Our Fred Crosses the Bridge

Fred

There are dogs and then there are those dogs who have so much character and life that they make an indelible impression on your life and you never will forget them. Fred was such a dog. We got Fred when he was one year old. Our dog Trusty got out and somehow Fred got free and they were both playing in our yard. Fred had been living down the alley tied up outside and he cried and barked constantly. This had been going on for a week or so. Fred’s then owner came by later that day and reported he was not a dog person. He had been at a party out in the country and Fred had been tied up and was barking and the owner said Fred was a huge nuisance and he planned on shooting him. This man decided that was wrong and had taken Fred home with him but he was no dog person and worked long hours and Fred was clearly unhappy tied in his back yard. We agreed to let Fred stay with us until a proper home could be found for him. I was thinking maybe a week.

Fred’s rescuer then backtracked Fred’s history and found Fred had had several one month or less “homes” until he was traced back to the formal adoption by a woman who had taken him from the Winnipeg Humane Society. She was still his formal legal owner but she immediately passed on all of Fred’s assorted original paperwork and a transfer of ownership document. It was quite a bundle. We found out Fred’s official birthday was exactly one week after our Trusty’s. We also found out he had originally come from some place in the USA and was supposedly a purebred Australian Shepherd with AKA papers which was of course utterly preposterous. There is some Aussie in there but he’s no purebred. He had been purchased from a pet shop and then somehow ended up as a puppy running loose on a northern first nations reserve. He was rescued from the reserve as a four month old puppy the day before dog shoot day. Going through his paperwork we discovered Fred had been passed through at least nine owners before coming to us. We took him to our vet. Our vet told Fred that he was one very lucky dog to have landed where he did. We contacted the Winnipeg Humane Society and they were more than happy to have Fred officially transferred to us. It was then we realized Fred had become our dog.

Fred was a delightful fellow but he had no manners. He as too old for puppy class but we started him in obedience classes and he completed all three obedience levels easily. We found he was a food driven dog and would do anything to get treats. Treats were far more important to him than affection and praise. Unlike Trusty he had no interest in agility. This whole leash and behaving thing as strictly about treats.

Fred soon settled right into our household as if he had always been around. We had only one bump. When he first came into the house and spotted one of our then three cats and he charged. I grabbed him and gave him supreme hell and told him in our house cats were part of the pack. I won’t ever forget his face. I’m sure he was thinking “Oh please, it’s a cat. You don’t seriously expect me to treat a cat like a pack member!” However in spite of Fred’s obvious bewilderment of our love of cats he immediately decided the cats were part and parcel of the package and he had an obligation to protect them. He never chased one of our cats even again but he would take joyous delight in chasing strange cats. If any dog or other animal pestered our cats he would ferociously charge out to defend them. His attitude was if he had put up with these damn cats, he was going to make sure no one else was going to get any pleasure or joy out of chasing them either.

Fred had one major behaviour issue. He loved to go roaming. Every chance he would get he would take off and go exploring the area. He had an invariably good sense of direction and he never seemed to get lost. He was also expert at making friends. We put a tag on him with his name and address and our phone number and it also had the name and make of our trailer and that he was from Canada. He would take off and there was no catching him. Eventually he would wander back or someone would contact us to come get him. One time we found him bumming cheese dorritos in a bar. Another time we found him perfectly at home at a family gathering after making off with some spareribs from their barbecue. Once he got away at a music festival and he was “arrested” by security when they caught him helping himself to their hot dogs. Another time Fred was returned riding in a golf cart, after he went visiting a golf course next to our campground. Once we got called by the City of Winnipeg Animal control to report Fred was waiting by the door for them when they arrived to work expecting his free ride home. Fred’s galavants were a constant source of amusement and aggravation. He was the absolute master of sneaking out of a partially closed gate or dashing away at an opportune moment. He pulled this stunt at least once a week. His last run was a few days before his death and he only got a few blocks from home before I caught him. He could no longer outrun me or go far.

Fred’s favourite  thing to do, besides eating, was chasing a ball. He loved the ball. As a young dog my husband would throw the ball with a ball thrower 40 times to wear him out. Over the years the number dropped. In his last few months he could no longer chase the ball because his hips got injured. He would carry the ball instead and if we were at a beach he could fetch the ball as long as he had to swim to it. He loved to swim. He loved going in the canoe too, but he preferred swimming beside the canoe as often as he could.

