On Comparing an Ocean to a Teardrop

Front Page, Human Interest, Outdoors, Travel
Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

 

     For those interested in folklore and mythology, there are volumes of material surrounding the occurrence of solar eclipses. When viewed through the spectacles of modern science, the mythology and folklore appear quaint or even laughable.  For example, who would believe that a giant wolf took a bite out of the sun?  In Norse culture, an evil enchanter, Loki, was put into chains by the gods. Loki got revenge by creating wolf-like giants, one of which swallowed the Sun and caused a solar eclipse.

     In India and Armenia, a dragon swallowed the sun, while Chippewa people shot flaming arrows into the air trying to reignite the sun. In Siberia, China, and Mongolia, it was believed that beheaded mythical characters chased and swallowed the sun.  In Columbia, natives shouted to the heavens and promised to mend their ways, apparently believing their bad behavior caused the solar eclipse. In Transylvania, an angry sun turned away and covered herself with darkness because of the bad behavior of men.  However, other cultures took a different view of solar eclipses and found them to be romantic.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     In a Tahitian myth, the moon and sun are lovers who joined up and caused an eclipse. The West Africans believed when the sun and moon got together, they turned off the light for privacy.  In German mythology, the sun and moon were married.  Seeking companionship, the moon was drawn to his bride, and they came together creating a solar eclipse.  To the Australian Aborigines, the sun was seen as a woman who carries a torch. The moon, was regarded as a man.  A solar eclipse was interpreted as the moon uniting with the sun.  Certainly, the romantic view comes closer to the truth in describing a solar eclipse.  It definitely is the relationship between the sun and the moon, and ancient astronomers and astrologers have been studying and predicting the event for eons.

     Ancient observations of solar eclipses can be traced back to at least 2500 BC in China and Babylon.  By 2300 BC, ancient Chinese astrologers believed a total solar eclipse was a major element of forecasting the future health and successes of the emperor.  Similar records can be found for the early Greeks.  Unfortunately, ancient Egyptian records have been destroyed as well as ancient Mayan records, but other evidence such as the Mayan calendar suggests they had an informed knowledge of solar eclipses.  Given the frequency of solar eclipses, which occur 75 out of 100 years, it understandable that they have been the subject of interest and study for ages, and the interest continues to this day.

Photo by Dan Thornton, 2012

     Our most recent solar eclipse occurred on August 21, 2017, and could be seen across the entire United States. It was widely reported in the news, and eclipse viewing glasses were being sold at Lowe’s, Walmart, and other retailers including Amazon.  On Wednesday before the big event, I began looking for eclipse viewing glasses.  I went to Lowe’s, but they were sold out.  However, I found solar viewing glasses in Walmart’s optical department.  I bought several pair and returned home.  I tested my glasses by looking into the sun; they worked well.  Pleased at my purchase, I sat outside on the patio to contemplate the event.  I had seen a partial eclipse five years earlier, and I had taken several photos that were good enough but not great.  As I anticipated photographing the current eclipse, the lyrics to You’re So Vain” kept running through my head, particularly the line, “Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun.” Carly Simon’s line would not go away, and I began to think about the possibility of seeing the total eclipse, not the partial eclipse I had seen before.

     I went to bed thinking I would not have to fly to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse. I could drive to Kansas or Kentucky and witness it firsthand. “It is not that far,” I thought. “I can drive it easily.”  After a restless night, the thought of a total solar eclipse grew larger in my mind and plagued my thoughts at every turn. I did not like the idea of photographing a partial eclipse, but I decided to buy a solar filter for my camera lens, so that I could. To my surprise, no online vendor had the filter I needed. Frustrated, I settled for a neutral density filter that I knew was not dark enough, but it might get me by in a pinch. Also, I thought if I could only see the total eclipse, I would not need a filter. The darkened sun does not require a filter to photograph it, and the darkened sun can be safely viewed with the naked eye. As Carly Simon sang softly in my ear, I imagined what it would be like. Twilight, then darkness, then twilight again, and it would happen in a matter of minutes. It would be fascinating – a thing to remember for a lifetime, and it was all going to happen within driving distance.

     It is a fine thing to allow your imagination to run wild, but at some point you have to face practical matters, and from a practical viewpoint driving 1,000 miles, more or less, to watch the sun for two minutes and thirty seconds seemed a bit impractical even to me. Also, there would be a long 1,000 mile, more or less, drive home. For the rest of the day, I toyed with the idea off and on – imagining the exhilaration and dreading the drive. Honestly, I thought my idea was a bit over the top, and I had not mentioned it to anyone. In a way, I feared the response I was sure to get, but it really is a fine thing to allow your imagination to run wild.

