Clouds and Water

I thought it was snowing on the way to Rockport, Texas. That was very unlikely given the 100 F temperature. To my intense excitement, it was little bits of cotton in the air. The fields were full of cotton crop or wrapped bales. The pink wrapper is in honor of a cotton farmer’s wife who died of breast cancer.

This is the sky at sunrise over the bay. The dark clouds just disappeared even though they briefly promised water in a drought…

An almost empty beach at Mustang Island State Park. Even though it was early in the morning, it was too hot, with warnings to stay inside because of the high UV.

Sunrise sparkling on the dock in Fulton. The sentinels are brown pelicans, getting in some early fishing before the dolphins arrived.

A fishing chair outside our hotel at Port Lavaca, looking onto Matagorda Bay. I lived dangerously and went beyond the sign – nothing happened. When I looked at the sign later, I noted the last sentence. Alligators, methinks! There was also an oyster bed to the left of the chair.

Happy memories of summer although it is still 98 F here – longing for a real Fall.

Ruby Anniversary Trip

After our anniversary trip was Covid Cancelled, we decided to take a road trip to our favorite part of the Gulf Coast in Texas. Our final destination was Rockport/Fulton, an idyllic fishing, wildlife and artist colony. This is a silhouette of Teddy looking for dolphins at our hotel. We saw them all day, every day. A Mom, Dad and baby dolphin who delighted in taking the catch of the leisure fisherman’s lines.

The sand at Mustang Island is perfectly soft and white. I love getting my toes in the beach but then hate having sandy sandals all day…

We ate at our favorite fish restaurant in Rockport, Latitude 28.02. I dressed to match the shrimp sculpture outside the front door. Drum and Triple Tail were on the menu – local fish and freshly caught. It was so good we went again the next night.

Eagerly awaiting our fish dinner as was the Great White Egret below

We bought each other the same anniversary card although you can see that one of us is more romantic than the other from the inside notation below. Love my Teddy (Oso in Spanish)!!!

It was a perfect vacation, especially since we saw those crafty cetaceans aka sea kittens.

Forest Tails

As I write this, the ‘Eeeeee’ of Baby Hawk is preventing me from feeding all my other ‘tails’, although all their baths and bowls are freshly filled.

Baby Hawk

Our red-tailed hawks have had baby #2022.  We had our first small shower of rain after two months of drought and all the forest babies wondered what the wet stuff was falling from the sky.  Baby Hawk sobbed…  It was heartbreaking and funny.  Mother Hawk was wheeling above enjoying a refreshing shower. 

The Tail Family

All our squirrels have funky tails this year.  We have ‘Tail’ who is at least a year old – her tail was fractured but healed well.  The fur came in with strange chevron markings and a much darker gray than usual.  Then there is ‘half’, ‘three quarters’ and ‘pipe cleaner’.  ‘Half’ is extra cute and will come running for a peanut or chopped up apple – she is also a wee bruiser, using Jujitsu on her kin, perhaps that’s why she has half a tail? I am guessing that the ‘Tail’ family all have a genetic weakness with their tails or the clumsy gene.  ‘Nut Mom’ (aka me) also has the clumsy gene and break as many items as my mother did.  One day in the garden, the hawk suddenly appeared and the squirrels were blissfully sitting in the trees.  I ran out, shouted ‘lie down’ and they did!

Baby Blues

We have twin baby blue jays.  When they are first fledged, their iridescent blue feathers have not fully grown in and they have fluffy gray tummies.  The parents have a distinctive black necklace which the babies don’t have until maturity.  My friend across the cul-de-sac thought the nest was in the trees by her garden because she rescued a newly fledged blue jay from one of her dogs.  From my friend’s rose colored perspective, her ‘black lab mix’, Gertie, was just going to nuzzle the baby…  Gertie, who looks like a Rottweiler, has nearly pulled me off my feet when I took her for walkies in past years.  Then she was desperately trying to ‘nuzzle’ ducks at the pond.  Methinks she saw feathered snacks.

The baby blue jays have been so fun to watch – they have tried every voice in their repertoire.  Gentle beeping, the rusty wheel, the annoying squawk and their imitation of the red-tailed hawk.  That gets me racing to the door to check if it is a raptor.  Their mimic is pretty good but if you listen carefully, it doesn’t have the mournful lament of real hawk.  Their monogamous blue jay parents are very attentive, gently showing them how to drink from the bird bath and feed themselves.  They seem to know our garden is a safe kindergarten.

The Cardinals

The cardinals often accompany the blue jays who provide a Minder service for the smaller birds – early warning of predators.  One of the silly baby blue jays tried to sit in a tiny bush with a baby cardinal.  The father cardinal lay on the deck, with a ‘broken wing’, pretending to be injured to lure him away.  Baby blue didn’t know his own size and meant no harm.  Two American Robins, a type of thrush, have arrived from the north.  It seemed as though they had traveled through our airport system because they were exhausted and filthy!  They didn’t quite understand this garden of plenty but feasted and washed.  They have settled in the oak tree in the front.

The Laurel

Alas, not everything survived our drought.  In the early spring our Texas Mountain Laurel was glorious, covered in blossoms but by early summer she suddenly died.  We have raised her for about 8 years so we are sad.  Your swan song was glorious.

On a lighter final note, Wanja Joseph, commented on my post Dolphins are Jerks

“I am having a hard time describing or thinking of those sea kittens as naughty or crafty. My innocence is gone! Beautiful shots”

Henceforth our squirrels are known as tree kittens…

Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga

This is the third location of what was also called the Aranama Mission or Mission La Bahia, established in 1722 in Goliad, Texas.  Previous missions were at Matagorda and Lavaca Bay then named La Bahía del Espíritu Santo (The Bay of the Holy Spirit), on the south west coast of Texas on the Gulf.  On our involuntary vacation trip, we visited the town of Goliad first and then went to see the Mission itself, a short distance away on the banks of the San Antonio River.

The intention of the third location was to settle in a place that the native people, the Aranama, would be willing to stay and work, as well as establish territory to defeat the French, in particular. At its peak there were 40,000 head of cattle at the Mission making it the largest ranch in the area and run by the Franciscan order. I often wonder what the indigenous people thought – did Missions make their lives easier or was it just stolen land? They would have offered protection against some of the more warlike Tribes and a regular supply of food albeit with forced conversion to Catholicism.

One of my Irish cousins is a Missionary nun. For many years she worked in Africa. When she was older they moved her to a poverty stricken housing estate in Glasgow, Scotland. I was curious as to how she adapted but she loved it! Most people who meet me make assumptions based on my Scottish accent and seem to think I lived a fabulous life (in a castle?). Many people my age immigrated from Scotland to other countries to achieve a better life.

The building itself fell into disrepair over the years and was reconstructed as part of the New Deal in the 1930’s.  From visiting other Missions in Mexico and California, it seems authentic to me.  I was enchanted by the simplicity of the church and the pastoral lands surrounding it.

Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga is a bit of a mouthful, as was my Spanish given name – Katherine Louise Dellinger de Ortega.  My ancestors settled in Spanish Missions from central Mexico up to San Francisco.  When I was in McAllen, the Mexican American receptionist commented on my Scottish accent and I said, “You won’t believe what my maiden name was!”  After the reveal she said, “Well, that is a brown name!”  I was so happy that she recognized my Mestizo heritage despite my Caucasian appearance – few people do.

Goliad

Goliad Courthouse

Our next stop on the Involuntary Vacation was one that excited us both.  Goliad is a town steeped in the history of Texas invasion and independence.  It was first settled by Spanish conquistadores in 1749.  This mission, Presidio La Bahia, is a short distance from the current town on the banks of the San Antonio river and it was built on the site of an existing Aranama village.  It was renamed Goliad, an anagram of Father Hidalgo who was a hero of the Mexican war of independence (from Spain) in 1821.

In 1835 the first Texas declaration of Independence was signed on the altar of the Presidio chapel.  Texas is the only mainland state that was an independent nation before joining the USA.  That is why the Texas flag may fly at the same level as the US flag.  The revolutionaries were a mixture of Tejano and white settlers.  In 1836, Colonel Fannin, of the Texas Revolutionary Army, and 341 of his soldiers surrendered in the battle of Coleto Creek.  The next day they were shot by the Mexican army outside the walls of the Presidio.  This was the Goliad Massacre.

In 1836 General Sam Houston, the Governor of the Texas Republic, granted some land to the settlers where the current courthouse and market square are located.  My father and his grandfather, one of the early settlers in Texas, had the middle name Houston to honor the General.  I am highly amused when people ask me about my Scottish heritage because of my accent…(I have no Scottish roots but long Texan ones).

Pretty Masonic Lodge
Dentist and Title Company on the Goliad square
Longhorns were the first cattle raised by early settlers

There is a Hanging Tree on the north lawn of the courthouse.  There is a rather sad history of excessive violence and ruthlessness for a period which was ended by the Texas Rangers.  Perhaps the turbulent history of the settlement led to part of this.  When the early settlers returned from fighting in the battle for Texas independence some of their farms had been ransacked.  It is conveniently forgotten that all this land belonged to indigenous people before any of the settlers arrived.  There is very little knowledge of the Aranama Tribe.  It was believed they were farmers and after the Spanish invasion some moved north and the last survivors were likely absorbed into the Hispanic population.

References Texas State Historical Association and the City of Goliad

Pawnee, Texas

This was one of the first places we made a stop at on our Involuntary Vacation from McAllen in south west Texas to our home in the south east – a total of 700 miles.  It was a very small community, not as wealthy as it had been in the past although there is now plentiful natural gas in the area.  Sometimes this positively affects the population but usually the oil companies or landowners benefit the most.  We like to ‘collect’ unique post offices across the states and just being named Pawnee Post Office was cool enough.

I was intrigued about why the place was named Pawnee, as they are primarily central plains Native Americans.  When the second European settlers arrived in 1826, an Irish family named the Sullivans, they found a piece of wood nailed to a tree with Pawnee written on it.  Later arrowheads discovered in nearby Sulphur Creek were attributed to the Skidi Pawnee or Panismahas.  Legend has it that they practiced human sacrifice. So does our society, with guns, every day.  Many tribes were semi or fully nomadic and the area is rich for hunting, even today.  Back in the day there were buffalo, panther, antelope and wolves (oh my).  The area was settled by Native Americans 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.  Prior to the Sullivans, Carlos Martinez was granted the first Spanish land grant in 1789 as the conquistadors invaded from Mexico into Texas.

The Indigenous tribes were Apache, Karankawa and Borrado.  This is a wide and brief generalization but Apache were known as fierce warriors with a strong religious belief.  Their territory spread from Arizona to Texas and Mexico.  Navajo and Apache are related tribes.  Karankawa lived across the southern part of Texas, skilled in hunting and warfare.  They crafted pottery and baskets that they lined with a type of asphalt that washed up on the beaches of the Texas Gulf.  Oil has been part of our culture for a long time…  Not much is known about the Borrado who were misnamed by the Spanish settlers for their striped body painting or tattoos.  They were native to Northern Mexico and the Rio Grande area.  The frequented Padre Island.

After the Sullivans settled in Pawnee they were joined by their women folks and then a range of Swedish and German settlers.  Today this tiny little town still has 12 churches that represent every possible form of Christianity.  The Methodist Church below caught my attention.  The photographs are untouched to show how dark the clouds were.  I have to be honest and say that it looked like a perfect place to shoot a thriller or horror movie – no disrespect intended! Can’t you see villagers seeking shelter behind that red door to escape from the oil companies zombie hordes (obviously interchangeable)??

There is even excellent disability access to the beautiful little church (aka zombie shelter). Perhaps zombies might be considered disabled in which case my shelter idea is terrible. Wouldn’t you like to live in my mind for a day??? 🧟‍♀️

Stylish Miss Laurel

This is our Texas Mountain Laurel. For the first time, since we adopted her (from our neighbor), she is covered in blooms. They have a very intense smell – almost like grape bubblegum. By sheer coincidence the color is exactly the same as the Pantone Color of the Year 2022, Very Peri. I think she just wants to be fashionable like her mom… I have no idea why I anthropomorphize plants but I love to hug my trees and name them. Perhaps it’s natural, given I was born in San Francisco to a couple of beatniks!

