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A farm with art – and heart July 6, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Houston, Sustainability, Texas , 4comments

After a month of travel, these thirsty boots were aching for something more than the road — a place to dig in and put down some roots in the heart of this vast city. And right in the heart of one of its most blighted neighborhoods, I found it.

Cidette Rice, 5, Last Organic Outpost volunteer (and rock star)

Cidette Rice, 5, Last Organic Outpost volunteer (and rock star)

It’s a place where I can roll up my sleeves, grab a tray of squash seedlings and a shovel and put them in the ground. A place where I can reach down and run my fingers through dirt as soft and rich as that of my mother’s garden. A place that draws kindred spirits from far and wide and from right next door to work that soil. Folks like Cidette, who worked side-by-side with me to plant about 100 squash plants on Saturday, and a host of others who have contributed to an exuberantly lush expanse of vegetable abundance on a back street in Houston’s Fifth Ward.

The Last Organic Outpost is more than a garden, it’s an urban farm. It’s the brainchild and the lifework of Joe Nelson Icet, who has poured his sweat and his muscle and his life’s savings into this acreage and the other lot that surrounds his home.

“It’s not just about gardening; it’s about building a community,” Joe said.

Joe Nelson Icet, founder of the Last Organic Outpost, at the gate of his community farm

Joe Nelson Icet, founder of the Last Organic Outpost, at the gate of his community farm

About 10 years ago Joe was trying to figure out what to do with himself after a rough divorce. His job as a refrigeration maintenance man paid the bills, but didn’t fill the hole in his soul. He was looking for a mission, and as he began to plow up his yard and fill it with vegetables, he found it: to create an urban farm belt on the vacant lots in the inner city.

He found other abandoned lots to cultivate, and a community of people to help him. He found artists to come and lend their creative touch to the spot. And then he found the love of his life to help him – or, more accurately, she found him.

The vivacious Marcella Murff is now the red-haired, barbecue-cooking, bikini-wearing muse of the garden, and Joe’s never been happier.

I discovered the Outpost just days before departing for a monthlong global sojourn, and I lamented the fact that I wouldn’t be around to help for awhile.

“No worries,” said Marcella brightly. “Just think of how your garden will have grown when you come back.”

The whole story is here in Lisa Gray’s account in the Houston Chronicle, the article that first led me to Joe, and I’ll always be grateful.

“Fertility is the gateway to the soul,” Joe told me. “We start with the land and we heal it, and we end up healing ourselves.”

I looked around me at the assorted crew that had gathered to weed and hoe, a group as diverse as the vegetables they’d come to tend; I looked down at my own too-white, too-soft hands, and I saw that he was right. I grabbed a shovel and I dug in.

Farmer Joe gives Maddalena Romano a lesson in weeding.

Farmer Joe gives Maddalena Romano a lesson in weeding.

Time for a photo break!

Time for a photo break!

Patrick Taylor, flower child of the day

Patrick Taylor, flower child of the day

John Brand: From Farm to Kitchen June 1, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Food, San Antonio, Sustainability, Texas , add a comment

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It wasn’t easy to improve on the two landmark River Walk restaurants that John Brand took over nearly a year ago. But Brand’s passion for the farm-to-table concept and sustainably harvested ingredients has taken two winners – Las Canarias of La Mansion del Rio and Pesca of The Watermark Hotel and Spa – and pushed them over the top.

His beef comes from a farmer in Floresville, his quail from Bandera, his grits from Converse and his tomatoes from Hidalgo County. But he’ll go much further afield to find the best-quality sustainably grown ingredient when necessary, such as the free-range veal he imports from New Zealand.

“If I can’t get fresh ingredients, I’m not going to serve the dish, period,” he said. This meant eliminating some longtime favorites, like the squash blossom and huitlacoche soup.

Another element came into play for the swordfish. “They’ve been heavily overfished for some time now,” he said. “We’ve come to the point that my kids aren’t going to be able to see those fish. And the crab they were using came from Southeast Asia, where they’re destroying the wetlands and making more people die from tsunamis.

“Besides,” he added, “If it’s really good, it doesn’t need to be deep-fried.”

It was a risky move. San Antonio’s River Walk draws a traditional crowd, fond of their fried foods and Tex-Mex and not as keen on cutting edge cuisine as some of the high-end resort crowds Brand has served in the past. A number of them demanded to talk to the chef.

