This blog was originally created to showcase my photography. That kinda stopped happening. Shooting (guns and images) is still my passion, but I'm a writer at heart, so that seems to dominate, regardless of what I try to do.


Monday, November 20, 2017

New Petrified Wood Location

It's been awhile since I've gone searching for petrified wood, but I had the opportunity to go to a different stretch of a creek I've hunted before. This part is about a mile upstream from where Joe and I have been before.

This section has a bend in it, with good examples of deposition/erosion and I'd been down there once before with a class to study that process in the field. I noticed a large bit of wood while I was there and I picked up a few pieces, but that was before I really knew what kind of special qualities to look for in a good specimen.

So when I was on the property where you gain access to that location, I figured it was a great opportunity to see what I could find. I found some great stuff, and I only walked about 50 feet downstream. There's a long section of streambed to walk, and I didn't even look in the banks to see if I could find any large pieces. Mostly because I hadn't really prepared - no bucket or tools - and it's a long walk from the creek to the parking area, although my Jeep could have made it further.

So here are a few of the pieces I picked up. I'll be going back - probably after school's out or maybe on the weekends - to see what other prizes I might find.

I like this one because of the growth rings

This one's a little bleached but I love it because you can see where a twig snapped off

The back side of the same piece. I'm not sure if the oval on the right is part of a twig scar or not, but it's still pretty cool.

This one's special because of the crystallized sap. Sometimes it's amber, sometimes it's chalcedony; I'm not entirely sure what this particular mineral is, but it's very pretty.

I think this is one of the best I found today. The rings are so vivid and beautiful.

I didn't realize how out of focus this picture is, but this has nice rings too.

I just liked this one because of the waviness of the grain. I've been told that this area was covered up with vines at the time, so I think this is probably a good specimen showing that.

I picked up this one because it looks like it has evidence of char. The other side looks like outside bark. I know there were fires; I've found other pieces that were clearly burned, and I think that's what happened with this one.

The twig scar on this one is awesome, as is the hash markings. Not sure if that's part of a unique bark, or if it's from bugs eating the wood.

Again, I didn't realize how out of focus this one was until I just uploaded it. This one is amazing because of the three types of minerals on the broken end. There's the black, that tan colored one that's a big bubble and translucent, and then the clear crystals. Again, I'm not entirely sure what minerals they are, but they're very pretty and unique compared to other specimens I've found.

When I first picked most of these up, I didn't know what special characteristics they had. I grabbed them because I noticed the color first or, in the case of the twig scarred ones, the twig scars. What a surprise I got when I came home and washed them all off! 

Now that I know there are some very special pieces at this particular location, I'll definitely be going back with boots so I can explore a little more and take a bucket with me. I expect to find some more with mineral inclusions and possibly more of outside bark. Who knows what I'll find when I actually inspect the bank to see if anything's buried in there. 

What I think is so cool is that I found these after walking only a short distance. I can only imagine what else will be down there! The best part is that I have access to this location pretty much whenever I want. 

I only have a few weeks before I graduate, so I need to get to this particular location as soon as I can. If it's fruitful, I'll go back more than once. Since I already have SO MUCH FREAKING WOOD, I think I'll actually take my time and wash everything off in the creek and take a good look at it before I decide to take it with me. I've found that I really just need to be more selective in my pickings because there's just so many boxes filled with wood found at different locations that I'm almost swimming in them. Besides, some of the really neat pieces should stay behind for others to find. 

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed looking at these pics and following me along on my outdoor adventures. I'll update again when I have more to post.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Where I Come From

I got an opportunity to participate in some genetic research for 23andMe. I've been involved in genetic research before, which helped me identify two gene mutations that were causing me some health issues, so I'm not worried about the Big Brother thing. But there's more to the story than just the research contribution.

The perk of doing this study is that I get the full genetic analysis as well. I'm really curious to see what the results will say.

We all get stories of our heritage and backgrounds, but how much do we really know? How far back have you traced your roots? I did genealogical research for my family - both sides - for quite some time and got quite a bit of information but, at some point, the trail just ends. If you can get professional help, that's great, but it doesn't come cheap and I always figured I'd have time to do it myself. And I haven't.

I've traced my father's side back to the town in Germany, and I've even found some photos of the old storefront they had. I've not gotten as far with my mother's side. I know my grandmother was in the Daughters of the American Revolution, which grants me admission as well, but I have no clue as to where her paperwork would be, or if they DAR keeps that kind of thing on file.