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Fred playing with two boys he befriended in Georgia. Fred would later save the younger one from drowning and be rewarded with a whole steak. Fred loved kids.

Fred once saved a four year old boy from drowning. We were staying at a campground on a river in Georgia and I was out walking him. A little boy got in over his head and was being carried away. He was floating at his hairline. We adults didn’t notice but Fred did. He charged and tore the leash out of my hand, leaped from a wall into the water and raced to the child going like a motor boat. As soon as he got to the child, the little boy pulled himself up gasping and Fred turned and swam back to the child’s father who was now on his way out. Fred took the child straight to him and met him halfway. That evening the grateful father stopped by with a barbecued steak that was so big it hung over the plate. He asked for permission to give it to Fred. I, of course, gave it to him and a bewildered but delighted Fred had a few moments of heavenly happiness wolfing down this huge steak.

Fred also intervened on four occasions when human predators were out to mug us. He was the sweetest dog and loved everyone but on those four occasions he was transformed into a snarling growling killer dog ready to kill for us. I don’t know if Fred would have actually attacked but the four possible muggers didn’t want to take the chance and left us alone and went searching for easier prey.

Fred and Trusty were inseparable buddies for eleven years. Fred was hubby dearest’s dog and Trusty was mine. The two dog played together, slept together, cuddled together and rarely had even a doggy scrap where one or the other growled and snapped. There were two exceptions. Fred got first dibs on any food unless we forced the situation. Trusty got first dibs on sleeping location. Other than that they were perfect together.

Fred loved kids. Visiting kids meant food and fun. He would play endlessly with them. In addition to ball, one of his favourite games was to try to snatch the water coming out of the hose. He was often totally soaked while kids laughed and laughed as he played with the hose. He never got upset with or snapped at a child. If they got mean or hurt him he would simply shake them off and leave.

At the age of eleven Fred developed a funny black lump on his foot. We took him to the vet and the vet checked him and found several more lumps and bumps. We decided to just remove the lump on his foot since it was interfering with his ability to walk but otherwise do nothing. As time passed the lumps and bumps grew and proliferated but Fred was still happy and enjoying life so we did nothing.

When Trusty passed I was worried Fred would mourn. He didn’t seem to. Dogs live in the moment anyway but Fred even more so than most dogs. When we got the new puppy, Misty, Fred fell head over heels in love and instantly began mentoring her. When he figured out if she went out to do her business they both got treats he made her housebreaking his personal mission and she didn’t have an accident after the first week. He played with her constantly, slept with her cuddled to him, and adored her as much as he had Trusty. He also stole her puppy chow every chance he got.

A week ago Fred started whimpering when he jumped up the stairs into the trailer. He started scratching his belly a lot. He also seemed to be having trouble getting into a comfortable sleeping position. Two nights ago something dramatically changed and it was clear he was in terrible pain. He was awake all night and even the pain killer we had for his occasional back trouble did nothing. He kept looking at me with his big eyes begging me to do something. We took him to a vet that day, one here our friends used and the vet agreed it was time. One of the lumps and bumps had caused his liver to enlarge and it was pressing on his diaphragm and Fred was suffering horribly. I was with Fred when he departed. He was frightened, the pain was bad and he didn’t like the vets handling him so he struggled. I went to him and I held his head and looked into his eyes and talked to him, calming him enough for the vet and the tech to do their thing. As the drug took effect, his eyes filled with relief and gratitude. They said “You did it, you made the pain go away. I knew you would. Thank you.” And then Old Fred was gone.

 

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I am a fan of Lacy J Dalton and my favourite song of hers is Old Dog Blue. Fred knew it was about him and he would come over and put his head on my knee and give me doggy love eyes. I called him Old Fred even when he was a young dog.

When I get to heaven first thing I’ll do is shout

“Hey, Old Fred!”

If there are no dogs in heaven I don’t want to go.

