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Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

About a 45 minute drive from where we are in Tomball north toward Montgomery is the Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. We did not know about it at all until this past Saturday when they held their open house.  It is a fascinating place, housing thirteen wolves (at least when we were there) in a variety of enclosures. They are a 501(c)(3)  non-profit, and the annual open house is their big yearly fund raiser.
Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

 

There are a number of ways to visit the sanctuary, almost all (except the open house) are by appointment only (link here). I highly recommend visiting by an arranged appointment vs. the open house…there were tons of people at the open house, and the road to get to the Sanctuary had cars backed up quite a ways and parked on the side of the road for a long way.

The sanctuary consists for about seven enclosures which have two wolves each. There are two “ambassador” wolves (Tala and Meeko, who is jet black) that were out for pictures as part of the open house.  The wolves were, for the most part, lounging (except for Romulus, pictured above, who shared enclosure #7 with snow white Rafiki who never left the house). When they brought Meeko back from his photo ops and took Tala out, most of the wolves got up and paced.

That’s Rajah and Lapua (enclosure #5) greeting their neighbor Meeko, who shares enclosure #6 with Tala who was taking her turn with the photos. The video below is the wolf being taken out.

I’m not sure why all the wolves get excited when one of their number comes back or gets taken out, other than the obvious concepts of greeting, wanting to be let out, or some other pack-like emotion.

Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary

The highlight of the open house was Romulus, who stayed close to the fence in spite of (or perhaps because of) the large number of people…including young kids howling, hoping to elicit a response. For the most part, he just sat there, but he did get up and pace. One of the volunteers who was talking to visitors said that the younger wolves were kept toward the end where Romulus and the ambassador wolves were kept, so it makes some sense that the younger ones would be more active.

Below is a picture of enclosure #4, home of Echo and Achilles. You can barely see one of them close to the hut, but the picture gives you a good idea of what the wolves enclosure look like.

Saint Francis Wolf SanctuaryThe Sanctuary has an on-going fund raiser to move to a new sanctuary location, which plans for a much larger enclosure. The relocation fund and the plans for the enclosure and new location can be found here.

For those of you driving from Houston, I suggest using Waze (someone has added the location and it took us right to it) or following the directions on the Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary’s web page.

 

Welcome Sign

Brazos Bend State Park

Brazos Bend State Park is an hour drive south of us, and since we are northwest of Houston, it is a lot closer to most Houstonians. We had not been since the kids were little and the weather was perfect this early April weekend for a little hiking. It is $7 per person entrance fee and, if you rarely carry cash like me, be prepared to park and go inside to pay your fees, as the outdoor drive up kiosks do not take credit cards.

The state park is known mostly for its alligator population, and they aren’t shy about showing themselves. My gorgeous wife saw on one of the signs that there are 300 adult alligators in the park. We saw more than 20 close to the trail, and quite a few more further away.

Alligators in Brazos Bend State Park

But the park itself has some gorgeous scenery and very well maintained trails, with water available at trail junctions. We hiked around the 40 acre lake, took the “Spillway Trail” past the observation tower over to Elm Lake, then hiked around it and back. This is a very small portion of the trails available in the park (park trail map here and a picture of the map section we walked is at the end of this post). There are 50 mile and 100 mile trail runs held in the park (in April and September respectively) and the 50 mile run goes for three loops of around 17 miles each. So there is a lot more to cover than the 5 miles we did this weekend.

There are quite a few wooden decks and bridges built so that you can peer into and over the water.

Decks Over Water

There were quite a few folks fishing, though we never saw any of them catch anything. I assume it is catch and release. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see an alligator floating just past these fishermen…maybe hoping for a lazy catch.

Desk with Gator in the Background

There’s also the George Observatory in the park, which holds lots of stargazing events throughout the year.

Most of the gators we saw were stationary, and hard to tell apart from statues (still doesn’t mean you should take a selfie with them…though Darwinism didn’t intervene when a couple did so). But occasionally you’ll get one in the water who starts moving around a bit. And they always draw a crowd…so pardon the screaming kids (not mine) in my video.

Here’s a picture of the same alligator, just floating along, minding his (or her) own business.

Alligator in Water

I assume that the park is also a bird-watchers paradise. There are multiple postings in the picnic areas that denote what type of birds are seen recently in which areas of the park.

Ducks

A few of the birds even act like you are not around.

And, there is a very good chance to see multiple birds in flight. With the backdrop of the lake, it is a sight to behold.

Bird in flight

And of course, there are turtles. Even some that apparently babysit the smaller gators as a service.

Turtle with Baby Gators

While crossing the spillway trail, we did see a couple of turtles coming out from under the bridge so quickly (at least for turtle speed!) we thought that they might have been chased by…something. But fortunately, they were just passing through.

Though we saw quite a few rangers/volunteers in the park, we also saw two places where there might have been a missing ranger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maybe that is why these guys look so happy?

Alligator Looking at Me

Gator In Green

 

Picture of the trail map, zoomed in to the section we walked. We parked near 40 acre lake, walked to the left and immediately saw alligators.

Brazos Bend State Park

 

And remember, don’t feed OR annoy the gators!

