Wytheville, Virginia

July 7, 2016 15:39 – 15:39

I’m at the Comfort Suites in Wytheville, Virginia, planning to head to Mt. Rogers shortly. The internet speed here is acceptably fast.

I’m here for one night, then heading on to the Homewood Suites in Blacksburg for the next two nights—for Tara’s wedding.

More, later, perhaps.

Franco-American riddle

June 6, 2016 07:50 – 07:50

Here’s something weird I didn’t know. When I think of Franco-American (the canned food brand), I think of things like canned ravioli and spaghetti & meatballs… Americanized Italian canned food. Yet, Franco means French–not Italian. So, I finally looked up Franco-American, and it turns out that the name DID mean French originally in that brand’s name. From Wikipedia:

“The original Franco-American Food Company was founded by Alphonse Biardot, who immigrated to the United States from France in 1880. In 1886, he and his two sons opened a commercial kitchen in Jersey City, New Jersey, featuring the foods of his native country. The company proved a success, particularly with its line of canned soup and pasta, and it was acquired by Campbell’s in 1915.”

How the brand came to be more closely associated with Italian-esque food seems like an accident. I’d bet that I’m not the only person in my generation who was later surprised to learn that Franco meant French, and not Italian. I’m pretty sure that I never encountered any Franco-American products that were based on French foods, even though the article suggests that the original offerings were in fact French.


Spring Trip to the Boston Area—Days 1 and 2

May 2, 2016 10:07 – 10:07

I’m at the Homewood Suites in Billerica. The internet speed is okay—although I’m paying for “premium” speed. I don’t know what the regular speed is, but it must be awful if this is premium.

The ride up was a mixed bag. I hit traffic in DC and Baltimore—I took a couple of detours to avoid traffic on the Beltway through MD, and to avoid traffic on 895 in the Baltimore area. Surprisingly, NYC’s traffic was fine, but I hit slow-downs in Connecticut. The worst traffic however was when I hit Massachusetts. For some reason, traffic heading east on I90 was dreadful—and it continued awful on & off until just a few miles from the hotel.

Even so… until I hit Massachusetts, I averaged 43.1 mph. By the time I got to the hotel, it was down to 42.8.

Friday night, I went to a Seder at First Parish UU in Cambridge. I think there were about 50 people there. Getting there wasn’t fun. I was half an hour late, but setup took so long that I didn’t miss anything… except for meeting more people. In any case, the people at my table were very nice.

Saturday, I went hiking in Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, entering from the Concord unit. I blindly followed my GPS and was skeptical… until the last moment. There were no signs at all until I got to the entrance.

At the main parking lot, there’s an observation tower, from which you can see this overview of the wetland and trails.

I immediately saw a yellow warbler, but couldn’t get a picture. The NWR has the usual complement of Canada geese and mallards. I did see a few great blue herons fly overhead, but I didn’t see any along the water. I think the star of the day was probably this sleeping Canada gosling.

When it got up, it was very wobbly. I can’t tell gosling ages… but it’s probably just a couple of days old.

About five minutes later, I spotted this hooded merganser hen with about a dozen ducklings.

One of her ducklings was trapped on shore, and she kept trying to entice it into the water. I moved on before the show was over.

I also managed to catch this redwing blackbird in a rather unusual pose. Looks like he’s either taking a bow or inspecting his undercarriage.

Much of the refuge’s path abuts water—there was very little shade, even apart from the fact that the trees still haven’t leafed out very much. I’m glad I had a hat. There were some stretches of woods, however. There was a lot of skunkweed. I crowd-sourced the ID on Facebook, and confirmed it by breaking a leaf. It’s edible, I hear. I hope I’m never that hungry. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon comes to mind.

I’m not sure why they came this far north, but I also found a lot of Virginia wild strawberries.

And violets, of course.

I still need to identify this bird, which was gathering nesting materials from last year’s fading cattails.

I couldn’t get close enough for a detailed picture, but there were also several mute swans.

And the usual suspects were out sunning themselves on logs.

This black swallowtail posed long enough on the trail for me to get a picture with my small Canon pocket camera.

Here’s one of the interior canals that connects the larger pools.

Saturday night, I met my daughter-in-law Liz for dinner at Thai North, in Brighton. I had a seafood entrée and fried gyoza. The latter was the best gyoza I’ve ever had! The entrée was good, too. After dinner, we hiked around the hills of Brighton for an hour or so, pushing my step count above 20,000. Yay! Along the way, we saw lots of flowers—including these beautiful phlox.

Yesterday (Sunday), the forecast called for rain, so I decided to skip church and hike around the hotel’s neighborhood. I’ll post another entry, later.

From then to now—seven years of pain and change

April 5, 2016 14:00 – 14:00

A lot of people know about my difficult journey over the past seven years, but many more don’t. I occasionally share longer “updates” on Facebook to spare myself and others I meet of the often painful but sometimes joyful details. If you already know all about me, please skip reading this note. Retelling the story helps me put everything into perspective as well as sometimes keeps me from having to retell it in person. At some point, one despairs of having every first meeting, every first date, or every first whatever end in tears.

Seven years ago was a very happy time in my life. My work was thriving and Karen and I were looking forward to early retirement, and relocating in New England to be closer to Katie. Karen had recently recovered completely from stage 4 breast cancer, which was as cured as breast cancer can get. Our amazing daughter Katie, who had just turned 21 in March, had just graduated from Boston University with honors in Music and Mathematics and Statistics—a feat she accomplished in three years, thanks to all the AP courses she took at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She had decided to seek a doctorate in biostatistics, and had been accepted at Boston University and Yale—and had decided to stay in Boston, a place she loved, filled with people she loved. Life couldn’t be better.

A veteran of many family road trips, Katie decided to take her graduation present—a 1999 Honda Accord—across the country for her first solo cross-country drive. She used UUs at Home and friends for accommodations along the way, driving from DC to Boston, and then to San Francisco, Oregon, and finally to Salt Lake City for the 2009 UUA General Assembly. Always a transforming experience, at GA, she told a former minister that in addition to seeking her PhD, she had decided to seek UU ministry, as well. After GA, no longer solo-traveling, Katie and her good friend Heather began the trek back to Boston, via Yellowstone National Park, armed with camping gear.

In late June, Karen flew to Vancouver for the annual Western Economics Association meetings, and I headed west in my car. The plan was for us to begin the long trek east, revisiting the Canadian Rockies, which we’d visited several times before.

On June 29th, on my way west, I met up with Katie and Heather in Yellowstone, and we spent the day hiking and seeing the wonderful stinky hot springs and geysers. At the end of the day, we hugged, and parted company. They were going to spend two nights in Yellowstone, and then head south to Denver to spend a little time with Heather’s uncle. I headed west towards Vancouver.

That was the last time I saw Katie.

I continued west and made it into Vancouver the afternoon of July 2nd. At around 4 that afternoon, in the Vancouver area, I had my first and only panic attack. I didn’t know why until weeks later.

At the hotel in Vancouver, Karen returned from her last seminar, we went to dinner (I have no idea where), and we prepared for our trip eastward. I went to bed worried, however, because I hadn’t heard from Katie since mid-afternoon when she’d tweeted that she’d just gotten to Colorado.

At 3 am, there was pounding on our hotel room door. It didn’t wake me up, for some reason, but Karen woke up, and went to the door. She then woke me up and said that the police wanted to speak with both of us. A Vancouver city police officer and an RCMP broke the news to us that there had been a car crash, and that Katie had been killed on impact. Her friend Heather was injured, but had survived, and had told the Colorado State Police where we were.

