Blackbirds and the Playa

October morning playa.

As I mentioned last month, this has been a very good year for late-season plants around the playa lake. You can see that the native grasses are even taller, growing rather briskly before they went dormant for the year a few weeks ago. And the sunflowers have all shed their petals. Instead of yellow faces, they now have black, red, and yellow birds in them. Continue reading


The Itchy Foot Itches

I did not want to go back to work on Tuesday afternoon. I wanted to put my pick-up in four and just keep going west, over the horizon, as the cold, crisp air blew into the cab, heading into the grasslands that lead to the edge of the Caprock and then down into the mesa country. It had nothing to do with the classes I was substituting for, nothing to do with the students per se, and everything to do with a cold front’s passage, the brisk afternoon air, the clear skies, and an old, old itch. The westering urge had been woken, the whisper of “Something hidden. Go and find it… Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”* Continue reading

Meadowlarks, Rainbows, and Sandhill Cranes

When the rain falls on the plains, at least in the autumn, it carries on for quite a while. The highest, longest duration, recorded floods on the various streams in this area all happened in autumn, with the “equinoctial storms.” This year seems to be matching that pattern, although we have not had any bridges washed into Oklahoma yet. A road in Hall County washed away, yes, but no railroad bridges.

[Stops typing and taps wood]

So, when I went to work one morning this past week, the air felt wet, with the strongest wind we’ve had for a while. Interestingly, for all the rain, the wind has been almost calm. I’m not certain if I can get used to vertical rain instead of horizontal. All that filled the air that morning was humidity, enough that we had low clouds under a higher deck. For a brief moment the moon was actually visible, but temperature and dew point tapped and here came dark purple-grey scud on the wind. Both cloud layers turned rose in the east, with gold highlights on the higher deck visible through the clumps and wisps of the lower layer. Continue reading

That’s Different: Playa Edition

August was “a little damp,” in the way that Hurricane Harvey moved “a little slowly.” We got over eight inches in three weeks, the temps stayed in the 70s and 80s, and the Panhandle is still humid. Apparently this rainfall pattern agrees with the native grasses and Helianthus (aka sunflowers) because I discovered two weeks ago that there are a pot-load of native sunflowers in the section or so around the playa. And these things are thick, tens of yards thick, great sweeps of yellow and black all following the sun.

Where’s those come from?

A little thick, yes, why anything could hide…

Continue reading

The Beauty of Industry

The folks in the van had been on the road far too long, driving to Baton Rouge for a meeting. The midnight hour was a lot closer than I cared to contemplate, and even with four drivers, it had been a really, really long day. Really long. So it was with great relief that the sign for Baton Rouge appeared beside the road.

We emerged from the trees and buildings and beheld one of the oil refineries. It was beautiful.

Like this.

Continue reading

Soil and Water Don’t Mix (Most of the Time)

Dirt matters. A lot.

In comments about my post about the Harris County problem, Luke pointed out that I’d not really looked at the soil profile under Houston and its neighbors and upstream watershed. That’s in part because I wanted to compress a lot of data into a small post, and because I’m just not familiar with all the details of the soils in that part of the state. Sand or clay, loam, caleche, all respond differently based on the physics and chemistry of the soil and its component parts. I’m not a soils expert, and I’m not a construction engineer. So this is a sort of Dirt and Water 101: The quick and dirty version. Continue reading

How Floods Work: Harris County Edition

Welcome, Instapundit readers! Thanks for stopping by, and please be sure to read the comments. There are some excellent updates and additional information and observations from readers.

A lot of hand-wringing and second-guessing now and for the foreseeable future focuses on how a city as big as Houston (and the surrounding areas) could “be allowed” to flood. Setting aside the little problem of humans’ inability to steer storms and rain to or from desired locations, what we’re seeing is a combination of hydrology, urban development, and “excess” precipitation. And it is rather predictable that when you have certain combinations of the above, you get “flooding.” Flooding in this case means water in places where it is not desired, in sufficient quantities to cause damage and to endanger human and animal life. You see, Texas drains into Houston and Brownsville. Continue reading