Welcome To The Rainforest

Distant thunder gently wakes me, then rocks me back to a deep sleep. Like a snooze alarm with a slapstick punchline five minutes later: Wham! and the house shakes with the force of the lightening bolt, probably the next one hovering right over my head, 800 yards straight up in the sky and coming down fast.

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Welcome to the rainforest.

I’m up with the second crash, heading around the corner to my office computer, dialing in the local weather radar on the Interwebnets, confirming all hell is about to break loose, again, and shutting down the computer and monitor before the little electric men living inside the lightening can crawl up the wires and fry the motherboard.

March, April, May. Three months of incredible rain events, these past two weeks probably the incrediblest, have taken the entire state of Texas and its vast collection of two-thirds-empty river reservoirs and filled them right up, taken our “dry” creek systems and leaking farm ponds, our ground water tables, our Brazos and Colorado rivers, our crackling dry prairies and bare-dirt rice fields and rejuvenated them to overflowing.

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Overflowing with mosquitoes, too. Flash floods and tornado warnings and a river running through the lower back yard like a pack of thieves looking for anything not tied down, and grabbing it up, tossing it into the trailer and driving off downstream to dump it onto the great piles of crap down in Freeport where river meets Gulf.

It happened again this morning. It’s scheduled to happen again tomorrow. Like that old Walt Disney movie where Mickey Mouse is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and gets the broomsticks marching around with sloshing buckets of water, but doesn’t know how to make them stop.

Keep praying, California, all your dreams can come true. But be careful what you wish for.

Posted in Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be, Texas, Writing

Close Encounters Of The Dog Kind

Here’s how it goes:

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That’s Boo, our new-ish 5-month-old Catahoula. As you could gather from the photo, she is not a shy being. She doesn’t know much yet, but everything is her business. In her canine way, she shoots first and asks questions later.
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That’s the Brazos River, blustering along after about two weeks worth of constant rain, running at a depth of about 41 feet instead of the usual 11. In our part of the state, the Brazos is heavily wooded, and populated by all manner of critters. When floodwater covers up miles of animal habitat, those animals move up the riverbanks. As the river rises, the critters rise with it. Among these are many varieties of snakes.

We had been gradually allowing Boo to spend more of her time unsupervised – along with her older dog uncle, Bosco – in the fenced-in back yard. She has discovered squirrels, and began sneaking through the bushes trying to catch one.

It was Wednesday evening and time for her last meal of the day. I went out to bring her in, and my daughter told me she couldn’t be found. My wife and son joined us outside combing the yards, calling her. Ten minutes went by, and no luck. We all were getting worried. I grabbed a flashlight and started crawling under the house, the only place we hadn’t yet looked.

Boo was there in a corner, shaking slightly and holding up a swollen paw, looking somewhat in shock.

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She’d been snake-bitten, but of course the snake was nowhere to be found. Probably it happened in some bushes along the yard’s periphery, and she ran under the house where she felt safest.

Our veterinarian provides emergency care, but he was somewhere in the outback de-horning cattle. His assistant recommended giving Boo 50 mg. of Benedryl and calling the only area emergency animal care center, in Sugar Land. People at the center told us to bring the dog in right away.

I wasn’t happy with their methods. Instead of consulting with us while looking over the dog, and then agreeing on a treatment, they whisked her away and apparently diagnosed her in a back room somewhere, then came out and tried to push $1,900 in tests and procedures on us, including administering antivenin. I’d read that antivenin isn’t usually needed for a copperhead or water moccasin bite – one of which is almost certain to have delivered the bite in this case. I’d also read that antivenin causes a violent allergic reaction in something like 10% of dogs. The clinic vet and I didn’t get along. She wanted to keep Boo overnight and give a series of three blood tests, plus the antivenin. We settled on them giving us an antibiotic and some pain medication, and we took her home. She marked “AMA” on our invoice – “against medical advice.”

Our regular vet told me the next morning that the blood tests the Sugar Land clinic had insisted on served no purpose given the circumstances. He confirmed what I’d read about antivenin, and said about the only time it’s needed in this part of Texas is in a case where a large rattlesnake bites a dog in the chest. He also told me we were correct to bring our beast home. Most young, healthy dogs such as Boo would recover unscathed from a copperhead bite without any treatment at all, he added – although it would surely be a painful recovery. In Boo’s case, her left front paw seemed hugely swollen Wednesday night – all the way to her elbow. The next morning at our vet’s, the swelling had gone down on its own to about half of what it had been. He gave her a $20 penicillin and steroid shot, and three or four hours later it was hard to see any swelling at all.

