Tag Archives: journal

Wandering: Into the Earth and Out Again.

I am wandering with slight aim. I have a goal of Dallas but beyond that, I am uncertain. To that end, after Fort Davis, I simply headed east on I-10 and waited for the mood to strike.

Years before, my then-husband had mollified me with an overnight stay in Sonora, TX where we ventured up a small hiking trail — supposedly the hideout of the Sam & Tom Ketchum gang at some point. While I had little interest in revisiting the hike or the memory it stirred, I thought the town a fair enough place to pull up for the night and contacted the Caverns of Sonora. “First come, first serve,” said the chipper young man on the phone (who would later be our competent and pleasant tour guide).

The Caverns sit atop the fringe of the rolling, rocky Hill Country terrain about eight miles out from Sonora and are well-maintained with friendly atmosphere and personnel. This “attraction” is both a lovely peek into the underground world of the Texas Hill Country and a beautiful camping spot.

The Caverns of Sonora has facilities for campers of all sorts: from tent campers to small travel trailers like mine to fifth wheels and Class A buses. If you can drive it or haul it in, it seems you can set it up at the Caverns and the price is reasonable for water, electricity, showers, and restrooms if you need them. A well-stocked gift shop is on the premises with clothing, jewelry, and geological trinkets of all sorts. I felt utterly at home.

The view from Blanche at The Caverns at Sonora

What I found there on the hilltop was a beautiful, wide expanse at the mercy of winter winds. The blanket of night was almost as dark as the mountains but with a near-180° view of the stars. The Milky Way shimmered and a new friend reminded me of constellations I thought I had long since forgotten. I had the company of small oaks and juniper and we walked on soft grasses that kept Sammy free of foxtails and goat’s head burrs. And of course, I enjoyed the warm, humid depths of the caverns that surprised and impressed with their beauty and variety.

What I also found there, beyond the beauty of the caverns and the surrounding countryside, was a friend, several days of peace, “down time” to drink beer and chatter incessantly, and solid sleep after the dark restless night in the mountains.

It was difficult to leave, especially with only a vague idea of where I was going next and for how long. I could imagine myself there for days, but I could feel myself sliding back into too much comfort again. Back into too much reliance on the kindness of others to make me feel safe emotionally such that I would not move forward. How easy it is for me to make that mistake!

On day three, the wind let up and in 19°F weather, I packed up Blanche, Betty, and Sam, bundled myself in my coat, and said one last, difficult goodbye.

It was both a relief and sadness to pull away from the Caverns. Like most places I visit, I plan to wander back if my time on earth allows. For now, the niggling discomfort of the road is also odd reassurance I am on the right path.

Heading Northeast

Leaving Davis Mountains: Arriving at a New Piece of Self.

I chose to drive south from my sad little boondocking grounds and make the U to Fort Davis. South of I-10 and the McDonald observatory. The pretty little Texas town has a sweet historical Main Street with easy parking for my truck and trailer — at least in winter. Spring or summer tourism may be another matter as visitors seek the spring bird migration or the observatory.

The drive from my hideaway in the mountains to Fort Davis was pleasant: a quick dip downhill to run the foothills of the old volcanic formations and look out over the high desert that stretches toward the US-Mexico border followed by a deep U-turn northward back into the mountains and a steady 15-mile climb to Fort Davis.

Leaving the little burg was something else. I was not prepared for the emotions I experienced. Surely there are more stunning sights in this country and in the world, but for the little girl in me that had been cooped up in some version of suburbia for at least the last 20 years, rounding each bend was joyous. I called my daughter to check in at one point and as I came around a turn to be met with great, dark pillars of volcanic rock marching toward the road like an army crammed together at the fortress gates, I lost my words and began to cry.

Davis Mountains columns. A less spectacular view where I wouldn’t get run over.

My daughter said I sounded like her grandmother. That added to my joy. I will never be my mom but if I can regain some part of myself that is in any way reflective of her grace, I have made progress in my life.

I will never grasp how someone can spend their life hardly leaving their own town or county. I will never understand the reluctance to stop and see roadside beauty and instead simply race by it at 80 mph. One doesn’t have to take the extreme journey of buying a camper or van, driving across the country, and boondocking. But given an opportunity to witness beauty and variety first hand, why not take it? More so, why be afraid of what you may glean from it?