I immediately informed family and close friends, and put the word out on Facebook. By noon on July 3rd, just about everybody we knew, knew and shared our shock and grief. Weeks later, when I finally saw the accident report and the time of the car crash, I recalled my panic attack on the afternoon of July 2nd, and realized that it had occurred at the same time. I still get shivers when I recall that. This was the first time in my life that I thought that perhaps our essence doesn’t get extinguished when our bodies die.

And, rather than a joyful trip east through Banff National Park, we began the slow, sad journey to Fort Collins, Colorado to arrange for Katie’s cremation. When we reentered the U.S. north of Seattle, our cell phones began to ring. I think we must’ve spoken with a dozen different UU ministers that first day. Along the way, a plan began to take shape. In addition to planning Katie’s Virginia memorial service, we decided to create a way to keep Katie’s amazing energy alive, through the Katie Tyson Fund for Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Through it, others like Katie who wanted to go further in UUism, would have the means to afford it. More on this later.

When we got to Fort Collins, our minister had arranged with a fellow UU minister to meet with us and help us in our visits to the coroner and mortician. That minister specializes in grief counseling, and her own son had died in his 20s. She was exactly what we needed.

In Fort Collins, we also went to see Heather and her family, who had flown in from Boston. Heather was as grief stricken as we were, but we were very grateful that she had survived the crash. One of several silver linings in this narration is that Heather survived, recovered, and later entered seminary and graduated. I went to her ordination as a UU minister on May 4, 2014. Hers was the first of three of Katie’s friends’ ordinations I’ve attended so far since Katie died. I’m looking forward to many more because another silver lining is that when Katie died, I inherited many of her friends, with whom I’ve remained in contact. They help fill the great void left by Katie’s death, and help keep her spirit alive.

Seed money for the fund came through contributions from Karen & me and donations from Katie’s two memorial services at her two churches—Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Virginia and Arlington Street Church in Boston. Additional funding from special collections at other UU churches and the insurance settlement check gave the fund additional boosts. But, a big boost next came at the next year’s General Assembly meeting, which was in June, 2010 in Minneapolis. A collection during the Saturday plenary session meant that the fund was now large enough for permanent endowment. Now, a fully-endowed and still growing fund, the KT Fund is a permanent memorial to the love and dedication Katie brought to UUism.

Karen’s mission was to eventually grow the fund to a million dollars, and I have no doubt that her vision and energy would have gotten it there (and it will definitely get there, but not yet). However, Karen would never see it happen.

Suffering from digestive issues for the previous five or ten years, Karen’s health problems reached a climax in early 2012. She had worsened through December, 2015, and after several mis-diagnoses, Karen was diagnosed with colon cancer in February. It had metastasized and had already spread to her lungs, liver, stomach, and brain. It was completely unrelated to her previous breast cancer, from which she had recovered completely. After surgery to remove her large intestine and a couple of weeks in the hospital, Karen was released into my care and home visits from a wound care nurse. The plan was to let enough healing take place so she would be strong enough to undergo chemo. Our plan was survival, despite the 6% survival rate.

From February through the first week of May, I went into full-time caregiver mode. The wound nurse came three times a week to change the dressing, and the surgery was healing. A physical therapist came multiple times per week, and Karen was making progress in the healing and recovery process. In the first week of May, Karen was finally able to make it up the stairs. Our hopes soared.

On Wednesday, May 2nd, Karen went for her first chemo. Veterans of chemo from her breast cancer, we thought everything went fine. By the next day, however, Karen was feeling awful, but the symptoms were consistent with normal chemo side effects. Over the weekend, however, Karen continued to feel worse and worse, and by Monday morning (May 7th), it was clear that something was horribly wrong.

We went to Kaiser, where tests showed that Karen’s kidneys had shut down. Now, too weak to walk, Karen was taken by ambulance to Virginia Hospital Center, where they discovered that her small intestine had ruptured, and she was in septic shock. After an emergency surgery to repair the leak as best they could, they put her into an induced coma to control the pain. Antibiotics were tried, to no avail. Karen never awoke, and she died at about noon two days later, on May 9th, surrounded by her two brothers, her sister, my sister, my minister, and me.

My best friend of nearly 40 years and my wife of almost 38 years was gone. Life as I knew it was over. It had actually been over since February, but, hope and denial kept us from realizing it.

I’m a labor economist and technology writer. While I was in caregiver mode, I canceled a book contract and my other work slowed considerably. After Karen died, I tried to work for another year, but I just couldn’t muster the concentration. I also canceled a second book contract. My heart wasn’t in it.

But, thanks to our investments and a good financial advisor I found after Karen died, I didn’t really need to keep working. And, one day it hit me—life was too short to spend the rest of mine doing something I didn’t love doing. Yes, the work I was doing at the time (trying to create jobs for people with disabilities) was important and worthwhile work. But, it wasn’t where my heart was.

I decided that to the extent possible, I would do only things I loved doing. If they resulted in income, that income would be reinvested in the Katie Tyson Fund as well as other things I believe in. The most meaningful part of what I do now is songwriting and using my songs as a vehicle for spreading the word about UUism, telling UUs around the U.S. about the Katie Tyson Fund, and working towards Karen’s dream of seeing it top a million dollars.

Somebody once called my songs mini-sermons because of the custom-fit they seem to have with the rest of the services where I sing. I like that characterization. So, I take my 3-minute sermons to UU churches around the U.S., often writing new songs to fit services when I don’t yet have an exact match in my growing binder of songs. When my songs match the service—it’s not an accident.

The rest of my time, I spend hiking, traveling, taking photographs (and sharing them on my blog and on Facebook and Twitter), making new friends, practicing random acts of philanthropy where a few dollars can make a difference, and trying to elicit groans with my puns on Facebook. So, if you ever wondered “what’s the deal with this Herb Tyson character?”, now you know. If you never wondered… well, you didn’t read this, so… never mind.


Pinery Provencial Park

March 22, 2016 21:41 – 21:41

A friend and I visited the Pinery Provencial Park today. We’d planned to drive north to the Bruce Peninsula National Park, but were deterred by the forecast of 0C and snow. By heading west, we managed to dodge the snow (and rain) and were rewarded by 12C.

The park was nearly deserted. Our first stop was the beach on Lake Huron. Because the park was nearly deserted, I was surprised when these three guys came bounding down the hill onto the beach.

The sky was very overcast, but the rain held off until after we left. Here’s the view to the north:

And here’s the view to the south.

I’m told that the beach was still very icy just a few weeks ago. Today, here’s all the ice that was left.

I heard a lot of birds, but few were visible. I did see several black-capped chickadees, though.

The Old Ausable Channel (a tributary to the Ausable River) runs through the park. Here are a couple of views of it.

Exploring the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Region

March 21, 2016 23:36 – 23:36

Today, I’d planned on hiking in the Laurel Creek Conservation area, but discovered that it’s basically closed until May. That seems to be the case with lots of park in this part of Ontario. I did find a conservation area open, however, over in the Guelph/Eramosa area—Rockwood Conservation Area. It was practically deserted, but I paid my $6CDN and took a lovely—and I really do mean lovely—hike.

On the way to Rockwood, I decided to stop and try The Great Canadian Bagel, which should be named the Not-So-Great Canadian Bagel. I tried their poppy seed and cinnamon raisin bagels. Now, just about any bagel can be made to taste good if you put enough junk on it. But, the real test of a bagel is how it tastes naked. The bagel, not me.

