Sunday, February 28, 2010

Learning from the Masters at the Gulf Coast Gem and MIneral Lapidary Shop

In every martial arts flick the master always berates the student, tells them how worthless they are, and then proceeds to punish them, again and again. Mentally flinching, I knew what the end result was going to be, as Dick moved around the row of machines and headed my way. He wanted to see my cabochons and see how I was progressing. He picked up the first one, looked at it carefully and calmly said, not the proper shape.
The next cabochon got a comment that it needed more sanding. A tiger eye stone caused him to shake his head as he said that it was too bad it had been cut wrong and probably should be thrown away, as the stone was junk.
I was batting zero for four as he picked up a piece of Texas fossilized palm wood that I had cut and shaped into a tear drop cabochon. He looked at it for a long time and finally said, "I guess this one is okay". His words of begrudging praise actually lifted my spirits as it was the first time I had received an okay from the master! Another piece and another no comment which I figured was praise in itself,(or at least he had gotten tired from all the problems he had seen).
Now I am kidding around a bit here, at Dicks expense, as I am really lucky to have the chance to learn from him and Jerrold. The two shop foreman represent over fifty plus years of lapidary expertise, and so I value their comments and suggestions.
Renita and I both are lucky to find the society, go through their lapidary training, and be able to work on gemstones. We are actually turning out some nice pieces and its hard to believe its only been a little over two months since we took our first class.
We highly recommend the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society to anyone living in the area and to other winter Texans like ourselves. There are very few places in the country where you can truly learn from two such masters,(and meet so many nice people)! Clear skies.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Looking for Wilsons Cut and Paradise Pond on Mustang Island

See the plans had been to go kayaking with Val and Rosie but the fog moved in and hadn't lifted so we decided to spend the morning looking for a new place to paddle. A place that we had wanted to try was on Mustang Island, but it involved finding the put in spot, so we decided to spend the day looking for it and doing some birding.
On the way to the ferry the fog increased and it started to rain pretty hard. Luckily it stopped as we loaded onto the ferry and crossing and disembarking we turned right down Port Street in Port Aransas. The paved road took us past warning signs about dangerous wakes caused by large ships and we were a little uncomfortable as we passed Charley's Pasture.
Now the town of Port Aransas had just finished the construction of a new park and Port Street ended at the parking lot! A large covered shelter allowed us to glass out the ponds and staying dry we saw gadwalls, roseattes,green winged teals, and northern shovelers feeding unconcerned in the mist.
Crushed red granite trails led everywhere, and surprisingly they kept us out of the mud so we walked down one for a bit but the rain started again and we retreated to the truck promising to return on a better day.
We turned right again and actually missed the small sign for a place called Paradise Pond so we made a u-turn and drove back. The sign was small and nondescript but Renita and Val both spotted it. I turned into a restaurant parking lot and behind the building a small parking lot had been constructed for birders at the pond.
Now Lannie and Judy had told us about the multitude of songbirds that visit the place each spring, but Judy had also told us that the pond had flooded and that the birds hadn't yet arrived,(and maybe wouldn't as the place usually has feeders).
A wooden boardwalk took us to the small pond and the first thing we saw was a flock of black crowned night herons roosting in the drizzle! Red eared turtles were perched on every log and the small lgbs,(little grey birds), flitted in the dense undergrowth.
The black crowned herons seemed to be all males and sported a pair of long white head feathers that gave them a regal look. Joining them were an immature black crowned heron and a great blue heron, all completely unconcerned with our presence.Walking to the other viewing spot we pointed out more red eared turtles and several yellow rumped warblers.
It was such a small place but such a neat place that we added it to our places to return and so we headed back to the truck and on to our original destination, a launch site called Wilson's Cut.
When we arrived at the cut we saw that a lot of people had drove through the road ditch to launch their boats and it didn't make sense as a dry but typical bumpy Texas road took us to the same spot.
I locked in a gps waypoint and we studied the map of the Mustang Island Paddling trails. A family fished nearby and their kids were catching fish and falling in the greasy mud, as you would expect happy kids to do!
Eating our lunch we discussed the days finds and made plans for future birding and paddleing adventures. The ferry wasn't busy and as we loaded the sun tried to break out of the clouds, promising a great afternoon. It was too late to go back and load the boats so we returned home to the ever grateful watchdog, Molly. It had been a good day finding lots of new places! Clear skies