     I was sitting on the patio with my wife as the sun set, and without hesitation, I suggested we should go see the total eclipse ourselves. After all, it is a chance of a lifetime I argued, and it is not that far. We could drive it easily in a day I said to her. And I went on with whatever I thought might be a selling point. When I finally quit talking, she asked, “How far is it? How long will it take? Where will we stay?” I did not have all the answers, but she had not said no, so I continued with the chance-of-a-lifetime argument. “Kind of like seeing Haley’s comet,” I said, which we had seen several years before and found it to be a disappointment. “Can you imagine it turning dark in the middle of the day? Will roosters really crow? Will it be noticeably cooler?” I questioned? Finally she said we could go, but we needed a plan. After studying the map I suggested Kentucky because it had the longest viewing time and was about the same distance as Kansas. She immediately began to look for rooms for Sunday night, but none was available near Hopkinsville, our intended destination. Finally, she found a room in Dyersburg, Kentucky; we booked it. I was elated, but the planning had just begun.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     I intended to leave Sunday morning and drive straight to Kentucky, but that plan needed approval which was not forthcoming. Instead, I compromised and left Saturday afternoon. This was not my idea of a good plan, but we were going, and that is all that mattered. We spent the night in Texarkana and arrived in Dyersburg early Sunday. Dyersburg is a small agricultural community where cotton is still king, and it is about a two hour drive to Hopkinsville. By the time we reached Dyersburg, we had decided that Hopkinsville was not our destination. The enterprising residents of Hopkinsville were renting 64 square feet of their lawns to eclipse viewers, and people from all over the world were descending on Hopkinsville. There were estimates of 75,000 visitors and upwards in a town of around 31,000 inhabitants. It was not that appealing, so we decided to view the eclipse from the Walmart parking lot in Benton, Kentucky. It was a pretty good plan.  When we got on the road to Benton Monday morning, there was very little traffic, so we decided to go even closer to Hopkinsville. We would go to Eddyville and view the eclipse from the Walmart parking lot in Eddyville. While in route, my wife noticed a state park on the map just outside of Eddyville, so we decided to investigate the park. When we arrived at the park, we found a large parking lot at the visitor center, but it was filling up fast. We found a vacant spot and parked. This was our destination!  It was about 10:00 a.m., and we had arrived.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     I unpacked the lawn chairs and the ice chest and set up the umbrella. It was about 98 degrees with clear skies. It was a perfect day for an eclipse, and eager eclipse viewers in the park were trying out their glasses and staring at the sun. Some were holding glasses in front of their cell phones and taking pictures. A quick glance around the parking lot revealed the license plates, and they were from all over the country. The atmosphere was festive and friendly with people sharing stories of their travels. One person I met from Annapolis, Maryland, had first gone to St. Louis to view the eclipse but decided there were too many clouds in St. Louis and had just driven to Kentucky this morning. Others had planned their travel months in advance and purposely selected the state park we were in. I did not bother to tell them that we had stopped on our way to Walmart. We were in Land Between the Lakes Park on the Kentucky side. The park is shared by Kentucky and Tennessee and can be entered from either state.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     The eclipse had started, but the total eclipse would not occur until 1:30 pm. Periodically I put on my glasses to monitor the progress. I am happy to report that a giant wolf was indeed biting off huge chunks of the sun. It was disappearing in steady increments, and I took a few photos of the progress. It was blinding looking through a telephoto camera lens at the sun – even with my darkest neutral density filter. I would only glimpse at the sun and release the shutter blindly. The twilight had begun, and it produced an eerie, greenish light. I tried to photograph the twilight, but the photos are a poor representation of reality, as is often the case with photography. The camera lacks the nuanced sophistication of the human eye.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017
Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     The park was now almost silent as onlookers anticipated the coming event. As a small cloud approached the sun and threatened to block our view, the silence was broken by sighs of disappointment. The silence returned as the cloud passed from view. Only moments before the total eclipse, yet another cloud passed in front of the sun and the sighs were louder, but it too quickly passed away, and applause replaced the sighs. It was now dark, and stars twinkled in the sky. The total eclipse had arrived, and the corona was readily visible at the edge of the darkened sun. Cameras were snapping away rapidly, and dogs began to bark and howl. The cameras were being triggered by humans, but only Heaven knows what triggered the dogs. In two minutes and thirty seconds the sun was returning, and twilight was reversing. The temperature now hovered at 83 degrees, and it was over. In my life’s history, I have no other frame of reference for comparison. It is perhaps as Wendy Mass has said, “Comparing what you see during an eclipse to the darkness at night is like comparing an ocean to a teardrop.” To me, it was simply euphoric.

