Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tube on Texas rivers for beating heat, having summer fun

Two years ago this week, there were 2,000 people trying to go “tubing” in the Comal River. It made the national news. About 4,000 were waiting in line just to take their inner tube (hence “tubing”) onto the river just to cool off from the heat. New Braunfels city officials eventually had to shut it all down and turn people away because they didn’t want folks floating down the river in the dark.

The thought of 2,000 people on inner tubes floating on a river causes me to wonder just what kind of “carbon footprint” these folks left in the water as they float. It can’t be a pretty one, that’s for sure.

The Comal, San Marcos, Frio and Guadalupe rivers are the major ones for tubing, but I’m told there are other places to go in Central Texas. From what I’ve researched, “tube” season runs from the middle of March to October, weather permitting.

I’ve never been tubing (or “toobing” as some spell it). Tubing, to me, is a mystery shrouded in danger and ritual. I have not been initiated into this part of our Texas culture yet, in spite of my native Texan status.

It’s never been something that appealed to me because it involves getting into a river, but it is a rite of summer in Texas for many people. Even Texas comedian, Ron White, has mentioned it in his stand up comedy routines. I won’t tell you what he’s said, but I will tell you it’s one of the many reasons why I don’t go tubing.

In defense of Central Texas rivers, the ones that people like to “tube” on are generally crystal clear and beautiful. I don’t mind hanging out in the Guadalupe River because I can see what’s swimming around me and I have an illusion of control over the forces of nature.

If you plan to do this, pick your river, then pick your lodging. You can rent cabins, camp or take an RV, depending on where you go.

Evidently, people like to take coolers with them when they “tube.” One does need to stay hydrated and fed in the heat, and nobody should be drinking out of the river, especially with all those people floating around. If you take a cooler, you’ll need a tube for it. Know that fact in advance. A soft sided cooler is recommended. Glass bottles, Styrofoam coolers and beverages containing less than five ounces of liquid are not allowed.

By the way, it’s generally a “party crowd” on the rivers. You’ve been warned.

Take water shoes with you. Flip flops are not going to be enough protection for your feet. Most of those river bottoms and the surrounding environment are rough and can tear up your feet. Wear waterproof sunscreen and reapply often.

If we ever get rain down our way again, please note that these rivers are prone to flooding. If you are told not to go in the water or not to cross a low-water bridge because of flooding, believe it. I have seen the Guadalupe at full flood and it is terrifying. Don’t mess with Texas rivers, especially when they flood.

There are many “tube” outfitters along these rivers. Texas Tubes.com, Rockin R (rockinr.com), and TubeHaus.com are the first three I found on the Internet. You’ll want to shop around tubing outfits to find one you’re comfortable with before you commit. If you are wondering whether the drought has affected the tubing business, well…yes. It has, but not enough to hurt it, from what I can tell. The rivers are a little lower than normal, so you might want to consider tubes with bottoms on them lest you scrape your backside on river rocks.

If you want to sample the tubing experience without going into the water just yet, go on over to YouTube.com and do a search on tubing in Texas. There are a lot of amateur videos and a few professionally produced ones that can give you a taste of what it’s like.

As for me and mine, I think I’ll continue to research the pastime before committing to it. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through all y’all, so let me know if you go and be sure to give me a full report of what you thought of the experience here in the comments section.

Happy “tubing,” y’all.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cicadas create sound, music, memories of Texas summer

That “REEEEEE! REEEEEE! REEEEEE!” sound coming out of the trees this summer is nothing to worry about. It’s not the sound of a UFO or aliens. It’s not some weird project out of Operations Test Command on Fort Hood.

It’s coming from the bugs.

The cicada, sometimes called the dog-day cicada, and the smaller periodical cicada, are a Texas summertime tradition and the most recognizable singing insects found here. The periodical cicada (Magicicada septendecim) completes its life cycle in 17 years. The dog-day variety (Tibicen species) live 2-5 years, so you’ve always got some kind of cicada showing up in the late spring to mid-summer.

That “singing” you hear are the male cicadas “calling” the females. That “song” is sung by means of two special vibrating membranes in the sides of the abdomen. Females do not call, but evidently they do answer. The result is clusters of eggs inserted to tree twigs, then hundreds of nymphs burrowing into the ground. Adults emerge from April through July, depending upon species and where y’all are at.

It’s a scene out of a 1950s science-fiction B movie. And you have my father to thank for my knowledge on that. Once again, the Texas college professor’s endless treasure trove of trivia has been passed on to you via his daughter; another triumph for the liberal arts crowd.

If you’ve come across mysterious brown, flaky exoskeletons on everything from gutters to trees to car tires, you’ve been formally introduced to the critters. The exoskeletons are shed by the cicada nymphs, and they provide endless summertime fun for children. My cousins and I used to play for hours with those nymph shells. First, we’d collect as many as we could find and organize them into armies, choreographing mega bug battles. Then we’d see how many we could string into our hair at one time.

Hey, when you’re out in the country and bored, that’s high-grade entertainment, y’all.

After that, we’d hide them all over my grandmother’s house and wait for one of our mothers or aunts to find them. There wasn’t much sport in that, since they’d all done the same thing a generation before us.

