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Andrew D. Hughes Blog

Spring is Here!

Long time no post. My health took quite a dip over the past couple of weeks, and spring “break” means longer work hours. I had a couple of collapse episodes, but at least I got to know our carpet better (I need to vacuum!).

We made a quick run to Joppa Preserve over the weekend, which was refreshing. Not too much going on just yet, but we did find this beautiful Graham’s Crayfish snake.

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And a feisty one at that.

Then there was this cool jumping spider chowing down on his greens like a good little boy.

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Look at those fangs! I believe this species is Phidippus audax, in which case this is the first time I’ve seen blue fangs in this species (They’re usually bright green!)

What’s your favorite thing about spring? Hope you’re finding time to enjoy it.

Rough Night

I forgot there was a 1:30 in the morning, but here we are! I haven’t been able to get to sleep tonight because of the pain.

Eight-and-a-half years ago I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Spending the majority of one’s life outdoors takes a toll in areas where ticks are prevalent. I’ve probably been bitten a thousand times over the years, and one of those little suckers changed my life.

The main symptom is debilitating fatigue. I honestly don’t remember what it’s like to feel rested. This is coupled with mild to severe muscle/ joint aches that occasionally keep me up at night.

The weirdest symptom of all is the cognitive impairment. When I first became infected, I would get lost driving home from work. Nowadays it mostly manifests in brain fog and problems with word recall. Not good when you’re learning two languages for grad school!

What frustrates me the most is how stupidly selective it is. Like, I can remember the names of every background alien in the Star Wars cantina, but I can’t remember what you told me two minutes ago.

It embarrasses me, and I try not to think about how frustrating I must be to live and work with.

Anyway, I made my favorite student laugh today, so I’d say I broke even. Now I’m thinking about that goofy grin and I think I can rest easy til the 7:30 alarm.

But just for good measure, won’t you join me in a quick smile? 🙂

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

My Valentine

Sorry for getting mushy, but it’s Valentine’s Day.

I remember the first day we “met.” I think I was 12. Mama told me to watch out for girls ’cause they’d break my heart. Dad told me that one day there’d be a special girl and I’d know her from the rest. Don’t waste your time with the other ones, he said.

That was when I started to pray for you, and to prepare my heart for you.

I remember the first day we met: 7th grade homeroom. I didn’t know it was you.  I was crawling around on the floor like a wall-eyed whistlepig, and you and Liz told me the men in white coats were coming for me.

We somehow kept in touch over the years. Internet friends, even if we never actually talked.

Our friends aged, and most of my buddies were going through girls like cheap commodities.

I refused to compromise, because you were out there, whoever you were.

I knew I wanted to love you in a way that I would never love anyone else–that you were simply worth fighting for. I wanted to make my life a sacrifice for the woman I eternally valued.

In the summer of 2009, we talked on the phone. You were in Jersey; I was in Georgia. Worlds apart. I still didn’t know it was you.

In the summer of 2012, back in New Jersey, I was going to have one of my big ol’ bonfires out at the sand quarry. I invited ten or eleven people.On a whim, I invited you. It would be a good way to reconnect.

For some strange reason, everyone declined. All except you. What are the odds? And when you saw my text, you left some poor loser at the bar, never to see him again! Because some things are just…right.

Don’t waste your time with the other ones, he said.

So you and I went swimming in the river instead, which turned out to be illegal, and we almost got arrested! What a great first date.

Then we went back to my  porch and waited for the “opossum” to show up.

There was no opossum.

But we sat there and talked until the sun came up, and I began to realize that you were the one I had been looking forward to my whole life.

In 2016, I had a catch in my throat when you came walking down the aisle, fire and ice, with a dignified grace that has inspired me every day since.

Thank you, Stephanie, for everything you are, and all that you contribute to the world. I love you, forever and always.

 

 

 

 

Goat Island Preserve–Dallas, TX

We took advantage of an unexpectedly warm February weekend by camping out at Goat Island Preserve in southeast Dallas County. This is an area I’ve explored a couple of times before and always find it a rewarding spot for nature.

Nighttime brings the preserve to life. We heard the sounds of coyotes, feral hogs, a raccoon, a duo of courting Great Horned Owls, and a handful of obnoxious roosters calling from nearby farms.

During the night, a warm front blew in, stirring up heavy winds that rattled the tent. In the moments before dawn, we were startled awake by an illegal hunter shooting off several rounds just yards away from our tent. He quietly disappeared as the sky lightened up.

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There are two main trails at the preserve– a higher levee road (where we camped), and a low road that floods seasonally but that runs south along the Trinity River for several miles and ends up at Belt Line Road.

We followed the low road at dawn–taking in the towering silhouettes of pecan trees, and appreciating the fact that this lower option was much more dry than it often becomes.

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Animal-wise, the woods were quiet after dawn. I did spot what appeared to be a black morph of a fox as it shot across the path, but it predictably vanished. The usual dawn chorus of birds sang from the forest– good numbers of kinglets, wrens, and sparrows working the trail edges, with occasional outbursts from feisty woodpeckers or the trilling of a gray treefrog.