 

Until next time…

A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.
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Esperanza, Grackles and Angels

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Outdoors

     

     You do not need a calendar to realize that spring has arrived. Step outdoors, open your eyes and ears and the evidence is overwhelming.  Trees are now sporting their best green attire, bluebonnets are in full bloom, clover has clawed its way to the surface along with the dandelions.  The air is a flurry of activity while birds fly to and from their nesting sites erecting nest of various description.  Doves are singing their mournful song, and grackles are heard everywhere.  Bees are buzzing as they gather nectar while crawling down the golden throat of the Esperanza.

     The Esperanza is often mistaken for a tropical plant, but it is a North American native.  It thrives in moderate southern climates and tolerates drought very well.  In recent years, it has grown in popularity due in part to its drought tolerance, but its gaudy yellow bloom is the reason it is turning up in gardens and landscapes throughout the south.  The two inch trumpet shaped blooms signal spring, but to everyone’s delight they continue to bloom uncontrollably through the fall.

     If you somehow miss the silent signaling of the Esperanza that spring has arrived, then surely you have heard the sounds of the Great-tailed Grackle.  The grackle makes an impressive array of sounds, but unfortunately not all are musical and not all are sweet tinkling notes.  Some sounds are mechanical and irritating like a squeaking door hinge, and others are so loud they are best heard at a great distance.  Male grackles make an irritating clacking sound when humans are near, and female grackles are known to follow humans around making an annoying chattering sound when they have young grackles in their nest.  There is a legend that grackles came into the world mute and stole their seven sounds from a wise and knowing sea turtle, and what we actually hear as grackle vocalization are the seven passions of life (Love, Hate, Fear, Courage, Joy, Sadness and Anger).  While some may not agree on the truth of the legend, all will surely agree that grackles are loud.

     If the sound of grackles has not alerted you to spring, then surely the thundering sound of the Blue Angels blasting holes in the sky got your attention.  Flying low over the Flour Bluff peninsula, rolling, looping then soaring out of sight they signaled the arrival of spring in a way that cannot be duplicated in nature.  Flying at speeds up to 700 miles per hour their jet aircraft often fly as close as eighteen inches apart.  The Blue Angels are best known for their iconic diamond formation and the missing man formation, but regardless of the formation, the Blue Angels arrival marks the changing of seasons in a way not to be outdone.

     It is often said of spring that it is a time for new beginnings, rebirth, revitalization, regeneration, or as I like to think of it.  It is a time for nature’s do-over, but perhaps Sitting Bull said it best.  “Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love.”

Until next time…

A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.
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A Time of Hope and Promise

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial, Outdoors

     

     Winter appears to be in rapid retreat, and a few days of spring-like weather are headed our way before the long humid days of summer.  Mesquite trees have begun to leaf out, and a few migratory birds have appeared in the canopy of live oaks.  Gardens have been planted, and a  few berry-sized tomatoes cling to the vine, while citrus trees are beginning to bloom.  In short, it is the time of renewal.  It is the time of hope and of promise.

    Ground Hog Day has passed, and Arbor Day is on the horizon.  For many, the significance of Arbor Day has been lost along with the legend of Johnny Appleseed.  Society is just too advanced for such quaint notions, but should it be?  Is there significance in planting a tree?  Is there hope and promise?

     For me, the answer is yes, and it has always been so.  I can still recall visiting Bird Island Basin in the 1970s and observing the fresh-water ponds.  The ponds were mere depressions that gathered and held rain water.  There were no trees along the shoreline, but I thought there could be, so I recruited my brother, and we planted willow trees along the shoreline.  I am happy to report the trees are still standing, still producing oxygen and providing a habitat for local wildlife.  In the course of human events, it was not a particularly significant event, but for me it was one filled with hope and promise.

     It was with that spirit of hope that Arbor Day was first celebrated in Spain in the year of 1594.  In the United States, the first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872.  An estimated one million trees were planted.  By 1883, Arbor Day had spread to Australia, Canada, Europe and Japan.  On April 15, 1907, Theodore Roosevelt issued an “Arbor Day” proclamation to the school children of the United States.  The proclamation emphasized the importance of trees and forestry.  Now National Geographic claims that half of the world’s oxygen is produced by trees and other vegetation, and therein lies the hope and promise of our future.

     It is claimed that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming, and that taxing carbon emissions is the solution.  An absurd proposition, but a proposition held dear by so-called environmentalist.  It would seem as though environmentalist prefer a social solution to a scientific solution.  It is not clear how taxation can convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, but through photosynthesis a tree certainly can, and trees – not taxation – may provide hope and promise to our friends, the confused environmentalist.

     Trees (all plant life) take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen through the process known as photosynthesis.  If a tree grows at the rate of 100 pounds per year, then the tree stores approximately 100 pounds of carbon and releases approximately 100 pounds of oxygen into the atmosphere.  When a tree reaches maturity and stops growing, the tree stops producing excess oxygen, and can be said to be in a state of equilibrium.  When a tree dies and begins to decay, the carbon trapped in its cells is given off as carbon dioxide.  When a mature tree is harvested for lumber, the carbon remains trapped in its cell structure, and the carbon dioxide is not released into the atmosphere.  If a tree is burned for fuel, the carbon in its cell structure is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.  The same thing can be said of burning fossil fuels.