Don't Feed or Annoy

FloodDoor

Jury Duty, Harris County

I had the fun and privilege of performing a civic service for Harris County last Monday, and headed down for jury duty. You can postpone jury duty twice and seems like I hit my limit on that every time. My wife and i had planned to go together on a previous Monday but work screwed that up.

Here’s a few tips on this every three year or so adventure.

TAKING THE BUS

You can ride Metro for free for jury duty, and it beats the heck out of sitting in traffic and looking for parking. My wife did this before me, so I pretty much knew which buses to take. From the Seton Lake park and ride (which is on SH 249 just south of the Beltway) bus 212 is the non-stop downtown. But be sure and let the driver know you want off at the corner of Milam and Congress, or they’ll blow right by it.

This 212 bus is also direct back to Seton Lake….but only after 4:16pm. If you get kicked out of jury duty before then, take bus 44…which stops a lot, but at least gets you there. You pick it up at Travis and Congress, and it makes a few stops.

The direct 212 bus was a nice clean, seemingly new bus. The local 44 was…dirty…just like you’d expect a local to be. There was only one crazy man on the local, talking loudly, constantly to no one in particular.

We looked at taking buses from the 290 Park and Ride (near Spring Cypress at Skinner Road) but those lines didn’t drop you off as close to the jury building as the ones from Seton Lake.

THE NEW JURY BUILDING

A few blocks down Congress is the Harris Country jury plaza. Last time I went down for Jury duty (must have been three or four years ago) it was in the building where people now park. Now there is a new, nice  glass building.

HarrisCountyJuryDuty

 

After entering the building, head downstairs, and then you get to go through the TSA-like security, complete with removing belts and shoes (if you forget about this part and wear your dress shoes instead of your airplane travel shoes…like I did). I got down there pretty early; my wife said the line spirals up the stair case the closer you get to 8:30am.

GEEK STUFF

The jury assembly rooms are still under ground. So cellular service is spotty at best; my T-mobile was non-existent. Therefore, I couldn’t rely on my personal hotspot, and its “known” security. I had to use the WiFi that Harris county was nice enough to put in place. There were a few limitations: I could not start our VPN or enter enter chat with my guys. Apparently the provided WiFi does block some ports.

THE PROCESS

Jurors are supposed to be in the room by 8:30. And, as is typical, after the welcome/this is what you are in for video, and the swearing in, jurors are basically waiting around…or working on the WiFi. They do allow food and drink in the rooms (and Here’s our timeline:

  • 1st group taken 2751-2900 at 9:30
  • 2nd group 2905-3153 at 10:08
  • my group (3rd), was only 24 folks. We got in line at 10:15

THE TUNNELS

Those of you who have been around remember tropical storms (Allison?) and hurricanes (Ike?) where the downtown tunnel system flooded. When we got called out, they line us up in the tunnels…right next to some pretty impressive flood doors. Nothing’s getting past those doors without some serious power.

FloodDoor

 

We headed over to the Criminal Justice Center, 10th Floor, Court 10. The 24 of us were brought in quickly, and Judge Sherman Ross told us they still had some work to do, for us to come back in 30 mins, at 11:10. After a quick coffee break (there is a cafe on the 2nd floor ), Judge Ross spent quite a bit of time walking us through what we were charged to do, and what the process would be. The next day was election day, and previous times I’d been at jury duty I felt like the Judges were campaigning. But Judge Ross is retiring at the end of this year, and his discussion on what the defense had to prove, on what “the truth” was, and other points, was interesting…almost enough to make me want to be on the jury. He also said each side got to remove 3 jurors from consideration. Choosing 6 our of 24 still have jurors better odds at going home than staying, even though it would only be a “rest of the day” jury. I was juror number one, which means I got all of the questions…but that doesn’t seem to change the odds of getting selected or not.

After that, the assistant D.A. actually walked us through the case with a Powerpoint presentation…which was actually pretty concise and efficient, but not something I expected.

Out of the 24, they grabbed their six…I grabbed my Metro bus pass and made for the bus stop. Since the bus wouldn’t come for another 30 minutes, I rewarded my execution of civic duty with a quick snack at the Niko Niko’s in Market Square. Civic Duty complete.

Iraq’s impact on Iran

With many people in our democracy cheering the Iranians and their marching in the streets to ensure that their last election was indeed fair and democratic, I cannot help but wonder how much influence the fact that Iraq is holding apparently fair and successful elections right next door has had on the Iranians and their thoughts about their own rights. I certainly do not claim to be an expert in the region or its politics, but Iraq and Iran, long nemesises, have seen a recent thawing out in their relationship and one would assume the Iranians (both the government and its people) are watching the democracy next door with interest.

Not much has been said about this probably because the U.S. and the media (and frankly most of us voters) are in a “Bush hating mentality” at the moment, and don’t want to acknowledge that a change that he and his administration inflicted is having an impact upon the world that many support. No matter the methods (and a couple of decades ago, few people would have batted an eye if the CIA had taken out a dictator), Iraq now has democracy, certainly supported by the U.S. but still one of the few democracies in the region and the only one who has had recent bloodshed with Iran. (more…)

Re-reading MSandT

Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

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