I started with the poppy seed bagel. It was too dry… tasted more like a piece of bread with lots of seed on it. I gave up before eating even half of it. The cinnamon raisin bagel was slightly better—but only because of the raisins, which added a little bit of moisture. But, it was too dry, too. So, most of it went back into the bag, too. Some time, I’ll have to see if I can find some Montréal bagels without having to go all the way to Montréal.

After bageling, I headed up the road towards Rockwood. Along the way, I passed the arboretum in Guelph University, and made a mental note to stop there on the way back.

Rockwood’s fee station was unpersoned. So, I put $6CDN into an envelope, filled out the necessary info, and ventured inside. I was skeptical. I didn’t see any follow-through signs saying where the hiking trails were. So, I sort of followed the only other person I saw, who was walking a dog. This ultimately led me to the Pothole Trail.

The trail is named this because it leads by geological formations known as potholes… the first definition.

Some of the potholes were on [currently] dry land, while others were in and along the Eramosa River.

Here, you can see how the water has carved away rock, leaving other rock, which now serves as home for trees. In time, this rock will also get worn away, further widening the Eramosa River. But, you can see the pothole in the rock.

Here, you see other islands on the remaining rock.

Below, a tree stump now resembles the head of a dragon! Can you see the eye and snout? There’s also a sheet of ice clinging to the stump.

And here are more water-carved rocks, which I believe are limestone.

And, not all potholes are parallel to the surface of the water.

I also found a few grottos. No stoned saints were in residence. I guess they were persona non grotto.

There were also a lot of icicles still clinging to the “walls” of the canyon that now forms the trail bed.

I did see a couple of downy woodpeckers, but I didn’t have the good camera with me. After getting back to the car, though, I retrieved the camera and walked the trail a second time. No peckers on that loop, but I did manage to see this red squirrel… which seems to be about midway in size between the gray squirrels in Virginia and chipmunks. The face seems to have a slightly different shape, too… giving this guy a significant overbite.

The islands in the river aren’t the only place where trees are growing out of the rock.

Showing the historical action of the river, there were several islands that are more like high plateaus. This one stands about 20 to 30 metres above the river level.

There were a lot of Canada geese in the river (well, duh… this is Canada), but there were a lot of seagulls, as well as a few common mergansers. The latter were way out, and even at 300mm, I could just barely make out what it was.

At the end of the Pothole trail, I found something unexpected—the ruins of a woolen mill! Built in 1867—the same year as Confederation—the mill has a very European look to it.

Below, you can just make out the date above what use to be an entrance.

From the grounds of the Harris Rockwood Woolen Mills, you can also see some good views of the Eramosa River.

I’ll have to come visit this park again sometime when it’s warmer and more birds are in residence. Leaving the park, I set a course for the Guelph U. Arboretum. About 200 metres into the Arboretum, however, I decided that the winter-worn road wasn’t meant for normal cars. I turned around and carefully beat a retreat.

At this point, it was almost 15:00, and I was getting a wee bit hungry—my abbreviated bagel lunch wasn’t filling. So, I decided to stop at Wendy’s and get a cheese burger. Why the eff do they feel the need to put salt on the damn thing? I don’t use much salt, so standard amounts seem like way too much for me. In any case… that was linner—lunch and dinner—along with a Caesar salad I’d bought from Sobey’s the day before.

Back at the hotel, I processed the day’s “catch” of photographs, and uploaded the best of the bunch to the Book of Faces. A glance out the window, however, told me that it was time to venture out one more time with my camera. My computer’s time was in the wrong time zone—no idea why. It’s set on automatic, and it “thought” I was on Central time. I almost missed sunset because of this. Thank you, window, for the reminder.

So, I headed down and out and around the hotel to the western side, where I found the buildings across the road were blocking the view! So, I hoofed it across Benjamin Road and behind the buildings, where I found a hill and a retaining wall blocking the view! So, I climbed the hill, and finally could see the sunset.

That’s when I spotted the tree on the left with the colorful background. So, I cranked the zoom up to 300mm, and snapped a few shots.

Above is the whole horizon at 16mm. Here’s the left 3rd at 300mm, after cropping.

So… that was today. Tomorrow, a friend and I plan to venture to the west to the shore of Lake Huron (Pinery Provencial Park), and stop in Stratford along the way for lunch. I sure hope the weather cooperates so I can take some more pictures.

Buffalo to Waterloo (Ontario)

March 19, 2016 21:07 – 21:07

I’m at the Homewood Suites in Waterloo, St. Jacobs, Ontario. This might even be the same room I was in last time I was here. In any case, the premium paid internet speed is acceptable. And because of the exchange rate, it’ll cost only $3.81/day, rather than $4.95/day. Wooo! Again, no clue how fast the unpaid service is.

On the way across the border, there was no line on the Nexus-only Whirlpool Bridge. So, naturally, the customs dude gives me a bit of a hard time about vacationing in Ontario in mid-March. “Why are you going to Bruce Peninsula?” Because I’ve never been there. In any case, once again, they let me in.

After crossing over, I decided to go see Niagara Falls since I haven’t seen it in 15-20 years. To my surprise, this being a Saturday, it wasn’t at all crowded. I’m kicking myself for not having come up here last winter when the falls froze. Next time it freezes, I’m gonna do it.

I took a bunch of pictures at the falls, but no way am I going to post 35 pictures. Just the most representative ones. Here’s a good overview shot showing both of the main falls.

And, here’s a close-up shot of the boat shown above, which is called the Hornblower.

And, here are some assorted shots of the falls. I took this one at 1/8000 to try to freeze the falls.

I have no clue what this dome in the center is. I’m calling it the Pleasure Dome, since it’s pleasant to look at.

And here it is close up.

The oddest sight, though, was this giant kiss. I had no idea that Hershey’s had any kind of a presence in Niagara Falls, let alone in Canada.

Leaving Niagara Falls, I set a course for Waterloo. I was going to be early, so I decided to stop at Granny Bonn’s Fish & Chips for lunch. It was good—I had the cod—but no better than what I do at home with my own secret batter recipe. And, I think I’m losing my taste for chips.

By the time I finished lunch, it was still too early to go to the hotel, so I went to Sobey’s to provision up. I got the makings for omelets for breakfast for the next four mornings that I expect to be in Waterloo. I decided to go ahead and see if they’d take me early at Homewood… but the room wasn’t ready. So, I strolled over to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market.

It reminds me of the Central Market House in downtown York, PA. I should’ve bought some strawberries, but the crowd was too daunting. Unfortunately, they aren’t open tomorrow, and when I went back at 17:00, I learned that they’d closed at 15:30.

After visiting the market (the first time), I headed back to the hotel where… my room was finally ready. After unloading my stuff, I decided to try to take a walk to the Laurel Creek Conservation Area. But, halfway there, I decided it was too far. On the way back to the hotel, however, I passed this interesting stone company, with a very artistic and attractive display of their wares.

When I got back to the hotel, I decided to drive to Laurel Creek. But, it, too was closed. At that point, I’d already 11km for the day, so I just walk in a little way to see where to pay and how much it’ll cost. If the weather permits on Monday, maybe I’ll try again.

For dinner tonight, I considered trying Jack’s Family Restaurant across the street, but I wasn’t all that impressed by their menu. Too bad they don’t have prime rib every night, rather than just on Friday. I also considered a couple of other restaurants, but they seemed too sandwich-centered. And, I definitely didn’t want a sandwich for dinner.

