A home is more than a home

We are looking at listing our house next week. Typing that, plus packing up boxes into a storage unit, makes this feel very real.

I know I’ll miss friends. We’ve made just a few here, but they will be missed. I’ve found a new love of food, especially the smoked meat varietals. Texas knows meat, especially brisket. I’ve found a new love for beer. Austin can brew. I’ve learned to appreciate the hill country and it’s arid, green-dappled landscapes. I’ve learned what it’s like to be a proud Texan and love Texas. There’s a pride going on here that people make fun of sometimes, but only because they don’t understand it. I’ll always remember that.  Continue reading “A home is more than a home”

Don’t wait

I got a text this morning that my Grandfather died. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure how to process it. I’m not an outwardly emotional person but this weighed on me, for many reasons.

I only found out within the last couple of months that he had been sick. So sick that they’d put him in hospice care; that dreadful word that everyone knows means you’re on your death bed. My dad or his wife had texted me (they share a phone) as they do almost daily to tell me how the weather is in their part of the state, but this time it told me that he had gotten out of hospice and was doing better. I was taken aback. I hadn’t known that he was sick. I know he is in his 80s, but still had no idea that death had stopped by to loiter. Besides being shocked at this news, I was angry. Angry at my dad for not passing on the news to me earlier. We hadn’t had much of a relationship since he left when I was a teen, but I kind of figured he would have said something, and angry at myself for never checking in as often as I should. It usually was my grandmother calling me, seeing how I was doing and telling me how much she missed me, and me saying how much we want to visit, which is always true.

These moments, although have luckily been rare in my life, fill me up with regret. Regret at waiting for that moment to travel to see them. Regret at not staying in contact. Regret at having my pride get in the way, waiting for them to call me.

Logic can’t always win at these things either. The husband has more reason and tells me to go see them. As my regret hits, my logic fights with me and says it’s too expensive. We have car repairs and new tires coming up. Something is messing with the cruise control in the other car, yada yada. But the husband reminds me that money cannot substitute for seeing family. That I’ll regret not getting out there. As unfortunate as a funeral is, it’s sometimes the only way we see family.

I don’t want to look back at this and add to my regrets. Time to plan a flight.

Books & Booze

We went on a mini vacation/anniversary trip to the Hill Country. It was about as perfect as one could make it. The weather was perfect, the town was small and quiet, and the food was delicious.

We stayed at a B&B in the town of Comfort and spent a lot of time just sitting quietly, relaxing, and wandering. It’s something we forget to do, or leave to do at the end of the day, once we’ve run out of time. Continue reading “Books & Booze”

Five years overdue

Time gets away from us so easily. Four years ago, Dylan and I moved to Texas, a move that I would never have imagined I would do years and years ago. Texas had never been a thought, but jobs and opportunities came through, and we did it. Two years ago, we bought a house. In Austin. Another feat in this town, where houses go on the market and come off in the same day, where prices are gouged and there’s a competition on even the shack-house in the neighborhood. We’ve had our trials and our triumphs, we’ve made a few friends and explored a lot of country.

But often, we miss out or can’t do all the things we want to do in time. We’d spent four years in Texas and our friends, who moved to Phoenix had been there five, and we had never visited them. Reasons ranged from time, to money, to schedules. It doesn’t matter. We just hadn’t visited them. So we finally picked dates, bought tickets and flew out to Phoenix to visit.

We ate some great food at Bobby Que’s, The Yard,  Matt’s Big Breakfast, Joyride Tacos, among others. We climbed a modest mountain called Squaw Peak and visited the zoo, all over an extended weekend. Always, these trips are too short, but always, they’re invigorating and fun and remind you to take time away from everything to see the people you care about, because this is what really matters.

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Churn Ice Cream – delicious ice cream and awesome service
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Matt’s Big Breakfast – tasty and kept me full even after climbing a mountain
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The Yard- good food and great atmosphere for some games and drinks

Natchez Trace Parkway Pt. 5: Tishomingo to David Crockett SP

On Wednesday, we only put about 65 miles behind us, but there was plenty to see. Tishomingo State Park was my favorite of all the parks we stayed at. The only real downfall was that our site was so far away from the bathroom/shower area, but only because one was closed for renovations. But, the bathroom that was open was great. It was heated well, which was good because this was the first night that reached into the 30s, and the showers and overall quality of this bathroom was the nicest along our stops. Tishomingo would be a great place to bring a group of people camping. Among other things I’m sure I missed, was a pool, a suspension bridge, volleyball court, lots of hiking trails, and cabins. It was one of those parks you could spend days at and not get bored. DSC00706.JPG

When we initially arrived, there were a few birds hanging out at the lake, which was directly behind us. I noticed right away something odd. There was a Canadian Goose, a Chinese Goose (aka Swan Goose) and a domesticated white duck, all hanging out with each other. Now I’m no bird expert, but I didn’t think these breeds hung out with each other. These three stuck together all evening, until I couldn’t see them anymore. I was compelled to keep taking pictures of them, just because it was something I felt was a rare sight.