   Fossil fuels such as  coal, petroleum and natural gas are stored carbon that was created  through a process known as anaerobic decomposition millions of  years ago.  Dead plant life was buried and subjected to heat and pressure and over time created vast deposits of fossil fuel.  When fossil fuel  is burned, the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, in much the same way as burning  a log in a fireplace.

     Interestingly carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is essential for plant growth, and it is considered to be a nutrient for plants.  Since carbon dioxide is a nutrient for plants, as the carbon dioxide level  in the atmosphere increases, plant growth accelerates and reduces the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Conversely when carbon dioxide is depleted in the atmosphere plants quit growing and begin to die.  It kind of reminds me of the law of conservation of matter that was taught in sixth grade science class which states, “Matter cannot be created or destroyed only transformed.”  So if you want to reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, consider the scientific solution, and plant a tree.

“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if you think in terms of ten years, plant trees;  if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” – Confucius

Until next time…

A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.
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City Park Director Addresses Flour Bluff Citizens Council

Business, Community Organizations, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Outdoors
Corpus Christi Director of Parks and Recreation Stacie Talbert Anaya addressing Flour Bluff Citizens Council at January 23, 2017, general meeting
     A crowd of about 60 people gathered at 6:00 p.m. on January 23, 2017, at Grace Community Church in Flour Bluff to listen to Stacie Talbert Anaya, Director of Parks and Recreation, describe what her department does city-wide and what is planned for parks in Flour Bluff. Dr. Lloyd Stegemann, FBCC Chairman of the FB Parks and Recreation Committee and newly-appointed member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee for Corpus Christi introduced Ms. Anaya to the audience, pointing out that she lives and works by the motto “The world needs play.”
FBCC members listen while Stacie Talber Anaya, Director of Parks and Recreation, explains what is in store for Flour Bluff parks.
     Ms. Anaya told the citizens council that Parker Park is being upgraded as part of a 2012 voter-approved bond.  New walking paths, lighting for the tennis and basketball courts, improvements to the covered picnic area, and new playground facilities are just part of the plan.  A plan for planting more trees is also in the works.  Parker Pool, which is no longer managed by the city, is not part of the renovation project.  The community was encouraged to assist the Parker Pool Patriots in keeping the pool functional.  (To donate to the cause, visit their website.)
Recent construction at Parker Park
     Plans for an extension of the Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve and Learning Center, a 162-acre nature preserve accessible by using the walk-in entrances along N. Oso Parkway and from the Holly hike and bike trail, sits just across the Oso from Flour Bluff.  Anaya said that she and her group are working on making the park accessible to the Flour Bluff community via a hike and bike trail across the existing railway bridge. She said that the plan includes the walkway, fishing spots along the bridge, and perhaps even a trail head parking area at the corner of Flour Bluff Drive and Division Road, a property purchased two years ago by the city to build a citizens collections center, a facility opposed by those who live and own businesses closest to the area.  Anaya’s  idea for the property received many nods from the crowd who also want to see the property used for a more family-friendly space.
Map showing connection of Oso Wetlands park to Flour Bluff side of Oso via old railway tracks
     Anaya also discussed how the Community Enrichment Fund dollars (funds received from developer fees, other donations and interest earned in the Community Enrichment Fund) are used.  The Unified Development Code (UDC), requires that the fees be used for the acquisition or improvement of parks most likely to serve the residents of the subdivision. Community Enrichment Funds shall be used only for parkland acquisition, park development and park improvements including utility extensions required to serve recreational areas. The last appropriation of Community Enrichment Funds was approved by City Council on July 19, 2016.  The next appropriation will be made following approval at the January 24, 2017, council meeting.
    Adding to the discussion of parks and recreational areas in Flour Bluff was community activist and former president of the Flour Bluff Business Association, Melanie Hambrick, who outlined the plans for Redhead Pond (an area purchased to protect freshwater wetland habitat for wintering waterfowl and other birds). Redhead Pond offers a unique opportunity to view large concentrations of wild birds on Laguna Shores Road in Flour Bluff. Ms. Hambrick has long wanted to work with Texas Parks and Wildlife to make this a place for families and visitors to enjoy.  (To volunteer for the Redhead Pond Project, contact Melanie Hambrick at 361-728-7393 or mlhambrick@aol.com.)
Melanie Hambrick
Map of Redhead Pond Wildlife Management Area, Corpus Christi, TX 78418
 
