Friday, December 12, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Texas

What fun: playing music with Chip every night!

We have taken much to heart as we travel around in Lilypad.  We have learned a great deal about the heart of this country, we have had old and new friends open their homes and their hearts to us, and now here we are deep, as they say, in the heart of Texas.  At this moment we sit in the San Antonio kitchen of Glenn ("Chip") Hughes, high school buddy of Liz’s, university professor, philosopher, musician, poet and all-around big heart. We were here for Thanksgiving and had such a good time that after a 10-day trip to the Texas coast, we came back to spend a few more days. He feeds us, and gives us the run of his house (oh what fun to have comfortable chairs, showers, good internet, and cable tv to watch Seahawk games.)  The house is filled with books and it’s a lot like hanging out in a really good library. Furthermore Chip loves to engage in heart-filled conversation and wait, there’s more:  he is affirming and patient about our fiddle and concertina practice and the three of us have been playing and singing together every evening.

Chip also kindly took time from his busy academic life and showed us the town of Fredericksburg and his favorite Hill Country drive along the Guadalupe River. In San Antonio he introduced us to his friends, showed us some of the city, and took us to both the innovative Institute of Texan Cultures and the McNay Art Museum.

Padre Island National Seashore
Our ten days in southeast Texas found us along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail and visits to four of the many beautiful Texas state parks. We went to Rockport on the coast and took the free ferry over to Mustang Island, one of the long barrier islands on the Gulf of Mexico, where we camped on the beach and toured the University of Texas Marine Science Institute’s estuary visitor center. In Port Aransas we enjoyed a delicious sea food lunch and some serious bird watching, seeing Black Bellied Whistling Ducks and a flock of Pyrrhuloxia (no, we did not learn how to pronounce that.) Then it was south over a causeway to Padre Island National Seashore where we saw Skimmers and Royal Terns, Snow Geese, White-tailed Hawks, two kinds of pelicans, Red Headed Ducks and Sandhill Cranes. As environmentalist Hazel Wolf used to say, “Some of those birds needed watching.”

"Javie" checking us out at Falcon Lake
We also learned about the historic cattle ranches of Texas. We drove through Corpus Christi and stopped at the Kenedy Ranch Museum, a small but well-done and highly informative museum in the tiny town of Serita. At Port Isobel we stopped at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge where we added Green Jays and Black Legged Stilts to the bird list. Liz went on a tram ride and learned about the Nilgai, (introduced Indian antelopes) that, along with feral hogs are major challenges to refuge managers. This refuge also hosts 12 of the 50 ocelots that are known to live wild in the United States and many major research and management strategies are in place to support this population. In Falcon State Park, we were quite excited to see a wild javelina. 

Would have loved to see Hidalgo lights at night
We were surprised when we stopped at the Brownsville Visitor Center to be greeted as “Winter Texans”. Evidently the area makes a concerted effort to attract northern visitors, and many signs proclaim welcome. Birders are a big part of this business and there are even associations limited to "Birding B&Bs." Close to 500 bird species have been sighted from the coast up the river, many of which cannot be seen in other areas of the United States. Along the way we discovered some other interesting things like delicious oranges and grapefruits sold from pick-up trucks, the holiday lights of Hidalgo, and the city of Laredo, where everyone was speaking Spanish and our light skin and ignorance of the language clearly labeled us as out-of-town visitors.
Guess we're in a Homeland Security file now
As we traveled west on Military Road (also known as Highway 281) we witnessed many instances of law enforcement/citizen interactions, a startling illustration of this nation's huge increase in police personnel along the Mexican border. That, and the occasional sight of the fifteen-foot fence that marks the border between Mexico and the US, were to us, a profoundly sad sight. We were stopped at check points and repeatedly photographed by Homeland Security cameras. The police presence made us uncomfortable and brought thoughts of a "police state," making us wonder how our neighbors to the south must feel when they come here, whether legally or illegally. We wonder whatever happened to heart-felt welcomes and general open-heartedness in southern Texas. 

After enjoying a quiet Texas state park at Lake Casa Blanco on the outskirts of Laredo, we headed north and found ourselves driving through oil, gas and fracking operations for 200 miles. It boggled our environmentalist realities to see the machinery every few miles on the ranch lands, and dusty little crossroad towns that are now highly industrialized and are apparently surviving by economies based on servicing these huge sites. 

But we were somewhat cheered by spotting countless Crested Caracaras and other raptors dotting the landscape along the way. That’s one nice thing about the heart of Texas: it’s really good for the birds.

1 comment:

  1. So nice to have skyped with y'all during this phase of the voyage!