Sunday, August 31, 2008

#502

So how does one get to 500 beers since October of 2003?

Having a place like the Fort Street Brewery 15 minutes away helps immensely. FSB, as it is sometimes called, is constantly brewing new stuff. According to their website, they have tapped over 200 beers. That's alot of beer. I was first there in March 2005 (shortly after it opened) and have since tried "only" 24 beers there.

Last night, I had a chance to go to dinner with some friends. #502 was the Brownout and it was, without a doubt, the best beer I have had at FSB.

By the time I got the glass, there was still a bit of tan head left. I am not suggesting the service was bad and it sat there at the bar before it was brought out - I'm saying that the head did not last long (the photo was taken after the head had finally left). The aroma was very sweet while the color was a deep brown. I have had beers that look black and this fell short of that. Deep brown, but certainly not black. On the palate, there was a brief bite of a mild carbonation but that soon gave way to a spectacular and sweet caramel taste. It was noted by both my buddy and I that we expected the beer to be much heavier in body than it actually was given it's color. It was not at all like a porter, but it was certainly heavier than a lager, for example. Not creamy. Not syrupy. Just not light, either.; somewhere in between. The documentation suggests chocolate tones, but I did not taste any (nor did my friend). The finish was slightly dry while the sweetness lingered.

5 out of 5. A super beer.

I'm sad to say that I will never be able to enjoy this beer again. By the time I finished my first glass, my sinuses swelled up. Every now and then, I have a beer that seems to set off my allergies. Sucks to be me....

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Knots , Peeps, And Tiny Things

Here are some photos I managed to today at Lake Erie Metropark. The Red Knot, found by Walt Pawlowski yesterday, was very cooperative.

I think the photo shows many of the key field marks very well. The bill is straight as nail with a stout base and a tapered tip. Legs? Yellow/green and short which further accents the dumpy body shape. The primaries are clearly black. The secondary flight feathers, coverts and scapulars have that really cool pale edge providing a very scaly look. That is the key in identifying this bird as a juvenile. Adults in non-breeding plumage would not be scaly. Instead, the whole back of the bird would be a even gray.

By the way, Walt did some research last night. As far as he can tell, there are only 5 records for Wayne County dating back to 1994.

A Least Sandpiper was also feeding on the same vegetation bed.

Also, on a bird note, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird mom is feeding two youngsters in the nest. I waited her out for a bit today. The height of the nest makes it pretty hard to see what is going on. I saw what I thought to be two tiny beaks sticking up out from the nest. My suspicion was confirmed when I noticed tiny little tongues working in and out of the beaks. A few moments later, the tiniest little bird butt appeared on the edge of the nest, followed immediately by the tiniest little bird turd you have ever seen.

After a few minutes of waiting, mom landed on the the edge of the nest, leaned her head over, and started to pump it up and down like a sewing machine (that is what she is doing in the photo). She clearly did this in two different locations. I can't say for certain when they hatched.

Did Knot. Did Too!

The Red Knot is a dumpy shorebird that weighs less than half a pound. Despite its relatively small size, it has one of those migrations that really just blows your mind when you think about it. During the summer breeding season, you can find them on the arctic tundra. Their wintering grounds? For some, it is the extreme southern tip of South America. Those that breed in Russia head "Down Under. " In either case, that's basically the whole globe.

Knowing they spend such a short time here in Michigan, it was a real treat to see one at Lake Erie Metropark today. In fact, a quick review of my notes shows that this was only my second Red Knot ever. At times, the bird was 30 or 40 feet away. It was a spectacular opportunity to study the bird.

You might be wondering "Where the red?". This bird doesn't have it...yet. The red is found on the bird when it is in breeding plumage. This bird was a youngster (literally born a few weeks back). Assuming it survives it's travels to the wintering grounds and back, it will be wearing a some stunning new duds.

Unfortunately, the future of the North American subspecies of Red Knot is looking rather gloomy. It's population has been crashing and it is very possible that extinction on this continent will be reality sooner rather than later. I'm talking in the order of years, not decades...

As an avid lister for some locations, this beauty brings my Lake Erie Metropark total to 243 species, while my Wayne County creeps along at 268 species.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

#500..........and #501

In life, one often has moments that are memorable.

Last night was certainly a memorable moment: I HAD MY 500TH SPECIES OF BEER!

I thought it would be good fun to have a milestone beer at the Oak Cafe. It is only a few minutes away so friends and co-workers could easily attend. Plus, they have a stunning selection of beer. A nice atmosphere is a fine thing, too! I had been there on a weekend evening many years ago and the place is just insane. So, I thought a weekday evening would do the trick. At least 20 people were there. The more the merrier!

I actually ordered two different beers before I found one they had in stock. While I could have gone with a number of beers, I opted to go with the Chimay Red or Premiere. I have had the Triple Ale and the Blue before, so this completed the trifecta. I admit, though, that my notes were not complete and I needed the help of both the server and a beer guy who was there to get me through. I certainly did not want to have a goof on my 500th beer and accidentally order I beer I already had!

In short, the Chimays are brewed by Trappist Monks in Europe. Basically, they eat, sleep, and pray. As a result of the their celibacy, they need other things to do with their free time, so, they brew beer and have been doing so since the 1850's. With a century and a half of experience, the final product is pretty damned good.

All in all, it was a great beer. The color was a deep brown. I botched the pour, so the beer did not develop much head. The smell of spices was clear. On the palate I thought it was a bit creamy with a subtle combination of fruits and sugars. The finish was dry and lingering.

The bottle was rather large, so I made sure I got some extra glasses and gave some sips to some friends. All agreed: it was a fine drink.

The bottle now proudly sits on my display shelve next to my Mason duck decoy, civil war bullets from Antietam, a post-Civil War bayonet and a sailboat made from whale baleen (you can get one too in Barrow Alaska!). Okay, I'm eclectic.

I also had a chance to polish off #501. A co-worker was there and insisted I have the the Third Coast Ale from the Kalamazoo Brewing Company. In fact, he insisted that I should have it for my 500th beer, but I opted out. So, #501 it was.

First things first, it is not a run-of-the-mill ale, but a barley wine. Apparently, because it is made with grains, it is a considered a beer (wine, of course, is made with fruit). In the US, it must be labeled accordingly (ie: a beer). All in all, it was obviously a beer made for sipping and drinking. It was more like an after-dinner drink. I liked it.