There is so much to be seen in this world that lies beyond our driver’s side window. So much that lies beyond our easy chair. If our only way to get there is television, that’s something. I would never judge a hardworking life that makes one feel they must stay in place because of economics. But, if one is driving from point A to point B, consider not worrying so much about the destination and focus more on the country rolling under your tires and the people that populate it.

I’m thankful I opted for the mild anxiety of driving out of my way and into unknown territory when I pulled away from that little splotch of gravel on the side of the mountain road. I will never forget the elation and tears from seeing those stunning columns.

I hope to see them again in spring and perhaps the other people drawn to them. Winter travel is solitary and starkly beautiful and I am gaining much emotional and spiritual ground with each mile. Still, I look forward to more social milieus.

When my husband and I bought our first home, it was with the conviction that it was our last home. “This is where I will grow old with him and die,” I told myself.

When the economic growth of the area accelerated and he decided he wanted to sell and move, I was devastated. After a childhood of upheaval, I sought stability and needed to believe my home could remain an island of such in the madness growing around me. In time, I realized it could not and accepted the move.

Our new home, twenty miles south and three hundred square feet smaller, was just a house:  nice enough, comfortable, but not that space that said, “Forever.” It was, however, an island. It sat on one of the highest lots in the neighborhood and when Hurricane Harvey struck last fall, the water crept up to the curb but never truly threatened us.

It was quiet, as well. Despite being in a small city that is embedded in the Greater Houston area, in fall and spring, when the air conditioning doesn’t run, it’s almost too quiet to sleep. I often found myself listening anxiously to my heartbeat in the early morning hours.

It was a social island as well. If one has children in such a neighborhood, one socializes. If one is “older” and beyond child-bearing years (like we are), one just smiles and says hello or maybe occasionally shares a dog anecdote or two.

If one were to ask me to describe my dream home, it would not have been this little house near the bayou.

Ah—but the bayou.

bayoutree1a

I do love it. It is called a creek, but it is a bayou. You can call it a creek and you can even call it by its official name, Clear Creek, to make you feel better about the breen, silty flow that eases and oozes its way ever so lazily around Brazoria and Galveston county—but it’s a bayou.

I love it, in all its bayouness, along with the rest of this sometimes perilous swampland that is Southeast Texas. I love the birds, bats, bugs, and plants that take refuge in it. I love the year-round greenery, the mild winters, the Gulf breezes that smell of salt cedar and seafoam on stormy days. I love the signs warning of alligators and other dangers in the parks.

gators2

And yet we have left the bayou behind in recent weeks. We’ve said goodbye to that reliable little house where Harvey tried but failed to harm us.

We have moved to where the bayous knit together and trail into the sea. We have landed on another island, one of salt marsh and seagulls and “Oh my God! But what about Global Warming?!” Now, I sleep soundly in a house that I truly love, listening to wave susurrations. I truly hope this will be my last home, but I can accept that it may not because my life has simply never been about permanence.

The bayou remains within reach. In truth, there is a shadowy bayou just up the road—just not “my” bayou. I am not far from Texas live oak, hackberry, chip-chipping cardinals, and complaining crows. There are new plants and birds to meet there as well. Perhaps I will leave this space here for a little “new bayou” chatter.

Nonetheless, watch this space for a new page link; this new island is just as chatty.

DSC04699-1

Hurricane Harvey is on his way. Oh, he was supposed to be just a little tropical storm. A “rain event.” Then he dawdled a bit last night and this morning. Now he’s a full-on hurricane and he’ll be a bigger hurricane when he comes onto the Texas coast. The only questions are how big and where?

So, I’m in pain. In itself, no surprise. It goes with the territory. Anxiety. Shifting isobars. Tensing muscles. Will we get five inches of rain or forty? Will the dog go outside and do his business over the coming five days (predicted minimum time that Harvey will be disrupting life) or will I have an overgrown Chihuahua that requires some sort of makeshift “potty”? Will the power hold up in both houses? Does it matter? Should I be complaining when I am so privileged that I can use the phrase “both houses”? (Oh, I can answer that one. Hell, no.)

When Hurricane Ike barreled through in 2008, I wasn’t really frightened. It was unsettling to hear the house pop and bend and to hear the occasional branch or roof tile hit the metal covers on the windows. But it wasn’t frightening. However, when the storm cleared and the radio began giving us reports of what was left in Ike’s wake (we had no power so there was no television to look at), sadness hit. We were safe. My family and close friends were safe. The word of the destruction in Galveston, High Island, Crystal Beach, Surfside, and other nearby areas was agonizing. As painful as it was to hear, I could only I imagine how horrible it was to experience. I listened to the stories and thought, “God, those poor people.”