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I also spotted a heron, but they’re much shier than geese, so this one took off before I could change my camera to a sport mode/faster shutter speed and capture it taking off.

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In the morning when I woke, a fog had laid itself over the calm water of the lake. The scenery was wonderful and I was surprise with a whole gaggle of geese wandering the lake. The Chinese Goose and the duck were also included in this gang.

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I observed later, when they had come up on land to eat, that it seemed the Chinese Goose was the leader. He/she would honk a few times, and the others would get to eating. It almost seemed as if the Chinese Goose was keeping watch while the others ate, which is interesting because, after doing  a little research, it seems to me this kind of goose is actually domesticated, much like the white duck. I’m guessing he/she must have been abandoned and luckily got picked up by this gaggle, and amazingly rose the ranks.

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I spotted the heron again, but he/she was on the far side of the lake. Luckily I had my bigger lens on me and switched it up quickly. I love the silhouette I got from this shot.

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Once the fog burned off, we took a hike around the lake. The colors here were slightly past prime, but still beautiful.

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There’s something romantic about a suspension bridge like the one at Tishomingo. The bridge somehow is warm and inviting, and yet invokes recollections of childhood innocence lost over years. It reminds me of coming of age movies, the kind you can relate to in some way, whether it be from loves lost, or lessons learned.

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Our first stop of the day, and most disastrous, or embarrassing anyways, was at Cave Spring. It was a small cave that was believed to have once been used by Native Americans as a watering hole.

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The embarrassing part was when I walked down to get a better look at the cave. I was walking down holding the pups, trying to gracefully walk down the path, but with the dogs pulling, and slippery leaves below me, it was more of a half-stumble-but-never-fall walk and was not so graceful. As fortunate as it was that I didn’t fall down the stairs, it was an unfortunate event that the end cap to the dog’s poo bag did fall off without my knowledge and his newly inserted bag roll unfurled down the stairs. I didn’t realize this until Dylan noticed and alerted me. I looked back and saw a bright blue streak of plastic behind me. To add insult to injury, there was a man at the top of the cave, watching every move. Thanks for the heads up, buddy! I stupidly gathered up the bags as best I could and marched back to the car. Dylan found the cap near the entrance and we headed out.

Our next stop was much less embarrassing and actually quite enlightening. We stopped off at the Freedom Hills Overlook. It was a great spot to take a great shot of my dog Arthur. Isn’t he handsome?

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When we first reached the top of the overlook area, which is Alabama’s highest peak at 800 feet, we were a bit underwhelmed. The view wasn’t all the great, mainly because the trees had grown up past our view.

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But as we were standing there, trying to get a couple of shots, we heard a voice behind us. A man called out to us and said, “The view is actually better up here.” So we hiked up through some brush and up a slight hill to what was actually probably the highest peak. The man introduced himself as Dan, a recent transplant to the Muscle Shoals area from Nashville. He was a wandering musician that decided to make his home in Muscle Shoals. We got on the topic of music almost instantly. We talked about great artists that visited this area to record, like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, and The Black Keys. The sound that was created in this small town was unlike anything that had ever been played before and it was the start to popularizing that deep down, dirty bluesy southern sound we all can recognize He mentioned a documentary about Muscle Shoals, so I made a note to jot it down so I could see it when I got home. (It was a great documentary by the way – I didn’t realize that if it wasn’t for Muscle Shoals and Fame Studio, Aretha Franklin probably wouldn’t have existed. I recommend it).muscleshoals

We also started to talk about Canadian bands like The Band (almost completely Canadian anyway), and Gordon Lightfoot. Now you’re probably thinking, “Oh come on. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald??” But think about this. How many times have you listened to an artist on the radio and thought, “there are so many better songs on that album”. Apparently this is the case with Mr. Lightfoot and many of his songs on popular albums never got the recognition they deserved but encompassed the scale of his talents to a much higher degree. He recommended listening to an entire album while smoking pot (he was definitely of the hippy variety), and although I may try it out listing a full album, I’ll abstain from the pot smoking.  Thanks mister hippie man.

We thanked him for the advice, said our goodbyes, and headed on our way to our last stop for the day, which was the John Coffee Memorial Bridge. It’s the Parkway’s longest bridge and crosses the Tennessee River.

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We stayed the night at the David Crockett State Park in Lawerenceburg, Tennessee, which was off the trail about seven or eight miles, but easy to navigate to. Although it was my first time in Tennessee, there was something so reminiscent and connected about Tennessee that I loved, not to mention all the beautiful scenery. It felt like a place I’d want to keep coming back to.

But until then. More of Tennessee and the end of the Trace on the next post…

Natchez Trace Parkway Pt. 4: Hurricane Creek to Tishomingo

In the last post, I’d mentioned that we stayed at Holmes County State Park in Mississippi, and that it definitely gave off creep vibes. When I walked into the bathroom to shower, it sounded like there was someone sweeping the central part of the building, but when I opened the door to leave, no one was there. Dylan mentioned to me as well that when he went into the bathroom, a toilet fully flushed on it’s own. Creepsville. Add on to the fact that the only other signs of life at this park were two trailers parked nearby but both looked abandoned. More creepsville. Needless to say, we left quickly.

