A Sunday Drive: In Search of Bluebonnets

Barely out of the car, Annie is panting in the hot sun at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. These were some of the few bluebonnets we encountered.

Having finally accomplished the long-put-off doing of my income taxes before noontime, and with the yard and garden work already finished for the weekend, I coaxed Annie into the car and off we headed out 290 in quest of bluebonnets.

The bluebonnet is the the Texas state flower, and for a few weeks in spring, the roadsides and pastures can be ablaze in color from the bluebonnets and other wildflowers, especially the Indian paintbrush

Without seeing a glimpse of a bluebonnet, we drove as far as the quaint, old town of Chappell Hill and turned onto a side road.  This asphalt lane, like so many other roads in the Texas Hill Country, seems to be filled with natural beauty and history.  It never ceases to amaze me how on one piece of land you’ll see a humble dwelling that probably was once a share-cropper’s house, and then, not even a quarter mile down the road, a 6 or 7 figure “swankienda” stretches out into the acreage.  But these, along with the green meadows and wooded creeks, make for a drive that forces you to go at a speed slower than that of Granny going to church.

After about 50 miles of driving, a small, hillside field showed off its indigo glory, but the cars and motorcycles that were already stopped left no place to pull over and try to take pictures of a small dog romping amongst the bluebonnets.

So on we went a few miles, and ended up at Washington, Texas, which is the place where the Texas Declaration of Indepedence from Mexico was signed.  Many years ago, a big part of the area was made into the Washington-on-the-
Brazos State Park
.  It’s really a wonderful place, not too overdone with the history part.  There’s a museum and a visitors center, but there are also places to picnic and lots of trails to walk and discover the history as well as nature’s beauty.

With a 92-degree south wind pushing at us, a maybe mile-long walk was about enough to do in a guy and a little dog.  I’d brought water for her, which she lapped up when we got back to the car, but after getting the AC going, I began looking for a convenience store to find a cold drink for myself.

We did find some bluebonnets in the park, but either it’s still a bit early or the drought has caused the bluebonnets to suffer this year.  Whatever.  We had a good day on our quest, finding more than the flowers.

Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. This looks like a replica to me; maybe some of the boards are original.

Some of the flowering plants growing along the pathways. The pinkish-purple appears to be a native verbena. The white blossoms on the other plant were pretty, but the stem looked very prickly.

The park has many trails to wander, some along the Brazos River. Here and there, youll find informational signage, telling about the history of the site, but these signs do not interfere with just enjoying the tranquillity of the area.

Pieces of history, like this old water well, are evident throughout the park, but because the park has not been "over-developed", the visitor can almost feel like he is discovering artifacts.

Located outside of the state park, current-day Washington, Texas holds hardly more than some kind of eatery and a post office.

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Manhattan, Kansas: First City in State To Add Gender Identity to Anti-Discrimination Laws, Also Adds Sexual Orientation

Not in any of the national, well-read LGBT blogs and other sites have I seen this mentioned today, but I think it’s pretty amazing because it’s happening in my old home state, and in the very town where I spent a couple of college years and also came out.  This is Kansas, mind you, old, forever Republican Kansas, which now has Sam Brownback, once part of DC’s C Street gang, as its new governor; Kansas, home to notorious religious clan, whose name I won’t mention because I don’t want them trying to mess with my blog; Kansas, with its conservative State Board of Education, which tried to get “creative” with science . . . . .

But today from the Manhattan (KS) Mercury, we find this good news: 

After months of research, discussion and debate, city commissioners passed the second and final reading of a proposed amendment to the city’s discrimination ordinance at Tuesday’s legislative meeting. The change adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.

Tuesday’s vote makes Manhattan the first city in Kansas to recognize gender identity as a protected class. It also makes Manhattan the second city in the state, the other being Lawrence, to recognize sexual orientation as a protected class.

Even in a state as conservative as Kansas, changes are being made to prevent discrimination against LGBT people.

Egypt in Transition: Sidenotes from Personal Experience

Like many others, I’ve given quite a lot of attention in the past several days to what’s been happening in Egypt.  For certain, what changes will be made there, whether there will be a complete change in government or whether Mubarek will stay in some sort of power, remain uncertain.

