Category: travel

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

Why Cookbooks Remind Us of Family, Love & Happiness

Growing up, I liked to flip through my parents’ cookbooks, especially to look for baking recipes. In 8th grade, I crafted a cookbook for a history project, writing out in calligraphy on parchment paper “receipts” from the Colonial Williamsburg era. I even cooked a meal from these 18th century receipts for my English and History teachers. Judging by the looks on their faces around the dining room table, I may have overdone it with the nutmeg and other spices for the meat.

When we would take the long drive from New Jersey to South Carolina to visit my grandparents, my palate opened up to new tastes, including grits. My grandmother, also a native of New Jersey, had a stack of Southern Living annual cookbooks. I would pull them off the shelf and flip through the recipes, admiring the pretty pictures and imagining being a grown-up cooking a roast or baking a Bundt cake.Stack of Southern Living annual cookbooks.

Grandmother took note of how much I liked the cookbooks and told me I could have them someday. Fortunately, she had many more years after that to enjoy her kitchen and home. After she passed, my father related he could not find the cookbooks, but he brought me her colorful mixing bowls, which I cherish and use just about every day.

As a grown-up, I’ve subscribed to different cooking magazines, but my favorite is Southern Living. Maybe because they are accessible recipes for the home cook and for everyday dining rather than elaborate masterpieces for culinary artists. Or maybe because I like to flip through the magazine and see pretty pictures of homes, travels and recipes. Moreover, I love them because they remind me of visiting my grandparents in South Carolina. I was, and am, so taken by cypress trees, Spanish moss, palm trees and alligators.

This Thanksgiving weekend, my eldest sister recalled a family road trip from New Jersey to Texas and back with multiple stops in between. It was summertime and their sedan lacked air conditioning. It turned out my mother realized in Houston that she was pregnant with me. We all think it’s funny that I moved to Houston as an adult.

When I first arrived for business, I saw palm trees, which made me so happy. And, yes, we too have alligators, but fortunately I don’t see them unless I go to a nearby state park. Still, some neighborhood kids claim to have seen one in our subdivision retention pond and they do hang out in our bayou. I let my dog swim in the pond, but not the bayou, and keep a wary eye on the situation.

We just got back from a road trip we now take at least once a year to North Georgia, where my boyfriend’s family is from on both sides. An important errand was to the grist mill to pick up bags of grits and cornmeal. The real deal stone-ground grains cannot be beat.

While in Georgia, we also returned to a cousin’s home. I stood in the kitchen admiring her cookbook collection, including a stack of Southern Living annuals. When I told her about my grandmother’s collection, she immediately said I could have her Southern Living cookbooks.

Stack of Southern Living magazines.I agreed to take them, but said she can have them back anytime. In the meantime, I have a lot of flipping pages to do! I usually let my magazines stack up for a few months and then go through to tear out the pages of recipes I want to keep in a binder. Now, I have the books to read!

I just pulled out the 2000 one and the first page I opened is about “The Fruitcake Tradition.” I’m not so sure I want to try that, but appreciated the introduction to the recipe notes this is in tribute to a grandmother. Ooh, what about prosciutto bruschetta with cantaloupe chutney?

From the 1984 book, there is a basic crepes recipe. I was just telling my sister about my crepe maker! There is also a section on how to use a food processor to save time when slicing vegetables and fruit. If you lived in the 1980s, you’ll reminder how the Cuisinart took American’s kitchens by storm. I actually have my grandmother’s machine and love it.

I may never have to look up another recipe online with this array of cookbooks serving an encyclopedia of making everyday cooking grand. I’m so excited and will likely share some of my discoveries with you on this blog!

The Sage Leopard



A Buck Named Byron: How to Prepare for the Hunt

Every hunt is different, which is why it is so exciting. One constant is the stillness of the woods or field. This morning, I was propped up against a tree looking over a glen with about a 160-degree view of fall leaves.

A little birdie climbed a nearby tree and I tried to make out his coloring as he climbed bark in shadows. I heard squirrels tromping through leaves as they foraged for acorns. I sat there almost long enough to solve the world’s problems. Checking the time, it happened to be three minutes before the appointed time Byron and I planned to rendezvous at the fork in the trails. Arriving there, I stood awhile listening to a very light wind. I decided to walk into the clearing about 40 yards up the leaf-carpeted road.Tree-lined sandy creek in the shaded woods during autumn.

Once I entered the space, crows circled above cawing like crazy. Were they talking about me or some other being in the woods? I figured Byron would be along soon and I was ready to go. My mind had left the hunt. My rifle was slung on my left shoulder (I shoot lefty) and I held my backpack and seat in my right hand. I was standing in the road, clearing on either side, admiring the flora like a dork. I had assumed the physical stance of a commuter waiting on a train platform.

The Chocolate Buck

A sound directed my attention to the road, and down the hill I saw the swish of a tree branch moving. I heard the familiar sound of a person walking on leaves, as I was expecting Byron. I redirected my attention at the clearing and some thoughts I’ve since forgotten. My peripheral vision detected a figure and I turned to ask Byron, “Did you see anything?” Instead, it was a buck. A huge buck about 25 yards away, if even that far. His eyes were cast on what he was noshing. I was stunned. His coat was a deep lustrous dark chocolate brown. He was so big that for a millisecond, I wondered how a mule deer was in Georgia. But his face was clearly that of a white-tailed deer.