During the brief spell my parents and I lived in Wisconsin, I brought back cicada nymph shells from a trip home to Texas on summer break to school for show-and-tell. My classmates were appropriately creeped out by the experience. But I was considered the coolest kid in my second grade class for a whole two weeks.

My daughters, Katie and Lisa, are three. Much to my dismay, they are the girliest of girly-girls and the cicada nymph exoskeletons are nothing short of horrific and monsterous to them. I tried to induct them into the tradition of cicada childhood fun and they ran screaming.

I was crushed. I’ve since learned that I’m going to have to ease them into some of my Texas childhood traditions or save up for a whole lot of counseling in the future.

In case you were worried about the health and safety of your trees with regard to our Texas cicadas, don’t be. Texas species are not considered to be plant pests. On the contrary, they’re rather welcome.

Cicadas are our song of summer. It’s the song of iced tea, fifth Sunday suppers at the church, visiting grandparents, playing with cousins and running through the lawn sprinklers. It’s fireworks and fried chicken and family.

That cicada song was playing one afternoon when I came home for lunch. The boys were singing at the top of their lungs and it was a particularly hot day, as they’ve all been since late June. I stood on my front porch listening to that whine and thinking there was nothing more beautiful than that sound. It took me back to a simpler time when I wasn’t much older than my daughters are now. I almost could smell the okra cooking on the stove, taste the watermelon freshly cut on my grandmother’s front lawn and I could almost hear cows mooing in the pasture across the dirt road from her house…an experience I’ll probably never get to share with my girls.

But at least we will have the cicadas.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Texans are rain crazy on the road, in the grocery store

It's raining in Central Texas. Be prepared for utter chaos.

It is the top topic of conversation on social media among my fellow Texans. As I got ready to walk out my front door this morning, I looked around for my umbrella and couldn’t find it. We’ve been without rain for so long I don’t know where the thing is anymore.

We've had a pretty good dousing in the last 36 hours. I'd forgotten what rain smelled like until today.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, when it rains, we Texans lose our minds.

Drought seems to be the perpetual state of our state these last thirty years and in those three decades we’ve gotten pretty weird about rain. We’ve been weather-crazy since we were a sovereign nation anyway, but this is a little different than in years past. When it rains, you might not want to leave your house for about 24-48 hours. People on the road will drive like maniacs. Too slow or too fast, they’re coming down the road like drivers’ licenses were on sale at the drug store.

If you don’t have to be anywhere like work or school, stay off the road when it rains for that first time in months.

All that oil and dirt and unidentified “goo” on our streets and highways will combine in the rain to form a slick film and hydroplaning will not be the only rain-associated road danger. In that first 24 hours of rain, it will be like driving on black ice. Give yourself plenty of space between you and the vehicle ahead of you on the road.

Be aware of the jughead in the truck who thinks because he owns a F350-something, he is invincible and immortal.

He is not.

Don’t be the one who convinces him of this.

If he’s on your tail and you can get out of his way, do so and let him get on his path to meeting a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who will be more than happy to show Bubba the light of wisdom. Go on and let him spin helplessly out of control on the rain-slicked highway so he can get better acquainted with his auto insurance policy at a later date. Bubba might make you madder than a wet cat with the tacky way he behaves on the road, but he won’t be taking you with him.

On the other end of the idiotic driving spectrum is “Timid Tilly.” This driver will be doing 20 mph in a 40 mph zone thinking that he or she is doing us all a favor by toodling along at the speed of smell when, in fact, our “friend” is setting you up for an “epic driving fail.” We might expect someone to drop her or his speed to 5-10 miles below the speed limit, but this person is going half the speed limit and that lack of anticipation probably is the greatest cause of a wreck in this situation.

Of all the times to “drive Texas friendly,” a light, steady rain is that time to do it and the onus might well be on you alone to make it happen.

I don’t want to discourage you about Texans and our ability to operate vehicles and heavy machinery in the rain, but I do want to caution you about us.

When the weather forecasters predict wild weather, there’s also generally a mass exodus of staple foods and goods from grocery stores. Since we’ve been without rain for so long, I would not be surprised if folks didn’t descend on our area food markets and buy up all the bread, milk and canned goods. The last few times we had significant rain, we had flooding to go along with it and we all remember what that was like.

I’m not telling you to run to the store and start hoarding canned corn and ammo, but I am telling you that there will be people like this out and about. Be prepared for a real show of weird behavior when water starts falling from the sky.

The first few days of rain generally aren't significant. Initially, we get squirted just enough to be teased but not enough to make a difference in our lawns. I doubt we will see any H2O worth writing about until possibly October. But three drops will fall and Texans will behave like Viking berserkers in the produce section. The store parking lots will look like that scene in “Frankenstein” when the villagers show up with torches and pitchforks, except there won’t be any torches since there’s a burn ban on across the state.

Personally, I don’t care how nutty folks get about the rain. I’m just glad to see the stuff again.