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Turtle Rescue

We do get involved in some crazy things, no doubt about it. There was a mass turtle stranding in our area of the panhandle in Florida where we were staying. The last time this happened was in 2006. All the sea turtle people around Florida were out seeking cold stunned turtles due to the bizarre cold weather from the polar vortex. The turtle get too cold and then end up unable to move floating on the surface. Many drown when they can no longer move enough to even lift their heads up to take a breath. Some end up washed up like debris on the shore where certain death awaits. If the cold doesn’t kill them, predators or dehydration will. Any turtle that could be found could be brought in and warmed and saved to be released when the cold spell passed.

A call went out for folks who could walk the beaches to look for stranded turtles. We were among those who answered the call. Here we are, with other volunteers and staff from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, getting our marching orders from Cypress Rudloe and “how to help a cold stunned turtle” safety information.IMG_0965

We then drove off to Appalachacola with our crew to meet Captain Ron and his Mrs, Cynthia, of Dream On Charters at the boat dock there. I really appreciated my long johns and Canadian style layering as we raced across the gulf to a small island called Cape St George Island Wildlife Preserve. Hubby dearest and I were assigned the northern side of the island an area with some white sand beaches and lots of muddy tide flats. We were given a folding wagon to transport any turtles we found.

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The day was cool to start but we were warmed by the sun. We had been told to especially check the grass and debris at the high tide line. Our trip was set to coincide with the low tide. We were also told to watch the surf but there isn’t a lot of surf on the inside (mainland side) of the island where the water is shallow and filled with the kind of grass beds green sea turtles love to graze in.

The island is a preserve so there was no one else beyond our team on it and we saw no signs of human life. The island is hardly deserted though as we found bear scat and coyote tracks. We didn’t see any of those.

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We arrived far too late for this poor little turtle. But them a miracle happened! We saw a flipper moving weakly in the air above a clump of seaweed.

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We found one poor turtle barely able to move from the cold. We carefully moved the turtle into the transport wagon and continued looking for more survivors.

In total we walked 10 kilometres (or six miles). We only found one living turtle but we were so happy to be able to save even one. As we walked, we kept the turtle in the sunshine as much as possible to help warm him. The more we walked the warmer he got and he began moving around. If only it had been warmer we could have let him go right then and there instead of lugging him around but the water was only 45F and he needed to be brought in for a vet check and full warming at GSML. Finally, when we had gone 5 kilometres in one direction we hit an inlet where the water was too deep to continue on. We contacted our team’s fearless leader and discovered the boat could not come in close so we would have to return to our starting point for pick up. I tried not to have a good cry and only just succeeded. Then we started back. By now the tide was coming in and the flats were getting wetter and the ground softer. We went as fast as we could to get off the rapidly vanishing tide flats and back to more solid beaches. We had a rest for a bit once we were back on the stable beach and then we continued our slog. Whenever I wanted to stop I looked at the little turtle and carried on.

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Finally, taking turns with the wagon and encouraging each other and breaking for water and snacks, we got back to our starting point. We had company as we waited for the boat.

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The heron is kind of a family symbol often appearing at significant and important events in my husband’s life. We only half jokingly refer to the Great Blue as his totem so we took the presence of one at the landing area to be a sign of karmic approval. Now that we were safe and secure and just had to wait for the boat, we felt a lot better. It also helped that we didn’t have to walk anymore. After about a 30 minute wait our ride back to the mainland came. I passed our turtle guest up to Captain Ron and we all felt great pride that we had succeeded. By the time the boat arrived the little turtle had warmed enough to flap and struggle. That made us all feel better. The turtle then went into an insulated box and since the sun was rapidly setting, he got covered with an insulated blanket.

Rescued Green Transfered to the boat.

As if to confirm karmic blessings we were escorted all the way back to the mainland by several dolphins who put on a fine show for us, playing in our wake and giving us dolphin laughs. I enjoyed the show a lot. Dolphins

When we arrived at the dock we were delighted to pass custody of the sea turtle to one of our team members, Brian, and let him take the turtle back to the lab. Hubby Dearest and I went for pizza on St George Island before heading home. We were REALLY hungry and REALLY sore and REALLY tired. Neither one of us have walked 10 kilometres in a long time. But we were so happy and we felt so good. It had been a grand adventure and so worth it!