I've always liked the genealogy exploration. It's like a puzzle waiting to be put together, or like a large wad of yarn begging to be unraveled. I like the stories, the photos, the history and, sometimes, the darker side to the family you thought you knew so well.

Mostly, with this 23andMe kit, I'm hoping that the results will be somewhat accurate. I have no way of knowing, for sure, but it'll be interesting regardless and - hey - it was free. I'm really anticipating getting back the results and seeing what they believe is my ancestry. It may just verify everything I've always known or, it might bring up a few questions to my family.

At any rate, I've spit in the test tube and will be mailing it in tomorrow. We'll see what I get back!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's All About the Aggie Gold

Since my last post, school started. I'm lucky in that, for my last semester, I only have three classes. Granted, two of them have labs as well, but it's still less work than it could have been.

Despite that fact, the only thing I really wanted to get to before graduation was my Ring Day. For those of y'all who have no clue about Aggie traditions, here's a little info for you.

The Association of Former Students has this to say about the Ring itself:

"The Aggie Ring is the most visible symbol of the Aggie Network that connects Aggies around the world. Dating back over a hundred years, it is a tradition that is deep in symbolism. Every symbol represents values every Aggie should hold; our six Core Values: Excellence, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Respect and Selfless Service. Those who have earned the right to wear the Aggie Ring have cleared some of the toughest requirements in the country for a class ring, thus making it one of the most treasured items and Aggie possesses."

"Design of the class ring at A&M is as deep in symbolism as it is in tradition. The shield on the top of the ring symbolizes protection of the good reputation of the alma mater. The 13 stripes in the shield refer to the 13 original states and symbolize the intense patriotism of graduates and undergraduates of A&M. The five stars in the shield refer to phases of development of the student: mind or intellect, body, spiritual attainment, emotional poise, and integrity of character. The eagle is symbolic of agility and power, and ability to reach great heights.

One side of the ring symbolizes the seal of the State of Texas authorized by the constitution of 1845. The five-pointed star is encircled with a wreath of olive or laurel leaves symbolizing achievement and a desire for peace. The Live oak leaves symbolize the strength to fight. They are joined at the bottom by a circled ribbon to show the necessity of joining these two traits to accomplish ones's ambition to serve.

The other side with its ancient cannon, saber, and rifle, symbolizes that Texans fought for their land and are determined to defend their homeland. The saber stands for valor and confidence. The rifle and cannon are symbols of preparedness and defense. The crossed flags of the United States and Texas recognize the dual allegiance to nation and state."

For an Aggie, this Ring means the world. I've waited to earn mine since I was in the third grade. I've worked towards this my entire life. Despite the other paths my life took me before I was able to get here, I had always aspired to make it happen eventually, and I did. 
The first part of the tradition of earning and receiving your Aggie Ring is that it is presented to you by someone of great significance, usually your parents. Although both my parents were supposed to put it on me at the same time, my mother was too busy taking pictures and let my father do it. Unfortunately, most of the pictures show my face all crumpled up because I was pretty much crying the whole time.

The second part is that you put it on with the graduation year facing you. This is to symbolize that you are not yet ready to present yourself to the world as a Former Student. Upon graduation, you turn the Ring around so the year faces out, symbolizing that you are now a Former Student and ready for the world ahead.

The unofficial part of receiving your Ring is the subsequent Ring Dunk tradition. It's one of less style and grace, yet just as much a part of Aggie tradition as the Ring itself. After Ring Day, people get together and have Dunk parties (since the bars in town have now been banned from allowing this to happen there), where the new Ring gets dropped into a pitcher of beer and the student chugs it as fast as they can, catching the Ring in their teeth at the end. 

Yes, it's silly to some. To Aggies, it's a must. As time has gone on, some have decided to Dunk in something other than beer, sometimes non-alcoholic due to personal reasons or age, or because they hate beer. I chose to Dunk mine in Michelob Ultra because I really don't like beer and it's low in calories. Joe Dunked with me since he never did his when he got it, and he decided to do Jack and Mountain Dew. Well, whatever. I wasn't about to do mine in Crown and Diet Coke, which is my drink of choice.
There's an art to prepping the pitcher, as well. Maybe some call it cheating but, if you've ever tried to chug fizzy, cold beer, you can imagine it's probably not doable with a full pitcher, even if the Old Ags managed to it way back when. I guess we've become wimps. But I also really hate vomiting, and that's exactly what would have happened had I not used the new method.

