Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

November was a busy month for us. John took two nice deer at his lease in Mason. Then Brian, his wife Debi, and Gage, Myles and Mallory joined us at the farm for the Thanksgiving holidays. Gage has taken deer the past two years, but this time it was Brian's turn to down a nice doe. After processing, their family took home some 75 pounds of venison for their freezer.

On Friday, Debi's mom, Eleene and husband Wamon arrived to spend the day, along with Debi's borther and her sister and family. With 7 kids and 6 dogs whizzing through the yard, we enjoyed a lively visit and a fine send-off to the holiday season.

In November and early December, we also spent quite a bit of time preparing for the sale of Mother's home. For you who have never visited Hamilton, here are several photos of the home where I grew up. It is set on a one-acre lot, and we were surrounded by relatives. The property was originally part of a tract owned by my paternal grandparents. In the 1930s, they divided it into lots which they gave to their children. So, my brother and I grew up surrounded by our cousins and never lonely or at a loss for something to do.

Construction on the home began shortly after my parents married in 1932, and it was enlarged over the years as my brother and I arrived and improvements were made. My parents also put in a series of rock walls, an outdoor patio and fireplace. Many of my classmates will remember all the parties held in that big back yard and all the fun we had.

It has been hard to pack up my childhood and dispose of my mother's remaining possessions that wouldn't fit in the homes of her children and grandchildren. We won't pack up our memories, though. Those remain fresh and will continue to be so as the family shares stories of those wonderful years.

As we approach the end of 2011, we think of all our friends and wish one and all a Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years. The Bagley Pack, Nickie, Kota and Colt, join us in saying, "May your stockings be filled with Wonderful Things!"

Monday, December 19, 2011

Back to Reality

We left East Texas on October 28, bound for home by way of Fort Worth. On the way, we saw some spectacular fall color. These flame sumac are just one example. Set against the dark green of the pine trees, they have a neon-like luminance.

By evening we were camped just outside Fort Worth at Lake Worth RV Ranch. The location is convenient to our relatives' homes, and the park is friendly, with its own type of unique charm. Here is the view out our rear window. We were lucky to have a few hours to experience the roar of the big crane moving scrap from one pile to another and loading it onto trucks for transport.

While in Fort Worth, we had a chance to visit with my cousin Kathy and her husband Eric.  I also had a chance to indulge in two of my "Favorite Things," the love of photography and of horses.  Kathy and I spent Saturday morning photographing Kathy's Dutch warmblood, "Radius," and Eric's quarter horse, "Cow Savvy." Here are photos of the two handsome boys. 

After Kathy put Radius through his paces in the arena, we took a short trail ride around the property.

Radius took the opportunity to snatch a mouthful of fresh, green, grass before returning to his paddock.

We left early on Sunday, intending to be back in Austin by afternoon. Unfortunately, leaving Fort Worth we experienced our only (thankfully) serious equipment-related problem of the trip. Just 100 yards before exiting to take IH 35 southbound, an air hose between the Volvo and the RV disconnected, activating the trailer brakes and blowing out a tire on the fifth wheel. Stranded in the middle of the freeway with vehicles whizzing by on both sides, we called 911 for assistance. We were soon joined by two of Fort Worth's Finest. The very helpful officers diverted traffic long enough for us to exit the freeway and move into an adjacent parking lot where the tire could be changed.

We were underway after a couple of hours. However, since we did not want to return and back into our parking spot after dark, we elected to spend the night in the Lake Waco Corps of Engineers Park. After a relaxing evening and a brisk walk on Monday morning, we returned to Austin with no further problems.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Little Texas Towns -- Jefferson

One of the things East Texas does well is small towns. Each seems to have a unique character all its own. Our campground is just outside Jefferson, which has plenty of historic significance. Located on Big Cypress Bayou just upstream of Caddo Lake, Jefferson played an important part in Texas' history. In the mid-1800s, Jefferson was the largest inland port in Texas with a population of about 33,000. The first artificial ice in the US was manufactured in Jefferson between 1869 and 1874. A furnace and smelting operation built by George W. Kelly produced the famous Kelly Blue Plow in 1860. And, during the Civil War, a Jefferson packing plant produced meat for the Confederate Army and shipped munitions and other goods.

We were lucky to be in the area for the annual "Taste of Jefferson." We bought tickets, and were treated to a sampling of signature dishes from a number of Jefferson's restaurants. We arrived early and avoided much standing-in-line for our lunch. The photo above shows the street with its colorful vendors and outdoor dining spots.

And here are Miss Jefferson 2011 and Miss Teen Jefferson taking a break in front of the Jefferson General Store.

The General Store is just that....something for everyone and an old-fashioned soda fountain with real Blue Bell Ice Cream. We enjoyed browsing, and a treat from the soda fountain as well.

There are a number of good restaurants in Jefferson. We had barbecue for lunch one day, then another time we had almost-too-big-for-your-mouth 'burgers at The Hamburger Store. Not only are the 'burgers and sides great, the interior is decorated by movie posters featuring a number of our favorite "oldies but goodies" stars.