Our first stop was Hurricane Creek. It was a nice educational trail that had posts every 20 feet or so, explaining the different types of vegetation and how even small levels of elevation or water levels change what trees and vegetation grow where.

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What’s great about this trip is that, along the 444 mile path, you don’t just drive from one destination to the other. There is so much to see in between the stops. I took time to think about what this would have looked like as the first explorers, or what it was like even 50 years ago. I imagined this would have been a great destination for families to load up the Buick and spend a week on.

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I loved how descriptive the signs were. They didn’t just tell you what was ahead, but offered up excitement. “Whole new worlds unfold…” and sentences like this were inscribed in so many of these placards.

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The Jeff Busby site was also a popular one. It’s one of Mississippi’s highest points at a staggering…..603 feet. But it still boasted a great overlook.DSC00653.JPG

I was excited to see another stop called Pigeon Roost, because, who doesn’t like Pigeons. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let down, although I did learn something so I can’t completely discount it. The site was home to a man named Folsom. From the signage, I thought maybe he owned a bunch of Passenger Pigeons (this sounds like the start of a poem; There Once Was a Man Named Folsom, Who Found Pigeons to be Wholesome). I’d assumed this collection of Passenger Pigeons was for a business he had in the area, and obviously enough, all the Pigeons are now dead and the business shut down (stupid telephones).

*I decided to do some research before posting this and I was a bit off. Here’s what Natchez Trace Travel’s site says:

Pigeon Roost Creek is a reminder of the millions of migrating passenger pigeons that once roosted in trees in this area. The species has been completely destroyed. One mile east where the Natchez Trace crossed the creek Nathaniel Folsom of New England and his Choctaw wife had a trading post before 1790. Their son, David, later operated it and accommodated travelers. When the Reverend Thomas Nixon stopped here in 1815, David’s wife prepared suitable nourishment and would have no pay. David Folsom, strong supporter of Christianity and Indian education, was elected chief of the northeast district of the Choctaw Nation in 1826.

So, it looks like it was just a places that Passenger Pigeons liked to hang out, which is too bad because in my head, I had a vision of this man with a booming Passenger Pigeon business. My story is so much cooler.

The next stop was Bynum Mounds. These were mounds created by Native Americans. I don’t really recall a whole lot, because instead of learning about the mounds, we encountered three dogs that took a liking to our car. They seemed harmless; I think they were locals that wandered around looking for tourists to hand out scraps, but since we had our dogs out, I took them over to the displays. I didn’t want them to see the other dogs and get overly excited, so I distracted them by teaching them the differences between summer and winter housing units that were constructed by the Natives, while Dylan hustled the locals out of the area.

We left soon after, and headed to Witches Dance just up the road for some lunch. According to local lore, and Legends of America, Hopewell Indians escaped oppressive Mexico and came up to the Natchez Trace area, carrying bones of their ancestors (these bones supposedly became parts of the Bynum Mounds – maybe that’s why the dogs stick around). During their journey, their leader followed the path of a medicine stick he carried and was led by a white dog along the way. During this same time, after the people settled in to their new found home, witches would gather for nighttime ceremonies and dances, and wherever they danced, grass would die and never regrow. There is a lot of mystery rooted in these stories, but they were believable enough at the time that Andrew Jackson, who traveled the Trace frequently, kept the stories in his journal.

Next stop was the Tupelo National Battlefield. This site is actually in downtown Tupelo, not off the highway like the pamphlet said. We decided to skip this due to the fact it would take us so far off the path.

At a little over the halfway point is the Natchez Trace Visitor Center. It’s the only place on the whole path that has any sort of souvenirs, which is refreshing. We stopped for a bathroom break and Dylan went in to check it out. There were more displays and a few trinkets you could purchase if need be.

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One of my favorite stops was the Confederate grave sites that marked 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers. You walk up a short winding path that leads you up a small hill, where 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers lay. No one really knows the complete story behind the 13 soldiers, but it serves as a reminder to one of the most deadly wars in American history. This area is also one of the few spots where you can walk the original Old Trace. I put myself back in time, in the shoes of soldiers and young explorers, thinking back to the conditions during the Civil War and what it would have been like during those times, walking this quiet, lonely path during a violent and changing time.

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We made a couple more small stops, at the Dogwood Valley site to see Dogwood trees, and the Donivan Slough (pronounced “slew”), before heading to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

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The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway & Jamie L. Whitten Bridge is a waterway that opens a navigable route between the Gulf of Mexico and the Tennessee River, and boasts some great scenery and picture taking opportunities to boot.

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We finished our day, heading about seven miles up the road to Tishomingo State Park. This was a winding, beautiful park that I would love to come back to and spend more time at. This was a big, sprawling park loaded with activities, a pool, hiking trails, a suspension bridge, pioneer house, and more. It was all nicely taken care of, and had some of the nicest bathrooms that we stayed at during our whole trip (something you remember while camping for a week).

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More pictures of Tishomingo to come during the next segment. Until then…