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The next morning I got to the lab to check on “our” green sea turtle and I arrived at the lab just in time to see the turtle go into the tank and swim about, fully recovered. The turtle was designated #36 (of 48 rescues). He or she (you can’t tell at this age) got a clean bill of health from the vet yesterday. As soon as it has warmed up enough to be safe for the little turtle to go back to the sea, it will be released.

And we saved him!

 

Top Ten Great Things that Happened in 2017.

It wasn’t a perfect year (Oh Trusty Dog!) but we had a lot more good than bad. I like to be cheerful and positive so here is a list of my top ten happy things for 2017.

Stranger Doing an Act of Kindness award goes to Kelly Maes of Aztec New Mexico who found my keys and who then so mailed them on to us here in Florida. The world has many good people and we count Kelly among them.

So here is our countdown of the top great things for 2017.

10. We saw our guy get inaugurated and he has not yet pushed the nuclear button and the world has not ended after all, in spite of all the dire predictions of our leftist friends and family. Some are even beginning to concede he isn’t entirely evil and horrible. MAGA!

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9. We made a dramatic change in how we travel and now, whenever possible, we stay two nights when we stop. This allows us to have one day in between each driving day to rest, recuperate, and see some local sights. It does take us a lot longer to get there but we get to enjoy the journey a lot more.

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8. We finally got that last state on the list, Utah, and now we can say that we have traveled in every state in the lower 48.

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7. We got all the new windows into our house at last! We got a lot of renovations completed this summer and we have more to do, but this is a real milestone in terms of our comfort and quality of life.

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6. I did not have one single bad bout with my asthma. No antibiotics, steroid, trips to the hospital or days where I wondered if today I was going to die. Good health is such a blessing never to be taken for granted.

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5. Misty joined our household! A year of grief accompanied by great happiness for us as dog owners.

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4. We actually managed to have a really great and expanded encore family and friends vacation/reunion at Rushing River. We’re a blended family so some were missing but all my five biological grandkids and three kids and spouses were all in one place for two days (although no one stood still long enough to get a picture). We are hoping to make it an annual event and get even more of the family and friends involved this year.

3. Our book got many excellent reviews. Our science is having a real impact and we’re happy.

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2. Our son and daughter-in-law and the two youngest grandsons moved much closer to us so we get to be much more involved in their lives now. I can dash off to do babysitting and spoil the grandsons with only one hour of driving. Yay!

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1. We got two new family members to love. Our son remarried and his wonderful new wife not only makes him very happy (which makes us happy), but as a great bonus, she came with another delightful grandson (with the red tie) and our first grandchild who is actually really interested in our science. What’s not to like about that?

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Honorable Mention:

Our daughter, our youngest, seems to have ended 2017 on an exceptionally high note. We hope to have some really good news to announce for 2018. Stay tuned!

Happy New Year everyone and go forward with our wishes for the best year yet in 2018!

 

Florida Panhandle and Georgians.

We rolled into Florida at last. We had two stops. I have always loved St George’s State Park on the lovely island with its endless white sand beaches and little tourist costal town. Unfortunately, so it would appear does everyone else and the place is impossible to get into without a reservation. We decided to try some of the other coastal state parks instead.

We first stopped at Big Lagoon State Park. The park turned out to be both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment. It was a big disappointment because it is literally in a big lagoon behind a barrier peninsula and so there was no surf to see. The only beaches were small narrow brownish sand ones on brackish brown water side with signs warning about gators. Maybe I am a coward but I simply don’t like swimming where there are fellow swimmers that might eat me given a chance. However, we ended up really enjoying our stay because the park has a two mile trail along a dune that ends up in a lookout tower. We walked the trail with dogs and it was really pleasant and we had a lovely time. The other pleasant surprise was the constant display of fancy military aircraft. More than once we saw dazzling flyover formation of up to four military airplanes at a time so close they were almost touched. I love seeing airplanes which always seemed to me to be the pinnacle of human engineering achievement. In the end, in spite of the lack of surf, Big Lagoon was great fun and well worth the stop.

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We left Big Lagoon and continued east along the coast. After a quick stop in a laundry mat, we rolled along the coast enjoying route 98 until we reached T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. The highlight of that was seeing wild dolphins sporting in the ocean. I do love seeing wild dolphins.