So, I drove back to Sobey’s, bought a rotisserie chicken and some wheat Kaiser rolls, and… made myself a delicious hot chicken sandwich with Swiss cheese. Yep. The irony just now struck me as I was writing this, and assessing exactly why I didn’t choose one of the three restaurants I considered.

Tomorrow morning, I’m singing at Grand River Unitarian Congregation, the Kitchener church that purportedly narrowly escaped being acronym-ed FUCK. I’ll be debuting two new songs, as well as singing Heart of It All for the offertory. I also sang there about a year ago.

Syracuse to Buffalo

March 18, 2016 22:46 – 22:46

I’m at the Springhill Suites Buffalo Airport location. It just opened in September, so it still has that new hotel smell. The paid internet speed is acceptable, and I have no clue how fast the unpaid is.

Today’s NWR was the Iroquois NWR in Alabama, NY. I wonder if there’s a New York in Alabama? I doubt it. Because it’s basically still winterish up here, there weren’t a lot of birds. I did see a couple of orange-ish chipmunks. Here’s one of them.

He looked more orange in person. Or… in mammal?

I wasn’t able to identify this bird. At first, I thought it was a crow. But, once I eliminated the shadow, I can see it wasn’t a crow. But, it was about that size. Some kind of small hawk, perhaps.

Most of the waterfowl were keeping their distance, including these hooded mergansers.


There was also this odd thing dangling from a tree. It was about 8″ in diameter.

Both of the trails I walked featured long boardwalks, reminiscent of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s boardwalk, but not nearly as long. Here’s a view of the Kanyoo trail boardwalk.

And, here’s a view to the left of where I was standing.

And here are views from the Swallow Hollow Nature Trail.

Among the usual suspects were this Canada goose and downy woodpecker.

I saw another bird I didn’t recognize. It was a little larger than a robin. I now think it was a female bluejay.

After the NWR, I drove the rest of the way to the Springhill Suites in the eastern environs of Buffalo. It opened in September, so it’s pretty new. It’s also pretty cheap—probably because it’s new. Unfortunately, that also makes it a relative bargain price for the very large HS hockey players who are here for some kind of tournament. When I checked in, I asked to be put as far as possible from them. While there are some on my floor and they are very noisy when they’re in the hallway, my floor seems to be quieter than the other three.

For dinner tonight, I met up with some of Karen’s distant relatives. They’re a rarity these days—liberal Catholics. We ate at Red Pepper, which is a mixed Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant. We all had Chinese cuisine. I had hot & sour soup (no competition for Dynasty’s) and Mongolian beef. The latter was good. We had fun discussing politics, television, Ohio, and family.

Tomorrow, I head into Canada. I’ve already set my Garmin to use the Whirlpool Bridge, which is Nexus only. I sure hope this crossing takes less time that the last time I cross from Buffalo into Ontario. On that occasion, I waited in line for over 90 minutes until the Nexus line finally broke free.

Boston Stuff

March 16, 2016 23:14 – 23:14

Today was fun. I began by meeting with Cam and Bart of the Katie Tyson Fund at the UUA. We had lunch at Tavern Road (mini review… I probably ordered wrong—it was okay, but just).

I found out that UU Summer Seminary is growing to 25 youth and 8 days this summer. It’s in San Francisco at Starr-King and the Oakland UU church. I’m planning to drive out at least for the Saturday and Sunday portions, and might be helping out some with music. After lunch, I met with someone about possibly doing music sometime for the UUA’s regular Tuesday morning chapel service.

After the UUA, I headed north to Heartbreak Reservation, which is only a few miles south of the hotel. I spent only about an hour hiking there today, but it looks promising for future trips. There are two ponds within the reservation—this one is called Upper Pond. Care to guess what the other one is called?

Several large outcroppings had distinct sedimentary lines displayed by many years of erosion. A geologist likely could say a lot more.

Here are a bunch of campaign promises I saw on one of the paved trails. Must’ve been a campaign trail. Yes… the campaign trail is paved with horseshit.

Like the other reservations I’ve been to, this one is very hilly and rocky.

I also ran across this today. At first, I thought BFD might’ve stood for Big Fucking Deal, but decided instead it refers to the Boston Fire Department.

Tonight I went to Sanctuary Boston at First and Second Church UU in Boston.

As usual, the service was very moving and compelling. For the joys and concerns, all were concerns, so I decided to stand up & share my joy at being there with the community, and how it’s so worth the 500 mile drive up from Virginia. I also spoke with Mark and Matt about possibly doing a reflection sometime in the fall.

On the way back up to the hotel, I stopped for fuel at the cheapest place I could find—$1.99/gallon for diesel. I guess prices have bottomed out for now.

Tomorrow morning, the plan is to head for the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, in Sudbury, forecast notwithstanding. The forecast for overnight is rather odd, but hopefully the rain will clear out by the time I get to the refuge.

After hiking in Assabet, I’ll head for Syracuse. I thought about seeing if I know anybody there (I do, but they have small children, so a Thursday night outing wouldn’t work), but I think I’ll home-body it tomorrow night, and save my outing energy for Friday night, when I’ll be having dinner with a Facebook friend who is a distant cousin of my late wife, Karen.

From Home to Mr. Peabody

March 15, 2016 22:31 – 22:31

I’m at the Springhill Suites on US 1 in Peabody. I’ve been here many times before. The internet speed seems to be one-size-fits-all. They don’t offer the option to pay to buy higher speed. The speed is pretty feeble, so I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have pictures to upload.

I decided to take a chance on coming through NYC this time, rather than taking the Garden State Parkway and the Tappan Zee Bridge. At one point, I had three different GPS navigation devices going. When they differed about traffic avoidance, I let two outvote the other one. When each said something different… I flipped an imaginary coin. All in all, given that the GSP seemed to have some issues, I think I probably shaved about 30 minutes off the trip, had I gone the other way.

I left home at about 7:35 and pulled in to the hotel just before 4:30—just under 9 hours, with three brief stops.

On I-90 heading from the west, I began to notice Mass State Police SUVs passing at about 85 mph—sometimes just one, but other times in groups of 4 or 5. No flashing lights—just speeding cops. After I noticed them and started to count, I counted 20 before I stopped. I’m guessing I was passed by at least twice that many. Never did find out what was happening.

After getting in, I drove down to Andover Newton Theological Seminary to pick up my daughter-in-law, Liz, for dinner. Our usual place for dinner in Newton is Coconut Café, which is a Thai restaurant. I had spicy chicken soup—which tasted good, but the chicken was too chewy. Next time, I’ll try it with shrimp, beef, or tofu. For an entrée, I had pad Thai with shrimp. It was quite good.

For the trip from Virginia, the car averaged 42 mpg—not bad considering that there was a bit of stop & go traffic through the DC and NYC areas. Driving to dinner in Boston’s rush hour traffic, however, knocked it down to 41.3.

Tomorrow, I’m having lunch with 2/3 of the board for the Katie Tyson Fund for Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Then, I’ll drop by to meet with somebody about possibly providing music from time to time at the midday Tuesday chapel services at the UUA. Tomorrow night, I’ll be going to Sanctuary Boston. I’ll have to figure out some place good to hike before and after.

On Thursday, I hit the road for Syracuse, via the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, in Sudbury, MA. Great Meadows NWR is also nearby—I might check it out, as well. Afterward, I’ll hit the road for Syracuse, where I plan to spend Thursday night.

