Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THE TURNING OF THE SEASONS


It's now autumn.  Somehow, imperceptibly, the seasons have turned through almost a full year since I've returned to San Antonio.  Right on cue, the slightest hint of a chill is coming into the days and nights.  Of course, in Texas that means the high temperatures are in the 90's instead of the 100's.

Yet somehow the trees know to begin turning into the fall colors.  Perhaps because of the shorter days, perhaps because of the drought.  For whatever reason, the change is welcome.

Now I've been back in San Antonio longer than in Boquete.  While time moved ever so slowly there, here it is whizzing by at a dizzying pace, almost too fast for me to take everything in.

At first there was severe reverse culture shock.  Having been without a car for the first two months, I rode the bus just for essential trips and was oblivious to the sprawling suburbs that had sprung up in my 20-year absence.

Since I've had my old car back, I've enjoyed riding around and re-discovering familiar parts of town.  Some I'm just now exploring for the first time.  It's wonderful.

San Antonio has changed a lot during the 20 years I was away.  But the essential things that drew me back are still here.  Beautiful scenery punctuated by limestone outcroppings, many sunny days, fascinating history, great Tex-Mex food, and friendly people.  Did I mention the great food?

It didn't take long, however, to realize that I don't want to spend my time riding around town or surfing the web.  So I've been meeting with various people in different activities, trying to find a new niche.  I believe I've found it:  being a part of the conversation to re-vitalize Downtown.  I met with Robert Rivard, the former Editor of the Express-News, who is now spearheading a multimedia conversation about the future of the city, especially the Downtown.  Our young mayor (whom I hope you saw at the Democratic National Convention) has made resurgence of Downtown a high priority.  Already there are several large residential projects going up.  But unfortunately Downtown still lacks many of the amenities, such as grocery stores, that would make people want to live there.

Bob Rivard invited me to write some stories for The Rivard Report.  The first one, about my neighborhood, was just published. Hope you like it; there will be more.

In the meantime, here are some new images from the San Antonio Botanical Garden which, along with others, are on my photography website in the San Antonio Gallery:

Stapelia gigantea
Palm Fronds
Lily Pond

Friday, June 15, 2012

GARDENING UPDATE

After many attempts to fend off the squash bugs from the tomatoes, I've abandoned the effort to keep the accidental garden going.  But I did get several good meals from them, along with a new-found respect for tomato farmers.


Instead, I'm discovering new seasonal flowers in the back yard.  This is a tough time of the the year, with near-100-degree days and watering restrictions.


Nevertheless, this delicate lavender passion flower is blooming on my fence.  One must catch them in the early morning hours, for they are gone by mid-morning.


Such beauty, such delicacy, such grace.  And all free for the enjoying.


Hope you enjoy it too.


Purple Passion Flower on My Fence
-bjd



BACKSLIDING

By now I've been back in San Antonio almost as long as I was in Panamá.  And while I've maintained a simple lifestyle for the most part, small changes are creeping into my life.


Today I caught myself listening to NPR while getting a latte at the Starbucks drive-up window.


Hmm.


-bjd

Friday, April 20, 2012

MY ACCIDENTAL GARDEN

The other day I wandered outside, in the front yard, where I hardly ever go. There is a raised brick flower bed next to the house. Something there caught my eye:

TOMATO PLANTS!
WITH TOMATOES ON THEM!
(Those are artificial flowers on the right.)
This was truly a transcendental experience, for I had wanted to plant tomatoes for this first spring back in Texas. But, like many other best-laid plans, they never materialized.

Should I plant heirlooms or hybrids? Where? Anywhere in the back yard, the dogs would destroy them. Maybe in the side yard, which is fenced off, but just the thought of working that black clay gumbo soil into something resembling beds was exhausting. In the meantime, the window for germination passed. I was resigned to spending the next year in more planning and research, and making trips to Whole Foods  and farmers markets to buy heirloom tomatoes raised by someone else.

