasses, and almost herself.  I saw flashes of  headlines in our hometown newspapers. "North Texas Family's Tragic Loss in Colorado."  Instead of "Sunshine On My Shoulders" I was hearing "Ride of the Valkyries."  

"The water is wide.  I can't cross o'er.
An neither have I wings to fly. 
Build me a boat that will carry two
and both shall row, my love and I."
One thing I really admire about my brother and sister-in-law is that they are really good in an emergency.  Me...not so much!  Somehow they got the two bear cubs safely back over the river.  My sister-in-law even documented their travail with her camera!  That was good because I couldn't watch. 

Danger averted, we decided it was time for lunch.  Once more we got back into the SUV and my brother carefully steered us over and around the largest rocks to the campground at Kite's Lake.  Think about the most beautiful parts of the Lord of the Rings movies, that's how beautiful this place was.  The campground sat at the base of  four 14'ers:  Mount Cameron, Mount Democrat, Mount Bross, and Mount Lincoln.  There's a line in John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" that I kept hearing in my mental sound track.  "He talked to God and listened to His casual reply."   It was that kind of place!  So peaceful!  If you've been to Colorado, you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't been, get up right now and GO!

The town of Alma sits at 10,500 feet.  Kite's lake was about a thousand feet higher.  The surrounding mountains all crested at over 14,000.  All this meant that Kites's Lake was a popular place.  The lake and campground had numerous hiking trails.  Some were short and easy, just exploring that end of the valley.  Others took serious hikers to the peak of the mountains.  The grandparents, one of the nieces, and I set off on a pretty trail that looked more like a stroll than a climb.  But before we knew it, we were higher than we realized.  We were up above the tree line, so we must have been higher than 12,000 feet.  There were pockets of snow, water falls, and the occasional chatty marmot.  Several hikers coming down the trail told us that they had climbed two or three mountains that morning. Impressive!

Later my nephew took us up a much steeper trail that led to a "land that time forgot."  If Adam and Eve had come out from behind a boulder, I wouldn't have been too surprised.  A freezing cold mountain stream spilled down from the snow capped mountain peak and wildflowers practically sprang out of the ground with life.  Of course, I heard John Denver singing in full voice on my mental I-POD.  How can anyone NOT hear John Denver when they go to Colorado?!?

It was a glorious day! 

Around four we had had all the fun we could stand, so we piled ourselves and our booty of shiny rocks and wildflowers back into the Highlander for the return trip.  We thought our adventure was over, BUT WE WERE WRONG! 

Just as we came off the dirt road and back into Alma, a mountain man in a pick-up flagged us down.  "Brother, you've got a flat tire," he told my brother.  And, then it started to rain.  Not just a little rain.  Cats and Dogs.  Buckets.  A Gully Washer. 

So picture this.  Eight people crammed into an SUV.  Stranded in a town of less than 300.  No garage anywhere in town.  Middle niece still with only one shoe.  Serious Rain!

I paniced a little. 

"Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men..."
Truly they were our saviors.
Always good in an emergency, my brother ignored all our cries of woe and advice and crossed the highway into some business's driveway.  He got out to see how bad the tire was and if we could limp back to the cabin and change it after the rain stopped.  No luck.  The river gods had already demanded a sacrifice.  Now the trail gods wanted their cut.  The tire was already riding on the rim! 

The guys couldn't change the tire with all of us sitting in the car.  It was raining too hard to just get out.  What to do?  What to do?  Suddenly, we remembered Al-Mart!  Alma doesn't have a Wal-Mart, but they do have Al-Mart.  We dashed as quick as we could with shoeless Joe in tow and shamelessly left the guys to change the tire in the rain. 

Al-Mart was like a beacon in the night, a lighthouse signaling us to safety and a bathroom and diet coke and chocolate!  It was about the size of the shoe department of a Wal-Mart and filled with all the stuff you really need.  Rice, water, coffee, cans of beans, small containers of Parmesean cheese, gourmet Italian beef, gold panning pans, and serious mountain man clothes.  No flip flops, though.  Poor niece!

Al-Mart - where you can buy
aspirin, under armor, and art.
Finally the rain stopped, the valiant men got the tire changed, and joined us in our Al-Marty refuge. The guy behind the counter patiently listened to our story, sold us commemorative t-shirts and refrigerator magnets, and told us where we might could get the tire fixed the next day.  Thank you Al-Mart! 
We love you!


Notice the 14er in the background?  We're about to go climb it.

Wow!    Snow in late July!

The only varmits up there were us and the marmots.

The best picture award goes to my sister-in-law for this shot of her reflection
 in Windy Ridge Lake.

On top of the world!

If anyone knows what these beautiful bells are, please comment below!

The same goes for these darlin's.  I couldn't tell you the name of any of them.