Category: outdoors

Go Take a Hike, Gladly

The old expression “go take a hike” is intended to be a rude way to tell someone to leave or get lost. To that notion, I say, gladly I will take a hike, which is exactly what we did this weekend.

We hoofed around for about two hours along three miles of trail in a national wildlife management area scouting ahead of time for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department drawn hunt for deer. I saw one deer. Well, I saw its backside romping away into the thick forest. We also saw seven wild hogs, which are an invasive species.

Upon our arrival, a blue heron greeted us. We ducked under the banner-like webs of banana spiders. Later, we saw a roseate spoonbill in flight over a lake laden with lily pads. We met a leopard frog. We inhaled fresh air and admired the Spanish moss. We saw bright green algae laid out like a carpet in a swamp filled with bald cypress trees.

We walked slowly and quietly and stopped often, sometimes to wait to see if we’d notice something, other times to watch hogs grazing on the forest floor. We brought and used plenty of bug spray, sunscreen and water. The forest enveloped us, providing a sense of cover and protection from the chaos of the human world.

In other words, we took a hike and loved it. Such walks take you on a mental journey too. The imagery of the flora and fauna stay in your head and you can draw on that sylvan landscape whenever you want. It stays in your mind’s eye like a retreat you can return to over and over.

The other helpful aspect of this hike was the location is about an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, which felt like a veritable road trip for people housebound by the pandemic. We’d had not been there before, so our eyes, hearts and minds were open. Bonus: we didn’t see other people, so we weren’t concerned about Covid-19 transmission.

It was a wonderful respite. The next morning, I woke up and started making something I have never made before: carnitas. I seared chunks of pork butt in lard in a big cast-iron skillet and placed the meat in the slow cooker along with Mexican Coke, water, condensed milk, cinnamon sticks, cumin, chili powder, coriander, cardamom, ground black pepper, minced garlic cloves, and orange slices. After several hours, I scooped out the meat and placed it back in the hot skillet. It shredded beautifully. I served this with homemade tortillas, sliced avocado drenched in lime juice, diced jalapeno, sliced green bell pepper, chopped cilantro, Mexican crema (sour cream), and homemade pickled red pepper slices.

While the hiking and cooking were recreational activities, I felt as if I had accomplished new things and had refreshed my mind. 2020 has been a tough year and yet it has also encouraged people to try new hobbies and other endeavors to stretch themselves. Keep stretching, keep trying, keep going.

Take a hike.

The Sage Leopard,

The Forest Speaks, A Tall Tale

Fishermen might tell whoppers, but hunters always tell the truth.

Last weekend my boyfriend and I went on javelina hunt on the Chap. That’s short for Chaparral Wildlife Management Area, south of Cotulla, Texas. We had driven our covered wagon there and brought our personal chef Cookie.

We set up camp with other hunters and I impressed all the guys by starting a fire by using my eyeglasses as a magnifying glass to capture the sun’s rays. Everyone started swapping tips on hunting and cooking with game. As evening settled in, one guy pulled out his phone to show us an app with electronic coyote calls.

He placed it on a piece of firewood and let ‘er rip. Sure enough, a pack of coyotes circled the fire. The big daddy coyote swooped in, snatched the phone in its mouth and confidently trotted off.

The man howled and whipped out a handgun. He shot at the coyote and the beast dropped the phone. We were impressed it wasn’t damaged except for teeth marks in the case. That was enough excitement for one night and we drifted off to sleep. I had the strangest dreams in which the trees seemed to have voices.

The scratching of an armadillo on the tent awoke me and I geared up. I reached the deer blind before dawn and climbed the ladder to await javelina. Soon enough, I heard hoof steps.

A young buck with little antlers was eating the corn I had left out the afternoon before for the javelinas. Then, I could have sworn I heard a whisper in a male voice: “Be careful.” I looked down the sendero in the opposite direction and saw a majestic old buck with a huge rack of antlers. Was it his voice that spoke? I shook my head and saw him slip into the brush, like a ghost.

That afternoon, I switched blinds. This one was a so-called tower blind, essentially comprised of two plastic molded chairs perched up on a small platform with little ladders. The seating arrangement was nestled between thick brush and abutting this area’s sendero. It wasn’t long, surprisingly enough, before a javelina emerged up the path. I took aim, but couldn’t get off a shot. I could have sworn I heard that voice again while I draw a bead on the javelina. “Be careful.”

The javelina moved forward out of view. It spooked me and I radioed my boyfriend to join me. I told him I spotted what we were looking for and went back to a crossroads of senderos to wait for his truck. We walked back and I showed him the pond where I suspected the javelina were watering.

We walked up to the tower blind and got situated. Eventually, three javelina showed up, weaving in and out of the brush and sendero like someone laying a latticework pie crust. Two emerged and started coming our way. It was laborious to watch them slowly making their way along the corn trail. Again, I could have sworn I heard something strange in the wind. Then, a fluttering and rustling as a green jay settled in a branch of a mesquite tree behind me.

The javelinas don’t have great vision and they didn’t notice us up off the ground in the chairs. Soon enough, they were walking right toward us. Then right in front of us under our boots. I could not believe it. We barely breathed. Then, they moved along passed us. Byron slowly drew his rifle up to his left shoulder and I drew in a breath.

He took aim and I saw his left finger slide onto the trigger. Suddenly, a voice screamed out. I couldn’t believe it. I recognized that voice as the same with the be careful warning. It was the green jay screaming, “Look out! Look out! Look out!”

I wrote this after a real javelina hunt for a Tall Tales Contest in my Toastmasters International club. I hope you enjoyed it!

The Sage Leopard