Finding my G spot…

March 5, 2016 09:47 – 09:47

While I was on my most recent trip, my Dell Windows server’s hard drive hiccuped, which put me into a momentary panic. When I tried to boot up, it said it couldn’t read the hard drive. Gulp. I let it auto-restore, and that fixed it. I surmised that—even though I had the system set not to automatically install updates—it had gone ahead anyway with one of those so-called “critical” updates, which included replacing the HD driver. This is precisely why I don’t trust automatic updates.

Once restored, of course, I couldn’t then verify my surmisal because it’d been restored to the last clean boot, which no longer showed the problem driver update in the update log. But, I’m pretty satisfied that that’s what happened.

Except that… whenever a computer’s hard drive hiccups—for any reason—I replace either it or the computer it’s in. It was time.

The Dell machine is 3.5 years old. It went into service in early August, 2012—three months after Karen died. I decided it was time.

So, I bought a new system yesterday. I also decided I’d had enough of Dell’s puzzling proprietary architecture, and reverted to my old standby—Micro Center’s store brand, PowerSpec. I got a G416.

But, Herb?! Doesn’t the big G stand for ‘Gaming’? You don’t do gaming!” Indeed, it does and I don’t. But, I wanted a machine that didn’t come to a halt when I process and edit photos. My travel Dell laptop with Window 10 does a better job than this aging desktop.

I also wanted something that could support three monitors without adding a 2nd video card or using a USB-HDMI adapter. The latter works (it’s what I’ve used for the past 3.5 years since the Dell wouldn’t support an additional video card), but it’s slow, clunky, unreliable, and weird at times.

In any case, the new machine is blazingly fast. But, aren’t all new computers fast at first? Yeah… so, in another 3 years, I’ll probably be at this same point again. I’m slowly but surely moving all of my accumulated pictures and other files over to it. I’m still using the old machine as my main computer until I get everything ready. Just typing on it, it sometimes slows and takes three or four seconds for a word to appear. I’m hoping that the hyperthreading in the new machine fixes that.

I’m going to have to add another hard drive to the new machine, I think. “Two terabytes will last a lifetime” I told myself. Yeah, right. My first hard drive—an enormous 10MB drive—was supposed to last a lifetime, too. The 2TB drive in the old machine is about 75% full already—accumulated photos and a backlog of DVD’d shows I haven’t watched (the latter consume almost 400GB). Once I move accumulated photos from my travel laptop, there’s not going to be a lot of space left.

The new computer runs Windows 10 Professional. That was the hard decision. It also has media for Windows 7 Pro. But, while I’m not in love with the interface, I have been impressed with the cleaner/smoother running of Windows 10 on my main travel laptop computer, especially when processing photos.

The new computer came with 16GB of fast memory. But, bigger is better, so I popped $99 for another 16GB to bring it up to 32GB. I remember when 32B of memory seemed enormous. And, that was 1,000 times less memory than the new machine will have once I add the 16. I thought I’d put the new machine through its paces before opening it up and introducing new variables. I think I’ll buy a 2nd hard drive and install it while I’m installing the memory… before I attach all the myriad USB and other cables to it. A machine with only a monitor and a wireless mouse/keyboard dongle attached is a lot easier to open up and deal with than a machine with 10 USB cables, three monitor cables, audio cables, and others octopussing out of it.

But, maybe I’ll just get a huge external drive, instead, and use it for picture storage. In the long run, that would be faster and smoother than having to copy all of the picture files to the new hard drive the next time I upgrade my computer. Note to self…

Once I’m done copying all of the photos, documents, and other files, then I’ll start installing my programs to the new computer’s SSD. It has a 256GB SSD. That’s a solid state drive. Talk about blazingly fast… Programs come up so fast that it’s as if they were stored in RAM. Well, duh. That’s essentially what SSD is.

Memphis to Farragut (Knoxville) via Hatchie NWR

February 25, 2016 23:15 – 23:15

I’m at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Knoxville, TN. It’s a new property, and it’s very nice. Everything except for the internet speed, that is. I don’t know how fast the free connection is, but the paid connection is less than 3Mbps.

I drove from east Memphis to here today, stopping at the Hatchie NWR. I wasn’t very optimistic about Hatchie because the best parts of the refuge are closed between November 15th and March 15th. But, as it turns out, it wasn’t a total bust. When I mounted the observation tower, all I saw was dead trees in the middle of Oneal Lake. It was about 40°F and very windy, which made me even more convinced that I wasn’t going to see anything.

But, as I began to drive around the lake, I immediately saw a hawk. I was driving and didn’t get a picture, but that piqued my optimism a little. I drove around about a third of the lake, and decided to walk the 5k around the lake. I found a pull-off, and immediately saw a herd of American coots!

Here’s one who decided to demonstrate how to walk on water.

And, here’s the lake around which I was walking.

Continuing around the lake, I saw what at first I thought was a black vulture or a crow. Through the camera’s 400mm zoom, however, I saw my error! It was a bald eagle, and eventually, it flew almost directly above me!

The next surprise was a pair of cormorants flying in the distance.

Their beaks are orange, but they were so far away, that you can barely tell. I recognized them from their flying profile.

Next, I passed by a heavily wooded area. I heard a number of hawks, robins, and woodpeckers, but they were hard to see. I did manage to see part of a downy woodpecker. It was upside-downy.

At about the 3k point, I past a flooded section. There were some hooded mergansers, but they were way too far away to get a clear shot. I did see a tree sparrow playing in the branches, though. I saw him coming…

And I also caught him going… Actually, that’s s different one, but I found the back and rear plumage intricate and beautiful.

My timing sucks, sometimes. The best parts of the refuge are closed until March 16th.

Continuing my hike, at about the 4 k point, I saw something I didn’t expect—a beaver! I didn’t see any of the usual beaver signs—no downed/gnawed trees, no lodges, and no dams.

While I was following the beaver, I spotted these gnarly knobs sticking up from the lake. I love the color contrast and the reflected blue of the sky.

And, finally, as I was getting back to my car, I saw an interesting optical illusion. It looked like a tree was floating above its stump… until I zoomed in with the telephoto lens.

I finished up at the refuge at about noon. By that point, I was getting a little hungry, and decided to finally try Arby’s new fish sandwich. It’s actually very very good! The fish/breading ratio is high, and the fish actually tasted like fish! I understand that they have these fish sandwiches only from Ash Wednesday until Easter. Thank you, Lent.

I got to the hotel at about 6:30. I’d already decided to get something from a grocery store instead of heading to a restaurant tonight. I visited a Kroger Marketplace. It rivals Wegmans in size and content, although their deli, soup, and salad bars close too early. I was able to nab a rotisserie chicken, however, along with some lacy Swiss cheese and a wheat roll, and had myself a nice hot chicken sandwich for dinner.

Tomorrow, I hit the road for home. My Garmin says that it’s 507 miles and 7.5 hours of driving time. Although… I really hate I-81, so I’m thinking about going through Charlottesville instead of taking I-81 all the way up to I-66… unless the GPS devices tell me that traffic is worse on I-66.

From Texarkana to Memphis

February 25, 2016 10:41 – 10:41

I’m at the Springhill Suites on the east side of Memphis, having made the drive from Texarkana yesterday. The free wireless speed here sucks—only about 2Mbps. I didn’t bother upgrading because a) they make it very hard to get back to the upgrade menu, and b) I didn’t have many pictures to upload (see next paragraph).

I really need to blog more regularly so I can refresh my memory about refuges I’ve visited. For the second time this trip, I revisited an NWR that I’ve been to before. This time, it was Pond Creek NWR, which I visited last year on my way home from Texas. The moment I arrived at the NWR’s HQ on Central Avenue, I knew I’d been there before. Note to self—don’t visit this one or Balcones Canyonlands again (except, that the latter would be okay between March and May, to see the golden-cheeked warblers warbling in the pines).

