Saturday, November 18, 2006

We're Winter Texans!

We've arrived and settled in at the volunteer RV park at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, just outside of Lake Jackson, Texas. On our way here, we spent some time in the Lafayette, LA area having some work done on the motorhome and exploring the area. I love Cajun food and gumbo, and we visited two of the best in the area, Prejean's in Lafayette, and Mulate's in Breau Bridge, where I ate way too much gumbo and ettoufe'. We visited New Iberia, the winter home of one of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke. Since we had been in the area of his summer home in Lolo, Montana, it was interesting to see his birthplace and winter home. He's quite a local celebrity, and since many of his novels take place here, there are walking tours to show you the sights that you read about. We also visited Avery Island, where tabasco sauce is made. The island, actually the top of a salt dome, has been the home of the McIlhenny family since before the civil war. We toured the factory and sampled some interesting pepper products including my favorite, jalapeno ice cream. We were surprised that it takes so much work to produce those little bottles of Tabasco; I particularly like the fact that they age the pepper sauce in used Jack Daniel's barrels (unfortunately, they grind them clean inside before they use them). It's a beautiful area, with groves of huge live oak and lots and lots of mosquitoes.
After leaving Lafayette, we spent a few forgettable days in Beaumont, Texas, then made the final trip to the refuge. On arrival, we were met by the Brazoria NWR manager with the news that we would be working at Brazoria instead of San Bernard NWR. Both refuges are part of a complex and share people and equipment, and since the RV village is located on Brazoria, it ends up being more convenient for us. We are furnished a pad with full hookups next to a small building with washer/dryer, refrigerator, microwave & TV. We've also been furnished with a government vehicle; a spiffy 99' S-10 Blazer. Our three-day workweek is spent in a variety of ways; we staff the visitor ("Discovery") center, I do maintenance work, Brenda works with the office staff, and we both help instruct during Environmental Education days. This is our favorite activity; it starts with the arrival at the Discovery Center of busloads of 4th or 7th grade students which are divided into 8 groups. Refuge staff and volunteers each take turns instructing 8 different subjects at stations located throughout the refuge. The students learn about reptiles while sitting next to a pond with a resident alligator, gather and analyze insect life, tour the refuge with a biologist, and among other subjects, are taught microbiology by Brenda. I work with another volunteer teaching kids about fishing and how to cast. It's a long day and sometimes the kids are a bit unruly, but at the end of the day it's also very satisfying.
The Brazoria refuge is large, over 44,000 acres, mostly marsh and islands. Migrating waterfowl and birds are starting to arrive; snow geese, ducks, ibis, herons, and roseate spoonbill can be seen almost every day. We're looking forward to the peak later this year when 20,000+ snow geese are expected. The downside of this area is the HUGE number of mosquitoes; they swarm everywhere and going outside, especially after dark, is out of the question. We're also not too crazy about the number of rattlesnakes (seen two), wild pigs (lots of them around), and of course, alligators. But, the weather has been great, sunny and warm, and we're looking forward to exploring the area. Check back with us; we'll tell you of our travels! Thanks for checking on us!