Pour the beer a day or two before. You pour it back and forth between two pitchers to get most of the carbonation out. You let it sit out. By the time you're ready to Dunk, the carbonation is gone and it's room temperature, which keeps your throat from constricting.

Joe beat me in time by a long shot. It took me almost two minutes to do mine. I kept having to stop to breathe! I was too busy trying to get mine finished to look at him and see what he was doing, and I may have dribbled quite a bit, but I did it, I caught the Ring, and I felt accomplished. It was a rite of passage and I passed the test.

Although my parents decided to pass on staying for the Dunk, Joe and I had a small group of friends who came over and enjoyed the evening with us. We ate a little, drank a little, and laughed a lot. Everyone was responsible and nobody was on their phones. It was great. It meant a lot to me that they chose to spend their evening with us. Some came and went to other Dunk parties, but they all ended up back at my place to watch us.

Even now, it's hard for me to believe I finally got my Ring. Every time I feel the carvings on the side, every time I look down and see it, it's a shock. It's a wonderful, fulfilling feeling of shock.

However, while it may have taken me years and years to get here, the journey is not yet over. I have one semester left and then I go through the other ceremony that all of this was for. I applied for graduation last week, I have my gown and my sash, but I still need to get my cap. I'm scared to death to walk across that stage because that means that my career as an Aggie Student is officially over. This has been the best time of my life and I'm going to be very sad for it to end. I'm optimistic about the future, but nothing will ever compare to the years I've spent at this school, the pride I've felt for being an Aggie, and the hope that, if my grandfather were still around, he would be proud of me for following in his footsteps. To imagine his smiling down on me as I'm receiving my diploma...well...that's the real motivation and the consolation I have in knowing my years as a student at this magnificent university will come to an end.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Few from Big Bend

We had a really great time at Big Bend and, as you're aware, I took an absolute ridiculously large amount of pictures. I finally went through them all and have a few I'd like to post.

My mother suggested I start a scrapbook with them all and include information about what we visited and its meaning to us, so that's what I did. I've gotten 10 pages or so done, and I'm only through the first day.

So here are a few of the ones I chose:

We drove through Fort Stockton and no visit is complete without a pic of Paisano Pete
I had a trackable that I picked up and its mission was to go to New Mexico. I dropped it in this geocache in Marathon.

Made it to the park!

It was a little misty when we arrived but stopped quickly. This is a picture of Casa Grande - the mountain behind the lodge - from The Window Trail

The famous view of The Window. I especially like this one because you can see the depth of the image due to the clouds between the mountains behind The Window.

An Aggie can't travel in Texas without taking Miss Reveille on the journey. These types of images are shared on social media - especially Instagram - with its own hashtag for other Aggies to follow.

I liked this one because it shows that, even in the Chihuahuan Desert, there is a whole other world tucked between water-retaining rocks, such as these. Ferns and moss can be found in many shady places if you just observe the world around you.

Although we did much more that first day, this was my end-of-the-day treat: a prickly pear margarita. Truthfully, it wasn't as good as I expected and was way more sugary than I'd hoped. Not a fan of super-sweet cocktails. But it was an experience.

So, those are just a few of the pics from the first day of our journey. I have 600+ photos, but I swear I won't be posting them all. In fact, I may just end up uploading the pages from my scrapbook instead, which would be much more efficient, I think. Maybe a little harder to scrutinize because of the multiple pictures per page, but still fun to look at, I think.

If you have something to say about these, leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright....

Deep in the heart of Big Bend...

Unfortunately, the "Heart of Texas" has become overrun with assholes from California and has built up so much that light pollution has reduced any chance of seeing those gorgeous stars.

Big Bend National Park, however, is free of virtually all light pollution except for right around some of the lodge parking lots and cottages. Even so, I was able to do some night photography and actually ended up with some pretty cool photos of a shooting star (or satellite, depending on who you ask) and the Milky Way.

