This is my 100th blog post, so I spent part of this week trying to decide what to write about. Eventually, I decided to write about friends because my friends have been on my mind a lot lately. I initially planned to write the blog last night so that it would be just about friends and not about hiking, but then I decided to wait until today and I’m so glad I did!
So what is a friend? Webster’s Dictionary defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem” or “a favored companion”. Throughout my life, I have had many friends. Some came into my life for a particular reason and served a particular purpose, but when that reason was over, the friendship ended. Some came into my life for a season, and when the season had passed, the friendship did too. And some have been lifelong friends who I know will always be with me and whom I can count on in the best and worst of times. I have learned many lessons from my friendships, even those that ended not so nicely. One of the biggest things I have learned from my friends is tolerance. When I was in elementary school, middle school, and high school, my friends were very similar to me in a lot of respects. In college, I started to make friends with people who were different than me in lots of ways. Stereotypes started to break down and I started to become less critical of differences. But it has really been over the last 10+ years that I have learned to appreciate and celebrate differences in people, and learned to appreciate what each of my friends bring to my life.
As I’ve gotten older, my friendships have deepened, particularly with my girlfriends. In my youth and early adulthood, I probably took my friends for granted, safe in the arrogant belief that they would always be part of my life as long as I desired. But friendship, like any relationship, takes work. You have to make time to spend together or stay in touch even though your lives are busy. Social media has made that easier and although there is a lot of hateful and stupid garbage on Facebook, I am grateful for that outlet because it allows me to stay in touch with friends across the country and around the world.
I will have more to say about friends later in the blog, but let’s move on to today’s shenanigans! Michelle wanted to explore the area around the lower dam at Quanah Parker Lake, so we decided to explore the east side of the dam first. Then we would hike back to the trailhead, cross the dam, and hike the area around Little Baldy. Temperatures have been in the 90’s all week, so we headed out at 7:15 in an effort to beat the heat. It was an overcast morning and clouds were hanging low over the Refuge. The nice part of that is that although the humidity was high, the heat was still fairly low. After 50 layers of bug spray, we headed south on the east side of Quanah Parker Dam. Initially, we moved downhill and into the woods leading to Quanah Canyon. Michelle surmised that we should be able to approach the lower dam from the south moving north, but all I saw was thick woods and I wasn’t feeling that. So we reversed direction and climbed back almost to the trailhead. The wildflowers in this area were beautiful, with American Star Thistle being the current star of the show.
On the second try, we climbed down from the trail toward the creek and then headed parallel to the creek. After climbing between two large boulders, we made our way to the lower dam. Although there was no water coming over Quanah Parker Dam, it still made a great picture.
While we were exploring, we had felt a few raindrops, but nothing major. As we started to climb back toward the trail, the rain intensified. My pack came off and both cameras were quickly stowed! Now it was a bit of a faster trek to get back to the car. We stowed our gear, I grabbed my cameras out of my pack, and we headed out to drive through the Refuge. We were both feeling a little disappointed about the hike that wasn’t. It’s one thing if we make the decision in advance to just drive through, but it’s another thing to start a hike and then have to abort it.
We drove down Highway 115 headed toward Sunset. There was a herd of buffalo at Prairie Dog Town, so we stopped for pictures.
As we neared Indiahoma Road, we passed Bill, Dolores, and Maggie May. Obviously, their hike was rained out as well. We did a quick check of Sunset Picnic Area and then headed down Indiahoma Road toward the west side of the Refuge. Along the way, a plan formed. Yesterday, Bill had posted pictures from his hike on Elk Trail and there were a lot of Mullein plants that were not pulled during the invasive plant pull. Trail Twins, activate (and there was a fist bump that went with that)! We crossed the bridge at the French Lake parking lot and turned left onto Elk Trail. At this point, Michelle announced that we need a theme song. Hmm, we’ll need to work on that and any suggestions are welcome.
After crossing the first metal bridge, we moved into an area on the lake side and pulled up approximately 30 Mullein plants. As I’ve mentioned before, Mullein is an invasive plant species in the Refuge and we have to get rid of it as much as possible. We didn’t get all of the plants, but we got the seed pods and the biggest plants. Moving further down the trail, we passed French Lake Dam and started down a small hill. On the other side of the Fish Lakes was a small herd of longhorn. I looked at Michelle and said “you don’t think they can swim, do you?”. “No, but they can walk into the water”. They definitely took notice of us, but apparently decided that we weren’t worth their time. We proceeded a little further before hitting the next Mullein patch, where we cut the seed stems off another 10 plants.
