Texas (April 25)

Bastrop, Texas is a small town with a long history, located along the banks of the Colorado River east of Austin. It’s situated in what is called the Lost Pines region of Texas, because the loblolly-pine forests that occur here are said to have separated, in some early geologic event, from the great piney woods that extend across east Texas through the Louisiana border.

Although along the highway it looks just like every other town, with Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Chili’s, HEB, etc., there is a quaint historic downtown along the river, with small shops and restaurants and art galleries filling the old-fashioned storefronts, amid pecan trees and crape myrtles and magnolias…

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It’s quite pleasant on a spring evening to walk along Main Street, enjoying the smell of jasmine, sit on a breezy patio for dinner, and watch the sunset on the river…

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Like the rest of Texas, Bastrop is mostly sunny. And mostly hot. Summer begins early, and the boys quickly got summer-haircuts! Genevieve and I will just spend most of our days in pony-tails now 🙂

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The kids were immediately excited by all the new creatures to see! Lizards are, of course, much more abundant here, and much time has been spent hunting and catching the beautiful Green Anoles, as well as chasing a faster Six-Lined Racerunner Lizard…

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The anoles are great at hiding, although sometimes they don’t seem to pick exactly the right spot, if their intent is to escape…

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And, surprisingly, there are enough moist spots to find a few cute frogs!

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There are new birds to identify – Scissortail and Forktail Flycatchers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Black Vultures, Tufted Titmice, Crested Caracaras, Green Herons, Carolina Wrens – as well as old friends like the Common Ravens, Black-Capped Chickadees, and Barn Swallows.

And there are definitely more insects of every kind! Crazy caterpillars…

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Brilliant beetles…

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An inch-worm…

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And a Texas-sized inch-worm – this monster was like 3 inches long!

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A Daring Jumping Spider…

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And butterflies! The abundance of butterflies inspired Asher to want a butterfly net, which has been a fun addition to backyard activities and hiking…And oh-so-much-safer for the butterflies than having my 3 little monkeys chasing irrepressibly after them with their bare hands!

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Unfortunately, there are also more biting and stinging insects of every kind! Mosquitos, chiggers, robber flies, fire ants, oh my…Poor munchkins. If we can stay out of the way of the ticks, black widows, brown recluses, assassin bugs, and scorpions, I will be quite happy 🙂 We have a very strict rule that you can’t touch it until you show Mommy and Daddy and we identify it.

This little jewel of an ecosystem took a big hit about five years ago when a network of large wildfires burned through about 80% of Bastrop State Park…In place of towering pine giants and softly-shaded forest floors, there are now blackened sentinels and sunlit shrubs, so the landscape is greatly changed…

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Still, of course, there is beauty! I’ve never, anywhere else in my life, seen a cloud-rainbow like this, just drifting pretty-as-you-please with the high clouds in the bright blue sky!

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As the forest recovers, the wildflowers now have a chance to bloom where it was once too shady…

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And forest residents are slowly returning, with birds, butterflies, lizards, and turtles making their homes in the park again.

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And then, when it rains, it pours! And thunders and lightnings! This was a new phenomenon for the kiddos after years of the gentle Pacific Northwest storms, and we all gathered at the bay window in the kitchen to watch the sky lighting up and count the seconds until the thunder roll!

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The Colorado River has been largely tamed by a series of dams, which greatly comforted the early inhabitants of Bastrop and other riverside towns, who had been through several cycles of rebuilding and starting-over after major floods over the years. But still, these are rocky hills with shallow soils, and storm-driven rains still raise the water levels!

Today, it may simply mean that park roads are unexpectedly closed.

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And maybe the riverwalk and picnic tables are closed for a couple of days due to being underwater…

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And the dry creek beds along the trails aren’t quite so dry… 

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The floods also create hitchhikers, giving a lift to river-dwelling snails that wouldn’t normally make it up the steps to the top of the hill!

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And then there’s also enough moisture to support some really fabulous fungi! A golden-capped mushroom springs from a fire-scorched stump in Bastrop State Park…

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And little pearl-sized pink and silver button mushrooms dot a fallen log in nearby Buescher State Park…

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Bright lichens and cup mushrooms are still to be found along the forest trails, especially at McKinney Roughs and Buescher State Park, where the fires had little impact and the trees are still tall…

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And beautiful creeks and streams like this…

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Also mean that we got to be introduced to the Cottonmouth Snake, or Water Moccasin! We saw this guy moving slowly off the trail, after another hiker pointed him out, and then saw another one swimming when we reached the river. Yikes, watch your step!

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April is high season for wildflowers, and everywhere the fields and forests are dotted with the brilliant Texas natives…

Evening Primrose…

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Singletary Pea…

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Indian Blanket, or Gallardia…

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Prickly Pear Cactus…

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Purple Thistle…

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Indian Paintbrush…

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Prickly Poppy…

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And so very many more!

A day-trip out to Rohan Meadery was the perfect place for the kids to run free through the wildflower fields…

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Where they could lose themselves in the gently-waving, bejeweled grasses…

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Where they had their first introduction to honeysuckle nectar…

Where Joe and I sampled a variety of delicious meads…

And where we accidentally learned something about bees! This little guy looked so cute diving around in all that winecup pollen that we took a picture of him…And then watched him fly from winecup to winecup, never stopping for a moment at any other flower as he made his busy way through the field. I didn’t know they did that!

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Parks and playgrounds and riverwalks and restaurants and museums and hikes and day-trips…And always the simple pleasures of the backyard, where the birds chirp, where the leaves rustle, where the hammocks beckon…

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And the trees invite…

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And the fire-pit calls… 

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And the back porch is shady when the sun is hot. Hello, Texas!

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