There’s still a nasty wound just above her paw pad, and we have to watch her closely to make sure it doesn’t become infected, but I think in another three or four days the whole episode will be just a distant memory.

Not too distant in the dog’s memory, though, I hope, as given the fact we live in the woods along a major river in the Deep South, it’s a certainty this won’t be the only snake that crosses her path.

Posted in Brazos River, Critters, Health Care, Texas

Water Feature

While most of the Texas Panhandle and much of the rest of north Texas still is struggling to cope with a severe drought that began in 2010, the Divine Universe has sent our part of the state so much water this spring that our personal and local drought has literally drowned.

Here at the One-Acre Ranch in Fort Bend County, my rain gauge registered an unbelievable 19.25 inches of rain over a recent span of eight thunderstorm-filled days. To put that into perspective, that is more than the average rainfall for Phoenix, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M., combined – for an entire year. It’s been crazy, and difficult to grasp the magnitude of our wet blessing knowing that simultaneously, across the country, California’s collective suffering is increasing, from yet another year of horribly dry weather.

As one might expect, a lot of water from the recent rainstorms here ran off into the Brazos River, which has been swollen for most of the month of April, along with the Colorado River to the west. But a significant amount of water also soaked down into the ground where we needed it most.

Coupled with a cooler-than-usual spring, the result is, among other things, tomato plants chest high, and weeds almost as big. Every tree, bush and plant is on full-tilt grow mode.

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At the Polka Farm in Lavaca County, 90 miles west, we’d faced hotter, drier weather and more prolonged drought than Fort Bend, but that also has changed dramatically. On Sunday I traveled out, ironically to reprogram and activate my little irrigation system. I found that our usually dry stream, affectionately named Lost Bridge Creek, had been raging, and flooded its banks, pushing so many logs downstream that they clogged both ends of our steel-and-concrete bridge. Then the creek roared right over the top of the bridge.

At the other end of the property, the creek stacked more dead logs against the barb wire fence we share with a neighbor. The rushing water’s force snapped each wire. When I inspected the still-running “dry” creek a couple of days later, I found that the 30-foot fence section that had crossed the creek now was relocated and ran parallel to it, with the posts firmly stuck in place amongst the flood debris, and the wires strung tight, as if humans had installed it there.

While it’s wonderful to have the rain, I’m wary, as the destruction from the drought still kind of haunts me. I wish I could afford to put gutters on the farm structures and build a water catchment system of tanks to hold the run-off. Maybe I can’t afford not to.

In the meantime I’ll take what nature gives me and be super grateful for it.

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Posted in Brazos River, Farm, Garden, Nature, Self-reliance

Glory Days

I ventured east along the mighty muddy Brazos River the other morning, hoping to capture images of a few buildings of historical note before those structures crumble.

Booth and Thompsons are two tiny communities tucked into a river bend so isolated that they appear to be suspended in Time. Both are named after the wealthy men who carved them out of the woods in the mid 1800s. Both rose to some prominence before the turn of the next century, only to see their respective populations nearly melt away today.

Freeman Irby Booth established a school in his town in 1912, taking its place alongside his other ventures, including cattle, sugar cane, a general store, hardware store and lumberyard. It was this Booth Public School I came for – a distinctive stucco Mission-style building long-abandoned and standing in decay in a field of weeds. I found it surrounded by barbed wire fencing decorated with numerous No Trespassing signs, and even signs along the tiny country road nearby warning that parking was not permitted. If you want to catch a glimpse of this piece of history, Booth denizens apparently prefer you do so from a moving vehicle.

Another village road a few hundred yards east led me to the Booth Trading Post, although it appeared trades and exchanges have not taken place in some number of years. Grass had begun growing on the store roof, yet the place gave off a comfortable feeling, and I would have liked to sip an iced tea from the porch had it not been so early in the morning and me with other stops to make.

The next one was supposed to be Thompsons, but first I found a former horse ranch whose glory days obviously had come to an end. A very large sign topped with a very large equine statue stood curiously bereft of letters, such that one was left to guess at the identity of the place.