Our gift to Randy secured in two large trash bags, we headed back to the car with the bags slung over our shoulders like two Santas. Mullein got stowed in the trunk, snack that smiles back was brought out, and we headed toward the visitor center. We were feeling a little better about the morning, but there was still a bit of a damper on the day. That was about to change!
When we hit the intersection of Indiahoma Road and Highway 115, Michelle remarked that the clouds to the west were so pretty. I told her to pull over in the turnout and we could get some pictures. She thought I meant the turnoff to the corrals, but I instructed her to head up the hill and pull over on the right.
After taking a few pictures, I turned around and found Michelle standing in the trunk of her car. “What the heck are you doing?”. “Getting more height”. Obviously, a short person’s issue.
She got her pictures and then suggested that I try it. Like an idiot… The issue quickly became that I am tall and couldn’t stand up completely because the trunk lid blocked me. Both of us found this hysterically funny and doubled over in laughter. You know the kind I’m talking about. Your belly shakes, tears run down your face, and the laughter feeds itself. Of course, Michelle still had the wherewithal to take pictures!
Now the issue became how to remove myself from the trunk as quickly as possible without face planting or losing control of certain things. I stepped out as gingerly as I could and instantly crossed my legs.
Sunday shenanigans were well under way, but it got better! We arrived at the visitor center a few minutes later and proudly carried our bags of Mullein inside. Donna took one look at us and started shaking her head. She never knows what to expect from us! We told her what was in the bags and she initially said we could put them in Randy’s office. Then she changed her mind and said we had to take them to the dumpster. Party pooper! After a couple of crazy pictures (fighting the wind and trash bags), into the dumpster they went.
You would think this was the highlight of the morning, but you would be wrong! There was more fun to come. We visited a bit with Donna (we amuse her) and then moved into the Nature Store to talk to Sierra and check out the restocked (and constantly refolded) shirts. After deciding on our purchases, Michelle headed back to the car to get her debit card. Along the way, she met up with Randy and showed him the Mullein pictures. I think he was really proud of us! We added to our growing collection of Refuge t-shirts and then said goodbye to Donna as she headed home for lunch.
I thought we would probably leave, but we ended up behind the desk with Randy. We jointly directed several visitors to different attractions and trails, had a few laughs, and discussed a few things. Then the phone rang. Michelle was sitting next to it and asked if she should answer it. Randy said “sure” and I thought “Donna shouldn’t have left us alone with Randy!”. Michelle sounded so professional and I was proud! And she got a total puffball question. “Is Mount Scott open?”. We knew it was because Donna told us that was where Randy was when we arrived, but Michelle double-checked with Randy and then confirmed it to the caller.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again. Randy was busy with some visitors and Michelle was feeling pretty confident, so she answered. The caller proceeded to tell Michelle that he knew there were some sick baby animals on the Refuge and that they were being ignored. Huh?? Michelle handed the phone to Randy, but the caller had hung up. Once the conversation was translated to everyone, we all busted out laughing. A couple minutes later, the phone rang again. The same caller and he asked to speak to the Chief Baby Watcher. Michelle started laughing (as I am doing while I type this) and handed the phone to Randy. After a few minutes, Randy relayed that the caller was Quentin, who is a member of the Refuge staff. Good one! Michelle took the phone back and Quentin told her he needed to talk to Donna. “She’s at lunch. Is there anything else I can help you with?”. “Yes, tell Sierra to set aside some of the fudge for me”. OMG! This was totally hysterical and we were all laughing! We set aside the correct fudge (don’t yell at Sierra again Quentin!), said our goodbyes, and headed to the car.
What had started as a very disappointing day turned into one of the most fun experiences I have had at the Refuge! Why? The answer is simple. It was a morning spent with friends: BYF, good friends, new friends. Friends make everything better. I am beyond blessed to have the friends I have. They are my strength. They celebrate my good times, and get me through my bad times. Each one of them brings something unique into my life. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them and I never want to find out. It is often said that friends are the family you choose. Not every choice has been the best throughout my half century of life, but the friends who are still a part of my life are absolutely amazing. I love each and every one of you!
Remember to follow your own path, but also remember that sometimes a path starts out looking a little disappointing and may lead you to a totally awesome experience. Keeping an open mind, in friendships, life, and hiking, is always a good thing. Your life will be the richer for every friend and every experience. See you on the trail!