I think I watch what’s happening there with a different perspective than a lot of Americans.  As I’ve written here, and those that know me might be aware of, I was an Arab linguist in the U.S. Air Force back in the 1970s.  I studied the Egyptian dialect and the main focus of my work was Egypt, though I never set foot in the country, until a couple of my fellow airmen and I took a 10-day, TWA tour of Egypt in April of 1974.  (I’ve had a more detailed description of that trip started for some time now, so I won’t go into all of that now.)  But in looking back, it’s surprising that the Air Force let us take that trip to a country which had been the center of so much of our military work, especially the October ’73 War, which had taken place only about half a year earlier.

When we got there, we discovered a couple of things.  First, the Egyptian people liked us Americans, despite the country still being under some influence of the Soviet Union, as evidenced by the great number of Soviet tourists that we encountered and some military installations around the then new Aswan Dam.  Second, the country was very poor, but teeming with people.  The current news media talk about squares filled with people, making it sound as if is something unusual.  The streets were filled with people on a daily basis even back in the 70s, when the population of the country was around 33 million, nothing like the 80 million of today. In Cairo, people hung off the sides of buses, and the trains from Cairo to Alexandria had riders on top of the cars because inside there was no more room.  The big difference, of course, was back in those days, people were just going about their daily lives, not protesting for a change in government.  I also remember the poverty evident most everywhere.

Anwar Sadat was the president of Egypt in those days, coming into power after Nasser.  I admired Sadat a lot and felt that he really wanted peace for the region and with Israel, unlike so many other Middle Eastern leaders, who wanted–and want–to do away with Israel.  I was really saddened when he was assassinated in 1981 by fundamentalists, they said, but I have always wondered if Mubarek didn’t have something to do with it as a way to get power.

I think the current problem in Egypt is, yes, partially, that of a government not giving enough freedoms to the people.  But there is another problem–a world problem–too many people.  And too many people too fast.  Egypt’s problem is not so different from that of Mexico.  Poor countries (and some rich ones too) in the past century have grown in population by leaps and bounds.  Maybe it’s because of having more access to medicines and health care.  But go to a poor country these days, and you find that the majority of people are young, and these huge numbers of young people are having more babies.   And more people use more and more of a country’s resources, but the countries just cannot create enough new jobs for everyone.

I took a lot of slides when I was in Egypt, and I’ve had a few of them digitalized.  (How many of you will have those pictures you’ve downloaded to Facebook 40 years from now?)   Here are some I like:

Night view of the Nile River and the boulevard running alongside it (1974)

Pyramids of Giza (1974), at that time the pyramids were a ways outside of the city

Luxor, Egypt (1974), the street running alongside the Nile River, across the river from the Valley of the Kings

A Christmas Road Trip, Digging Up History, and a Garden for the New Year

It’s a little late to say it, I suppose, but “Happy New Year” to anyone who slips and falls upon this page.  This is the first post of the new year, as other interests, including just lying around, have gotten in the way of writing.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, but on January lst, I felt motivated to plant a “winter garden” in my little plot behind the garage.  There were already several pepper plants still producing from last summer and a couple of tomato plants that I planted in November with several tomatoes on each; now I’ve set in 80 red onions and 10 shallots (let’s see), a couple of rows of yellow beans, and several varieties of lettuce.  It’s been a rainy evening here, with more than an inch already, so this moisture should get everything going.  Although the thermometer has read 29 or 30 on several occasions, everything down inside my back yard seems to have been protected.

A few days before Christmas, I loaded up the car, and with Annie for a co-pilot headed up to Kansas for the holidays.  Even with quite a number of short stops for gas, dog walks, and grab-and-go food, we made each way in between 11 and 12 hours.  Both driving days were grey and dreary, and coming back took longer because we ran into rain and, of course, more traffic coming into Houston. 

Driving that far in one day is always a bit grueling, but stopping to stay somewhere along the way just never seems worth it, and it’s always so good when I arrive up there, and just as good when I get back home.

The Christmas festivities carried on over several days, of course, with a lot of presents and too much, but really delicious, food and goodies.  Even though Mom is now gone, almost every one of her kids and grandkids (including in-laws) seems to enjoy cooking and is pretty good at it as evidenced by all the variety.

My sister and I are both history buffs, and whenever I get back to Kansas, we take some kind of road trip to “the old stomping grounds.”  The beauty of the mostly treeless, somewhat stark, rolling plains of central Kansas, where I grew up, always amazes me.  When I was living there, it was something I couldn’t see.  Another noticeable thing is that life is changing; there are fewer and fewer small farms, and you have to drive more and more miles between farmsteads where someone actually lives.  And thus, the small towns, and even not so small ones, are losing population.  Some of the smaller places will soon be just a spot on the road.  This is not something new, though; if you look at the census numbers, the decline in rural counties in Kansas started as far back as the 1920s.

