Saturday after our early breakfast at Max's Donuts, we headed to the Heard Natural Science Center. Every second Saturday the Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society offers a free bird walk. We wanted our 12-year-old niece to enjoy one of these guided nature walks. The recent rains, coupled with the cloudy-but-clear sky, made for great walking conditions. Although the winter drought meant our early Spring wildflowers gave a disappointing show this year, the late Spring rains caused the late Spring and early Summer wildflowers to appear in satisfying Texas profusion.
We saw lots of birds, including the red-headed woodpecker, the red-bellied woodpecker, the prothonotary warbler, the dickcissel, the eastern phoebe, the great blue heron, the green heron, the great egret, the cattle egret, the wood duck, the mockingbird, the Carolina chickadee, the cardinal, the painted bunting, and the eastern bluebird.
My niece spotted this lovely amphibian whom I believe to be a toad but but for whom google and I failed to find a good species identification:
The Heard features one trail called the Wood Duck Trail, which includes an extensive boardwalk over a seasonal wetlands. Today the wetlands section
remained deeply underwater. We watched woodpeckers in the dead trees, but also saw a lot of snakes sitting on surface timber, well below us. This is a good
way to observe snakes--all of the nature experience and none of the intimacy so disquieting to people and so dangerous to the snakes. Here is a Texas rat
snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri:
The Texas rat snake is known as a fierce and ill-tempered non-venomous snake. Their tricks include acting as if they are aggressively attacking an intruder,
using the thumping of their tail to try to trick intruders into imagining they are rattlesnakes. I believe that their second line strategy, after aggression
and mock strikes, is to play dead--which all reminds me a bit of the office politics of certain folks at law firms from my past.
I wrote a song a year or two back about the Texas rat snake, to which I link here.
We also saw diamondback water snakes and yellow water snakes, all protruding from the water, while resting on dead branches. Rat snakes can climb trees, but
we fortunately did not see any at board-walk level.
The Heard is primarily a nature reserve and retreat, but it has a research function as well. Little bird nets are placed out so that birds can be safely
captured, banded, and returned to nature. We came upon a team of banders. I had never seen banding done before in person. The banders handled the birds with
such care that the risk of harm to the creatures seemed entirely minimized. Here is a bander holding a male prothonotary warbler:
The banders kept our group at a proper small distance, and explained what they did. Although the handling of small birds makes me worry for the birds, they
allayed my worries with their grace and well-thought-out approach. I believe this Saturday was a heavy day, as birds flitted everywhere, including into their
At the end of our walk, the birdwatchers got separated into two groups, which at some point required my niece and I to backtrack to the Heard museum and find
my wife, We re-united in good order, though, having all had a good time.
After we went to the Heard, we stopped by the house to change clothes and eat some great paninis my wife created on our odd George Forman grill.
Then we drove to the Dallas Theater Center.
The Dallas Theater Center presents its productions in the Kallista Humphreys Theater, a Frank Lloyd Wright building in the lovely, wooded Turtle Creek area.
We were there to see a musical in its "World Premiere", a full-fledged musical of "Sarah-Plain and Tall". I like Patricia McLachlan's charming youngsters'
novel about a spirited Maine woman who answers a classified advertisement to become a Kansas prairie bride, a story based, apparently, on the true-life story
of one of Ms. McLachlan's ancestors. The Hallmark Hall of Fame special derived from this story won Glenn Close and Christopher Walken much-deserved praise,
and I believe that the story already had spawned a non-musical version and a children's musical. Nonetheless, this "full-length" musical version proved
entirely enjoyable. All of the songs were direct, witty, and advanced the plot. I like in particular that the story and the music avoided the needlessly
saccharine, instead opting for a light-hearted, childhood-accessible recognition of the challenges and compromises people face in order to live. The conceit
of making the daughter's reaction to the new arrival a dramatic axis varies a bit from the story, and I would prefer a story with different conflicts, as is
portrayed in the book. But the whole thing was very winning, and the woman who played Sarah and the woman who played Anna were particularly enjoyable.
We sat in the "loge", which is pronounced, roughly, "lowzh", which means we were near the stage but off to the right. When I got the tickets, the seating
chart implied to me that the seats would be elevated a bit, but the reality was that they were only slightly elevated. Still, we could see well.
After the play, we drove to McKinney to Mama Emilia's restaurant, where my wife and I had really fresh grouper and my niece had spaghetti and meatballs. Then
we headed back to our home, where I fell asleep quite early, while my wife and niece stayed up, and baked lemon cupcakes.
We've all had a nice visit together. We always have a fun time when a niece or nephew is visiting.