On that glorious day there were tomatoes in my very own front flower bed, having germinated and now flourishing with no intervention on my part. I was deliriously happy. The scene immediately evoked childhood memories of plucking a perfect tomato off the vine and eating it right then and there, with the sweet juice dribbling down my chin.

Close-Up of the First Tomatoes

These tomatoes must have been some accident, leftover from the previous tenant, dormant for a whole year and surviving the drought. A wet spring brought them to life. And, ironically, they are probably an heirloom variety because hybrids won't grow from the previous generation's dropped fruit.

Regarding these unexpected tomatoes as a Gift from God, I proceeded to hover over them like a mother hen. Several trips to Home Depot produced bamboo stakes (because metal tomato cages are incredibly expensive), MiracleGro fertilizer, more MiracleGro garden soil to amend the native gumbo, a few Homestead heirloom plants, and one Big Boy for making sandwiches on fresh white bread with mayonnaise, the closest thing to heaven on earth.  While I was at it, I picked up a few strawberry plants for this sunny location.  I had probably spent more money on these unexpected tomatoes than I would have in buying them ready-to-eat.

The tomatoes have been thriving, and are now at least doubled in size after two weeks. I've done extensive research on the web and have judiciously pinched off sucker branches so the plants will have more energy for making the fruit. New blossoms have appeared.  All seemed well.

But with the luxuriant growth have come new challenges:  bugs. I'm determined to keep this garden pesticide-free.  This morning I found these critters:

Ack!  Something's eating my tomatoes!


 A quick search on Google Images of "tomato bugs" revealed that these are juvenile leaf-backs. I found the mamma bug lounging on another tomato.

Panic set in - what to do? Obviously this city-slicker is emotionally fragile when it comes to raising food.

After giving the matter much thought, I went back outside, picked up most of them with a tissue and squashed them. As much as I respect life, I wanted tomatoes more.

A few of the babies escaped. The survivors had returned to the same spot an hour later. This time I spritzed them with a pyrethrin spray left over from the previous tenants. So much for organic gardening. But pyrethrins are "natural" - made by chrysanthemums and marigolds (which I never got around to planting either).

I harvested two of the bigger tomatoes and immediately washed them off with dilute liquid detergent, then made fried green tomatoes for supper. Their tartness was a perfect complement to the sweetness of the canned vegetarian beans and veggie-franks. Or maybe that tartness was from the residual pyrethrins. Whatever.

My favorite merlot rounded off the meal.

Ahh, life is good.

Stay tuned for the ongoing Battle of the Bugs. Yes, I WILL have that perfectly-ripe tomato sandwich!

After dinner, I went out back with the dogs. A mockingbird was serenading the sunset with its limitless song.

In these days of endless wars and meaningless political rhetoric, it is so satisfying to find so much pleasure in such simple things.

Yes. This is where I belong.

And tomorrow I'll buy those marigolds.

-bjd

Saturday, March 31, 2012

TEXAS WILDFLOWERS

Yesterday I drove up to the Hill Country to see the wildflowers.  They are supposed to be especially good this year, because of our winter rains.  It has been many years since I've seen bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and other flowers for which Texas is known.  This is Lady Bird Johnson's legacy; she convinced the Texas Highway Department not to mow on the right-of-ways until the wildflowers had bloomed.  And it's quite a sight.

I'd been waiting all week for a window of favorable weather and light, and it finally came on Friday.  So off I went, maps in hand and a definite plan in mind.

First I detoured up the Grey Forest Scenic Loop, and then meandered through back country roads to Highway 16 headed north to Bandera.  Here are some views along that leg of the trip:
Grey Forest Scenic Loop: Old Tractor

Tarry Bank-Toufant Beauregard Rd:Yucca and Flag
There was nothing worth seeing in Bandera.  Long known as a tourist destination for dude ranches, it is now taken over by bikers on the weekend.  I got out as fast as I could.