We had a good drive, though, taking us back down memory lane, and finding answers for some of the questions about places that we had been talking about.

The Smoky Hill River from the Dlabl Bridge southeast of Wilson, Kansas. We encountered this new bridge after taking a scenic sand road north from Holyrood.

An old tombstone with German inscriptions in the tiny Immanual Cemetery southwest of Wilson, Kansas. The Smoky Hills can be seen in the back.

One of the markers that were erected to show the route of the Butterfield Overland Despatch (sic) that followed the Smoky Hill Trail through Kansas. Down the draw from this marker is the spot where I believe the Hick's Station was located.

Rolling farmland (winter wheat in the foreground) surrounds my old hometown of Dorrance, Kansas.

Delhi Commonweath Games: Matthew Mitcham Gets Silver in 1-Meter Springboard, Looks Forward to Wednesday

Only because of listening to the BBC on KUHF ( Houston’s local public radio station) in the morning on my way to work did I hear about the Commonwealth Games 2010, taking place in Delhi, India.

Diving Determination--Matthew Mitcham at the Dehli Games (SMH photo)

The event is a sports competition among many of the countries which were once under the control of the British crown and takes place every four years.  The sports include many of those seen at the Olympics, but some appear to be those that would go with a “spot of tea”, like cricket and lawn bowling.

I was curious to see if Matthew Mitcham, Australia’s gay diving sensation, would be taking part, and, indeed, he is.  In fact, in today’s 1-meter springboard, he took the silver medal to Canada’s Alexandre Despatie. Mitcham will compete again on Wednesday in the 10-meter platform, the event which put his name on the map with the Olympic Gold Medal win in 2008 in Beijing.

Update (Wed. Oct. 13th):  Matthew Mitcham finished second in the 10-meter platform dive to England’s 16-year-old Thomas Daley.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian “scored 509.15 points to claim his fourth silver of the Games and finish shy of 16-year-old world champion Tom Daley (538.35 points), whose sublime performance included one dive that earned perfects 10s across the board.”

Watch Matthew in a promo for the Dehli games:

Electrical Tower Accident Brings Boats Back to the Old Port of Houston

Boats of the Houston Yacht Club stranded at Allen's Landing as a Houston Metro train crosses the Main Street Bridge.

Though the original Port of Houston was in downtown Houston, near Main and Commerce Streets, it’s a rarity to see many, if any, boats in that area on Buffalo Bayou.  However because of three barges’ hitting a huge power tower near the banks of the Houston Ship Channel many miles downstream, a number of boats from the Houston Yacht Club are now docked at Allen’s Landing.

Members of the Yacht Club take an annual excursion up Buffalo Bayou to celebrate the group’s founding.  The party usually is a several-hour long shindig, but the barge-tower accident occurred while the group of boats was going upstream, causing the entire ship channel to be shutdown.  Now the boats are sitting pretty until major repairs are made on the power line.

Read more about the Houston Ship Channel and the old Port of Houston in a previous post.

Perfect October Weather Calls for a Day Trip

A Texas longhorn grazes on the dam of a pond

After the long, hot Texas gulf coast summer, one almost feels that these near perfect days and nights are something deserved.  The low humidity and temperatures in just the 80s in the days and into the low 60s or even 50s at night bring smiles to faces, and more than just the dogs seem to be frisky.

It’s the time to get out and enjoy the refreshing Texas countryside.  This week is the fall version of the Round Top Antiques Fair, a twice annual affair that over the years has spread itself out further and further.  There are vendors of many types housed in tents, sheds, old houses for miles around the little hill country town.  Sitting about half-way between Houston and Austin, Round Top makes a good destination for a day trip.

Going early in the day, the attendance seemed somewhat sparse, but the incoming bumper-to-bumper traffic later indicated that business was going to pick up for the vendors.

For sure, neither the sellers, buyers, nor those just going to have a great day could be disappointed by the weather.

A tranquil setting greets visitors at Marburger Farm Antiques

Bright Texas sun creates shadows from sale items on the walkway

Not the Big Kahuna, but the Big Banana

Colorful lampshades among the great variety of items for sale