The dark color of the coat was just outstanding. I wondered how I could get a shot in this seemingly infeasible situation: he was straight on, not broadside; he could hear me breathing if I had actually breathed; I was standing straight up right in front of him; I was holding items in one hand and the rifle was not on him. I decided to try kneeling down. My knee bent slightly and he immediately raised his eyes to mine. There was a flicker of surprise and then a long stare. Eye to eye we were locked. I wondered if he would move and then in a flash, he turned tail and let out a woot. His breath was visible with his alert sound and he was gone.Autumn leaves in the woods.

The point of this story is simple. Always be prepared and keep your mind on the hunt. And always be thankful for what you get to see.

Happy Thanksgiving,

The Sage Leopard

Artisanal Vermont

Early morning sunlight dappled across a hillside meadow. Chipmunks chasing each other on a stone patio. French-pressed dark coffee with steamed milk. Local Vermont milk, of course.

Rarely do we get to see a dreamscape realized. Visiting family in Vermont, that is what we watched as we drank our morning coffees.

Awaking to beauty in Vermont

Awaking to beauty in Vermont

We hiked into the woods, past the strands of birch trees with their peeling white bark and up higher among the maples, cruising down dirt paths with deer tracks and across another meadow over to the pogue. Pogue. That’s Vermont for pond. Actually that word is not even in the dictionary. If you google the pogue, the search result is a FAQ page from the National Park Service about this very federally managed land in Woodstock, Vermont. The park service says its etymology is not known, but it could be from an Abenaki word or of Scottish origin.

The sky and clouds reflected in the pond, or pogue. The plunking sound of a snapping turtle splashing down from a log summoned us to look. On the way back, we saw several deer, their white tails flashing away in the woods as if they were waving good-bye as they bolted away. Can you see it?

The hiking worked up our appetites. We found pizza at a bar that was just like pizza in New Jersey, my home state, with the thin crust and fresh tomato sauce bubbling through the cheese. Artisanal cheese was everywhere we went, left and right, at the farmers market on the village green, at a “farm and feast festival” in a pasture, at the cheese factory originally built by Calvin Coolidge’s father next to the Coolidge homestead, and on the kitchen counters of family. Can you taste it?

The local-vore food movement is big in Vermont and so is craft beer. Vegetables from my sister’s garden tasted crisper, cleaner, more intense. I think the cool night air enhances the tomatoes and cucumbers by sealing in the flavors. Standing on the hill next to the garden, you have a panoramic view of the stars in the black night sky. We gazed at the Milky Way. At bedtime, you leave the windows open and listen to the crickets as the crisp cool air wafts across the room. Can you feel it?

Each time I visit Vermont, there is a new experience. My sister and her husband took my boyfriend and I to this farm and feast celebration at a cooperative farm. It was rainy Thursday night and the hold farmers sell their goods no matter what the weather. We ate ice cream handed to us by the guy who milked his own cows to make it. The cappuccino ice cream had a warm cinnamon streak.

Under one of the big tents, a band was playing. We ventured in. The tent was striped, like a small circus tent. The band comprised a fiddler in a kilt, a bassist and a singer. Their biggest fan sat next to my boyfriend on a bale of hay. He ribbed me to get me to check her out. She had wild locks of long blonde and brown hair. Her head was swaying in circles and side to side, gyrating, with her fully engrossed in the musical experience. She was slapping her yoga-panted legs and practically bouncing out of her sandals.

She leapt forth and started a tango with a young man who, based on his fluid movements, appeared to have ice dancing experience. Her enthusiasm propelled her to the pole in the middle of the tent, the supporting pole. She switched from hippie chick to burlesque lady and began to pole dance. I was so glad my 11-year-old niece was still outside talking to the nice ice cream man.

The next day, my boyfriend drove an hour to meet my oldest friend for lunch. Literally, he is my oldest friend because we have known each other our whole lives. Mark and I were born about seven hours apart so we met in the newborn nursery. He recommended a music festival and we took him up on the suggestion. It was in a big green field, next to a farm, and craft beer was being served, of course. “Look who’s here!” my boyfriend exclaimed. It was the three-piece band and the wild dancer lady. Can you see it? Vermont is small state.

Sensory experiences can make us feel closer to others in a shared space. I got to visit my other sister’s new home. It is near a cold lake into which you jump from a broad dock for a bracing refresher of what a summer day can feel like. Shockingly enveloped in cold water you forget the unmeaningful and feel close to true nature.

This sister’s house backs onto a brook streaming from that lake and standing in the grass of her backyard you can hear it babbling. Going into her finished basement from a patio door, you are in her painting studio. I express myself with words and she has always been a visual artist. Wherever she has lived, I love visiting her studios. There is a distinct aroma – gesso – which is used to tighten canvass once it is stretched ahead of painting. Her art is bright and vibrant. The use of various colors bring a sense of motion and stimulation. I immediately felt at home in her studio in recognizing these sensory cues that I associate with her. Travelling up a staircase, I saw a print hanging on the wall of a roseate spoonbill and was reminded of my home in the Texas Gulf Coast region. Sometimes you have to go away to find yourself at home again. Do you see it?

Ahead of this trip, I had daydreams about what we would see and do. It is special when the imagined becomes real and you do experience even more. Now, I have the reverie of being their again. Can you see it? Can you taste it? Can you feel it?

The Sage Leopard