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When we first arrived there were many sites for a single night but since the second night included a Friday and weekends are busy, there was only one site available for two nights. The campsites were all very close together and every spot near us had Georgians in it. A great gang of them had apparently all fled the recent snowfall. The site was a rather awkward tight back in. We had to ask a fellow to move his truck and I had to drive around again to get the rig lined up just right. He was very nice about our request and moved his Georgia state licensed truck for us with good cheer. Once I was in the right spot with enough room to maneuver, it was easy. I carefully and slowly back into the perfect position in one roll and then to my utter astonishment, I got out of the truck to a hefty round of applause from the folks all around us.  Apparently they found a female driver competently backing in to be astonishing. Several of them made comments like “Well done!” and “He let’s his wife back in?” and “I’ve never seen a woman do such a fine job backing up.”

I did a little bow for the audience and smiled broadly and shrugged and said “Farm girl married to a city boy.” And of course, as usual, that made perfect sense to them even though the real story is far more complicated. We chatted briefly with our friendly neighbours. My husband immediately lapses back into his midwest American English as soon as he hears it again but they commented on my Canadian accent with delight. I deliberately used the world “about” a lot since that is when it is most obvious. We had to give the usual explanation of where “Friendly Manitoba” is, (north of North Dakota) and how cold it is this time of year (-40 is where the Fahrenheit and Celsius systems cross.)

We continued to unpack and settled into our trailer while having a private laugh together about silly sexism and how generally delightful, charming and open hubby dearest’s fellow citizens are, especially those from Georgia. There really is no reason at all a woman can’t learn to back in a trailer properly and now they know Canadian farm girls can do it. It’s not a task that requires that brand of “superior male intellect” meaning brute male strength, as one of my female friends (a physicist by training) likes to say. Interesting how southern women have apparently arranged things so they never have to back in a trailer.

At last! Ocean and rolling surf. I have been on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts but the Gulf of Mexico is really my favourite. The waves are pretty and roll about waist high. On the Pacific the waves are so huge I quite feel intimidated and on the Atlantic, it is unpredictable, small one day and rolling monsters the next. The Gulf of Mexico waves are almost always just the right size for my taste. The beach was endless stretches of lovely white sand, far longer than anything I could walk in a day. The park is set at the end of a long long peninsula so that the shoreline is natural dunes and plants. The only down side was no dogs are allowed on the beach so our faithful companions had to wait back at the trailer. Even so we took a long long walk along the beach soaking up the feeling of sand and surf. A cold wind finally drove us back.

We went out to the beach at night once too. It was blacker than black and being cloudy there was nothing above either. The wind was ferocious and cutting cold and we had not thought to wear our Canadian winter gear so we didn’t last long. It was quite the experience, feeling utterly alone in the black. Eventually, refreshed and ready after four nights experiencing the coast, we left early morning, waving a cherry goodbye to the lovely Georgians, to arrive at our final destination in Florida, the lovely little coastal town of Panacea where our friends were waiting to welcome us.

Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama

We spent four days going from Texas to Florida. We were now in travel mode and out of tourist mode, since we had done this route before. Our preferred travel mode is to drive no more than 600 km (372miles) and often less for a day, stop for a meal at a restaurant with internet where we get caught up with the world, park at a nice campground for two nights, spend the day in between nights hiking, canoeing if suitable water is available, relaxing, walking the dogs, and writing. The break from the internet is so refreshing. We both get a lot of writing done on stop days. We restrict shopping to travel days combining shopping with washroom breaks. The two biggest expenses of travel are gas fill ups and the fee for campgrounds. This mode also drops our fill ups to every other day and since national forests cost us about $10 a stop with Dick’s senior Passport America so it is a cheap way to travel.  This relaxing mode of travel means we don’t get anywhere fast but we enjoy ourselves as we go.

Our first night was Louisiana just outside the picturesque city Alexandria at the picturesque small city of Alexandria. We camped in the Kincaid Lake Recreation area in the Kisatchie National Forest. The spot is an exceptionally nice transition zone between deciduous forests of oak, maple, sycamore and cypress swamp pine and slash pine forests. We took a long long walk along the beach area which was technically closed but no one chased us away.