For now, I will simply opt out of officially giving this beer a review here. While it was good, I was distracted by the time I had it. Talk, laughter, food, drink, and all the things that go along with a night out at the bar took their toll. It was "Paul time", not "Paul-Beer Snob time".

I had a great evening. Thanks to all who made it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Time Machines

Buried on the back shelf in a booth at your local antique mall, next to the "Jeff Gordon Lane" street sign, a rusted wrench, and some overpriced piece of shit wicker basket with more cobwebs than plastic flowers, sits a time machine.

These time machines have key internal parts made of metal. The outside? Sometimes metal, as well. Maybe it even has intricate designs cast into it. Other time machines are simply wood, old and aged. While a few designs literally have a switch to turn them on, many of the more primitive models have nothing more than a simple handle.

You should give that grinding handle a few cranks (carefully) and see where you go...

Often, one is left to their imagination. No, not a crazy stupid imagination; a logical one. Basically, where has this mill been? Who used it last? Or even more cool, who used it first? (Think about that for a minute when you pick up a mill that was crafted in 1872.) How many owners did it have? What happened to the flathead screw? Where did that huge scratch come from?

Of course, before one can know some of the history of the mill, they have to know some of the identity of the mill. Looking at it from through the eyes of a novice collector, they are the ultimate puzzle. Sometimes, they equal the puzzle you would buy for a toddler. (You know the kind: "Hey, Jimmy, it's a puzzle of a cow. It has five pieces! Think we can handle it?!") For example, if you're lucky, there might be a label on it that says "Sun No. 109". Wow, that's easy. It is the Sun Novelty Works Mill No. 109. Hardly a cerebral challenge.

On the other hand, sometimes, its like those damned puzzles where all the pieces are the same shape and have printing on both sides. On a mill, the label may be long gone and you find yourself with a ruler taking measurements, looking at the details on the ornate cast iron lid and comparing the shape of the knob on the mill with line drawings in the MacMillan Index. Of course, you may never confirm anything. Its true identity could remain a mystery. If you never solve it, so be it. Life goes on. If nothing else, they look neat in your kitchen and make you look sophisticated. (On the other hand, you might look like a total idiot when you tell people it cost 150 bucks and you don't use it.)

What is the future of coffee? Right now, it is kind of bleak I'm afraid. A lot of bad things are happening in the world of coffee, but most people are oblivious to it. Precious bird habitat is being destroyed at an astounding rate for beans that suck. Corporate thugs make huge bucks by playing on the ignorance of the consumer while simultaneously selling them stale sludge. Yes, there are people out there making a solid effort to inform more people about coffee, but we need more people to be less ignorant quickly. There has been a resurgence in the past years for better coffee. It turns out, believe it or not, that the good coffee we want to drink today is what everybody was drinking 100 years ago.

That brings me full circle. If I put good fresh roasted coffee beans in my mill and crank it, I am doing exactly what that unknown person was doing a century ago (or more!). I am hoping for a good cup of joe. So where they. They likely had a home that they enjoyed and needed to attend to. So do I. They had a job so they could pay their bills. I do, so I can, as well. Depending on the mill, over 100 years could separate me from it's first owner.

But, if you think about it, in a weird sort of way, the only thing that separates us is...well, a hundred years...plus or minus a decade.....

A hundred years? That's nothing if you have a good handle on your time machine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sad Morning

During my morning cup of mud and news releases, I found this. As a former saxophone player, I can appreciate his talents. Trust me: he knew how to play. When he wasn't playing sax (be it alto, tenor, soprano, or baritone), he was playing a flute, bass clarinet or whatever else suited his fancy. He knew what he was doing. I can easily see lots kids learning how to play and thinking they wanted to be "just like LeRoi", shades and all.

I regret that I never got to see Dave Mathews Band live with him in the lineup. I always meant to.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

#499

Tonight? #499

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is based in... are you ready?...California. Who woulda thunk it, huh? They have, beyond a doubt, earned their share of awards so I thought I would give the Summerfest Lager a try.

Typical of lagers (which basically means "storage" in German), the appearance of the beer was clear with a golden color. The head disappeared in a matter of seconds (I was hoping it would stick around in the photo but by the time I grabbed the camera, it was gone!). A swirl in the glass released the hoppy aroma (not too strong, not too subtle) and also gave me chance to see how it evenly coated the glass as it fell back down the sides (totally unlike the "legs" one might see in wine).

The first impression of the taste was one of sweetness, but it almost instantly gave way to a more hoppy taste that I would expect elsewhere. On the palate, it was crisp and what I would call medium-bodied. The finish, in my opinion, lingered a bit and was more hoppy than I was expecting.

Looking back in my notes, this appears to be one of my more average lagers. I have had some real beauties and some real busts. I think, for my taste, this beer is fair, but not I would normally drink on a hot summer day. Too heavy. Too hoppy. When brewers talk about "summer beers", usually one gets something with some sort of a citrus smell and/or taste or maybe something lighter (body, not color) and smoother.

All in all, not a bad beer, but, in my opinion, not the best either. 3 out of 5.

By the way, #500 is coming up soon! Plans are in the making!

Okay...She Was Home

So, I decided I needed to get out and see the world again today. After meetings and such this morning, I figured another walk at Lake Erie Metropark would be a good use of my not-so spare time.

I bumped into a co-worker and off we went looking for birds and such. I wanted to show her the hummingbird nest. At first glance, no one was home. Suddenly, she was there and in the nest (the bird, not my co-worker!). While I don't think I was being pessimistic the other day suggesting she may be dead, I was, nevertheless, happy to see her. It appears my timing was indeed rotten. Now I might be able to get a few extra pics of her feeding young.

Which brings me to my next point....

I first recorded her on August 5th. According to some internet accounts, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds incubate 2 eggs for about 16 days. Assuming the sites are accurate, she should be feeding young very soon. I don't know how far along she was when I found her, but she literally could be feeding them right now! I will check her again tomorrow.

On the subject of pics, I managed a few photos of an Osprey. I, unfortunately, did not have my camera ready. It flew right over us, but the camera settings where all wrong. Fortunately, it returned and I was able to get some more photos before it moved off into the distance. Not my best Osprey shot, but I will take it!
On the way back to my car, my co-worker caught a glimpse of a small nuthatch-like bird hopping around a tree branch. It turned out to be a Black-and-White Warbler. Hopefully a sign of good things to come!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nobody's Home.....