I stopped in Fredericksburg for a lovely outdoor lunch at a restaurant called "Smoke and Sweet".  They feature home-smoked meats and baked desserts.  Sort of an unusual combination, but it works.  A young woman played the guitar and sang for us.  She sounded a lot like Nora Jones. 

After lunch I headed up to the Willow City Loop, a famous ride for viewing the flowers.  Here are some of the things I saw:
Ranch Rd 1631: Longhorns and Indian Paintbrush
Willow City: Wildflower Landscape
Willow City: Phlox
































Willow City: Wildflowers and Prickly Pear
Then it was time to head south on Highway 16 back to San Antonio.  I retraced my path (except for the Scenic Loop) but still had a couple of surprises along the way:
Camp Verde FM480 S of Center Point: Bison
Hwy 173 S of Center Point:
Bluebonnets in Late Afternoon
The light was not right for capturing the old storefronts in downtown Center Point.  This is a charming town (though not as charming as Comfort, in my opinion).  I'll make a special trip back to photograph Comfort and Center Point.  Comfort was settled by liberal Free Thinkers from Germany and still retains more 19th-century charm than many of the other nearby towns, including tourist-spoiled Fredericksburg.

Finally, here are some special scenes on the way back closer to San Antonio, as the afternoon light took on that wonderful golden quality of late afternoon:
Highway 16:  Phlox and Sheep

Pipe Creek Hwy 16: Old Service Station
On the whole, a tiring but most enjoyable day.


-bjd

Sunday, February 26, 2012

TURNING POINT

Wow.  It's been four months already since I've arrived in San Antonio. Hard to believe.

So I guess you could say I'm getting settled in. Have had my beloved car back since Christmas Eve. It's a 10-year-old Ford Focus with 132,000 miles on it, but it still has a lot of life in it. Am slowly getting the work done on it which will hopefully keep it running for another 100,000 miles or so.

Life is good.

Today I was coming back from a conference in Clear Lake. It was thrilling to see NASA across the street from the hotel, even if I didn't get to go inside. I did get an inside tip on a VIP tour in the future. That will definitely be worth blogging about.

During these four months I've been creeping toward becoming a vegetarian. My diet has consisted largely of oatmeal for breakfast, and beans or lentils with rice or cornbread for the other meal each day, with an occasional meat meal thrown in. But my one experience with cooking chicken was a big disappointment - it was flavorless and rubbery in texture. Certainly not your grandmother's chicken.

It feels good eating this way. At the conference I saw an old friend for the first time in several years. She has been a vegetarian for some time and for the past year and a half has gone to the next level of vegan-ism. And she looks absolutely great.

Maybe this is the turning point. Not all the way to being a vegan, because dairy products are too dear to me still. And I could allow an occasional meat meal so as not to feel totally deprived. Actually I don't feel deprived anyway. And the last few beef meals have made me sick.

So, coming back to San Antonio from Houston on I-10, I passed through Luling, the barbeque capital of Texas. Texas claims to have invented barbeque - at least the kind with beef brisket cooked over a huge pit. I had planned to enjoy one last meat meal in Luling. But for some reason I wasn't looking forward to  it.

On the way into town from I-10, there were several groups of very contented-looking cows munching on grass now succulent from the recent rains. Now that brisket plate seemed even less appetizing.

But I persisted and found the famous City Market, rated by Texas Monthly as having the best barbeque in the state:
Texas Monthly, where they take barbeque seriously.
They even have an app for it.

City Market is in the quaint main historic business district, which seems to have been virtually unchanged for the past hundred years or so.

But today is Sunday, and it turns out City Market was closed.

Alas, that last meal of barbeque was not meant to be. And, to be honest, it was not a disappointment.

Once home, a dinner of brie and crackers with a glass of good red wine affirmed that yes, life is indeed good.

-bjd