“In most cases, when I explained to them my reasoning, they understood,” he said. “If it’s on the menu, we’d better be truthful and know where it’s from and know how it’s raised. If you can’t do it from scratch, don’t do it at all.”

Brand’s insistence on tracking his ingredients back to their source stems from his own beginnings as a Midwest farm boy, raising pigs and cattle in Nebraska. “There were two paved roads in the whole county,” he recalls. He earned his pocket money hiring himself out to local farms for $2 or $20 a day, he says. He still looks the part, his blonde and tanned good looks and a shy earnestness tempering his frank words.

He was the oldest of six, and they all took turns cooking recipes that Mom left for them on index cards. The ingredients were simple, so technique was everything.

“I didn’t know what a pomegranate was until I was 19 years old,” he laughs. “Salt, pepper and butter – that’s about all I had. Use what you have, that’s what I learned. And I learned you can’t cook with an ego. Leave the ego to the guests; let them decide what’s great and what’s not.”

Perhaps his aversion to industrialized agriculture stemmed from the time his father had to go to work for hog containment facility – a dreadful place to a sun-drenched farm boy. “Those pigs never saw the sun,” he says, shaking his head.

Despite his early affinity for cooking, he says, he never intended to be a chef. His first restaurant job was in Wisconsin at the age of 16, but it wasn’t until two years later, working as a cook in a restaurant in Spokane, Wash., that he realized he had a flair for fine cuisine. He worked his way up through the business over the next 12 years to some of the finest resort restaurants in the country in Aspen and Beaver Creek, Colo., Virginia and Scottsville, Ariz.

What’s most surprising about Brand, given the sophistication of his menus, is that he never received formal culinary training. Instead he learned from other chefs and from working his way up through the profession. It could be said, in fact, that he’s a farm-to-table chef in more ways than one.

Lunch is an excellent time to sample a few of his creations, when he has a collection of delectable “small plates” on the menu. Despite his aversion to deep-frying, he made a small concession to fine effect: the crispy jicama tacos, lightly fried and filled with fresh tuna, roasted tomato diablo, avocado and grapefruit. And his Stuffed Dates with Blue Cheese and Bacon, shimmering in an aged sherry and brown sugar crust, must be tasted to be believed.

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The desserts, from the Blackberry Tuile with Honey and Black Currant Tea Ice Cream to the Ecuatorial Chocolate Mousse, were simply divine.

Along the way, Brand read “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven,” an indictment of industrialized agriculture by Joel Salatin that strengthened his resolve to provide integrity in his ingredients. Now, when he’s not working or at home gardening with his three sons, he’s browsing websites like www.chewswise.com or www.blueocean.org to stay up on sustainability and food security issues.

It’s not easy, but it’s been rewarding – and San Antonio readers have just given him a resounding seal of approval, voting Las Canarias Best Hotel Restaurant of 2009.

A potluck for perilous times May 31, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Sustainability, Texas , add a comment

My last trip was planned around a special event organized by San Antonio expressive arts facilitator and playwright Dianne Monroe. 

“I know it’s a long drive, but I’d really like for you to be there,” she told me the last time we met. Now when Dianne organizes an event, I always want to be there. She brings together the wisdom of another age with a childlike sense of fun and wonder and creativity. And when she began talking about The Great Turning, author Joanna Macy’s name for the transition times we are finding ourselves in, I listened. This event was nothing more than a simple gathering, but designed to break the ice to allow us to begin speaking of the previously unspeakable, nameless worries about global climate change, peak oil, economic crisis and pending doom that darken the horizon.

The meeting was well worth the drive; the conversations were more uplifting than disturbing, and the concept is well worth sharing. So I invited Dianne to write a guest blog entry, which I will share with you below. Please drop her a line at dianne@diannemonroe.com and let her – and me – know what you think.

I give you Dianne:

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by Dianne Monroe

I was born with a bit of an apocalyptic gene, so I’ve been watching this global economic unraveling, wondering just how far it will go – at the same time wondering just how much global warming will cause the oceans to rise and if oil will run out before our use of it will make the planet completely unlivable for higher mammalian species.

 Actually, I’m an optimist. So what I really want to know is this – how do we, within this crisis, grow and nurture the seeds of new ways to live with each other and in collaboration with our planet?

I’ve been talking about this with my friends (Tracy among them) and wondering how many similar conversations are going on in living rooms and kitchens across the country – so I decided to invite some friends, and friends of friends to what I called “A Paradigm Shift Potluck – a gathering to vision what it may mean to be alive in this time and place”.