     Joining the FBCC members at the January 23, 2017, general meeting were City Manager Margie Rose, At-large Council Members Paulette Guajardo and Michael Hunter, District 4 Councilman Greg Smith, and Gaye White of Todd Hunter’s office.  Pastor Jess Cole of Grace Community Church offers the church for the FBCC meetings, of which the group is very appreciative.
Better in the Bluff
     As an added bonus, Better in the Bluff t-shirts were raffled to the members in attendance.  Anyone who wishes to purchase a shirt at a cost of $16 ($4 goes to the FBCC for each sale) may visit Caption Tees by following this link.
Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.
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Big Blue Ice: The Perito Moreno Glacier

Front Page, Outdoors, Travel

     I took one last gulp of the cold, ambrosial water, then raised my gaze and surveyed the glacier. I was on my knees because I had been filling my water bottle with the cobalt blue water seeping from a little chasm in the ice, but it was a doubly appropriate posture. I was in a state of awe.

 

perito-moreno-glacier-1

     Standing on the vast undulating surface of the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina, it is not hyperbolic to say I felt I was on another planet. Just yesterday I took a bus from Puerto Natales, Chile, which careened past a sign that read, both accurately and worryingly: EL FIN DEL MUNDO – “the end of the world” – and now I was trekking across endless hills and ridges of swirling ice that looked like waves frozen in time. My sweltering South Texas hometown could never have prepared me for the raw, rugged beauty of Patagonia.

perito-moreno-glacier-2

     The region encompasses much of the southern parts of Chile and Argentina, and is home to vaulting, jagged mountains; endless plains of grazing guanacos; and the third largest ice field on the planet—one that plays third fiddle only to Antarctica and the North Pole. There are 48 glaciers in Patagonia’s southern ice field, of which Perito Moreno is one of the most accessible. This particular glacier spans 97 square miles, the visible boundary as wide as three miles and with an average height of 240 feet above Argentino Lake. Numbers cannot hope to make sense of this immensity.

perito-moreno-glacier-3

     I had signed up for a tour on El Calafate’s main street the previous day, and with spiky metal crampons lashed to our hiking boots, a guide led my group carefully through the gullies and slopes of the glacier’s surface. After a couple hours of climbing up icy knolls and leaping over glowing blue crevasses beneath the day’s heavy thunderheads, we met at the base of the glacier and were rewarded with alfajores (a ubiquitous Argentinean treat of two cookies filled with dulce de leche then smothered with chocolate) and the best kind of ice bar: whiskey on glacier rocks.

perito-moreno-glacier-4

perito-moreno-glacier-5-1

     “Small sips,” our guide instructed the group, holding her glass up with a grin. “Glacier ice has larger crystals and smaller air bubbles than regular ice cubes. It melts more slowly. ¡Disfrutalo!”

perito-moreno-glacier-6

     As much as I did enjoy our impromptu bar, the real treat occurred as we were ferrying back across the channel to the observation decks, passing directly in front of the massive wall of ice. Since it is one of only three advancing glaciers on the planet, it calves often, meaning it is common to see enormous chunks of ice break off and crash into the water in an explosion of white spray. But it is the sound of a calving I will remember most. As our boat shuttled us toward land, some of us had cameras glued to our faces, trying to snap a few last photos of what is a hopelessly ineffable sight, while others just leaned on the railings and soaked it all in. At that moment, a huge piece of ice cleaved from the glacier, and a deafening roar detonated through the air; first, it was like the sizzling catch of a flare, then like great branches cracking and breaking, and finally like a thundering solo of a thousand bass and snare drums. Eventually, the air and water quieted, and the glacier spoke no more. Mere minutes later, the grey clouds dissolved and the unbroken arc of a rainbow shot over the ice, resting there like a crown.

perito-moreno-glacier-7

 

 

 

 

Originally from Texas, Ben spent a year traveling around South America and road-tripping across the USA, looking for writing inspiration wherever he went. He is now living in Nashville, and few things make him happier than playing the piano on a stormy afternoon or stumbling across a nearly perfect poem.
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Parker Memorial Park in Flour Bluff Gets Makeover

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Outdoors
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Parker Memorial Park on Graham Road in Flour Bluff

     For those who attend events at the Ethel Eyerly Community Center or have been swimming at Parker Pool in Flour Bluff, they have probably noticed that the park is under construction.  On May 24, 2016, the City Council approved the construction contract with Ram-Bro Construction of Robstown, Texas, in the amount of $363,559.50 for the Community Park Development and Improvements – Parker Park project, part of Bond 2012, Proposition 4.