The trail affords pleasant views of the Trinity.

Three miles down river, we reached the old lock and dam that was long abandoned here.

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Construction began around 1910. Apparently someone’s  pipe dream was to make Dallas a major port city, which necessitated damming the Trinity to make it accessible to barges. The US Corps of Engineers established several similar structures on the river but World War I interrupted the project. Eventually technology surpasses the best laid plans of mice and men, and improvements in rail capacity eliminated the need for this project to continue. The concrete foundation now stands forever abandoned.

I’ve heard that the water roars here when the levels are higher. I’m looking forward to coming back soon.

Rivers hold some of the most interesting stories. Have you explored long stretches of waterway? Let me know what you’re seeing out there!

Currently Reading…

behind

Behind the Burqa: Our Life in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom by”Sulima” and “Hala” as told to Batya Swift Yasgur (2002)

An inspiring story of two women who escaped a tragic and unfortunately common lifestyle in Afghanistan and who fled to the United States. An engaging read that includes a brief section on resources for helping the current refugee situation, as well as insight into just how difficult it can be to enter the United States even after one has landed here with the promise of freedom.

5/5

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Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele (2011)

The title of the book was taken from the story of a black man who realized he could dissuade white people’s fear by whistling classical music. Steele, a social psychologist, reveals how stereotypes perpetuate themselves and how the fear of being stereotyped affects human behavior. An interesting read, though a bit too reliant on controlled research experiments at the expense of offering the everyday examples and practical steps that I was hoping to find here.                                                                                                                                               4/5

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His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis (2005)

      A thorough look into both the political and personal life of our first president. This book does a notable job at humanizing the man who is often sequestered to the extreme of sainthood. Follows his journeys as an upstanding military figure to his days as a reluctant but successful national leader. Occasionally bogged in details, but a rewarding read nonetheless.

4/5

Stone’s Steakhouse–Luxembourg

My carnivorous instincts are kicking in strong today. If only we were 5,000 miles away in the beautiful country of Luxembourg!

Back in 2008, I toured Western Europe with a school group. Unfortunately, my memory cannot resolve whether this restaurant was in Ettelbruck or Vianden. I want to believe that it was Ettelbruck, but my hippocampus is tying this memory to our hike up to the Vianden castle–or was that just a different day? I hope someone out there can help me out.

Anyway, this place was fantastic. Feast your eyes on this slab of perfection:

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The waitstaff brings you a sizzling block of stone, and you yourself cook this mooing chunk of glory to your desired preference (medium rare, of course). And the sauces: OH LAWDY! Like the lotus flower of Greek mythology, they make you forget everything except the need to eat more. I’m confident that Maslow would’ve added a bottom level to his hierarchy just to accommodate this base instinct to shove this nonsense down your throat.

Is there anything like this in the states? I kinda think there would be an FDA violation or something here, but I would give up my right earlobe to eat at a place like this again.

Lemmon Lake- Dallas, TX

Lemmon Lake, tucked deep within the Joppa Preserve in southwest Dallas,  is a constantly fluctuating landscape. It fills and dries frequently based on cycles of rain and drought. When we visited last August, the lake was quickly drying but still maintained some large, shallow pools:

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Lemmon Lake, August 2016

Today provided a different scene, as most of the water had dried completely, providing for opportunities to locate some cool finds.

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Lemmon Lake, February 2017

My main target today was the bones of alligator gar, some fierce-looking fish that are common in this area but not always easy to find.

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On our way in, I spotted some type of mistletoe clumped high in the tree canopy. Thankfully my wife was there to sneak in a moment! 😉

Mistletoe is spread by perching birds that deposit its seeds either through their droppings or by wiping their bills on these host trees while they feed.

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Croix,the Italian greyhound, was not so enamored, and hurried us off to the lake bed, where he eagerly sniffed for treasure…

…And sure enough, he was the first to find our target species!

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This alligator gar did not survive the drought season, but made for a cool find.

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Look at those rows of teeth!

Another interesting discovery was the several large crayfish sprinkled around in the dirt. The metroplex also hosts many  terrestrial crayfish, which construct fascinating homes. I’ll have to show them to you soon.

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On the way out, we stumbled across a large and beautiful ribbon snake sunning in the path. A beautiful day for Dallas wildlife!

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 Also seen:

 Clouded Sulphur Butterfly

Jadera Beetle

Full Bird List:

Wood Duck, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Anerican Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Harris’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch

Ever explored a dried lake bed? Let me know what you’re seeing out there!

Song- Opossum Kickin’ (Raggy& Drew)

I spent the summer of ’09 in southern Georgia, where I met some fantastic folk who taught me about the sport known colloquially as ‘Possum Kickin’.

It inspired me to write this little rootin’ tootin’, foot-stompin’ bluegrass hootenanny of a song that just might get caught in your head if you don’t watch out.

Raggy backed me up with guitar, banjo, and extra vox. That’s me on lead vocals and harmonica. Enjoy!

*Disclaimer: I do not actually endorse kicking opossums, of course. But thought it was a catchy idea.

Lyrics:

Down yonder in the deep south

There’s a game that’s rarely played.