I had a chance to swing into Lake Erie Metropark today. I made it a point to check out the hummingbird nest. I didn't see anybody! I was there a few days ago as well. Same thing. Nobody was home.

In both cases, I must admit, I did not get a chance to stay long. A few minutes each time, if that. But on all my previous visits, I did not have to wait long before she showed up (or she was sitting already when I got there).

I am no pro with hummingbirds, but I think a few things are possible. 1)My timing is rotten and she is indeed spending less time on the nest (as a result of the warmer temperatures we have been having as of late). 2) The nest is a failure (in one form or another) 3) She's dead.

I will check again in a day or two.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#498

When you have had as many beers species as I have, finding a place that offers new beers can be tough. For a Downriverite (is there such a title?) like myself, the Oak Cafe in Wyandotte is certainly a place to go. I met my good friend Dave and his girlfriend Cheryl there for dinner.

After scoping the beer list and cross referencing other brews on my PDA, I decided to have Duchesse De Bourgogne from the Brouweriz Verhaeghe in Belgium.

I was given a snifter (a special serving glass) for this beer. The color was immediately noted as a deep red brown. The head was about 1 inch thick but it was gone within 45 seconds or so.

The first serious indication of a beer's taste is the aroma actually. I gave it a gentle sniff. I immediately curled my nose up. After a few extra tries to make sure I wasn't getting it all wrong, I passed it off to Dave so his nose could take it for a test drive. He and I had the exact same word for the smell.

Vinegar.

You have to be shitting me. Cheryl took a whif as well and she said it reminded her of decorating easter eggs. Its a 7 dollar bottle of beer and it turns out like vinegar? The smell was so offensive I called the waiter over and basically told him my beer smells like hell. "Oh, it supposed to to smell like that. Its a flemish red ale." He went on to a brief description that included words like "oak cask", "cherries", "spices" and "bacteria." I found out later - are you ready for this? - 8 month old beer is mixed with 18 month old beer before bottling.

Great. A bottle a old vinegar with my burger.


The body of the beer was not thick like a stout, but it was not light either. There was a higher level of carbonation than what I was expecting, but it was not bad by any means. Cherry was definitely noted and countered, no, it complimented the vinegary smell. The finish lingered almost forever and was very dry. Very dry. Did I mention it was dry?

At first I was not impressed, but by the time I had my third sip, I was actually starting to like it. I mentioned to Dave and Cheryl that I either can't stand it or love it. (Normally, I find beers to be mid-range on my personal scale of 1 to 5. Lots of 3s and 4s.) The 4th sip confirmed: an excellent beer. Really. 5 out of 5 for sure.

I have only one regret. I should not have ordered it with a burger. Had I known what I was in for, I would have had something else. This is an after-dinner beer in my opinion, not a burger and nachos beer. Or, perhaps, more accurately, an after-dinner beer with a identity complex: it thinks its an after-dinner wine.

Folks, if you ever have a chance to try this wonderful brew, do it. You can leave the colored eggs at home. You wont need them.

(Here is my disclaimer, by the way. Don't take me too seriously. I sure don't.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beer Disclaimer

In the next few days, I plan on doing my first official beer blog review.

Perhaps you know the drill. It's pretty complicated: I drink it and tell you what I think.

Whew. With all that verbage behind me, I thought I would add a few little disclaimers.

I have never had any formal training in beer tasting. I have an idea of whats going on, but it would be very easy for me to suggest something about a beer and have somebody say "Oh, if he can't taste buttery tones in that beer, he's an idiot!" Yeah, well....

Keep in mind that I will make an attempt to give a beer an honest try. Like so many aspects of life, there are just some things I like and some I don't. For example, I am not a big fan of Pale Ales. I find their hoppiness at the finish a bit overwhelming. The whole world could say "Pale Ale X is is the best beer ever brewed! ", but I don't care. I don't have to like it. Beer is science and art and some art sucks. So says me. But, believe it or not, I have found a few Pale Ales that I think are okay. I try and judge them as best as I can.

Despite the suggestions of some references, I absolutely will judge a beer based on the 4oz glasses found at many microbreweries. It is suggested that you can't really get a feel for a beer in such a small sample. What crap. Do I need to buy 12oz and drink all of it to decide that a beer tastes like something that was most likely in a cow's bladder 15 minutes prior? I think not. Oh sure, I can't make a lot of comments on the head or something like that , but a few swigs and I can have a solid idea of what is happening. I do, however, generally go in order from "lighter beers" to "darker beers". Sure there are violations to this rule, but, for the most part, it is a go. I also will not rate a beer unless it is from a tap or poured into a glass. It must breathe a bit and it cant do that from a bottle. I generally don't do cans and I don't smoke either. That is apparently a no-no in beer tasting circles.

I, by the way, have a few books in my collection from Michael Jackson. Not this Micheal, this one. He's the man. I, however, still need to secure a copy of his "World Guide to Beer". BeerAdvocate is also an excellent resource. You can find tons of info there.

Keep in mind, I understand that alot of brewers out there try really hard to make the best beer they can. They test and tweak for weeks to get to ultimate beverage. I love 'em for it, but I don't have to like the product. If I don't like the beer, I'm going to say it. I am allowed to do that! Remember, its my blog!

Most importantly, I do this for fun. Yes, I make sure I hit some microbreweries on vacations. Yes, I have a Palm Pilot program that helps me keep track of my beer list. Yes, I cook with beer and plan meals with beer in mind. Yes, it is even a part of my blog title.

But, I do this fun.

I don't take it that seriously.

------------------------------
Addendum (Tuesday, August 12th, 2008): I forgot to mention last night that I will likely have my 500th species of beer in the coming weeks. I will certainly post details.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gettyburg's Silent Witness

I snitched this from the Associated Press.
GETTYSBURG, Pa. - Standing just 150 feet from the platform on which President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech, one of the few remaining "witness trees" to the Battle of Gettysburg has been severely damaged by a storm, National Park Service officials said.

The huge honey locust tree on Cemetery Hill fell Thursday evening.

"The top of it is totally broken off, and (the storm) severely damaged 70 to 80 percent of the tree," Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Jo Sanders said. "That means there's not a whole lot left of it. But it didn't kill the tree."

The tree, which stood on the right side of the Union lines, "was there as a silent witness — to the battle, to the aftermath, to the burials, to the dedication of the cemetery," park historian John Heiser said.

