And I rode an alligator home
Months ago, I saw that one of my favorite artists, Lesley Humphrey, was doing a workshop January 15-17, 2024, down near her home in Texas. The instant signups became available, I bought my seat, my plane tickets, and my hotel. At the time, I noticed that travel would be over the MLK holiday, a weekend that has traditionally been terrible. An ice fest. Not the week before, or the week after. Something about THAT weekend brings out Nature’s desire for ice cubes. But I told myself it would be fine.
Ten days before I was due to head off, the weather forecasters started chanting the word: “SNOW”. I scoffed. But as the days moved forward, some kind of cold weather event seemed guaranteed. The last couple days before I left, I checked forecasts and eventually decided to take an additional day off work to drive up to Portland to stay at an airport hotel. This turned out to be a good decision.
I got to the hotel and even the airport without too much drama. But just as the plane was about to take off, it began to sleet. The plane was grounded for four hours waiting for enough break in the weather for ground crews to apply deicer within the takeoff window. The flight that was supposed to leave at 12:40pm and arrive in Houston at 6:40pm ended up arriving some time past 11pm. This, of course, meant I couldn’t pick up my rental car. So, I took a Lyft to my hotel.
The next morning I got up very late (past the hotel breakfast) and went into an increasingly frigid world to forage for food. Houston was also on the cusp of a polar vortex, and like Oregon, they were not prepared. After lunch, I decided to bundle up and do a little birding. It really wasn’t too bad, and because of the weather in Oregon, I was prepared. Also, it was sunny, so no rain would spoil the fun. I went out to Brazos Bend State Park, which was 17 miles away and a 25-minute Lyft ride.
At the park, I had the BEST time. Quite by accident I fell into a companionable walk with a couple of ladies who chatted amongst themselves and helped me identify all the little brown birds.
I nabbed 44 bird species, walking three miles around the forty-acre pond, 17 of them new species.
And I saw an alligator.
Even the trees were wonderful.
It was getting dark, and we heard Barred owls as we were leaving the trail to make for the front entrance. They told me that a Great horned owl pair had set up camp the last several years in a large oak by the front entrance, and I heard one as I was passing by. We said our goodbyes and I called a Lyft, hoping the wait wouldn’t be terrible. Two hours later, no one had “picked up” my request, it was pitch-black dark, and the temperature was dropping. It was starting to dawn on me that I was in trouble. (Note: I also used the Uber app with similar results.)
I began to use my phone to find a transportation alternative. I called the hotel; they recommended Lyft and Uber. I started calling traditional taxis; they refused to come get me due to distance. location, and/or my inability to give an exact address. I called AAA. They wouldn’t help me without a vehicle. So, I decided to hike a mile about the road to where Google assured me a business existed. With an actual address, maybe I could get a ride. I began to walk.
I will also mention that my phone was QUICKLY running out of power.
I arrived at Brazos Bend Powersports/RV Park/RV storage about 7:30. It was not the well-lit destination I was hoping for, but I began begging for a Lyft ride again. As nothing continued to happen, I began to seriously question my options. With tears. And more than a little hysteria.
It is at this point that the angel appeared. Her name was Marissa and she lived in the RV park. She offered to drive me back to the hotel, refusing all offers of payment. (Note: I sent her a thank you note and gift card upon my return home.)
The next day was Monday. The workshop was starting at 1pm, but there was an additional crisis brewing. The polar vortex had hit Houston, and the roads were increasingly slick. Many people started sending word via a group email that they weren’t coming. I began to worry that they would cancel the workshop. But Lesley is a sturdy soul, and the workshop went on. (Note: That post coming tomorrow.)
Wednesday I had to leave the workshop about an hour early to catch my plane home, and I am delighted to report that this leg of the trip went off almost perfectly. Upon arriving in Portland, however, it was obvious that chaos had descended. I had a lot of trouble getting a Lyft back to my car at the hotel. When my car did arrive, the driver barreled down the streets as though not noticing the ice, all the while eating chips and talking to a friend in the front seat. She tried to drop me off a block from my hotel, and if the parking lot hadn’t been an ice-skating rink, I might have let her. Once at my car, I had to let everything warm up for about 20 minutes and spent that time chipping the windshield out from about 3/4 of an inch of ice.
Once out of the parking lot, the main roads were not bad, but it was bitingly cold. I drove very carefully (slowly) home and made it home at 4am, with the day clocking in at 23 hours awake. I fell into bed. I got up long enough to go fetch Key at my friend’s house, came back, and took a nap. I had a (work) meeting that afternoon, so I worked for a couple hours, then a full day on Friday.
I need more naps.