Looking at last year’s photos, Pond Creek was just as much a bust last year as this year—just pictures of drowned cypress trees and black vultures. I saw those this year, too, but I guess I took a different trail, since the views look different. This year, I parked at the intersection of Tram Road and Salt Lick Road, and walked about 2k up Salt Lick Road, and back to the car. I heard lots of birds, including some unidentified warblers (possibly pine warblers, since they were hiding in the pines), a murder of crows, some black capped chickadees, and a number of hawks shrieking above. I recognized the shrieks of some red shouldered hawks, I believe, but they were hard to spot through the trees.

This one might have been a cooper’s hawk, judging from the feather patterns. But, it seemed too large. Maybe it was lower than I thought.

As I was getting back to the car, I did get a clearer view of a different and much smaller cooper’s hawk that flew about 10 feet above me, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera. A few minutes earlier, though, I did manage to get a couple of decent, albeit long-distance shots of a different cooper’s—at least enough for an ID, though.

That’s after cropping and enhancement. Below is the original uncropped and unenhanced shot—as you can see, not all of the work of presenting wildlife photos is done behind the camera.

And, here’s another view of the same hawk:

Last year, I saw drowned cypress trees. This year, it was drowned pines, still recovering from the heavy rains that came through the day before. Fortunately, the dirt/gravel road wasn’t too muddy.

Speaking of the road… I saw an interesting rock, too. I often wonder about the strips and the forces and processes that must’ve produced them millions of years ago. That entire area was at the bottom of an inland sea, and I suspect that the white stripes are what remains of once-living sea creatures.

Last night for dinner, I was told about two good places for BBQ—Tops (which is a local chain with multiple locations) and Germantown Commissary BBQ, which is a single establishment. I chose the latter. I had a half-slab of pork ribs and a cup of chili. The chili was okay, albeit a bit too tomato-y for my tastes. The ribs were good, but the sauce was too thick and sweet.

The Commissary’s sauce wasn’t as thick and sweet as the sauce I had with yesterday’ lunch Q, at Fat Boy’s, near Little Rock (in Caddo Valley). At lunch, I had pork loin (sliced—they didn’t have a pork shoulder/pulled option) and brisket. Both were too lean, tough, and chewy. What’s wrong with people? BBQ shouldn’t require that much effort. They should stop trying to make it into health food. I’m not putting either place on my “again” list. Next time I’m in the Memphis area, I’ll try Tops.

Today, I’m heading for Knoxville, but first I’ll be stopping at the Hatchie NWR, which I’m pretty sure I’ve never visited before. At least, I hope not.

I’m booked tonight at the Fairfield Inn & Suites west of Knoxville, in Farragut, TN. EST—here I come! And, tomorrow morning, I’ll hit the road for home. I’m a little worried about the house since I got a report from my backup service saying that my desktop hasn’t been backed up for three days. I’m hoping this isn’t a repeat of last summer, but it’s probably not. I’m guessing that MS pushed a mandatory update and rebooted, and the system couldn’t fully boot because I wasn’t there to enter the password. Other signs indicate that the TiVo is still recording and the phone is on. In any case, my sister is going to check things out and let me know.

From Fort Stockton to Texarkana—600 miles of rain

February 24, 2016 00:54 – 00:54

I’m at the Comfort Suites in Texarkana. This is my 3rd room here. No, not my 3rd visit. My 3rd room tonight—this visit. In the first room, the toilet was broken (tank wouldn’t fill, so it was unflushable). In the second room, the heating/cooling unit cover was off, and there was a note on it saying that it didn’t work at all. I finally hit pay dirt in try #3.

The internet download speed here is excellent. The upload speed is acceptable.

Today, I drove the 600 miles from Fort Stockton to Texarkana. It rained most of the way. The GPS gave my driving time as 9 hours. It actually took about 8.5 hours, even given some slow-downs through the DFW area. But, I drove into a headwind most of the way, and the speed limit was mostly 75 (which means everybody does 80, minimum), so fuel economy wasn’t great. My normal 42 was reduced to only 38 MPG.

Tonight for dinner, I traversed the parking lot and made my first-ever visit to a Cracker Barrel restaurant. The food was decidedly meh. I ordered the roast beef plate—the one that they say cooks for 14 hours so it’s nice & juicy. It was grainy and not at all juicy. The veggies were lukewarm. And, the pinto beans had some kind of strange meat in them. As I was paying, another customer was saying that the pinto beans were spoiled. Um… so, if I get sick tonight, I guess I’ll know what to suspect.

Yesterday, I drove down to Big Bend National Park. It’s about an hour and a half to the entrance from the Candlewood Suites. At Panther Junction, I split off to the right and drove down to Burro Mesa Pouroff (4 in the map shown). Then, I turned around and drove to the other side of the park to the Rio Grande and Boquillas Canyon lookouts (2 and 3).

Heading down, the sky went from menacing to sunny. “Road may flood” signs worried me, as did the flood gauges.

Later, heading back north, the reverse happened. The sky went from sunny, to ominous, to lightning, torrential rain, and hail. The sky opened up right as I entered Fort Stockton city limits. I’m beginning to understand why most folks here have pickup trucks with enormous ground clearance. Although, the pizza woman said that it never rains here. The weather has varied wildly here this year though—they even got 10 inches of snow this year. Did I mention that Fort Stockton is in the desert?

The parking lot at the Candlewood looked like a used pickup truck sales lot. Seriously.

The good thing was that most of them were gone by the time I loaded my car up at 9 this morning. So, I wasn’t as hemmed in as I might’ve otherwise been.

For dinner last night, I ordered pizza for delivery from Pizza Hut. Right as my pizza should’ve been arriving, they called to tell me that they weren’t doing delivery because their delivery person wasn’t there. That would’ve been lovely to have heard when I placed the order, rather than when it should’ve been delivered. That was the only delivery option for Fort Stockton, though, so I called Pizza Pro and ordered for pickup. Their pizza was actually quite good—probably better than PH’s would’ve been. I would’ve gone with them to begin with, had I not wanted to venture back out into the flooded streets of FS. I was very glad that my car didn’t stall out as I forded the main crossroads to Pizza Pro & back to Candlewood.

Back to Big Bend… Big Bend National Park is quite picturesque, but not as picturesque as Zion or Arches in Utah, and way less picturesque than the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. But, BBNP ain’t no slouch.

As you enter the park, it looks much like this—typical high desert scenery. The parts I visited were mostly between 1,800 and 4,500 feet above sea level. The temperature ranged from the 60s to the 80s.

In this shot, you can see a range of the different layers. This was taken at one of the transition points along the drive, as I was going from lower terrain to higher.

Parts of BB have a painted desert quality to them. I liked the contrast of the yellow, green, and iron-based reds.

The guide paper highlighted several trails as being good for birds. Alas, except for a black vulture in the sky, other bird views were fleeting—too fleeting to photograph.

The Blue Ranch Trail was supposed to be good for birds. I heard plenty, but saw none. I did see the abandoned ranch, though.

Fortunately, I didn’t see any mountain lions, tigers, or bears (oh, my!). But, I did see a number of warnings like this one.

BB being desert, there was also quite a variety of cactuses. I don’t know what any of them are called. I just enjoyed looking at them.

One of the most interesting pieces of landscape was this large lizard-like upthrust.