So buckle up when you drive and make sure you got to the dairy section at the store early on this week. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and your insurance card where you can find it. And don’t worry; the rain (if it comes) will pass long before your lawn gets enough precipitation to be green again.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Remembering Texas summers of another age

This was written when I still worked for the Army at Fort Hood. It was written in 2009. Enjoy.

There are some evenings during my drive home from post that I roll down the windows in my car just to smell the sunflowers. To me, they represent summertime in Texas and this is where I start to ramble, so y’all bear with me. Sunflowers make me get all sentimental about my dad. I smell ‘em and I am reminded of walks with my father in a pasture during summers spent in Greenville, Tex. On these walks, my father would expound at length about all things liberal arts or natural sciences.

I think I got more education walking through those pastures with Daddy than I did on my January Terms at Austin College. I learned about cottonmouth and copperhead snakes, trust, cows and calving, common sense finance, skunk risk assessment, dairy bull psychology, the hygiene habits of hogs (they’re not what you think), good dogs and bad neighbors, milkweed, the combined physics of firecrackers and cow patties, tractors, mules, ticks, Johnson grass, possum forensic science, Uncle Doc, forgiveness, God and feed store politics.

And then there was the bull.

Domino was a Hereford bull my father and his brothers inherited when my grandfather died. He was my first recollection of cattle up close and personal. For reasons known only to them, beef bulls appear to be a bit more tolerant of people than dairy bulls. Domino never seemed to mind my sitting on his back while he grazed, so I didn’t take it personally the one time he decided to get a closer look at me via his nose and smeared bovine snot all over my clothes.

Domino was a sweetheart; his girlfriend, a Charolais heifer aptly named Stupid, was not. Word to the wise: when a cow has a calf it’s not an occasion for a baby shower.

As a little girl, I went fishing for catfish in a creek with a cane pole and raw bacon for bait. I went digging for crawdads in a muddy pasture. Incidentally, this is where I learned about the particular adhesive quality of North Texas mud on boots, which can make you a whole head taller than when you left the house that morning.

Our summers weren’t always as hot as the one this year. There were early mornings in the summer when the breeze was so cool I needed a sweater just to walk outside. That was usually a good morning to go dig a post hole, so out Daddy would go with a post hole digger, some bois d’arc posts and a roll of barbed wire (pronounced “bob wahr”) to fix a fence. By the way, if the fence is wood and barbed wire, the rancher’s income is supported by ranching. If you see a fancy fence on a ranch, his income is supported by something other than ranching. And the smell of cow manure is the smell of money. All this wisdom is courtesy of my father and the time we spent doing things I once considered horribly boring and terribly unglamorous.

It got pretty exciting, however, when the cows got out. You haven’t lived until you’ve jumped up and down, waved your arms over your head and shouted, “WOO!...WOO!...WOO!” in your pajamas like an idiot to drive a bunch of cows down a dirt road and back into a pasture.

Canton First Monday Trade Days, the self-proclaimed world’s largest flea market, was a tradition for us and not just during the summer. But I associate it with summertime. It’s also where I developed a fondness for bluegrass gospel and ballpark nachos. First Monday almost always had an improvised bluegrass ensemble playing somewhere on the grounds; they usually were good. The nachos? Not so much.

For me, summers in Texas also meant horses. The smell of horse sweat and leather remind me of going on rides with my aunts in Tyler. I can’t remember how old I was when I first “sat a horse,” but I do remember hours spent on them. I also remember picking out a lot of hooves, digging mites out of ears and shoveling a lot of poop. It was good prep for a career in journalism and convinced me not to own a horse.

My childhood best friend, Kim, and I would visit her cousins, Manonne and Lindy, in Lufkin every August, from the time we were in junior high school until about our freshman year in college. We’d spend a week riding horses with Manonne, sometimes in a saddle and sometimes bareback, in rural East Texas.

Kim had a 1972 convertible Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and we’d ride to Lufkin with the top down and turning up Journey, Golden Earring, Jerry Clower, AC/DC and sometimes a little Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys on the car stereo.

We thought we were the zenith of cool.

One visit to Lufkin involved watching a marathon of Friday the 13th slasher flicks (on VHS tapes; it was during the 1980s) at Lindy's house with his friends. One of the boys had to get home before midnight and not long after he walked out the door to get in his truck, we followed. You see, Lindy's house was way out in the country, and the sandy driveway to her house was a good quarter mile in length, winding around tall, East Texas loblolly pines. It was really spooky at night, so when this kid got about half way to the main road, we all jumped out at him. He didn’t hit any trees on his way out, but I’m pretty sure he had some serious upholstery cleaning to do when he got home.

I went to vacation Bible school, camp, and swimming lessons during the summer, like most children. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that got detention in VBS. It involved cow patties and firecrackers…and I promised my mother I’d never speak of it again.

The morning I wrote this column, my three year-old twin daughters bid me goodbye as they headed out with my mother on their own summertime adventure, and after work is done, I'll go with 'em. We’ve been going with Mom to visit her brother and his grandchildren in Tyler off and on this summer and it is all Lisa and Katie can talk about. I can see the next generation of summertime traditions has begun.

I hope they stop and smell the sunflowers along the way.

My daughters are nearly 10 years old now.