Courtesy of House Beautiful

This is one of my favorite colors. One generous boyfriend bought me a gorgeous midi length sunray pleated skirt in periwinkle blue/lilac. My mum hated lilac so that made the purchase even better! Curiously, although he was generous and I was thankful, I didn’t like my clothes being chosen for me. I have trained Teddy never to buy me clothes and especially not lingerie! He did get me a free lilac fleecy dressing gown with some perfume and I have been wearing it for over a decade but I don’t think that counts as lingerie.

This is Miss Laurel in her full glory. She was planted next to another bush, a Japanese Yew, who died despite my best efforts. That has given her room to spread her branches. We are headed into a drought cycle in Texas and I think she might like the drier conditions. Originally mountain laurels came from the Chihuahua desert in Mexico. When the blooms fall off there will be very poisonous seed pods. Teddy better behave…

Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Despite my lapsed Catholic status, I had no idea what a Minor Basilica was until I researched this post.  There are just 4 Major Basilicas in the world and are regarded as personal churches for the Pope.  There are many Minor Basilicas which are an elevation of  a Cathedral, followed by Churches and finally  Chapels.

The Parish of Natchitoches in Louisiana was first founded in 1728 and the first church was built within the walls of the Fort St Jean Baptiste circa 1729-1733.  Pope Pius IX granted Cathedral status to the 6th Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1853. The current Minor Basilica, below and in all the images, is the 7th church built in the general area.

The building above is the current and hopefully final building.  It was completed circa 1900-1905.  Pope Benedict elevated it from a Cathedral to Minor Basilica status in 2009.  The turbulent history surrounding the Basilica belies its peaceful appearance, from its beginning in colonial Louisiana through fire, Civil War and finally a magnificent edifice in a sleepy little town.

I was struck by how this architecture and interior differed from Cathedrals and Churches in Texas. It echoed the French style of the original Arcadian settlers. The arches were so finely painted in gold and the chandeliers sparkled. On the first stained glass image you can see the Fleur de Lys, the state flower and symbol of Louisiana.

One Little Duckling

Our curiously mild weather has the ducks thinking it is Spring. There is one little duckling being guarded by an entire flock of Muscovy ducks. Mom and Dad are probably a young breeding pair who don’t remember that we had an ice storm last February. All the ducks have excellent shelter in the roots of some large trees. They are guarding her for another reason…

As I approached the ducks, I could hear the crows mobbing so I looked for a predator and found one. This is a beautiful Cooper’s Hawk who was just minding his own business but was not welcome. I was shooting into the sun so couldn’t get a clear image of him. The silhouette is quite effective at giving a sinister feel.

By contrast, this lovely pair of Egyptian Geese were utterly chill and refused to move for me. Our relationship has progressed. They are new to the pond and last week they hissed (cussed in Arabic) at me. After a very long conversation, they have decided I am safe.

I found a new visitor last week – a nutria. She allowed me to come really close and have a good look at her thick coat and long tail. They are an invasive species from Latin America and look like little capybaras or beavers. Usually the Park Ranger removes them so that they don’t damage the integrity of the containment pond – they burrow extensively. The one time that I have seen them up close and I didn’t have my camera! C’est La Vie…

Image of Nutria, courtesy of Pixabay

Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile

This is the oldest hardware store in Louisiana – the Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile in Natchitoches, LA. It was founded in 1863, during the American Civil War, by Jewish Prussian immigrants who were looking for a welcoming place to settle. The store is still owned by descendants of the family.

This is an original working till from 1910. I LOVE hardware stores and have been known to loiter with intent in my local Ace store… Kaffie Frederick was the stuff of nostalgic dreams and totally unexpected. Despite it’s historical magnificence, it’s a working hardware store, with some unique old toys.

Look at the original paneling on the walls and those amazing tools! They looked as though they could have been used in battle…

It’s amazing to think that the store was opened before electricity was in general use, so you needed natural light, and perhaps some gas lights. I wanted to say thank you to the owners for preserving something so special, even if it was by accident.

This is so much more practical and sustainable that plastic packs of nails and screws. Below is a side view of Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile from the street.