I finally did manage to see the Rio Grande. It’s not nearly as grande as it was thousands of years ago, but it’s impressive enough.

On the other side of the river lies Mexico… equipped with coyotes to transport folks across the border by horseback. I don’t know how they get away with it. But, personally, I would love to see open borders all across North America, similar to the borders throughout most of western Europe.

Tomorrow morning, the rain is supposed to be ending. As you can see here, the back end of an enormous (and strong) low pressure system is approaching the Texas-Arkansas border. Hopefully, it’ll be dry and increasingly sunny for my visit tomorrow morning to the Pond Creek NWR, about 30 miles north of the hotel. I’m in the very northeast corner of Texas.

After visiting Pond Creek NWR, I’ll hit the road east. I’m reserved tomorrow night at a Springhill Suites in east Memphis. Hopefully, I can find some good BBQ for dinner tomorrow night.

Fort Stockton, Texas

February 22, 2016 10:09 – 10:09

I’m at the Candlewood Suites in Fort Stockton, Texas. It’s a pretty long haul down to Big Bend National Park, but after looking at the hotel offerings closer (and really, not significantly closer), I traded a little extra driving time for comfort.

The hotel has acceptable internet speed, which is good, since I’ll probably be uploading a fair number of pictures tonight. They have wired and wireless, so I’m using my own router, which provides an added measure of security.

Last night’s sunset in Fort Stockton was stunning. The second picture focuses on the most intensely colored area of the sunset. I thought that the backlit clouds looked like a lava flow.

Last night for dinner, I went to Alfredo’s Mexican Restaurant. The food and service were excellent. I had steak fajitas. My only complaint would be that their salsa wasn’t all that good, and salsa is about 90% of the flavor experience for me at Mexican restaurants.

I’m going to spend today in Big Bend National Park, then hit the road for back east tomorrow morning. Unless a sudden polar vortex appears, I’ll be making overnight stops near Texarkana (Tuesday), Memphis (Wednesday), and Knoxville (Farragut, actually–Thursday). This is a lot more advanced planning than I usually do. lol

I’ve spaced the stops close enough to leave time for stopping at refuges or state parks along the way. My first refuge will be Pond Creek National Wildlife Refuge, about 10 miles north of Texarkana. I haven’t scoped out one between Memphis and Farragut, yet.

Monroe, LA to Austin, TX

February 20, 2016 23:45 – 23:45

This is my second night in Austin. Free internet is only about 1Mbps; paid is about 8Mbps. They really should stop calling it “high speed internet”. This is not the 1990s anymore. The hotel is in a weird location. All through Austin, IH-35 runs parallel to each side of I-35, and the Springhill Suites South is on the east side of I-35. With frequent tie-ups on I-35, this makes getting anywhere in a hurry a tricky proposition. I could not live in Austin. Traffic is awful, and getting worse. Just in the last year, it’s gotten noticeably worse because of Austin’s rapid growth.

On the way from Monroe, I stopped at the Black Bayou Lake NWR. It’s a lovely NWR, but the birds weren’t terribly active, and most of the ones that were, were either too far away or very easily spooked. Just as I spotted this red-shouldered hawk, it took off. On the bright side, I did get a halfway decent in-flight shot.

I got that shot from one of the blinds. I also spotted a pair of pied-billed grebes from the blind.

I think this is the male, closer up.

Apparently, the water level gets pretty high. This decoy was about 8 feet above yesterday’s water level.

Where the boardwalk splits off for the blind, a second trail goes back into the woods. There, I managed to get a few decent shots. I think, but I’m not sure, that this is a olive-sided flycatcher.

Here she (?) is again.

I’m not 100% sure, but I think that this is a yellow-rumped warbler in flight.

And, this appears to be an orange toxic barrel! I didn’t see anything in what I’ve read about Black Bayou Lake NWR having been a toxic site.

Stepping back, you can see that there’s a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees, and some lovely reflections in the water.

The highlight of Black Bayou IMO is the wildlife boardwalk trail.

It’s surrounded by dead drowned trees.

There are wooded sections leading to the open water section. There, I spotted this northern flicker, who was flickering at a tree.

I also caught a few shots of a red-bellied woodpecker, hiding its belly, as usual.

As I was leaving, I caught sight of something I at first thought was a small robin. Looking more closely at the pictures, however, I discovered that it was an eastern bluebird.

Last night, I went to dinner with Susan, Castle, and Ted. Susan used to be Susan Slattery, and was the executive director of First Night Alexandria in 1999 for the big 2000 celebration. I was one of the acts that night. She & I also went on a local TV show to promote FNA that year—they wouldn’t let me sing one of my songs, so instead, I sang White Christmas… which really has nothing to do with New Year’s Eve! We had dinner last night at Curra’s Grill. The company and conversation were great, but I ordered incorrectly. The tacos al carbón I ordered were pretty bland.

This morning, I decided to revisit Balcones Canyonland NWR. I went there last year, and forgot. But, as I got closer and closer, I realized I’ve been there before. And, like last year, I was too early for the golden-cheeked warblers, which are the only bird that nests exclusively in Texas. They don’t show up until March, apparently, and I’m not likely to ever been in Texas in March. Although… you never know.

Naturally, bird shots were few and far between. I did spot an enormous robin, though… but I didn’t get a clear shot. Not remembering how treacherous the Cactus Rock Trail was from last year, I stupidly left my hiking poles in the car. The footing on that trail is quite precarious, and much of the slanted, rocky, hilly trail is on the side of a hill. So, if you fall, you won’t stop until you hit a rock or a tree. I almost fell several times—the odd slant makes it too easier to become disoriented. At about the halfway point, the trail went up very steeply. Anticipating a difficult walk down on the other side, I turned around.

Here’s why it’s called the Cactus Rock Trail.

Many of the rocks there look igneous, or at least like they were subjected to great heat in the past.

At the top, there’s a viewing platform, overlooking the Colorado river… which I’d forgotten flows though Texas.

I’m undecided about tomorrow morning. If I sleep well, get up early, and if traffic to the north isn’t awful, I’ll go to the 10:45 service at the First UU Church of Austin. Otherwise, I’ll hit the road early for the Candlewood in Fort Stockton, Texas, which is going to be my 2-day outpost for seeing Big Bend National Park. My plan is to devote all day Monday to the park, then return to Fort Stockton, and hit the road for points east on Tuesday morning. If I skip church and arrive at the hotel early enough, I might bop over and explore Marfa, which is a funky artistic town on the edge of nowhere. But, it’s supposed to be cool.

Home to Buford to Monroe (LA)

February 19, 2016 00:09 – 00:09

I’m at the Comfort Suites in Monroe, LA. The king semi-suite is spacious—with wired and wireless. The speed is about 12 Mbps—better than most. Last night I was in the Springhill Suites in Buford, Georgia. Paid internet was about 8; unpaid was only about 1.2. The Buford room was huge—but there was no desk—just a small round table. On the positive side, the table was easy to relocate to a more useful location.

I need to make a note to remember not to stay east of Atlanta when I’m going to be heading west the next day. I85 has express lanes—but they require the Peach Pass, which is specific to Georgia. Georgia could take lessons from the northeast, the Midwest, and California. Getting west of Atlanta was arduous.

Last night (Wednesday night), I tried to visit a local BBQ favorite in Buford, GA—Praise the Lard. Unfortunately, they’d just run out of meat. Really? Go figure. So, I went to Sonny’s, instead. I’ve been to a number of Sonny’s in the past, and their food is good. But, I was in the mood to try a non-chain.