     CIVCAST, the online bidding site used by the City, reports that the 2.2 acre area of work required that each company place bids to:

  1. Clear and grub approximately 92,000 SF of park area for planting and seeding.
  2. Clear and seed turf as specified in approximately 78,000 SF of park area.
  3. Install decomposed granite paths as shown own drawings approximately 3,500 square feet.
  4. Demolish and install new play areas in concrete as shown on plans.  These areas will be topped with fall surface material provided by the City.  Approximate area of concrete slab area is 4,575 square feet.
  5. Provide new concrete pavement around new play areas as shown on plans area is approximately 2,652 square feet.
  6. Demolish and install new sidewalks as part of base bid scope as shown on plans, approximate area for these walks is 2,247 square feet.
  7. Provide new lighting at play areas and at basketball court.
  8. Demolish and replace pavilion roof structure as detail on plans.

Parker Park 4

  According to the Corpus Christi Engineering Services presentation to City Council on May 17, 2016, the project includes:

  • New irrigation system, new topsoil, new Bermuda grass, and native low water demand plants and decomposed granite paths
  • Repairs of the existing perimeter walking path
  • Removal of existing play equipment in anticipation of the installation of new equipment. The new equipment will be purchased and installed as a separate contract.
  • Two new concrete pads for new play areas and safety surfacing
  • Lighting for playgrounds and the existing basketball courts
  • Repairs to the existing pavilion roof

     The anticipated construction completion of the park is set for November 2016.  With the newly renovated park, the citizens of Flour Bluff are hopeful that the City will help them find a way to combat the homeless problem that has existed in the park for many years.

     “It’s the shadiest park in Flour Bluff. It’s close to the pool, and it has tennis and basketball courts,” said one woman who takes her children to swim at the pool that has been brought back to life by a group of devoted citizens, the Parker Pool Patriots.  “It’s a shame that the homeless are living in the park because it makes me really leery about letting my kids play there.  Maybe this will change all that.”

 

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.
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A Break In the Clouds

Front Page, Outdoors, Travel

     

     Last summer, I found myself in Chile’s remote Atacama Desert, cloaked by the chilly night, gazing up at our gauzy, swirling Milky Way emblazoned more brightly than I had ever seen it across the inky sky. Many factors have fortuitously coalesced to make this one of the planet’s most optimal places to observe the night skies: high altitude (~8000 ft. above sea level), high level of aridity, a near total lack of radio and light pollution, and an average of 330 cloudless days a year.

Chile 1
Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)

     With approximately .6 inches of annual rainfall, this 40,000-square-mile stretch of land is the world’s driest non-polar desert—some parts haven’t seen water in over 400 years. During the day, the mellow village of San Pedro de Atacama serves as a jumping off point for tours of steaming geysers; freezing lagoons; sparkling salt flats; and the jagged, alien vistas of Valle de la Luna. But the only appropriate response upon nightfall is to get out of town and look up.

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     I was fortunate enough to discover Jorge Corante, a tour guide infectiously passionate about astronomy. He gave my small group an animated lesson about the night sky, discussing zodiac constellations and Andean astrology. Then, after handing us cups of creamy hot chocolate, he scurried from telescope to telescope, tinkering away to ensure we had the best views possible. Through them, I peered breathlessly at colorful nebulae, the Magellanic Clouds, the Southern Cross, distant galaxies, the moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. The moon was so close I felt I could discern every crevice and crater. Saturn burned yellow like a faraway sun, its rings so clear I could distinguish layer upon layer of those diaphanous discs.

     Toward the end of the stargazing tour, Jorge aimed his largest telescope at a darker patch of sky, a blackness seemingly void of all but a hazy smidgen of light. He adjusted the dials, then beckoned me to look, and what I witnessed was unbelievable. That “dark patch” was actually in the direction of Omega Centauri, our galaxy’s largest globular star cluster, and my vision was filled with millions of specks of light.

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Omega Centauri (© 2013 by Joaquin Polleri & Ezequiel Etcheverry (Observatorio Panameño en San Pedro de Atacama)

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     Throughout the next week, Jorge and I continued to become friends, texting back and forth about the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter that was set to peak on June 31st. The two planets would be a mere .3 degrees apart—the closest they had come since 6/17/2 BC, when they were so close they would have looked like one dazzling object. Some hypothesize that ancient conjunction was the elusive Star of Bethlehem. Heralding star or not, it is an exceedingly rare event (2017 years in the making), and I was in an ideal place to observe it. However, as fate would have it, on the evening of the conjunction, the typically clear sky filled with a thick blanket of clouds, and it seemed I would miss it. I consoled myself by going to Ckunna, a gem of a restaurant, and ate my disappointment away with their signature dish, “quinoto,” a mixture of locally grown quinoa, pesto, goat cheese, seasonal vegetables, and desert spices.

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Yummy Quinoto

     Just as I got back to my hostel, I received this text from Jorge:

     “I hear there’s a break in the clouds near Calama. Do you want me to pick you up? I can be at your hostel in ten minutes.”