But when it is, the country kids, they all participate.

Ya gather ’round a bunch of folks and head out to a field.

Make sure you have your flashlight

And make sure your eyes are peeled.

‘Cause when a opossum comes along, festivities begin.

Git round him in a circle and ya take turns kicking him!

(Chorus)

‘Cause it’s opossum kickin’, the game that can’t go wrong

Opossum kickin’, you can do it all night long.

Opossum kickin’ by the light of the moon

Opossum kickin’, let’s go out again real soon!

Now some folks, they will frown on you and tell you that it’s mean

But opossum kickers tell ya that the beast don’t feel a thing.

It goes into a coma as you punt it through the air.

It may not be the nicest thing to do, but I don’t care,

(Chorus)

‘Cause it’s opossum kickin’, the game that can’t go wrong

Opossum kickin’, you can do it all night long.

Opossum kickin’ by the light of the moon

Opossum kickin’, let’s go out again real soon!

©Raggy & Drew, 2009. Lyrics by Andrew Hughes, Performed by Andrew Hughes and Tim Butler.

MAN vs.BEAR!!!

There are two types of animals in this world: ordinary animals, and bears. Ordinary animals are things like puppies and raccoons and Five-lined Skinks– critters that people generally needn’t fear or even consider. If you’re a puppy, your thoughts involve chasing butterflies in the cutest, dizziest circles. Raccoons are preoccupied with garbage cans and defying natural selection by carelessly pacing the freeway. Five-lined skinks, like all lizards, are busy philosophizing about the corruption of global oil companies and the inevitable collapse of an economy whose only measure of success, they insist, is a decline in the cost of fuel.

Indeed, most animals are, by and large, cut from the stock of peace and virtue, but the bear? The bear has only one thing on his mind: he wants to tear you to pieces, feast on your innards, and slurp up your soul for dessert.

That’s why Daniel and I were a bit…well, apprehensive…when we came face to face with one of these bloodthirsty killing machines in the mountains of Virginia. Shenandoah National Park, a land as beautiful as its name (“daughter of the stars,” is one interpretation),is a  roughly 200,000 acre jar of fresh air, and is the center hub of America’s black bear population.

Upon arrival, we met a friendly blonde park ranger who lived in a tiny wooden box between traffic lanes, from where she dispensed tickets that allowed cars to freely enter her domain. She told us there were three- or four-hundred bears roaming the area. This was thrilling to us.

But as night fell, the hope of seeing one became dangerously possible, and the old proverb about being careful what one wishes, rang its truest tone in our ears.

Daniel and I were on a quiet back road, lying in the bed of my little Nissan pickup. The skies threatened us with rain, so we had rigged an oversized tarp to drape across the length of the truck. This waterproofing mechanism also doubled as a mosquito net, and we were feeling completely secure beneath our plastic makeshift canopy–until it happened.

I was half asleep when the tarp began to rustle. It was soft at first, and then it began to pick up.

“Stop,” I scolded Daniel. Such a childish prank. I was almost asleep, too!

“That wasn’t me,” he responded with a gentle calm that embarrassed my defensive tone.

A weighty silence followed.

Years of knowing a person produces a natural discretion for the level of honesty present in voice tone.

I’ve known Daniel for over a decade, but this moment presented a lapse in discernment.  I waited for him to crack a chuckle.

Nothing.

“Are you serious?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“I thought it was you,” he replied.

“I promise you, it’s not me,” came my answer.

He took my word for it, proving again who is the better friend.

A lump formed in my throat as he confirmed his innocence:

“Well, it’s definitely not me.”

The tarp shook again, sharply, and then settled down.

I believed him this time. This was no prank.

Images of fiercely jagged claws came ripping into our imagination. That bear wanted something, and we were caught in the middle of its craving rampage.

“Ok,” we thought aloud, trying to remain calm, “Did we forget to put anything in the cab?”

No. After we had eaten our chicken teriyaki, we’d thoroughly washed the pot and bowls and locked them inside the truck.

The tarp jerked again, in a burst of sweeping fury, and then relaxed.

“Ok, I have the key,” I said. “We have one shot to jump out of here, rip the door open and get in the cab.”

“No way,” Daniel reasoned. “Time is no factor against an angry bear!”

“Then we’re dead.”

Hearts beating wildly, we threw off the tarp and prepared to meet our fate.

The rim of the covering rolled down and our eyes locked  into the foggy haze around us.

But everything was calm.

“That’s weird,” Daniel observed, his eyes studying the blackness.

No rustling, no retreating footsteps, and certainly no bear.

No, the night was as gentle as a wedding day.

We stared into space, trying to make sense of our situation.

Then a gust of the freshest mountain air scooped up the drooping edge of the tarp, rustled it fiercely, and quietly set it back down in place.

“Wow,” I said. “Quite a bear.”

The silence of humiliation followed, and we settled back down into place.

“What do you say we don’t tell anyone about this?” Daniel suggested.

“I think that’s a great idea,” I said. “Mum’s the word.”

But a good story’s a good story, and I never claimed to be the loyal friend.

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