"I have no doubt that Union soldiers sat under it for all three days of the battle," he said.

Park maintenance officials will assess what to do with the remains of the tree.

"When it's something this bad, it's highly doubtful that a tree like that can survive," Heiser said.

Heiser said he knows of only three other witness trees that still stand in the heart of the battlefield.

"It's a shame when you lose the last living entities on this battlefield," he said. "Nothing lives forever, unfortunately."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Beauties and Bombers

If your not in southeast Michigan, you just can't appreciate the sort of day we had here. The weather is what I think many people would call perfect. No humidity. No heat. Blue skies with puffy clouds. It just does not get any better than that.

Knowing today would be a great day to be out, and knowing that I would really hate myself if I did not get out and enjoy at least a part of it, I grabbed my gear and took off.

I spent the morning at Lake Erie Metropark. Mom is still there. But, the real purpose of my day was to get out and take a few photos of the American Lotus. In Michigan, it is considered a Threatened Species (though folks down south apparently hate it). I am convinced the lotus beds at the Park are the best in the state. Sure, the flower can be found in other locations along the western end of Lake Erie, but no other bed, to the best of my knowledge, allows such close viewing AND and can be found on public property. Yes, there other locations, but they are on private land or , if public, you need a boat to get close.

So, I thought I would just take a few photos. My timing was bad in terms of light.



Plus, I bumped into my good friend Jim and we just spent the morning enjoying the morning. All told, we walked over 2.5 miles...just chatting. Good times.

I had to get home for some business. During the late afternoon, I heard "that distinct rumble." Knowing exactly what was going to happen, I charged outside like a kid and looked up. There she went: the Yankee Lady, a B-17 from the Yankee Air Museum.

It turns out, when she takes her summer flights, she basically goes right over my subdivision. I suspect, to some people, that would be annoying. I just about wet myself every time. On this occasion, I could not quite figure out why the sounds were different as she came into view behind my building. A few moments later, a B-24 came into view. Moments after that, a B-25. All three together. The sounds were simply terrific and view was like nothing else. With my 400mm lens, I could have taken a few decent shots. Unfortunately, the rig was still in the car.

For the rest of the evening, I'm sure my neighbors thought I was an idiot. At what likely appeared to be random intervals, I would charge outside with my camera. "Dammit, thats a train" or "Nuts, thats a truck on the expressway." or "I swear that little prop plane sounded like it had more oomph!"

I think a neat shot might be of my condo from the bombardier's position in the nose. I promised myself I would take a ride in that plane someday. Maybe next summer. If you're in, let me know.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Not A Beer Stein, But...

I made it back to the nest today. It was just a bit windy. No, I didn't blow over in the stiff but slight breeze, but I saw something today that struck me as just plain odd.

She couldn't get in.

Sycamore trees have rather large leaves; easily the size of your hand. In the breeze, one of the leaves had been pushed into a position over the nest such that is acted like a lid. Perhaps you have seen those spectacular German beer steins that have the lid that you flip open with a tug of your thumb? It was something like that. Of course, beer steins are often gigantic. I would hardly describe a hummingbird nest as gigantic, but I suspect you are following me.

Anyhow...

She was out (feeding, I presume) and when she returned she could not get back in the nest. The leaf blocked her! Despite multiple attempts, she just couldn't get in. At one point, she was sitting on the leaf! We're talking about a bird here, so I don't want to be anthropomorphic in describing the situation, but I think frustration would be a good place to start. I suspect if she had more human inclinations, a few other colorful words might apply, but I won't mention them here....

I certainly did not stand there and time the event, but I would gather it was easily 90 seconds or so before she got back in the nest. You might be thinking "Ooooohh, 90 seconds, zippity-do-dah," but 90 seconds can be long time, if you think about it.

I will conitinue to take watch the nest. I hope to get some photos of her feeding young. If I am lucky, I can get photos of the little buggers fledging.

I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tiny Mom

Yesterday, I had the opportunity for a quick walk at Lake Erie Metropark. During my travels, I found myself viewing the spectacular red flowers known as Trumpet Creeper. Big, red tubular jobs, they say "come to me, hummingbird!" very clearly. So, I decided to park myself there for just a moment. Two moments later, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird showed up! It was not a male. It so happens many birds are named for the appearance of the male, and the Rubythroat is one of them. This bird did not have red throat, so its not an adult male, right? Well, crap. Now what? Adult female or young of the year? As I started to ponder the question, it shot up into a sycamore tree, hovered ever so briefly and then parked itself into a nest!

Question answered! It's a mom!


Today, I managed to get back there and, with some effort, relocate the nest. It took me a few minutes even though I basically knew right where to look. Its not much bigger than a shotglass. Its construction is amazing. Basically, its made of spiderwebs packed with lichens. The cups-shaped depression is filled soft plant fibers. You might think of it as mortar and bricks with a fleece liner. But, spiderwebs can stretch. So, when the little ones hatch and grow, the nest may actually stretch a bit to accommodate them.

That brings us to our next question: when can we see little ones? That depends. We know that incubation last 16-18 days, but I have no way of knowing when she laid them. There should be two eggs, by the way.

I think it is also worth noting that this may be the same female that nested in this tree in the past. I never saw the previous nest, I know it was there. Apparently, researchers have noted the idea that females will use the same tree year after year. They cant use the same nest, however, simply because winter will blow them apart. So they rebuild in the same tree.

You may have noted that I did not mention "dad" at any point. If the male Rubythroat were a human, our society would not have nice things to say. His role in this is nothing more than that of, well, ... nevermind. She deserves a gold star from conception forward. She does all the work.

I will certainly check on her in the coming days.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Good Book

A few years ago, I had just moved into my condo. I was getting settled in and dealing with all the stuff that goes with a re-location. After I got all that squared away and life was "balanced" again (whatever that means), I found I was still missing something. I have always tried to be a believer in internal happiness. I want to be happy because I am happy, not because I think something outside of me should make me happy. You would think it would be simple, right? Just be happy, dammit.

But I wasn't.

I would spend time lurking on the internet. I found myself using various search engines and looking up certain words in certain combinations that might make some people shudder. But to me, at the time, those words made sense. One evening, after a few hours of trolling for happiness, I stumbled onto a webpage that changed my life ever.

I found The Good Book.