I have to pat myself on the back a little bit, here, because I didn't set up my camera prior to attempting to photograph anything, and I ended up having to use a GoPro camera as a prop to keep my lens pointed upwards. I even forgot to remove my camera strap. And these images haven't been through any post-processing as of yet.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of noise in them. Unfortunately, I have a 10+ year old Olympus 10-megapixel Evolt E-510, and the archaic settings don't allow for much control over ISO or f/stop or anything else that requires high levels of adjustment to achieve professional results. In addition, my Zeiss lenses have taken a ridiculous beating, including 10 years in the heat of South Texas and caliche dust. But, I'm taking a lot of the blame too because, like I said, I failed to set up my camera prior to any attempts at taking pics. I did plenty of research beforehand to see what I should really be doing with the camera to get the best pictures, but my camera simply does not have that range of settings. So...you work with what you have.

And this is what I have.

I did end up with some fantastic, high quality photographs of other things, like lizards, millipedes, a jack rabbit, and some other things but I think it was just a fluke. To be honest, my phone takes better pics than this old DSLR. And the cool thing about my Samsung Note5 is that I CAN manually adjust ISO and white balance and all that good stuff. I ended up getting some pretty impressive photos with my phone instead, and a few botched photos with my camera that made me wish I'd used my phone instead.

Well, sorry to underwhelm. I have a lot more photos I can post, but this is all I really have time to talk about right now.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing the height of the Perseid meteor shower and maybe I can get some long-exposure pics of that, although I've been told they're about one a minute, so I'd probably have to leave the shutter open for longer than the camera can clearly process without a ton of blue and red pixels littering the image.

I wanted to pepper this entire post with creative, meaningful banter but, it seems, after a couple of years of writing nothing but scientific papers, much of my creative writing talent has withered. I feel like I have so much to say but, at the same time, it feels as if I'm trying to wade through mud to get it out.

Good news for you, though. You're my guinea pigs for new posts. Yay!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I've Resorted to Scrapbooking

We returned from Big Bend a couple of weeks ago and I've been itching to get through all the pics I took. I've had the time but, with over 900 pictures between the two of us, it seemed like a daunting task. Plus, I wanted to make sure they're on both the computer and hard drive, because I've lost photos before and it's heartbreaking - especially when it's something you can never get back.

But I persevered and got through them. I've decided a couple of things: 1) I need a new DSLR with newer technology, better lenses, and a higher megapixel rating and, 2) Sometimes I get lucky with that old thing and manage to get some pretty decent photos after all.

Now, I could have just gone the regular route and picked out a whole bunch of the good ones and stuck them in a photo album, hopefully one with the little memo paper next to the picture, but I figured that would be a little boring and not much fun to go back through.

My mother started making scrapbooks for each of the little trips she and my dad go on together, so I decided to do the same thing. Joe and I went to Hobby Lobby and picked out a bunch of supplies to get started. I'm not sure what all I need to really make it look great, though. I've done one-page scrapbook pages for shadowboxes, but never a whole book.

I was a little disappointed in the choice of travel stickers there. Almost all of them were dedicated to flying - not road trips - and the ones they had were more international, PacNW mountains, or beachy things. None of which apply here.

So...I guess I'll be looking online as well, but I was really hoping I could keep this pretty simple but still make it eye-catching.

I've gotten the first 6 pages planned out, but I'm assuming it still might need some tweaking, depending on how the layout and embellishments and stickers go.

Either way, I'm pretty excited to see this come together. Unfortunately, it's one of 3 artsy projects I've got going on right now, and I'm running out of time to get them done. Summer's almost over and then I'll be bombarded with school work and mania. One solution, I suppose, is to set aside, say, one hour a day to work on a page or something related to the other projects. Maybe that will work.

I'm going to pick up my first round of photos today and we'll see how they work with the huge stack of background papers I got, and the layouts I have in mind. I'm trying to leave room to write a little bit about each site or moment captured, so we'll see how that goes.

Once I get some pages done, I'll post some. Feedback is kinda pointless, really, since everything will be glue-dotted on and relatively permanent at that point.

I guess it doesn't matter. As long as I have a good time doing it and it actually reflects what we did, that's what's important, right?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Attempted Recovery of Wood from Location 3

Joe and I went to Location 3 yesterday to attempt to recover some of the petrified wood we found. After a lot of brainstorming, we decided the best way to try would be to use a come-along and some tow straps. Of course, that would just help us get it up the bank. Getting it into and back out of the truck was a different struggle for which we hadn't yet devised a solution.

After looking at the mammoth task of recovering one large log, I decided to look around and see if maybe we could find something smaller to satisfy our hunting urges in case the recovery was a bust.