The interior walls are also covered in $1.00 bills. They even hang from the ceiling. Patrons autograph and date them, then staple them to the walls. The tradition started several years ago when diners began contributing them to assist evacuees after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, and has continued.

Another not-to-be-missed Jefferson establishment is Beauty and the Book, "the only combination beauty shop and book store in the country and maybe even in the world." Opened in 2000 by Kathy L. Patrick, it features anything the lady could want in terms of salon services and a lot more. Kathy says that "Books saved my life and I want to share them." She is the founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs. Over 500 strong, the book club members number in the thousands. Each January, the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs host a "Girlfriends Weekend" where prominent authors come to Jefferson to share their thoughts and read from their novels.

Kathy's passion is the promotion of literacy. She has appeared on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson and has had her face flashed across the screen on The Oprah Winfry Show. She and the Pulpwood Queens have also been featured in a number of publications.

A trip to Beauty and the Book for a cut and curl or to select a book is mandatory if you're in Jefferson. And if you want to know the full story of Beauty and the Book, pick up a copy of The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life by Kathy L. Patrick.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Piney Woods

After leaving Rusk, we continued north to Jefferson, Texas. For the past week-and-a-half we have camped in the Piney Woods at Brushy Creek Park on Lake O' The Pines. Managed by the Corps of Engineers, Lake O' The Pines is a 19,780-acre surface-area lake located nine miles west of Jefferson. Here are views from our campsite. Notice the whitecaps on the lake, brought by a cold front that came through on Tuesday. We are loving the cooler temperatures, but not so much the 30 mph winds!

We are really enjoying this park. The sites are large and well-spaced, and the park roads are paved as well as the RV parking areas. There are miles of shoreline, so we had no trouble finding a secluded spot where the dogs could play in the lake.

All the dogs enjoy the water, but Colt especially loves to swim. He will swim out 60-70 yards, then turn and swim parallel to the shore until he gets tired or we call him back. We were somewhat concerned the first time he did it, but he seems to know his limits. Here is what he looks like soaking wet!

The park also has plenty of hiking trails where we can all get our exercise. We give the dogs some off-leash time each day, either with or without packs. (Like children, they sleep better when they're tired....and so do we!)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tall Timber

We finally got out of town a week or so ago, bound north and east to the Piney Woods of Texas. Our first stop was in Rusk, TX, where we spent three nights at the Rusk KOA. For you travelers with dogs, this is a great spot. The park is large, clean, and has some short hiking trails alongside the RV parking area. There are also a couple of nice large pastures that are great for off-leash runs, playing ball, etc., as you can see.

We started our trip in Rusk in order to inspect a 600-acre tract of land along the Angelina River that has been in John's family for over eighty years. 

There are magnificent tall pine trees, hardwoods and the Bagley family hunting camp, shown below.

We took a long walk around the property on Thursday morning.  The dogs wore their packs so we would have water bottles available. (They also usually stay closer to us because they know they are "working" when they are wearing their packs.  You notice I said usually!) Here is a photo of them on our walk.  (Notice that John is enforcing usually.)

Like the rest of the State, East Texas has been hard-hit by the drought. Cherokee County (where Rusk is located) normally receives 45 inches of rain per year.  This year it has so far had only a little over 18 inches.  Trees of all varieties have died, or their leaves have turned brown or fallen prematurely.  Burn bans are in effect, and all outdoor fires are prohibited. 

There was a serious forest fire in this area in September, but fortunately only about three acres of the family property were affected.   (John says this is the first time there has been a forest fire on this property since the Bagley family has owned it.)  This fire started on an adjacent property near another hunting camp, and before it was contained it had traveled for seven miles and burned over $7 million worth of timber. You can see the fire damage on the trees in this photo.

The adjacent property was more severely impacted, and when we were there a "salvage cut" was in progress. Because the trees were killed by the fire, they were being cut so that the forest can be replanted in the spring.

It was a sobering sight, and unfortunately this wasn't the first or the last evidence of fire damage that we've seen on this trip.  We certainly won't complain about not being able to roast hotdogs or have a campfire when a stray spark can do such damage.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Picking Up The Pieces

Life for us is slowly returning to normal. The weekend after Mother's funeral, my Hamilton High School class celebrated its 50th Reunion. I'm sure you'll agree that we all look pretty good for a bunch of old farts.

The makeup of the Bagley Pack has changed once again. As you know, we lost our Lucky Dog in August. Nickie and Kota seemed a little lost without her;  I guess it's hard to have a "pack" with only two dogs. As usual, God had an answer to our problem. Several months ago, the woman who teaches Nickie and me how to herd sheep mentioned that one of her border collies needed a home. At the time, we didn't have room for another dog in our lives. However, after losing Lucky Dog we decided to consider adding another dog to our family. We brought Colt, a five-year-old border collie, home to visit for a few weeks. He was a herding champion, but is now officially retired. He gets along well with Nickie and Kota, and has now joined the Bagley Pack. Here is a photo of Colt on his first weekend at the farm, and playing tug-the-stick with Kota.