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fishing South Bay at Aransas Pass, Texas

Probably the worst kept "secret", fishing spot in Texas, is the red fishing at South Bay. You can see the gaggle of boats as you drive across the causeway, heading to the ferry. I had always wondered what they were fishing for and now thanks to Lannie, I now know its redfish.
With the cold front finally passing, it had warmed up and a strong high pressure moved into the area. So it was no surprise that my thoughts turned to fishing. Pete. John, and I had gone out the day before and had caught a mess of big sheepshead, three were about 23 inches! So I had planned on going back when Lannie asked me if I would like to go out fishing in the Baby Cat.
It didn't take me much time to agree and so the next day we headed out for Conn Harbour. Stopping at a fish market we bought some fresh dead shrimp, and when we got to the harbor we discovered that they had live shrimp! With a quart of them swimming in the live well, we launched the boat at the Marina.
It was a really short run up the Aransas Channel and we then turned north to join about fifteen boats at South Bay. The area is amazingly shallow with sea grass everywhere, or almost anyway, and so taking care to not disturb it we used a Cajun anchor to hold the bow.
Casting out Carolina rigs, Lannie quickly had a fish on! He wound in a small red, called a rat, and had just released it when his other pole doubled over. This one was a keeper and as I wanted to grill redfish on a half shell he strung it up.
Another red hit his pole and another keeper. Meanwhile my two poles were acting like they had the most unpleasant tasting bait anyone could possibly have on. All the boats around us were catching fish and it was amazing to think of how many fish must be in the hole.
Lannie, ever the teacher, filled the air with stories of the area while I continued to not catch any fish. He suggested that I put on a popping cork with an eighteen inch leader, and showing me how to hook a live shrimp. I cast out to the area where he was catching his fish and the bobber went under!
Three casts and three redfish later I was feeling pretty good as I had learned a new technique, although it was one that I had used in Grand Isle, when fishing with my family last Christmas.
Putting a couple of more reds on the stringer, we had enough for dinner and released the rest. Most were just rats but it didn't matter to me as the catching was great and the circle hook was working, keeping us from injuring any fish.
The fish were so active that they were jumping around the boat and we could see them flashing nearby.
A flock of snowy egrets and white ibis joined us and everyone seemed pretty happy, except the dinner on the stringer. The tide changed and the fishing finally slowed. The birds soon left and we followed their lead, heading back home. We stopped at Palm Harbor. and I cleaned the fish, while Lannie visited with his guide friend.
It was a nice feeling to return home and have a fish story to share. The others had all gone out to Goose Island and everyone had stories of fishing and fun. Renita greeted me with her days beach glass wrapping, and so that afternoons happy hour was even more festive, at least for the fisherman! Clear skies

Monday, February 15, 2010

A lazy St Valentines Day in St Charles Bay

The steely red eyes of the black crowned heron watched us canoe nearer. It seemed as if we could hear him say, "Not those two again, canoeing in my private canal." Renita took more images and I gently paddled us past his perch.
The weather had finally warmed and the wind was dying as we launched our canoe at Big Tree. We headed north and entered the canal looking for birds and a little fishing Another boat was already where I wanted to try fishing so we beached our canoe and I cast a dead shrimp into the channel, but no fish bothered me.
Leaving the canal we reentered St Charles Bay. A yellow kayak seemed to appear from nowhere and we headed towards the spot hoping to find a hidden channel. Sure enough it appeared at the last moment and we entered its narrow mouth.
The brush closed in and I stood up looking for sunning alligators but none were in sight. The water was quite shallow and I had to remove the outriggers. Renita used her paddle to keep us in the center and guided us in the narrow channel.
A larger opening appeared and we were able to enter a small bay but the tide was falling and we quickly became stuck in a deep soft mud bank. It was too narrow to turn around and so I prepared myself for a muddy mess but we both leaned on our paddles and were able to free the canoe.
Blindly pushing backwards we finally we able to turn around and retreated to the main bay. A wading egret greeted us and posed for more pictures. You could clearly see his wedding veil plumage, ad it seemed so fitting for the day. I had to laugh as Renita had been steering and pushing us while still maintaining a grip on the cameras in an ultimate multitasking display.
Moving out a bit, I dropped our anchor and cast a shrimp. The calm waters of the bay and the blue sky seemed to merge together, as it often does on the Texas Coast, and I was barely able to stay awake. Nothing took my bait and so I raised the anchor and we oared back along the shoreline.
Whoopers called to each other and we saw two fly and land. They were too far for a good picture bu it didn't matter and Rentia happily snapped away. The water was pretty shallow and we headed away from the shore. Stopping I tried another shrimp and cast a plastic imitation jig, but no speckled trout took my offerings.
It didn't really matter that the fish weren't biting, it was a great afternoon and a Valentines day that we both would remember. We have been truly blessed. Clear skies.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Whooping Cranes of Lamar