I daydreamed of designing a faux ranch logo and applying it clandestinely upon this landmark signage, while driving the scant few miles to Thompsons, at the end of Richmond’s Thompsons Highway, a.k.a. FM 2759 (for those unaccustomed to Texas, the FM stands for farm-to-market road, which is what most country roads were most often used for back in the day). The photo gallery below includes the Booth School, the trading post, the anonymous horse ranch sign, and what once was the Thompsons General Mercantile – now abandoned but in pretty good repair. Just a short trip back to another era; in 15 minutes I was back in 2015.

Meanwhile, the height of the Texas bluebonnet season is nearly upon us and, while bluebonnets are rare here in Fort Bend County, you can travel 90 miles west to Lavaca County and view wildflowers such as most humans have only dreamed of. The last gallery shot is from the Polka Farm hayfield, taken just two days ago.

Happy Trails.

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Posted in Country Life, Farm, Photography, Texas

The Awakening

The clammy “cold” of what passes for winter here nonetheless gave us a little taste of cabin fever, as it rained and remained below 50 degrees for much of the first part of March, including most of the kids’ “spring” break.

Yet the heavy rain was just the blessing our portion of this drought-battered state needed to recharge the groundwater and bring the reservoir levels up. The Polka Farm rain gauge was overflowing at 6 inches when we showed up last week, normally dry Lost Bridge Creek was flowing, and our seasonal pond has filled. The peach trees are in bloom and new bluebonnet plants have sprouted around the back yard.

At home I managed to carve enough time away from puppy potty training to plant some fine tomatoes and watch as the figs and the persimmon tree sprout anew. Out back, the Brazos River rose from 9 to about 35 feet, swollen from half a state’s worth of rain, yet remained within its banks, behaving itself except to drag a neighbor’s boat under water because he left it afloat with too little rope.

With luck the warming weather will hold, although the pecan trees have yet to show leaves, which the old men over at the feed store say is the surest sign that winter truly has passed.

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Posted in Brazos River, Farm, Garden, Nature

Dog Days of Winter

We drove about two hours north of Houston on Valentine’s Day, out into the Davey Crockett National Forest above tiny Groveton, Texas, where Jody Friday runs her LouKat Catahoulas kennel.

boojumpWe came back with Boudin (a.k.a. little Boo), now an 11-week-old female Catahoula pup, with what is known as blue leopard markings and tan trim, one brown eye, the other mostly green with a blue sliver.

Boo is smart, curious and vocal. I have spent the past couple of weeks on training her not to poop or pee in the house. She is making very good progress, but isn’t perfect yet. And at her age, she sometimes needs to be taken outside to do her business twice in the same night. When I say that is a lot of fun for both of us, I have turned on my sarcasm app first.

I’ve had dogs all my life, and provided each with at least some basic training including housebreaking. But when you only attempt a task once every 10 years or so, you sometimes forget the little details. Like the uncanny similarity between a puppy and an outdoor shop vac, for instance.

Yet all in all, little Boo already has incorporated herself well into our pack. I put up a little gallery where you can see her in action, right over here.

Posted in Critters

Summers Past

The winter here has been almost no winter at all; most days so far in February have been in the 60s or 70s. I have my personal strain of tomatoes sprouted and growing under hothouse lights upstairs, and I’d go ahead and move them outside except that, warm days not withstanding, we’re sure to have at least a couple of below-freezing nights yet to come before Spring truly shows up in person.

The seasonal wait has prompted me to remember the warmth of years past. I continue to make a hobby of turning photos into something more like paintings, and when I run out of new photos to work on, I can always go back and scour my hard drive for archived shots such as:

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The top one is a wrecked sailboat my wife and I found on a deserted beach on St. Croix Island a few years ago. We found it pretty incredible that, even on a weekend, so many beautiful St. Croix beaches existed sans people.

The bottom picture is a heavily processed version of a photo I took last summer, when our farm pond briefly contained sufficient water for my wife and youngest daughter to paddle upon in rubber rafts.

All too soon, I am sure, Spring will bounce past, leaving me in the steam heat where I will think fond thoughts of the possibly cool months of December and January.

Onward.

Posted in Art, Photography