We were glad to be in Austin for the month of September, because it meant we could attend a couple of our grandson's junior high football games. Here are some photos of Gage in his Lamar Dawgs uniforn. One getting ready to defend, defending, carrying the ball and taking a break on the sidelines. They won last week's game 20-0 -- Go Dawgs!


Monday, October 17, 2011

In Memorium

I haven't posted to our blog since July. Unfortunately, the reasons why aren't happy ones.  John and I had planned to embark on another RV adventure in July or early August. However, my mother had not been well and we postponed our departure.  In late July, Mother fell and had to be hospitalized for several days. Following that, she went to a nursing facility for rehabilitation therapy in hopes that she could return to her home. 
On August 10, the nursing facility notified us that Mother was having breathing difficulties and had been transferred back to the hospital. I rushed to Hamilton to be with her.  I was joined by my brother and his wife and later by other family members. We arrived to find Mother's condition improving, and on Thursday she was able to receive visitors and even laugh and joke with them. We were very encouraged, and her doctor made plans to transfer her back to the nursing facility on Friday. However, early Friday morning we received a call that Mother's condition had again deteriorated and we hurried to her bedside. On Saturday afternoon, during a gentle rain, she quietly passed away.

Some of you knew my mother, but many did not. I include here a recent photo of her with her grandson, Brian, and great-grandson, Gage.  Words cannot do justice to her memory.  We will miss her greatly, but her spirit will always be with us and she will continue to be a strong influence on all her family.  Born in 1912, she came of age during the great depression, and with my father exemplified what is now being called "The Greatest Generation." They were married for over 70 years before he passed away in 2003.  Mother was the family matriarch in the best sense of the word, always genuinely concerned and ready with loving support and thoughtful advice whenever needed. 

Mother passed away on Saturday, August 13. On Sunday morning I awoke and went outside just at sunrise. In the east, I saw these lovely clouds. I don't think it's any accident that they look like angel wings.  

Sadly, my mother's passing was not our only loss this summer.  While Mother was in the nursing facility, our Lucky Dog lost her appetite and clearly was not herself.  Several days later, she suffered what we thought was a stroke, but which was later diagnosed as a very aggressive brain tumor. The tumor's effects were devastating, and on Wednesday, August 10, we made the decision to let her go. 

Lucky Dog was the Bagley Pack leader and a grand old lady. She enriched our lives immeasurably during the ten years we had with her. She came into our lives as a stray in the late spring of 2001 and graced us with her loyalty and devotion every day of her life.  When Feathers and Nickie joined our family in 2006, she helped us to train them in appropriate Bagley Dog behavior.  She did the same for Dakota last fall after Feathers' death.  Some of our favorite images of her follow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This & That

We've been busy since April and the time has really flown! We took a few days to get Spearhead Ribeye Dude settled in at the farm once he arrived in late May. As far as we can tell, he likes his new harem and seems very content. We hope the spring will bring 10 new little "Black Baldies" as Angus-Hereford cross cattle are called.

Since leaving Rockport/Fulton, we have continued our birdwatching at the farm and in Austin. Here are two images of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that we have been watching as he/she matured and took flight. The first was taken on May 30 and the second on June 9.  You can see the difference between the "tennis ball head" in the first and the more mature look of the second.  This bird appears quite large, so we suspect it's a "she," since they are larger than the males.

We watched the parent birds build their nest high in a big hackberry tree at the farm, then later saw Mother Hawk peeping over the edge of the nest while she sat on her eggs. Normally our Red-tails raise two babies, but this time only one appeared. We don't know if only one hatched, or if perhaps this is a young pair and were only able to provide enough food for one chick. At any rate, we are thrilled that our youngster has now taken flight and can often be seen flying from tree to tree and calling peee...peee...peee (translate feeeed me, feeeeed me!).

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is the most abundant and wide-spread of the large buteo hawks. They have a wingspan of 4-4.5 feet and bulky bodies. They feed primarily on rodents, but I recently saw an adult bringing a 2-3 foot snake back to the nest for her young. Regardless, they do much more good than harm, and we are pleased to have them nesting at the farm.

The drought is severe not only at the farm in Hamilton County, but in Austin as well. Many plants that normally support our resident and migrant songbirds have produced few seeds to nourish them. Water is also scarce. We have tried to supplement their food sources with our backyard feeders and water sources, and have been rewarded with many visitors. Here is a  photo of a male Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). 

He and his family are frequent visitors, as are several families of Lesser Goldfinch and various sparrow species. And, of course, we have an abundance of White-winged Dove and Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis).

I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago when I discovered this nest of baby cardinals on our front balcony. 

Unfortunately, within a couple of days they were discovered...most likely by Blue Jays, and disappeared.  Mother Nature can be harsh, but I will hope the Cardinals have better luck if they nest here again next year.