From there, we headed to Mississippi. We soon found ourselves dealing with the reason I absolutely HATE Louisiana travel. I don’t know what they spend their money on down there but it is not their interstate. The I10 interstate was in horrible shape, just as I recalled it from last year, and that part of the trip consisted of bone rattling whomp-whomp-whomp-whomp for miles and miles punctuated by many bridges where the road did not match the bridges, leading to massive bangs, clangs and jerks. Add to that more truck traffic than I have ever seen on one place, including Boston, and it sure was a relief to get into Mississippi and hit smooth pavement. The only good thing about that trip was that by cutting across to Alexandria we avoided 75% of the nightmare drive we endured last trip.

We stopped at another National Forest campground, this one called Big Buloxi in the Desoto National Forest. Wow has the Gulfport area ever exploded with life. We saw new businesses popping up everywhere and not a single foreclosure sign. We had a very relaxing stay before heading on to Alabama.IMG_0934

Two years ago Dick and I had the pleasure of traveling Alabama from north to south and we have crossed it at three points. We love Alabama. Highways are great and there are many wonderful campgrounds and lovely sights to see. However we were not doing Alabama this trip. We drove the interstate towards Florida, took that big tunnel through Mobile for the third time and after a brief stop for lunch in Daphne Alabama (which is as pretty as it sounds) we left the interstate and started traveling Rt 98 along the coast. Rt 98 is one of the loveliest most picturesque routes into the USA with long stretches following the coastline and gorgeous views. It also passes through every little fishing village, town, and shopping centre in the coast full of busy people going about their lives. This means lots and lots of stretched with traffic and noise and 35mph zones and red lights. Still we felt very much at home. We crossed into Florida absorbing the sights of the panhandle with relish and relief. We had finally reached our southern winter home.

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TEXAS!

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Texas is a big state and we had to cross it to get where we were going. We have been through Texas before. Dick’s brother Dan lived in Fort Davis, Texas in a mountain range that reminded me of California and we visited him there in 2010. We drove the length of the panhandle and we made a stop in Lubbock to visit a colleague there before continuing to Fort Davis. Last year we began our trip south by driving to Galveston and we stayed there a week after a side trip close enough to Dallas to meet with colleagues there. So we had travelled the length of the west side and the middle from north to south. This time we had no agenda, we just need to get through Texas to the other side.

We left Albuquerque New Mexico and began the trip east on the I40 interstate. (Just in case you are wondering I40 east starts with some big steep hills climbing over 2000 feet to the mountain pass but we had no issues making the climb. The road was never a grade about about 6% and at every hill there were extra passing lanes so we could go as slowly as we need to. The total climb occurs over about 15 miles.) Our goal was Lake McLelland Recreation Area which is a National Forest campground. We found out about this spot by consulting the free and low cost campground website which has a wide variety of places suitable for both boon docking and staying cheaply. The site lists everything from welcoming Walmarts, to truck parking lots in remote areas where boon docking RVs are also welcome, to free municipal campgrounds, to all kinds of other campgrounds that charge $15 or less to stay.

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This part of Texas is what you expect if you’ve ever seen old cowboy movies. It is miles and miles of flat bushland and desert punctuated by the occasional oil rig. One of the new dominant items in the region of miles and miles and miles of huge windmills. I have never seen so many windmills. I have mixed feeling about windmills because they are considered “green energy” by those who accept the idea of anthropogenic climate change and the harm they think it will inflict on the earth. Yet these things are certain death to birds, bats and butterflies that get in their way. Their presence means that animals who have evolved to require wide sky no longer feel welcome. The windmills have seriously damaged populations of such creatures like the prairie grouse. The other thing that bothers me about windmills is the power they provide is intermittent. The day we were traveling there was no wind and these great structures were still as far as the eye could see. Because of this, windmills must have coal, natural gas or hydro electric back ups equalling their capacity for days when there is no wind. They are unreliable. This means windmills are generally not financially feasible without massive government subsidies and that means higher taxes, and higher utilities costs to consumers. To me they are great twirling white elephants, a passing fad, that will eventually result in rusting dead hulks spread all over the prairies when the fad passes.