I walked the same bank I'd walked a month before, and found something that had been uncovered since then. It ended up being a nice chunk with lots of big areas of opal inclusions. They were on every side, but this one had the best color. Hard to tell from the photo, but it's very rainbow-y.

In my wandering, I also found a neat little piece with two branch nodules sticking out. It's covered with a bit of algae, so it's going to need some cleaning, but the shape is really neat and the color is pretty rich. It's going to look wonderful once it's all fixed up.

After I found that, I came back and Joe was still surveying the log. At that point, I noticed another piece of wood sticking out just at the water line, and started digging by hand, wrecking my nails. Oh well. That's the price you pay.

I kept digging. And digging. And digging. And using big splashes of water to remove bank mud and wash sediment downstream. And kept digging. What started out as a 4" piece of wood peeking out from the sandy bank ended up being this:

My size 6 1/2 boot on a piece not yet fully uncovered

We wrapped that one with a tow strap, hooked it to the come-along, and wrapped another tow strap around a fallen tree on the opposite bank. Sad to say, no matter where we wrapped the strap, there never seemed to be the right amount to use the come-along properly. Even as we were stretching everything tight, this huge thing wasn't moving even a little. It was at that point we realized more digging was necessary and we hadn't even thought about how to move it closer to the point where it would go up the bank near our entrance point. So, with that large disappointment, we moved on to the log we originally came to retrieve.

Again, my size 6 1/2 boot on the log

With this one, we made quite a bit of headway in the beginning. We got it to an area where we could pull it up on the bank but then we got stuck. It was at that point that we realized we were going to have to wrap a tow strap around an I-beam of a bridge, but it was completely encased in hard mud and roots. We worked on chipping away at it for awhile, but to no avail.

Tow straps in place before moving the log

There is one log specimen that's been completely uncovered and we know we can move it. There's that big light grey chunk and we still don't know exactly how big it is and we haven't been able to move it. Then there's the third log we still haven't had the chance to completely uncover and it looks significantly larger than the first two. That's going to be a job in itself just to unearth it. We got it partially done one day, then it rained and was covered up with sediment again, so that's what happened with that one.

Unfortunately, on this day, we had to admit defeat. We simply didn't have the means to do what we'd set out to accomplish. This is due in part to a lack of sufficient anchoring points, a treacherously steep and soft, sandy bank, and exhaustion from heat, sun, and physical exertion. 

One challenge we are facing, also, is that every time we make a trip up or down the bank, a little bit more sand is displaced. I fear that if we have to keep making treks, it's going to be impossible to get down there at all. Basically, this means we have to find a way to be successful on our next trip. We're running out of summer and running out of ideas. We've considered enlisting the help of two very strong friends to see what they can do to help us out. It may mean just wrapping the pieces with the tow straps and tugging it all the way up, probably with the help of a come-along in some spots. We have a couple of other ideas as well.

My father suggested we just abandon the mission. He suggested that we were going to hurt ourselves trying to do it and it just isn't worth the physical injury. He's right on that point. However, if the pyramids could be built, Stonehenge assembled, and the Easter Island heads erected, there has to be a way for us to do this, even if we have to use some sort of ancient technology.

I'm not willing to give up just yet. There's also a part of me that thinks we should contact the local museum, who has the means to extract these gigantic specimens for their displays. I don't know if they will; it may be too much of a hassle for them, they may not think it's important enough, or who knows what other reasons they might have for not having an interest. 

Some of y'all, I'm sure, are wondering why we're putting so much effort into something like this. Maybe you're wondering why we can't just leave well enough alone and leave them in their natural environment. I guess those are valid questions. It just seems like a huge shame to have amazing specimens remain in a location where they can't be appreciated. There were a variety of trees in the area during that time period, and having some scientists examine them and maybe learn something from them can never be a bad thing. If nothing else, being in a museum could give lots of people enjoyment and give them insight into our area's prehistoric history. Plus, they're just super-cool to look at.

So, no, we're not giving up yet, but we're certainly going to have to bring our best game if we expect to be successful. This last trip can't completely be called a failure, because we learned a lot from it. We know we must look at this recovery effort in a different way if we want to get the job done.

Hopefully, in my next update, I'll be showing you photos of what the pieces look like after they've been extracted from the waterway and in the back of the pickup.