It was beautiful. I, for the first time, read some of it. So much of it resonated with me. I had to get a copy. So, I ordered it online and it was delivered to my doorstep in a few days. I couldn't put it down. The words were incredible and heartfelt while the imagery I simply will never forget.

This book, this tome of the ages, has become the foundation for a part of me. In times of joy and happiness, I can read its pages and reflect on the wisdom of its contributers. In times of sadness or despair, I can read it and find inspiration in its words and find the strength to get through another day with my thoughts to tomorrow.

With this new view of life, never again will I be deceived. Never. All the answers, for this aspect of my life, are in this book. The Good Book. It is, and always will be, for me, a true guiding light.

Oh, wait a minute. Not THAT Good Book. Never read it. Never will.

THIS Good Book!

The MacMillan Index of Antique Coffee Mills! Joesph MacMillan, I am said to say, passed on in 2007. I wish I had met him. This 1,300 page book was his life's work. Weighing in at over 10 pounds, it is considered the reference book for coffee mill collectors. For over 35 years, he traveled, photographed, investigated, copied, studied and ...well, you get the point...everything there is to know about North American coffee mill manufacturing (and a bit of Europe, too). Histories of the companies and the people behind them? Its here. How can you tell a Parker No. 1170 mill vs. the Parker No. 1180 mill? He can show you.

Never again will I be deceived by less-than-honest people selling mills (not to be confused with mill collectors selling mills; two different things!). When someone claims their piece is all original, I will know better!

"Yes, sir, it all original. Right down to the handle"

"
NO! It is not all original! I have The Good Book! I have seen the light! The Crown No. 3 Mill from Landers, Frary & Clark was only manufactured in the 1890's. This example clearly has a Phillips head on the handle. We all know the Phillips head was not invented until the 1930's. This can't be all original! You are a liar! Be gone! Swine! Fraud! I cast thee from this flea market! Be gone!"

Yes indeed, my life has changed. The book only cost $125 and is worth every penny. I look forward to more and more coffee mill collecting. I will keep you posted as my collection grows. I'm sure you're all waiting on the edge of your seat.

Oh, by the way, those words in certain combinations? Oh, really dirty words like "coffee", "mill", "antique", "auction", "sale, "collectible". Come on now. Get your mind out of the gutter!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Blueberries, Coffee and Butterscotch...Quite the Combination

Tonight was a dinner with the ‘rents. Given all the nonsense in their lives as of late, I thought I would treat them to a nice dinner and then bore them to tears with a narration of 996 vacation photos. No joke. 996. But they really wanted to see them! It was their idea!

Given my ever expanding interests in cooking, I thought I would grill. That thumping sound you heard, by the way, were my fists pounding my chest like a primate. The flowing sound? Testosterone on the go. The menu, you ask?

Appetizer: Grapes and cheese with the Wild Blue Blueberry Lager
Main Course:
Black Jack Chicken Breast (from the grill) with Sweet and Sour Asparagus and Sam Adams Lager
Dessert:
Grilled Banana Splits with Homemade Butterscotch Sauce and Leinenkugal's Berry Weiss

Last night, I prepped an old stand-by for family events and other gatherings: Sweet and Sour Asparagus. The cookbook it came from is "Celebrate San Antonio: A Cookbook" and can be found here. Get it! If you have a pulse and can read, you can make this excellent dish. If you don't like asparagus...well...forget it!

The grapes and cheese with the Wild Blue Lager was a fair way to start the evening. I say all that with knowledge that the beer was really not very good. I think the muchies helped to compliment it, but the beer itself is rather poor. Perhaps I will babble on about it on another day. Maybe later this week.

The Black Jack Chicken was from a different book. The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) put together a book on grilling and you can get it here. It needed to be marinated in what was basically apple juice with some spices. The Black Jack Barbecue Sauce makes 4 cups and was superb. Key ingredients included coffee (fresh brewed), chili powder, onions, and more apple juice. Some of you have likely noticed grilling chicken can be risky. Burnt carbon is not really what one wants. The combination of the marinating and the slower cooking on the grill yielded a very moist chicken. The sauce was hot (spicy), but not stupid hot. Just a warm sensation the whole time. A Sam Adams lager is just the thing here.

The banana split was excellent and was also from the CIA. Cut the 'ole naners in half lengthwise, coat with melted butter and grill for one minute on each side. Homemade butterscotch sauce is easy as hell, too. Add some ice cream (French Vanilla), slivered almonds and some whipped cream and you are good to go. Ultimately, you are not really doing much. We enjoyed it so much I forgot to get out the Leinenkugals!

All this sounds really crazy, but I swear to you its not. Quit complaining and do it!

Friday, August 1, 2008

"Flyin" Home

So, why in the world would I stay in Cincinnati? Two reasons. Shortly after breakfast, I went to President Taft’s birthplace (1857 was the year) which is north of the downtown area. Another pin in my National Park map. I had no idea he was also a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after his term. That little bit of trivia is going to win me a lot of money on Jeopardy some day! He is also the first President to throw out a baseball at a game.

From there, Dayton is just a short trip up I-75. The Park Service really took the ball and ran with it forming the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park. On the grounds of Carillon Park, tucked away in temperature controlled facility, but still on public display, sits the 1905 Wright Flyer III. The ’03 flyer I, the Wright Brothers plane in the famous Kitty Hawk photo, is at the Smithsonian. The ’04 Flyer II, was cannibalized with some of its parts going to the Flyer III, considered by most to be the first true flying machine. It is all original except for the fabric It’s partial reconstruction was supervised by Orville himself in the 1940’s. (Wilbur had long since died, but that is not him as a taxidermic mount in the photo). They also had a Van Cleve, the model of bicycle built by the Brothers. A few hundred where made but only a few are known to exist. I was in Dayton last summer and saw a lot of the Wright Brothers stuff, but I could not get to the park before it closed. I figured this would be a great time to do it.

And so, it was with those final glimpses of the Wright Flyer that my vacation basically ended. The drive back home was uneventful. I thought it was fitting to end my vacation with a flying craft that was inspired by birds, the inspiration for my vacation. Along the way, some battlefields, brew
s, family and friends. But something was different on this trip compared to my two previous vacations. On those, I was feeling a bit tired and homesick. I was spending more money than I planned. Ultimately, they combined and it was enough to make me come home early. This trip? No way. I had no inclination to return home (even though I knew I had to). I easily could have stayed on the road another week, perhaps more. Easily.