We pulled into the Lake McLelland campground after dark. When we awoke in the morning it was a huge disappointment. The place was falling apart. The trees were twisted and mostly dead. There was a lot of blackened debris. The washrooms were perfectly clean around the toilets and the sinks but everywhere else there were bird nests, insect nests and other wildlife that had moved inside due to multiple chunks of missing roof and broken windows. There was also natural debris and garbage piled in every corner. When we started filling our tank to shower, our faucet spewed everywhere like a fire hydrant on loco weed. It was cracked on two sides down its length. The electric posts were similarly damaged. We walked around the campsite looking for a better spot. We like to stay two nights at each campground, one day to travel, one day to recover and enjoy the area. We could not find a site better than the one we were already in. Worse for us, I awoke wheezing and my husband had developed a nagging cough and eye irritation. While looking for a better spot, I spoke to one of the other campers who was a local from the area. He told me that the area had suffered devastating wildfires and severe storms that summer. I hope they fix the place up but we decided to move along that day instead of staying two nights.

 

Our second stop was at the Lake Arrowhead State Park. The drive was amazing. No more flat prairie; we now went up and down through gently rolling hills. The new campsite was a considerable improvement over Lake McClellan. The park was well kept and the bathrooms were clean although they could have used a coat of fresh paint. We saw a lot of big fat Texas size gophers, the big ones as big as our cat, which the locals called prairie dogs. They were comical and charming. They would pop up and chirp at us with their short tails up like a white tailed deer. If you approached them they vanish down their holes only to pop up behind us at another hole and chirp at us again. Misty tried several times to catch one but the prairie dogs easily defeated her. I could see they were playing with her and finding her gullibility amusing. Fred, being older and wiser, just ignored them. We saw several family groups consisting of a mom and half a dozen or more fat babies. These groups moved in big herds of dozens seeking grass further from their holes and if someone chirped everyone ran for home. I saw a big raptor who had a lot more luck than Misty and made off with a fat one for lunch.

We had hoped to go canoeing but it was far too windy. The lake was covered with white caps even in the quiet bay of the swim areas. Temperatures soared into the 80s (28C) so that we had to use the air conditioning in the trailer for a brief time in the afternoon. In addition to gophers and raptors there were many other birds. We saw familiar white pelicans from home, chickadees and thrashers in great numbers in addition to many other birds we were not familiar with in their winter plumage. The campground also had a small pump jack which had begun pumping oil before the establishment of the state park and it is still pumping today. It stank of sweet crude and thumped and bumped and made grinding noises around the clock so we were careful to pick a campsite far away among the prairie dogs. They were quiet at night.

We left the next morning for Bonham State park. We had planned to go farther but we had a flat tire just outside of Nocona, Texas. There was a lot of construction and it was slow going with frequent trips on the shoulder. We must have hit a nail or something. We were lucky because the tire did not blow out. It slowly deflated and then the tire flew off as we drove on the rim unaware. A farmer and his wife flagged us down and we stopped just inside town, astounded to see the damage we hadn’t felt.

Our only warning was I heard a funny metallic noise about a mile from Nocoma and I said to Dick “I hear something funny.”

He replied, “So close the window.”

I did and the noise went away so I stopped worrying about that funny noise until the farmer and his wife flagged us down. I must learn not to defer to Dick. Next time I hear a funny noise we stop and check.

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We called CAA from Nocoma and they had someone there within forty minutes to change the tire. The folks there were so kind and helpful that Nocoma is now my absolute favourite part of Texas. We had the best southern style pecan pie I ever had at the Texas BBQ just down the street from the hardware store across the street from where our injured rig was parked in the heart of Trump country.

 

A retired police officer gave Dick a lift to Mike’s, the tire store six blocks away on the other side of town. After the CAA guy changed our tire to our spare, the nice folks at Mike’s cleaned up and repaired the rim and mounted a new tire for us at a very modest charge. We were on way in under three hours. Still, we were behind schedule and Bonham was close enough that we were able to get there before sunset.

 

I am so glad we did! Bonham was a really nice state park and I was struck by how varied Texas is. In two stops we had come from a rather barren nasty desert to a lush green swamp cypress groves and mixed southern deciduous oaks, maples, magnolias and sycamores. A cold front came through so that the daytime high barely reached 40F (4C). In spite of the lovely little reservoir/lake we decided to forego canoeing again. This time it was just too cold. We did walk around the lake on the lovely trail. The highlight was when we came up to a big tree and we startled dozens, maybe even hundreds, of black vultures. We were right up close to them when they saw us and then took off. The thunder of their wings was wonderful. They are such huge birds and in a weird ugly way, absolutely magnificent.