     I answered in the affirmative, and within minutes, Jorge and I were racing down the road that winds around desert ridges and rock formations, through plains of surreal and barren beauty. As the lights of Calama appeared at the foothills of the Chilean Coast Range, the clouds dissipated and we saw it: the planets nearly touching, fiery against the navy night. Jorge veered off to the side of the road, parked, and hauled one of his telescopes out of the truck bed. I stood gazing up in the middle of that empty, cold road, filled with speechless awe and the buoying warmth of friendship.

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Related links:

http://adstargazing.com/stargazing/Page1358.htm

http://www.bethlehemstar.com

 

Originally from Texas, Ben spent a year traveling around South America and road-tripping across the USA, looking for writing inspiration wherever he went. He is now living in Nashville, and few things make him happier than playing the piano on a stormy afternoon or stumbling across a nearly perfect poem.
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Living la Vida Bluff Style!

Arts, Business, Education, Flour Bluff, Food and Drink, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial, Outdoors, Religion, Sports, Travel
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Sunset on Cayo del Oso in Flour Bluff

     I guess taking part in my 40th class reunion made me a bit nostalgic concerning my hometown, Flour Bluff.  It is a little community of about 20,000 fiercely independent people that sits on the Encinal Peninsula between Cayo del Oso and Laguna Madre.  On Aug. 5, 1961, the City of Corpus Christi, Texas, voted to annex Flour Bluff while Flour Bluff voted to incorporate as a separate city.  The Corpus Christi City Council passed an annexation ordinance, and city police began patrolling in Flour Bluff.  Suits filed by Flour Bluff residents to block annexation were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in the matter.  Even though Flour Bluff officially became part of Corpus Christi, the people don’t really seem to know it.  That’s why most Flour Bluffians say they are “going to town,” when in actuality they are simply crossing one of the two Oso bridges into Corpus Christi proper.

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     Once known as the “Gateway to Padre Island,” Flour Bluff is home to the award-winning Flour Bluff Independent School District and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, the two largest employers in the community.  These two entities have supported each other since World War II when the Navy commissioned the base in 1941.  Flour Bluff, like many Texas towns, was influenced by ranching and oil and gas.  Add to that tourism, highlighted by fishing, boating, birding, and water sports, the diverse nature of the community starts to take shape.

An aerial view of Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, as it appeared on January 27, 1941, seventy-two years ago today. The air station was commissioned in March 1941.
An aerial view of Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, as it appeared on January 27, 1941. The air station was commissioned in March 1941.
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The first school was opened in 1892 in the community of Brighton, later to become Flour Bluff.
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Kite surfing, boating, fishing, and great meals at Laguna Reef in Flour Bluff
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Flour Bluff is home to countless species of birds.

    It is possible to live and work in Flour Bluff and never leave except to visit a major hospital, which is just five minutes away.  Flour Bluff has its very own HEB Plus and Super Walmart along with a host of unique shops and businesses that meet the everyday needs of the people.  It has an active business association, three fire stations (federal, county, and city), a police substation, various banking institutions, eateries of all types, and even a brewery!  Add to this three quick-care clinics, local dentists, a vet clinic serving large animals and small pets, accommodations for out-of-town guests, a twenty-four hour gym, multiple auto mechanic shops, storage facilities, car washes, insurance companies, attorneys-at-law, and a host of other businesses that offer the citizens of Flour Bluff basic amenities of life. Of course, churches of all denominations and community organizations enrich the lives of the people, too. If a person wants something more, indoor and outdoor malls are within a ten-minute drive east while the Gulf of Mexico is ten minutes the other direction. Padre Island sports the longest stretch of undeveloped, drivable beach in America (60 miles).  Del Mar College, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and the Craft Training Center provide educational opportunities beyond high school and are all under a 20-minute drive from Flour Bluff.

    

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     Living in Flour Bluff comes in all shapes and sizes.  The community offers many housing choices – including affordable housing, and multiple realtors in the area are available to assist newcomers in finding the perfect home.  Some residents in Flour Bluff enjoy the rancher’s life and own large pieces of property with room for horses and cows.  Others love living on the water.  Waterfront properties are available along Oso Bay, Laguna Madre, and parts in between where ponds and canals exist.  Many people prefer little or no yard maintenance and live in single or multi-level apartments or condominiums.  Flour Bluff welcomes its friends from the colder parts of the country in the many RV parks in the community.  Most residents, however, live in quiet neighborhoods filled with the whir of lawnmowers and the laughter of children.  Yes, there is indeed something for everyone!