So after vegetarian lasagna, gazpacho and guacamole salad, we gathered to share our hopes, fears and the gifts we each bring to the flowering of a more just and sustainable world.

One person feared seeing her retirement fund disappear, another feared angry, hungry men with guns. One friend brought the gift of organic gardening, another brought knowledge of alternative medicine, still another brought the gift of listening.

People spoke of simpler times and places, of different ways of being and doing. A woman spoke of her mother who grew up on a farm during the Depression, where everyone grew their own food and traded with neighbors for what they needed. Others spoke of time spent living and working in Latin America, how different cultures recycled and reused so many things we routinely throw away.

I wanted to share an approach I’m developing, an easy way into talking about difficult things, that takes us out of our heads and into our hearts (away from our endless “to-do” lists and the hectic pace of modern life and into a place where we can really listen to each other and be heard by others). It’s an approach grown out of my studies in a field called Deep Ecology, that allows us to speak our truths, listen deeply to the truths of others, and seek ways to travel together through perhaps tumultuous times, carrying gifts we will leave for the generations to follow.

If you want to learn more about Paradigm Shift Potlucks, and a workshop I’m developing, called “Nurturing Seeds of Change in Uncertain Times” (I’m offering the first one on June 13), Please email me: dianne@diannemonroe.com.

Rite of Passage at ERock May 28, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Adventure, Texas , 9comments

ENCHANTED ROCK STATE PARK – Deep in the canyon between the two pink granite domes that give this place its name, there’s a world parallel to the one most of its thousands of visitors see.

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Jamie McNally and Kit Garcia, two veteran climbers from Austin, were my guides into the world of the climber, where this place is known as ERock. Climbing is a pastime I’ve been eyeing from a distance over the years, with various friends inviting me to accompany them. I’d always wanted to; I’d just never had the time. But now, as I approach the five-decade mark, I realize there’s no time left to procrastinate. It’s never going to get any easier. I’m never going to have any more time than I do right now. So I dropped my friend Jamie a line. And now, as I stood in borrowed climbing shoes, harness and rope, facing this near-vertical slab of granite, there was no going back.

A rope stretched from the knot at my waist, upward to an anchor somewhere beyond my view, and back down again to Kit’s waist. She was belaying me, pulling in the slack as I climbed, and gradually letting it loose as I worked my way down. She’d be my counterweight if I fell. Still, while the rope provided safety and psychological comfort, it wasn’t to be used as a climbing aid. For that, it was just me and the rock. 

“You guys have heard about gravity, right?” I quipped, tipping my head back to assess the situation and stalling for time.

“These shoes are anti-gravity devices,” Kit reassured me. “You’ll see. It’ll be easy!”

I heard a titter behind me and looked back. A girl and a boy, both under the age of 10, awaited their turn. Great. Now I had no excuses.

“But… where do I put my feet? I mean, there are no stairs here,” I pointed out, somewhat lamely.

“Here, you can start with your left foot here. Then you swing your right foot up to this ledge,” Jamie pointed to a tiny black knob protruding from the pink granite. “It’s huge!”

I wondered if my eyes were deceiving me. Nonetheless, I placed a tentative foot on the left ledge and another on the right, holding with my hands onto the rock in front of me for dear life. But there was nowhere to go from there. I was sure that if I lifted one of my feet, I’d slide down the face of the rock, shredding my exposed skin. I was stuck.

“Once you get up just a little further, it’s easy,” encouraged Jamie.

The onlookers urged me on. Clearly, I had become the center of a spectacle. There was no way to go but up.

I saw another place to step up, but only by using my right knee – a no-no for a climber, and I quickly discovered why as I left layers of skin on the rock. But I had gained ground. And suddenly, I realized he was right. The shoes were holding me fast to the rough face of the rock. I saw another ledge further up, then another, and soon I was clambering up like a 5-year-old.

“You’re a natural!” Jamie called up to me, encouragingly. “Keep on going!”

I stopped to catch my breath and looked down. Below me, Kit, the kids and their father cheered me on. Above me was Jamie, who had shimmied up by another route and was waiting for me at the top.

Gradually, as I began to relax and trust the magic shoes – and more importantly, my body’s intuition – I began to notice something strange. Gravity didn’t have quite as much power over me as I’d thought it had. It didn’t feel quite so absolute. I worked my way up to where Jamie awaited like a proud coach, snapping photos of my first baby steps as a climber.

“You know what?” I gasped, taking my eyes from the rock to look up at him for a moment. “My body’s not as heavy as I thought it was!”

That’s not to say it was easy. The next route we climbed, called “Jacknife,” was more than twice as tall as the first one and required negotiating an inwardly sloping wall. Jamie coached me to straighten my legs and lean back, keeping my body’s weight over my feet.  Fear of falling generates a tendency to hug the rock, which paradoxically causes the body’s center of gravity to shift forward, taking weight off the feet. This makes your feet more likely to slip out from under you. You have to let go of the fear to let your body work with the rock.

It was perched on a tiny shelf of rock atop the Jacknife, breathless, bloodied and bruised, that I began to understand why people endure what they do to enter this world. I looked across the canyon at the tourists toiling up the side of the main dome’s gentle slope and realized I had changed. What had once seemed a perfectly lovely, even strenuous outing climbing the dome now seemed — well, pedestrian. For a brief instant, I had become one with the rock. Now I realized that nothing would ever be the same.

Exhilaration!

Exhilaration!

Sneak Preview: San Antonio River Walk May 22, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : San Antonio, Texas , 2comments

The long-awaited new River Walk extension is set to open on Saturday, May 30, and Steve Schauer of the San Antonio River Authority gave me a hard hat tour this week.  Here’s a sneak preview:

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Steve Schauer has given this hard hat tour to dozens of visitors from around the world, seeking to learn about San Antonio’s experience as it has developed a long-neglected, weed-choked ditch into a world-class tourism destination. Still, with just a week to go before its official opening, he seems to get a kick out of showing it off to yet another journalist.

“It’s just been an awesome process to see how it’s changed,” says Schauer, communications director for the San Antonio River Authority. Indeed, the $72 million project has been in the planning stages for close to eight years, with the official groundbreaking just over two years ago.

The project has merged antique structures dating from the 1800s with the latest in lock-and-dam technology to produce a mile and a half of linear parkway laced with waterfalls and water lily pools, sculptures and art installations, sound recordings and other surprises guaranteed to delight fans of the famous attraction. This stretch of river, however, takes into account modern knowledge of conservation to create a friendly habitat for aquatic species as well as the landlubbing types.

“We didn’t design this with just us in mind,” Schauer says. “We want it to be a sanctuary for other species as well.”

He points out the fish lunkers built in under the walkway, a place for fish to get out of the sun on a hot day or to take shelter from the occasional storm. The more than 100 species of plants that comprise the landscape are drought-friendly, and a recycled water system has been installed for the irrigation.

The new stretch of River Walk begins downtown at Lexington Street near the Hugman Dam, named for Robert Hugman, the original architect of the River Walk in the 1930s and ‘40s. One of the first challenges was figuring out a way to preserve this historic stone structure while still allowing barges to pass through for riverboat tours.

This problem was resolved with an artful passageway to one side, preserving the best features of the old stone dam on the other side. A pair of crested night herons posed and preened for the cameras as we passed by, oblivious to the workmen administering the finishing touches.

“One of our challenges was to make sure the vision of the river reflects change over time,” explained Boone Powell of Ford, Powell & Carson, chief architect for the project. “We do our best to make sure there’s a timeless quality about it. It’s not like we just picked a few ideas out of a hat and tried to implement them.”

And to be sure, change over time is something Powell knows a good deal about. His firm’s historic preservation work reads like a who’s who of Texas’ most important historic attractions. Included among the accomplishments of his firm are in San Antonio are the design and restoration of the Alamo, Hemisfair Park, the Tower of the Americas and La Villita; in Austin, the Texas State Capitol; in Galveston, the historic Hotel Galvez, Tremont House and the Strand Street Theater; and in West Texas, El Fortin de Cibolo at Cibolo Ranch.

The first stretch of the new River Walk, beginning with the Hugman Dam, is designed to keep with the historic feel of the original River Walk, with the Works Progress Administration-era stonework, narrow canyonlike walls and tall buildings along the riverbank. At the upper reach of this section, Schauer stops to explain another historic structure that has emerged from the long-buried riverbed. As the construction workers dug their way up the river, he says, they suddenly hit a wall they hadn’t expected. It took some intensive research to figure out what it was: the dam for the old Alamo Mills, dating back to 1872.

It’s at about this point, looking out over the river and a restoration of this dam at the historic Lone Star Brewery – now the San Antonio Museum of Art – that the river begins to change character and open out into a broader, more spacious feel. Here the walkway begins to incorporate the yellow brick of the museum, hence the designation as the SAMA stretch. Around the corner, SAMA comes into full view in all its towering glory.

The towers and yellow brick are echoed one more time in a restored pedestrian bridge, once the bridge connecting the two towers of the Lone Star Brewery, converted to a glassed-in passageway by SAMA. The old steel bridge had sat neglected for nearly half a century until resurrected by Powell for the pedestrian walkway. The graceful span is bookended by the two brick towers.

At this point the river winds under the freeway, where a special treat awaits: a whole school of giant sunfish, suspended from the freeway over the river. It’s the creation of Philadelphia artist David Lipski.

But the piece de resistance from an artistic standpoint is surely the Grotto, the fantasmagorical creation of San Antonio artist Carlos Cortes. Seen from the river, the structure rises from the river like a bit of prehistoric Middle Earth, winding and twisting like the tree roots that seem to be the source of its inspiration. Moss-textured ancient faces peer from within and above, evoking other worlds. Stairways, waterfalls, hidden lights and passageways work a strange spell.

Dionisio Rodriguez, the legendary faux bois artist whose work has adorned San Antonio’s River Walk and Brackenridge Park for generations, must be proud of his nephew, who has carried on the family tradition in grand style. Besides the grotto, San Antonians will recognize a palapa-style bus stand Cortes created at the Cameron and Newell street River Walk entrance, similar to the ones in Brackenridge Park and along Broadway.

Here the character of the river shifts to a third style, based on that of the Pearl Brewery. The yellow brick is gone, and in its place, walls of pebbled cement. The look is more modern and industrial, but softened with the green of hanging plants – and of course, the river, which winds past an amphitheater that will seat up to 1,000 and reaches a series of waterfalls and small stone islands. One island is the home base of the Hardberger Tree, a young cypress named for Linda Hardberger, who presented her husband the mayor with the tree on the occasion of their 39th wedding anniversary.

The Pearl is rapidly becoming a focal point for an emerging scene, combining history with cutting edge design and a postmodern return to tradition. The new Farmers Market brings local growers and chefs together with musicians in a standing-room-only crowd on Saturday mornings that is carried through the week at Texas Farm to Table restaurant, and the New Urbanism of the project’s architects promises a thriving community with housing to compliment the culinary and beauty school and the shops that are springing up here.

This is the end of the road for the barges that will carry tourists from the downtown area, and for our tour today. But the project will carry on. To the north, another mile and a half of hiking and biking trails will wind their way up to Brackenridge park and the Witte Museum, hopefully within a year to a year and a half. And to the south, the city will restore the channelized river to its natural state in the Mission Reach. Some 24,000 trees will be planted and hundreds of acres of riparian habitat will be restored along the stretch of river that connects the four missions that are a more authentic, if less famous, representation of the colonial Spanish era than the Alamo.

“The ecosystem was essentially destroyed in the ‘50s and ‘60s for purposes of flood control,” says Schauer. “We’re turning it back into a natural river. Now we understand that you can have a healthy river and flood control at the same time. Back then, the answer was just to turn it into a ditch.”

Art Car Parade Rocks Houston May 10, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Houston, Texas , 1 comment so far

“You’ll always remember your first one,” promised my friend Dwight. He was right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much creative whimsy and automotive sacrilege in one place in my life. But where better than Houston, where local fortunes have been built on the fuel that powers them?

Click on “View All Images” for a tour of the 2009 Art Car parade. Without the sweltering heat – or the sunburn!

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No Brad Pitt for Galveston April 27, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Texas , 4comments

Galveston’s gearing up for a big Memorial Day weekend celebration, and they’ve given it a name that reflects the resiliency of this island’s hardy inhabitants: Re-Birth Day.

Construction crews are a common sight throughout Galveston.

Construction crews are a common sight throughout Galveston.

It’s been only seven months since the third worst storm in the nation’s history walloped this small island city, leaving smelly water standing chest-high in the grand centenary Tremont Hotel, the colorful Victorian-style homes and the historic Strand district. Signs of the devastation are everywhere, from the blown-off front of a hotel to the leafless live oaks lining Seawall Boulevard.

Just this week, the National Trust for Historic Places named Galveston’s Historic Strand District one of America’s Most Endangered Places. It seems the cast iron frames supporting one of the largest historic commercial districts in the nation were already vulnerable due to the corrosive influence of the salty, humid air. The onslaught of Ike and the subsequent flooding of the area has placed the structures in imminent danger of collapse, according to the group’s preservation experts.

But just as surely are the signs of renewal: scaffolding and new siding going up on a beach house, a new fence around a newly rehabbed Victorian, a new cafe on the Strand, a new pier going up where The Balinese Room and Murdoch’s once jutted out into the Gulf. Fresh paint is everywhere; the painted ladies on Post Office Street practically jump up onto the sidewalk with their vivacious yellows and blues and pinks. And the beach, which had been scraped away by the force of the waves, is back; a beach reconstruction or “nourishment project” was completed along three quarters of the Gulf Coast before taking a break for the nesting season of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles who make their homes here.

RoShelle Gaskins, the city’s tourism coordinator, takes us on an upbeat city tour, starting us out along the Seawall. This 10.5-mile barrier is home to the nation’s largest sidewalk, she informs me. More importantly, it protects the city from the vicious wall of water that a hurricane can bring. It was built by the survivors of the devastating 1900 hurricane that nearly wiped Galveston off the map, and it saved the island from this one. That hurricane, which killed over 6,000 people, is still on the books as the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. But even as devastating a blow as that one couldn’t keep Galvestonians down. So it was a foregone conclusion that Ike wouldn’t, either.

“We love this place; we’re connected to it,” explained Gaskins. “We don’t mind having to pick ourselves up again. It’s just a part of life.”

Still, the storm’s impact weighs heavily on the city’s residents. And it hurts to consider how much less national attention Galveston has received than post-Katrina New Orleans, where church groups, volunteers and celebrities flocked to lend a hand. Some volunteers have come to help out with the rebuilding effort, but nothing on the scale of New Orleans. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush have raised $2.2 million to help with the coastal recovery efforts since Ike, just a tiny fraction of the $130 million they raised after Katrina.

“People keep asking us, ‘Why don’t you call some celebrities?’ We have – but they don’t respond. They don’t want the burden of having to respond to every storm now.”

She’d had her hopes pinned on Houston native Beyonce, whose family hails from Galveston. But her sole benefit concert benefited only Houston.

There’s another factor, too, she added. The same week that Ike battered the Gulf coast, the nation’s first black candidate was chosen to lead the Democratic ticket, and the biggest bank bailout in the nation’s history took place.

Meanwhile, Galveston rolled up its sleeves and got to work. “We didn’t sit there and cry; we just got up and did what we had to do.”

Trials and Tributaries in the Big Thicket April 17, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Texas , 1 comment so far
A kayaker can easily lose her way in the labyrinth of the Big Thicket's cypress-tupelo swamps. (Tracy L. Barnett photo)

A kayaker can easily lose her way in the labyrinth of the Big Thicket's cypress-tupelo swamps. (Tracy L. Barnett photo)

BIG THICKET NATIONAL PRESERVE —Ranger Leslie Dubey lifted a paddle and dipped it into the still brown waters, her kayak gliding as noiselessly as the great blue heron that just slid across our path in these cypress-tupelo sloughs.

Two decades spent probing this once-impenetrable wilderness and interpreting it for visitors have made Leslie a true Big Thicket denizen. So naturally, when I followed her into the bayou on a sunny Saturday in March, I left the navigation to her and focused on the scenery, alternately shooting photos of the ancient trees and glassy water and trying to keep up. I was mindful of the danger for my cameras should I hit a snag and tip overboard, but the risk of personal danger had not yet occurred to me.

 Soon enough, it would.

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A misty morning at Indian Springs Campground

A misty morning at Indian Springs Campground

A tapestry of history and nature —Centuries of mystery and lore shroud a forest so impenetrable that pioneers went around it.
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Sour Lake celebrates its history as the birthplace of Texaco.

Sour Lake celebrates its history as the birthplace of Texaco.

The Sour Lake Saga —The healing mineral springs that put this Big Thicket town on the map as a 19th-century resort for the rich and famous are long gone; all that remains is a toxic lake, compliments of Texaco. But  Librarian Sherry Williams is determined to give the town its due.
The once-popular Indian Village of the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation is now a crumbling ruin.

The once-popular Indian Village of the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation is now a crumbling ruin.

Indian Village Defunct: Blame it on Abramoff —Once one of the biggest tourist attractions in East Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta reservation is now home to a crumbling ruin. What in the world could Jack Abramoff  have to do with it?
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