The pair of whoopers had taken over the fenced field and were not going to give up the ground to any lesser bird, especially the sandhill cranes that stood nearby. Every now and then a sandhill would try to sneak into the feed but the male whooper would lift his wings and flare at the trespassing sandhill.
The threat display worked as the sandhill would fly a short distance away, but only a short distance, before it landed and stood vigil looking for another chance. Again and again it would try to work its way in, but the crimson top of the whooper would seem to redden as the magnificent bird would drive the sandhill away.
We had read in the Rockport newspaper of the desperation of the whoopers. That due to the low blue crab numbers several had moved into the town of Lamar, Texas, and could be seen along eighth street, but our previous attempt to spot them had been for naught. So as we drove along the shoreline, towards Big Tree, the large white wading birds couldn't possible be whoopers. Surprisingly they were and as as we parked at the canoe launch site they stood and napped, seemingly unconcerned with human presence.
To the west two other pairs were in a field and the story of their desperate search for food were all to obvious as the three pairs were in a small area. Each pair of whoopers normally takes and defends a territory of about 250 acres, but here were three pairs in a small part of the town.
We watched the wading pair preen themselves as they stood in the shallow water, before driving to the next pair, across from the Big Tree parking lot. They were working their way towards a small fresh water pond and seemed to ignore the feeding cattle.
The last pair captured most of our time as we watched them feed while keeping a vigilant eye on the sandhill interlopers. It was almost surreal to watch them be so close to the houses and we both felt somewhat helpless about their desperate plight.
A federal wildlife expert had been quoted in the Corpus Christi Times, and had told of a possible large die off of the whoopers, due to the lack of food. The flock was down about twenty some birds as the wildlife people had fond the remains of the dead birds last spring.
At least EL Nino has ended the Texas drought and the high water levels have brought the promise of an increase in blue crab numbers, but that's for next year. So we hope and pray that the birds will be able to survive the year and their long migration north to Canada. Such magnificence and such graceful beauty in Americas largest crane. Go whoopers! Clear skies.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The"The Long Long Trailer", Fulltiming with a Rock Collection

When ever we tell people that we have started to collect rocks, the first thing other Escapees,(Escapees is a club of fulltime rvers), ask us is if we have seen the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez movie, "The Long, Long Trailer". The answer is yes we have, as fellow escapees Bob and Sue loaned us their dvd copy and we watched it last night.
Its funny that things haven't changed much in sixty years. Rving across the country still poses the same pitfalls and challenges as it did back then,(Although the passes across the mountains are a lot better). While it may not be so funny to others, its well worth watching.
So the next question usually isn't asked but we can tell what people are thinking, "why would you collect rocks?". Knowing what they are thinking we explain how we take rocks and saw, grind, and polish them into cabochons, and then wire wrap them.
We then explain how we found and joined the Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society and how we use the clubs equipment to shape the rocks. We also are taking classes on wire wrapping, a hobby, or obsession, that we both enjoy.
Its funny how now we are aspiring artists, or at least trying to become ones. Its something that I for one never thought I would ever be able to do,(Kind of like writing a coherent blog).
So as you think about rocks rolling around our fifth wheel as we travel, realize that we don't have round ones, or at least not as many as Lucille did in the movie! Clear skies.