And then, eight years later, my husband and I bought a beach house.

Eh?

Are we insane?

Is memory that short?

We can see, every time we walk the beach at Surfside, the remnants of Ike: Two homes still in the water, half gone, pilings slowly being chewed away by the surf, gaping holes in the flooring overhead. You can see drapery still fluttering in the windows. Nine years later. Further down the beach, homes that were inland with private docks or dune crossovers are now on the beach. Yet, further still, the beach grew, sand deposited by the storm, turning first row homes into third row. Because that’s what Nature does. She takes here, gives there and then, quite possibly switches it all back around again. On our many visits to this lovely little village over several years of vacations, we looked at these things and thought how hard it must be to live through such events. We asked ourselves if we could stand the trauma. We asked ourselves if we would rebuild if we were crazy enough to have a beach house. We told ourselves over and over that we would not own a beach house. One, it was not within our reach and two, it was too much risk.

But the thing about places like this village. Places like lakes in the woods and towns on mountainsides. They hook you. They’re like drugs. You keep going back and back and they soak into your soul. Pretty soon you find yourself recalling the scent of the town when you are a hundred miles away. A seashell in a magazine advertisement takes you drifting back. A woman in the grocery store makes you think of the proprietress of the burger joint in the village. The voice of a gull on the wing, blown inland on a storm, puts an ache in your heart. You must have your beach fix, so you return.

You return until returning isn’t enough and all those concerns: Can we afford it? What about the drive? What about the upkeep? What about the septic system? You said you hate septic. What about this and that? What about—Hurricanes? All that just falls away and you succumb.

So, I’m sitting here, in pain, crying, not really ready for what Harvey might bring, but cautiously optimistic that he will not do too much damage since he won’t be a direct hit at hurricane strength (they say). I’m also realistic, he won’t be a non-event. He won’t be nothing. He may do more damage at my inland home than at the beach because he promises days of rain. He will likely do more damage down the coast and I am fearful for people in his path there.

But after sixteen months of weekends and vacations with the waves playing their songs through our bedroom window, I know can’t escape—maybe not ever.

We shall see. Get back with me in about a week or so.IMG_0890 (Edited)

Fun with paper samples from Rhodia Drive

Recently, Rhodia Drive gave me the opportunity to play with papers by Clairefontaine and G. Lalo, two French stationers whose papers are imported by Exaclair, Inc.  Clairefontaine makes a variety of notebooks and notepads as well as “Triomphe” stationery. G. Lalo makes high quality stationery for correspondence.

GraF it sketch paper.

Smooth but matte texture. Disclaimer number one: I am not an artist. I’ve been playing around with sketching people, dogs, and trees but I won’t frighten you with the results here. Still, I’ve developed a little feel for how graphite feels on sketch paper v. writing paper so I think I can speak to this a little.

Clairefontaine designed GraF it to take both ink and pencil. It is less toothy than the Strathmore I used for comparison (my only other sketch paper) so it did feel as if it didn’t want to take the graphite as readily as the Strathmore.* There is some difference in the lead darkness on one v. the other (Graf it is lighter) although the paper is whiter than the Strathmore. However, the GraF it erased better and didn’t leave as much of a scar from repeated erasing compared to the Strathmore. Both smudged easily (intentionally) although it seemed to me GraF it smudged more uniformly. Whether this is an advantage or not, I don’t know. I’m sure it is because the paper is smoother overall.

It’s important how it handles ink, of course, and it does quite well. Disclaimer number two: I like smooth paper but I like toothy paper, too. What I care about with paper is, will it stand up to my ink and my way of writing?

Clairefontaine GraF it

GraF it paper showing pencil marks, erasure, and ink appearance.

The image above shows that I used several nib types and several ink brands on the GraF it. All performed very well with no bleed-through, no feathering, and minimal show-through. As I said, the paper is matte and slightly toothy for sketching purposes but it is still fairly smooth as opposed to something like laid paper (see G. Lalo below). You’ll feel it. Your pen won’t skate like it’s oiled, but it won’t be an unpleasant writing experience.