On the way west, I planned to visit Mountain Longleaf NWR. That plan fizzled, too. I went there, but the roads leading into the interesting areas required a lot more clearance than my car has. The CrossTrek could’ve handled it—but, I sold it last month.

So, I got back on the highway and continued west. On a whim, at one point, I ask the Garmin to show all attractions along the route. By some odd twist, the Mercedes Museum was just 3 miles ahead! I decide to go ahead and stop.

They have a number of models from throughout Mercedes’ production history. Ever wonder why the storage compartment on a car is called a trunk? This 1927 K-Model demonstrates why.

Can’t tell from that angle? How about now?

Also of interest to me was the very first automobile, manufactured by Mercedes.

Next to it is the first motorcycle—made by Daimler.

Doesn’t look all that comfortable, does it? They also have the very first motorized carriage, also made by Daimler.

Tonight for dinner, I had decided to try a local favorite for fried chicken—Southern Classic. Would you believe I struck out again…? They’re drive-through only, and they were out of dark meat, and 20 minutes away from a batch. I’m not partial to white meat, because most places overcook it. So… strike two. Instead, I went to a national chain. It was good, but I was in the mood to try something local. Oh, well.

Tomorrow morning, I’m planning to visit the Black Bayou Lake NWR, which is about 10 miles north of me. Hopefully, it’s more accessible than today’s flubbed effort.

After NWRing tomorrow, I’ll continue west to Austin. I’m reserved at the Springhill Suites South, on I-35. I’m going to meet some friends for dinner at Curra’s Grill—which is only about 2 miles from the hotel.


Charleston to Lumberton, Coastal Route

January 27, 2016 22:33 – 22:33

I’m at the Springhill Suites in Lumberton, NC. This is my last night on the road for this trip. The free internet speed here is about 2 Mbps. I paid for the upgrade to about 8 Mbps. Contrast this with last night’s internet speed in Charleston, which was about 30 Mbps for free. Really, hotels. Stop charging extra for crappy speeds.

On the way up, I tried to find the Cape Romain NWR. Turns out—according to a guy in Santee Coastal Reserve—that Cape Romain NWR is accessible only by boat. I really wish NWRs would find a systematic way of providing “how to visit” information so people didn’t waste time & fuel going to dead-end locations. Here’s what I found when I followed the signs to the refuge.

Apparently, you’re supposed to catch a boat. Standing on the beginning of the pier, I did see my one and only bird “in” the refuge—a great egret.

I then decided to ask my phone to take me to the refuge. The second dead end was even less refugey than the first, so I gave up and drove to the Santee Coastal Reserve, instead. It was much better. I was worried when the signs said it was on Gun Club Road. Fortunately, my worries were salved.

When I found out there was a boardwalk, I was optimistic.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single bird or alligator! But, there was another trail, which led to the Marsh Trail, which did have at least a few birds, as well as a huge splashing alligator, which was too fast for my camera reflexes.

The Marsh Trail hike netted me a new bird—a western kingbird!

As I was leaving, I saw that they were doing a controlled burn. Fortunately, the wind was blowing from my right to my left.

After leaving the Reserve, I headed for Drunken Jacks, my favorite seafood restaurant, which, until today, had never let me down. I ordered the hushpuppies (which are served with honey-butter, and which were their usual wonderful) and she crab soup. The latter was the letdown. The flavor was fine, but the soup was way too salty—to salty to finish, in fact. The waiter took it off my tab, bringing my bill down to $7.xx. I said thanks by leaving her a $5 tip.

After lunch, I stopped at a Malwart to buy some u-wear so I wouldn’t have to do laundry… or worse, wear dirty briefs. Then, I drove apace to Lumberton. Note to self: South Carolina is very trafficky.

For dinner tonight, I decided to revisit Fuller’s Old Fashion BBQ, which Karen & I discovered a number of years ago. It’s probably been 10 years since my last visit. Like most NC BBQ restaurants, the sauce the provide is heavy on the vinegar. So, I liked the fried chicken more than the pork. Their BBQ with the sauce of my choosing could be pretty good.

Tomorrow… I’m homeward bound.

West Palm Beach to Charleston, Via Jax

January 27, 2016 09:37 – 09:37

I’m at the Springhill Suites in Charleston, SC. It’s a nice hotel! I don’t believe I’d stay here in season—it’d probably be too expensive. But, in late January, it was $136 after all of the taxes were added int. The internet speed is in the 30s—quite acceptable. And, there’s a small balcony with a view of the river and Charleston across the river.

For dinner last night, I went to California Dreamin’, an upscale place visible from the hotel across a channel. It was only a half mile, so I decided to walk. Dear Charleston: They’re called “sidewalks”. You should make the investment. Love, Herb.

Dinner was really good. The salad that came with dinner could’ve been dinner. I couldn’t tell what all was on it, but it was delicious. Bacon, lettuce, tomatoes (wow—a BLT in a salad), and their delicious house dressing. The bread thing was warm, soft, sweet, sticky, and delicious, too.

For the main course, I had the shrimp platter. It was okay, but the shrimp didn’t have much taste.

I also had a Sam Adams Lager (not the seasonal), which was quite excellent.

Monday night, I spent at the airport Springhill in Jacksonville. On the way north, I stopped and hiked in Fort Clinch State Park. It wasn’t quite as birdy as I had expected. Wrong time of year, I guess. I did see a few yellow bellied flycatchers.

I also walked through Fort Clinch. Most surprising about it was that it was a Union fort—not CSA. I was more impressed by this tunnel than by the canons, though.

Monday night, I was at the Springhill in West Palm Beach—very slow internet. For dinner, I opted to go to the Millhouse Steak House across the street. I had the prime rib—it was excellent—and Stella on draught, which was equally excellent.

For my Monday adventure, I went to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I’m adding it to my “every time I visit Florida” list. The star attraction for the day were the roseate spoonbills I saw on the Wildlife Drive. There’s much more of the refuge that I didn’t see yet. That’s for next time.

From Sarasota to West Palm Beach, via Corkscrew

January 24, 2016 23:12 – 23:12

Today, I drove from Sarasota to West Palm Beach, via the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. There weren’t as many birds visible there today as the past few times, but I did see two new birds for my life list—a black and white warbler and a yellow-bellied flycatcher. In fact, I saw a bunch of the latter. Here are two.

I also finally got some definitive shots of several red shouldered hawks, which were very plentiful in Corkscrew today.

I also saw a couple of raccoons, but couldn’t get a clear shot of either. This is the best I could manage of a raccoon that had stationed himself under a bird feeding station, catching the spillage.

The other new bird for my life list was the black and white warbler.

I also saw a few more black crowned night herons. Why they aren’t called blue crowned night herons is a mystery to me.

I also accidentally photographed this lizard. It might be an anole.

After leaving Corkscrew, I set a course for the Springhill Suites in West Palm Beach. The internet speed here sucks—only about 2Mbs before the $5 upgrade, and only double that after buying the upgrade.

For dinner, I decided to revisit Tacos al Carbon, which Karen & I visited in 2010 on our last blizzard flight trip. I raved over their food back then, but tonight’s wasn’t great. It really needed salsa or something. I had two burritos—one shredded beef and the other with carne asada. Both could have benefitted from guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and pico de gallo. I think my own good Tex-Mex cooking has spoiled me for restaurant Tex-Mex.

I haven’t picked out a destination for tomorrow and tomorrow night yet. There are several good refuges north of here. I need to pick one, and then decide where to stay.