So, if you have actually read this report, you might be wondering what the water tower photos are all about. I have some friends who recently moved to Louisiana. Before they left, they asked me a favor. It turns out they have a nephew, Jeff. He is a special needs 43 year old. But, for whatever reason, he really digs water towers. Bruce and Linda, for a few years now, have been snapping photos of water towers when they travel. Jeff has a binder with tower photos from all over. It is quite possible he has the largest photographic collection of water towers in the country. Seriously now, who else does this?

So, I was happy to take some photos of these things as I moved about the country. I have a job, a home, family, friends, my health, hobbies, etc. Jeff, on the other hand, is in a totally different world. Oh sure, I could have been really pissed that I missed the Flame-colored Tanager or Bachman’s Sparrow, but so what. Really—so what. Jeff can’t even read or write. Episodes like this really bring things into a different light. So while I was gallivanting around the countryside, if I could take 5 minutes of my day, snap a quick photo of a water tower and brighten somebody else’s’ day, I’m happy to do it. I look forward to doing more in the future.

Fields of Death

So why in the world did I backtrack to Nashville? Just down the expressway, right outside of Murfreesboro, is the Stones River National Battlefield. “Only” 24,000 men were killed or wounded here, making it the sixth bloodiest battle of the war. Only a fraction of the actual battlefield is a part of the National Battlefield. The rest is privately held. During the final phases of the battle, 1,800 confederates were killed or wounded in less than one hour. It seems their commander was a idiot and, despite his initial protests of the commanding officer’s orders, thought it would be a good idea to send his men across the ford at Stones River, up a hill and into the face of 45 cannon parked hub-to-hub. Other deadly spots included "The Slaughter Pen" and "Hell's Half Acre." One can easily imagine what happened there.

After this tactical draw, the Union General Rosecrans led the construction of fortress Rosecrans around Murfreesboro. Some of the embankments, like those around Corinth, still exist.

As with so many battlefields, the memorials to the fallen are really quite impressive. The size or the details in stone can just be stunning knowing most people (myself included) can’t make a good snowman. This battlefield has something a bit different. The oldest monument. Hazen’s Brigade came back just one year later (1863) and constructed a stone wall, around a small cemetery and memorial. It still stands. Interestingly enough, Hazen stayed in the service and ultimately spent time as a commanding officer at Fort Davis. More dots!


What was unquestionably the weirdest moment of the trip happened here. I started the battlefield tour on my one in the cemetery. So many soldiers are unknowns, so they have small simple stones at their grave. One stone, amongst the smaller stones, was taller and wider. I walked up to it. Jasper Quigley. Now, I’m sure that name means nothing to many people, but to me I recognized it. Well, part of it anyway. My mom does the family tree thing. Unlike so many people who have families that “came over here” in the early 20th century, parts of my family have been here far longer. I have ancestors from the Civil War (both Union and Confederate) and even the War of 1812. Quigley is a name I know from my mom’s work. This man easily could be a relative. Very very……Twilight Zone (-doo-doo-DOO-do doo-doo-DOO-do-)

By this point, I realized that I needed to start making my way home. Sure, south-central Tennessee to Detroit can easily be done in a day’s drive, but I didn’t want to get all crazy with it. So, I plotted a course for Mammoth Cave National Park. Before I got on the expressway, I saw not one, not two, but THREE antique malls all next to each other. I put myself in “coffee mode” and blasted through all three in less than 45 minutes. I have a few more coffee tins for my efforts.

Once on the expressway, I had a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher cross the road in front me. Remember, south-central Tennessee. While they wander after breeding, that’s a good bird here!

Really bad rain prevented me from possibly camping at Mammoth, so I just continued onto to Cincinnati. Hooligan’s was the recommended place for dinner. They say they have award winning ribs. Yeah, right, everybody says that. THEY MEAN IT! I have never had ribs this good. It was not so much the sauce, but the meat texture. Stab it with your fork, twist it gently 90 degrees, and it drips right off the bone. I ate it with a fork and knife. I never picked up a rib. Amazing.

Unconditional Surrender

I got aI got a bite at the local diner. Brains and eggs were on the menu. As a biology guy, I had to ask the waitress: “Whose brains are they?” “Pig. Are you going to get some?” “No. Sounds gross.” “Good, I don’t like serving them…..”

After a quick, brainless breakfast, I was back at the battlefield. I wanted to make sure I saw the location where Confederate General Johnston died. He was a brilliant leader and had the habit of leading his troops into battle in front (as opposed to ordering them from behind and following them in). He was shot and bled to death while his staff frantically tried to find the wound. The artery in his leg was severed by a bullet that entered the backside of his knee while his knee-high boots hid the wound and captured the blood. Hmmmmmmmm, in the front of one’s own troops but shot in the back of the leg. Yes, indeed, he was accidently killed by his own men. A tourniquet was in his pocket.

At one point, I accidently flushed an Eastern Bluebird. It had built a nest in a barrel of a piece of field artillery.

As always, I took some time As always, I took some time to the check out the interpretive center. I watched a video on the battle (even though I had a good idea of what was going on). Oh my, they need a few bucks in their budget for some updates. The film was from 1956 and looked every bit of it.

It was here
that a peculiar thought struck me. John Wesley Powell enlisted with the 20th Illinois Volunteers. At Shiloh, he was injured and lost his arm. That did not stop him from being one the greatest explorers in the American West, including the Grand Canyon (by boat). He ultimately went on to be a director for the US Geological Survey. What is so peculiar about that? It marks another time where I have visited some of the same places as key people in history. Powell was at Shiloh and the Grand Canyon. Me, too. Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman, spent some time in Tombstone, Arizona, and Nome, Alaska. I’ve been to those places, as well. I have been to the Wright Brothers Bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio and Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina. Just connecting dots, I guess…

From here, I opted to head back south into extreme Northern Mississippi and re-visit the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. Yes, I was there the day before, but I literally got there when it was closing. Now, I had a chance to check it out. Very new and very well done. In the back, they had what I would simply call a water sculpture. It was very similar to the one at the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC. It has undisturbed flowing water in the beginning of the “timeline”, followed by a jumble of rocks and then peaceful calm waters again. The jumbled rocks were labeled with all the major battles of the civil war. Pretty neat.