I don’t care for using pencil on the ultra-smooth paper of CF’s other notebooks (or similar papers). It’s messy and hard to control. But, I have wanted a journal I could draw in with graphite and colored pencil and fill with ink ramblings to my heart’s content. GraF it comes as blank and dot grid notepads. I was happy to learn that the same paper appears to be in their “Crok book” notebooks. On may way to find a seller, NOW!

*Below is the same test written on the Strathmore sketch paper (Recycled sketch paper 400 Series) and more of my hideous handwriting. Strathmore is not designed for fountain pen ink so you can see the ink spread and slight feathering. Not bad considering.

Strathmore sketch paper. Pencil, erasure, and ink test.

Strathmore sketch paper. Pencil, erasure, and ink test.

Clairefontaine Triomphe Blank 90g

This is CF’s correspondence paper. I’ve used the same paper but lined. It is wonderfully smooth, there’s no getting around that. I don’t know if it is exactly like their notebooks and notepads. To me, it seems a little more tolerant of my ultra-smooth nibs; they don’t seem to skate so easily. I could be imagining that. It also seems to show through a little but that could simply be that I’m not accustomed to using blank paper. Their standard notebooks are 90g just like the Triomphe paper. Whatever the case, if you want smooth paper for writing letters, this is an excellent choice and is one of my favorites. A lined version is available, as well. There is the one little problem with super-smooth paper like this: dry time. If you use a very wet pen, or a very goopy ballpoint (for shame!) you will get some ugly smearing if you don’t allow the ink to dry a few seconds. Well, in the case of the goopy ballpoint, you’re on your own. You’ll see at the end that I did smear tests for all three papers.

Clairefontaine Triomphe. Top quote in wet writing medium nib, bottom quote, dry XXXF nib. Some show-through visible from other side (wet writer, dark ink).

Clairefontaine Triomphe. Top quote in wet writing medium nib, bottom quote, dry XXXF nib. Some show-through visible from other side (wet writer, dark ink).

G. Lalo Verge de France

A lot of fountain pen users balk at laid paper but I’m not one of them. I love the stuff and I particularly love to use a very fine nib on it. Oddly enough, using a fat, smooth nib makes it feel more unpleasant. Better to tip toe through rocks than walk with flat bare feet on top of them. It’s more than that, however. I actually like the tactile feedback of the sharp nib on the laid lines (the narrow ridges on the paper). It’s part of the process. I equate it with the way many people prefer old mechanical keyboards over the membrane keyboards. I’ve tried to capture the lines in the picture here.

G. Lalo laid lines

Laid lines of G. Lalo Verge de France. The vertical lines are chain lines and do not affect texture.

Laid lines of G. Lalo Verge de france. The Vertical lines are chain lines and do not affect texture.

It’s entirely personal preference and if you know that your pens can only tolerate smooth or glassy surfaces, Verge de France isn’t for you.

From an inky point of view, this paper was tiny bit picky. I was sent “White” which looked distinctly “cream” to my eye. Nice color but I’d never call it white. You won’t be able to tell from the pictures that the Noodler’s Apache Sunset is fainter and shows less shading on the G. Lalo than on the other papers. The darker inks were fine. My Violet Vote ink, which tends to write rather wet, almost seemed to feather. It’s not as noticeable after the fact but was when I was writing.

I wrote at length on the back of the G. Lalo just to confirm my preference for fine nibs and the Violet Vote’s behavior. Yup.

G. Lalo Verge de France

G. Lalo Verge de France ink test. Inks used, top to bottom: Noodler’s Apache Sunset, Diamine Mediterranean, Iroshizuku Yama Budo, Noodler’s Bulletproof Violet Vote, Diamine Umber.

Last image. The smear test. They all did about the same. I was surprised that the Verge de France, with its texture, smeared as much as it did. But all were good at 20 seconds. The ink is Diamine Umber in a custom XXXF nib. Umber is not known for smearing. I consider it a middle-of-the-road ink, neither too saturated nor too weak.

Smear test of three papers.

Smear test of three papers.

So, wrapping up. European paper makers come through with great stuff. No big surprise there. Is this Big Box, grade-school priced stuff? No. They aren’t ridiculously expensive either. All three are worth giving a go if you love to write letters and/or draw.

Disclaimer number three: Other than three sheets of paper to play with and the fun time writing this, I get diddly squat from Rhodia Drive or Exaclair without paying for it. This little blog entry is uncompensated except by the sheer enjoyment of the process.