We were going to go straight east to go over the top of Louisiana. The forecast was for more cold weather and even the possibility of snow. We decided to go south first instead of east. This also allowed us to travel through some new territory we hadn’t seen before. We got to travel the east Texas lakes and forest areas on our way to Brookeland Texas.

Our original plan was to stay at the Army Corps of Engineer campsite at Mill Creek. However we found out on arrival that during the winter they have no mechanism for accepting cash payments. You can only stay if you have reservations made in advance. We tried telephoning but could not get through to their reservation system and we did not have internet access. So we checked into the nearby Brookeland’s KOA. After days of no sewer hookup or internet we really appreciated having full hook ups and WIFI. We did our laundry and got all caught up on our email and planned more of our trip. Imagine our surprise to wake to a sunny warm day but snow everywhere. It was two inches of the kind of fast melting light snow we often see in October and April back home in Manitoba. For Texans and other southerners it was both a rare and wonderful delight and a nightmare. Folks down here don’t know how to drive in light snow. Schools were closed and children were out trying to make their first snowman and snow ball. The snow had quit where we were and the roads were already dry but road reports and weather forecast said that snow was going to fall all day in eastern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. After some internet searching and with the help of my absolute favourite websites RV Parks Review we found a National Forest campground in Louisiana not far from Alexandria outside the snow area. We left Texas heading east through the lovely heavily rolling hills east of Brookeland.

I came away with yet another impression of Texas. Texas is huge. Texas is varied in both climate and topography and demanding of those who live there. Most important, Texans are generally big hearted and ready to help strangers. It is a place rich in resources and one of its greatest resources is its people. It is as broad and big as the Texas twang they speak with. I could be happy living in Texas, especially in the south east where it is lush and green, even in winter. Of course, since I don’t tolerate heat over 80F (27C) willingly, I’d have to go somewhere else for summer, like Manitoba.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, Albuquerque NM

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One of the unused casings for the “fat man” bomb, identical to one dropped on Nagasaki. The history of the bomb is a combination of the best and worst the human mind can produce. The museum presented both sides. In addition to the work and ingenuity of the scientists and engineers, there were sobering pictures of how Nagasaki looked after the “fat man” land. 

We are not “museum” people but we did enjoy out trip to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. The museum covers the history of the atomic bomb from conception through to the end of the cold war. Included in the museum are fun exhibits designed to teach children basic concepts of physics. The children we saw ranged in age from toddlers to teens and they all seemed to be enjoying it.

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Display of how bits of black metal can be easily separated from beige coloured sand using a magnet. This was an example of the displays designed to demonstrate to children concepts such as how a centrifuge works. This was then linked to displays about how uranium is purified to make the compound needed for the bomb.

We met up with one of Dick’s old acquaintances, Jan Hauser, and he joined us. (If any of you have seen the movie Jurassic Park, you may recall the evil computer programmer who releases the dinosaurs. That character was based in part on Jan but he’s actually a very nice fellow who would not ever let dinosaurs loose.)  Dick and his friend had their own direct experiences being mentored by men mentioned in the museum or who knew people in the museum. This gave me a more personal perspective. It also made me understand how well done the museum is because my husband and his friend would spot something and then it would trigger memories and a discussion. More than once they would look at some old piece of equipment and laugh and share something about actually using it.

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Table of Elements Floor Map – My personal favourite

My personal favourite display was the entrance area had a huge floor tile set that was done up as the table of elements. Being a biochemistry major at one part in my career I had to know all these elements and seeing them spread on the floor was like encountering long lost old friends. Several volunteers were floating around who are always ready to provide more information. Many of them were veterans who lived the era and could provide fascinating stories. Another personal favourite was seeing the interior of a dismantled Jupiter ballistic missile with explanations of all the parts.

One other very nice feature is outside in the lot were a sampling of aeroplanes and other equipment used in the development of the bomb. Overall it was a fascinating trip into the past where we got to see the best of humanities ingenuity at play and the worst of our species in the creation of this most terrible of weapons. The museum was a modest $33 for all three of us to visit which included two senior discounts. We can recommend it! And bring kids.