I also took a few minutes and checked out some of the remaining civil war fortifications. Scattered around Corinth, one can still see the earth embankments that had been constructed by the Union in 1862 after they captured Corinth. From a distance, they just look like small woodlots. Enter the woods, and the walls and pits are obvious.

From here, I shot due north to Fort Donelson National Battlefield. The picturesque bluffs over the Cumberland River were the site of two day engagement in February of 1862. It was here that Ulysses S. Grant uttered those famous words: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." U.S. Grant? Unconditional Surrender Grant? Get it? The fall of the fort (the first Union victory of the war) led to further invasions of Tennessee, ultimately leading to Shiloh and Stone’s River. From a bird standpoint, it was here that I located Osprey and Bald Eagle; the river is perfect for them. The hotel where Buckner surrendered to Grant still stands. It is near the Cemetery. The trenches used as defensive positions of the Confederates are still very clear. This battle field is much smaller, but still very impressive.

Realizing
still had time in the day, I headed off to Nashville. Totally forgetting that Nashville attracts people from all around wtih kitch, sequined boots, and family groups singing bad music, I struggled with lodging. I landed a KOA again. Ugh. Oh but they had a concert in the music hall! Where’s my barf bucket?

Bullets Like Hornets

By sunrise, I was out the door. I had planned on driving to southwest Tennessee. TC took me there via extreme northern Mississippi. I have never been to Mississippi. While I was only 10 miles or so inside the state line, I was there. Now I can say I have been to Mississippi! 39 states down. Only 11 more to go! After a brief stop at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center a brand new National Park Service facility, I made my way to Savannah, Tennessee for grub and bed. After dinner, I had some time before I lost daylight, so I did something, I have never done before: I walked a Civil War battlefield at sundown. In this case, Shiloh National Military Park.

The battle of Shiloh was a boondoggle. Basically, General Grant was caught with his head in dark place, (not a bottle). 44,000 thousands Confederate troops snuck up on his men (how do you do that?) and whipped them back to the Tennessee River. Overnight, he received thousands of reinforcements and, in turn, beat the Confederate butts the following day. When all was said and done, 23,000 were dead or wounded, making it the 7th bloodiest battle of the Civil War. “Shiloh”, by the way, is Hebrew for “Place of Peace."

Walking the roads that still exist and looking at the stones in the cemetery sends chills up your spine. Visualizing thousands of Union troops massed along the Tennessee River at Pittsburg Landing? Wow. There are several Confederate Burial Trenches in the park. Its one grave, but it contain the remains of hundreds of soldiers, whose identities will forever be unknown. The Chuck-wills-widow calling by the cemetery was creepy. Lots of widows after April 7, 1862. As the sun set, bats come out in force (no, they didn’t get in my hair) and Wood Frogs were calling at Bloody Pond (it was red with blood by the end of the battle).

The sun setting across the field by the "Hornets Nest" was very peaceful. It was said that the intensity of Confederate bullets entering the woods where the Union had set up defences were so thick it reminded one of a swarm of hornets. The picture here is actually as viewed by the Union (the "Nest" is to left out of view). This open field is where the Confederates crossed multiple times in attempt to eliminate the position.

Just Relaxin'

This was one of the most laid back days one could ask for. I have known Neal since the second grade. We had a late, casual breakfast and some time in downtown Dallas. The bank in the downtown has an observation deck on the 49th floor. What a view! Dinner was at the Capital Pub where I enjoyed two new beers. Golden Monkey, from the Victory Brewing Company, was simply off. I was not sure what the problem was, but it was just...off. The Cassis, from Broerij Lindemn, was made with black currants. It was very tart, but still okay for a fruit beer. I really needed those grapes.

The antique store up the street had a very early model Gaggia espresso machine. The huge kind. I mean huge. Probably four feet wide. Brass accents. A real beauty. $2800.00. He offered half off and would ship it. Ohhhhh, if I had a bigger place….and more money….

Wild Duck Chase

At sunrise, I was hitting the various parks and waterways in the region. No luck. I even put a call in to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Apparently, they can be found there, too, but I had to leave a message on the machine. It was 50 miles away on the wrong side of Houston and I was simply not ready to drive that far (Ha!) for a “maybe”. So, I opted to make my way to Dallas (I had made prior arrangements to spend a day with a friend).

On my way to Dallas, I found an antique mall. While buying a glass jar from the Duncan Coffee Company (still sealed with the original coffee which is likely still more fresh than Folgers!), I got the call frmo Anuhauc. I explained I was an out-of-state birder and that I was hoping to see a Fulvous Whistling-Duck. She was pretty sure they were
around, but she volunteered to head out and double check for me. 10 minutes laters, she called again. Anahuac had the birds! The now 100 miles did not seem so far. By the time I got there (through thunderstorms that were really somethings else, a slow drizzle was falling. But, there they were. Dozens of them. FULVOUS WHISTLING-DUCK (life bird #620) Well, I am there now, right? Might as well drive a bit in the rain and see what happens. The bird of the afternoon? Rail royalty: the King Rail. It was right in front of my car. Watching scores of White-faced Ibis move through the scores was pretty cool, too.

With that, I plotted a course to Neal’s place.
I was there in 5 hours. Along the way, I spotted some Mississippi Kites.

Super Size It...Small And Big

Timing was off this morning, and I did not have a chance for sunrise photography on the beach like I was hoping. After a quick bite at Denny’s (before sunrise), I had to move along to Raymondville. My destination? The San Miguelito Ranch by 8:00am. I had made prior arrangements with Leticia, who ultimately put me in touch with her daughter, Lisa. I met her at the gate, where I joined her in the truck for the short drive (~4 miles) to the house. We went into the back yard and there they were: FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWLS (life bird #619). Five,in fact. They just sat there. At 6 ½” tall they are the second smallest in the North America and, as you might imagine, one of the most difficult to find due to their size and such limited range. It cost me only $30.00. Money well spent. I snapped a few photos and took off. I did not want to disturb them. Ultimately, however, they did not seem to care much. The Ranch, I’m happy to say, has begun to recognize that people like me will travel and pay to see birds and other wildlife. They are looking to expand their ecotourism opportunities.

After a quick break at a rest stop (where the marker says Zachary Taylor did the same thing under the same tree in 1846 as a General leading troops to Mexico), I headed off to Corpus Christi. Lunch was at Blackbeards where I had Blue Paddle, another fine beer from the New Belgium Brewing Company. While the beer was very heady and good,I probably need to re-evaluate it at a later date. What sort of dump gives you a plastic glass for a beer?

After lunch, I spent a few hours doing the self guided tour of the USS Lexington. For you WWII nuts, I’m sure you know the Lex, CV-2, is at the bottom of Coral Sea and has been there since 1942. This is CV-16, commissioned in 1943. Either way, it is very impressive. The ship has a self guided tour where you can go literally from top to bottom and stem to stern. The engine room, the medical quarters, the bridge, the flight deck, the ops room. A highlight was meeting Joe. He was volunteering on the bridge and actually served on the ship during WWII. It was an honor to meet him. While the airplanes on deck were mostly from the jet age, walking the tight corridors and climbing those ridiculous stairs was really something else.

Even though the tour route was clearly marked, it was very easy to get turned around. I soon found myself giving up on the thought of trying to figure out where I was (port side vs. starboard, for example). Its incredible to think that sailors were expected to not only know where they were, but find their way around in the dark, if needed. Or, in a worse case scenario, in the dark with the ship upside down. 42,000 tons of welded plates and miles of cable. Awesome.

My whole afternoon is now ahead of me. It was this point that my trip took a totally unplanned turn. I suddenly found myself with the urge to find Fulvous Whistling-Duck. I thought they were possible in the Valley, but apparently not this late in the season. I recalled from a book that I was thumbing through at Laguna Atascosa that they can be found in the fields outside of Katy, a suburb of Houston. With that tiny bit of info, and the urge to make it work, I shot off to the greater Houston area. I got a room for the night in Katy. Dinner, by the way, was at Landry’s. Angel hair pasta with shrimp, crab, and crayfish. A nice meal. A fine place.

Next to my hotel was a Kinko’s. I logged onto the internet there (I don’t have a laptop) to see what I could drum up. I had some places to hit in the morning.

Finally, The Ocean

Before sunup, I was on my way to Brownsville. My destination? Sabel Palm Sanctuary. The gate was closed. I thought they open at sunup, but I guess not. A bird I needed was in there, but I had a third spot lined up. TC took me to the intersection of East Cowan Terrace and Heather Lane. A few short minutes later, and I was looking at a YELLOW-GREEN VIREO (life bird #618). Recognizing that this was a residential neighborhood that probably wasn’t used to bird traffic like the other one in McAllen, I did not stay long.

I sped back to Sabel Palm. White-tipped Dove was nice, as where the Least Grebes. I also got some great looks at Black-chinned Hummingbird (literally feet away at the feeders). All in all, I thought it was a bit slow, however. I opted to take the road out to Boca Chica Beach. Botteri’s Sparrows were right were the books said they would be. More Harris’s Hawks were nice, too. An Osprey was very cooperative. I also spent some time at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Long-billed Curlew and most of the waders made for a nice drive. The Crested Caracara was just a bit too far out for good photographs. While I had seen quite a few on this trip as a whole, none were really photographable. I was ultimately hoping for Aplomado Falcon. No, I can’t count it, but it would be nice to see one anyhow. I didn’t. Spending some time near the water drip photographing Green Jays was pleasant.

As dinner time approached, I opted to head back to South Padre Island. I had been there before with my sister in November of 2005 (thus, some of these Rio Grande Valley birds were not new). I was feeling artsy-fartsy and knew I could have some fun over there. After securing a place to stay (twice as much as the Alamo Inn and half as nice), I had dinner with an old friend: the Padre Island Brewing Company. There was only one new beer since I was there a few years back, the Raspberry Wheat. With my new found knowledge from the Brewmaster’s Club at Sea World, I am certain grapes or a light cheese would have complimented this beer nicely. The quail was delicious, but it took a while for me to get it. I thought perhaps they had to head to Davis Mountains to shoot one.

I spent the sunset hours on the boardwalk (after leaving the ocean side beaches) where I photographed yet another water tower. The sunset itself was quite possibly on of the nicest I I have ever seen. Clapper Rail, Marbled Godwits, and
Black Oystercatchers were just as stunning.

Bentsen Birding

By sunrise, I was hiking the road at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park. It was already horribly humid and getting warmer by the second (the previous day had a heat index of 109). I immediately went to the Photo Blind were a singing CLAY-COLORED ROBIN (life bird # 614) put on a brief show. A short time later, my first GROOVE-BILLED ANI (life bird #615) showed up. I believe I heard the Yellow-green Vireo, but it was easily 200 feet or more off the trail. There was no way of seeing it. The Harris’ Hawk that was perched in the tree was well worth it, but the lighting just sucked for photography. The tram that runs the park brought me back to the center. I was concerned that I had somehow managed to miss Altamira Oriole. They breed there. I was planning on getting some more water and heading back out to look for it. I had not even stepped off the tram when I saw one tugging on vegetation trying to gather nest material. ALTAMIRA ORIOLE (life bird #616).

Estero Llano Grande State Park was next on my list. I simply wanted to see the Sulpher-bellied Flycatcher (I had already seen one in Arizona years ago). After all the traffic issues it took to get there, I was politely told I came to the wrong park. I doubled back to Quinta Mazatlan where I found the bird easily, after being shown where the nest was. (That place, by the way, is great. It’s an old 1930’s adobe style home that had great habitat that is said to be super birding spot in the winter. It is now a part of the World Birding Center. They were getting ready for a wedding when I was there. It is that kind of a place.)

I shot over to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and walked a bit. Not much. Again, really damned hot. I was hoping to do the wildlife drive, but they were closing the gates early that day. The ponds on the property were very low. I also managed a quick photo of the water tower outside the refuge.

Dinner was at BJ’s Brewhouse. It is, I believe, a regional chain. All in all, I was impressed. The Jeremiah Red was the best of the four samples (the others being the Piranha Pale Ale, Brewhouse Blonde, and PM Porter). I never I thought I would say something like this, but the spinach artichoke pizza was very, very good!

Earlier in the day, Keith helped me with a post-dinner battle plan. While I was allowed to walk the roads of Bentsen after dark, I really did not feel up to it. He suggested simply driving the road immediately outside the park (the one that veers left after the parking lot as you approach the main gate). I did just that. It took me a few passes, but I saw that red eyeshine and ultimately had a wonderful look at a PARAQUE (life bird # 617) (puh-RAW-key) sitting on the road. I also saw my first wild tarantula.