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     Flour Bluff offers many outlets for family fun.  The community has a public and school pool, little league softball, baseball, and kickball fields, youth football organizations, activities at Flour Bluff Schools (i.e. basketball, football, volleyball, softball, academics, arts, music, NJROTC), a skateboard park, a disc golf park, multiple playgrounds, and other facilities for activities such as martial arts, soccer, tennis, rugby, and horseback riding.

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          Seasonal events give everyone something to anticipate.  Whether it’s the Navy hosting the Blue Angels, the Flour Bluff Homecoming Parade, the Flour Bluff Business Association Community Christmas, the Flour Bluff Fire Department Santa float, or the Flour Bluff 8th-Grade trip to HEB Camp in the Hill Country, those who know Flour Bluff, know it has a host of unique offerings for the community.  Maybe it’s a school that’s excels in everything.  Maybe it’s the year-round great weather conducive to outdoor activities like fishing, boating, swimming, and surfing.  Maybe it’s the tight-knit community that welcomes people from all over the world to be a part of what is happening here.  Maybe it’s the rich history or unique geographical location. Maybe it’s the class reunions, Friday-night football, or visiting with old friends in the grocery line. Whatever it is, Flour Bluff is a great place to live, visit, play, raise a family, and take part in a community that is like no other.

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Santa float

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     Spending the weekend with childhood friends (Flour Bluff Class of ’76), driving the Bluff in search of what is new or changed, writing this article, and gathering pictures for it takes me to the heart of a place I have called home for nearly 50 years.  Even those who have moved away still feel her tugging at their heartstrings. She definitely leaves an impression.  Flour Bluff, like every little “town”, has its problems, but that which is good outweighs them all.  I just wish more people could experience living la vida Bluff style!

 

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.
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Ready, Aim, Fire!

By Kids for Kids, Corpus Christi, Education, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Outdoors, Sports

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     On May 6, 2016, our Nueces County 4-H Trap and Skeet Club held their annual competition at Corpus Christi Pistol and Rifle Club, home to the Nueces County group. Over 270 youth competed in skeet, trap, whiz bang, and sporting clays, a record number of young gun enthusiasts for this event.  My brother, Lane Zamora, and his friend, Kaden Strey, participated in this year’s event and had a great time!

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     They are learning how to shoot skeet and trap, skills that make for more accurate shooting while hunting game.  They also learn more than that.  The 4-H Trap and Skeet Clubs primarily focus on gun safety for kids.  The participants take the Project ChildSafe Pledge, which reads:

     I Hereby Promise:
  • I will not handle guns without permission from a grown-up that I know.
  • I will never play with guns.
  • I will not go snooping or allow my friends to go snooping for guns in the house.
  • If I find a gun, even if it looks like a toy, I will not touch it; I will tell a grown-up I know right away.
  • I will obey the rules of safe gun handling.

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     The club also helps them be more disciplined and practice the self-control required for responsible firearms use, which helps them in their everyday lives, too.   They learn the safe and ethical use of firearms and understand that knowing how to handle a gun will prevent gun accidents.  For my brother, it is something that he and my dad enjoy doing together. What he learns about shooting a gun he also uses to shoot a bow.  Even I sometimes go along with them and take part in the hunt, something my mom won’t do even though she always goes to the 4-H shooting practices and competitions.  Our family knows the importance of being responsible gun owners.

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Taylor Zamora is a 7th-grade honors student at Flour Bluff Junior High.  She enjoys spending time with her family, riding her horse, playing sports, playing her clarinet, and hanging out with her friends.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.
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Bluff Kids Know How to Make the Best of a Bad Situation

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Outdoors

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     When emergency crews are working hard to right the wrongs created by a nearly 14-inch rain that fell starting around 11:00 a.m. on May 15, 2016,  what do the kids in the close-knit, laid-back community of Flour Bluff, an area of Corpus Christi once known as the “Gateway to Padre Island” do?  They take advantage of the blessing!

     Flour Bluff ISD Superintendent Joe Kelley closed school for the day, saying that buses couldn’t roll, teachers couldn’t get to school, and the water boil notice imposed by the City was still in effect.  It may be a day that must be made up, but the kids don’t care;  they are going to have as much fun in the sun – and the water – as possible.  While parents are fretting about standing water, pending mosquito problems, loss of power, flooded homes, and stalled vehicles, the children are making the best of a what others deem a very bad situation.  All over Flour Bluff, boys and girls (and even some adults) are pulling off their shoes,  grabbing their tubes, manning their kayaks and small fishing boats, and calling it a day to play!

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     The local forecast calls for more rain throughout the week, which could make it a very difficult situation for some, especially those who woke up to 5 inches of water in their homes in the Retta Place neighborhood.  Until then, the kids will ring in the lazy days of summer just a little earlier than anticipated while utility workers, emergency services, and other city departments strive to return the city to normal.

Go to the Paper Trail News Facebook page for more photos.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.
Please follow and like us: