Cottonmouth Encounter on the Bayou

My recent kayaking excursions have led to some pretty interesting encounters. This past Saturday I decided to explore Grassy Lake Bayou near Conway where I was fortunate to meet some others headed to the bayou. The paddle started innocently enough; cypress trees and swamp water as far as the eye could see. We passed a heron rookery where these birds nest and raise their young ones. One or two blue herons were visible at the time. A little ways further into the float we decided to take the spur route to see what this section had in store. To my surprise, this area was filled with ducks, white egrets, and smaller song birds. A fellow paddler informed me these ducks feed on the millet planted throughout this waterway. Since the Mississippi flyway covers this area, I believe the ducks migrate through the area at some point during the year.

After stretching our legs for a little while, we decided to brave the rest of the loop. We saw at least three beaver dams along the way; however, the beavers must have been hiding because they were nowhere to be seen. We also saw a few harmless water snakes along the trip, and then we came across another snake. This one was a little more dangerous and quickly identified as a cottonmouth! One of the members of the crew is a snake enthusiast, and she scooped the snake onto her paddle. While attempting to move the snake to a different location, the cottonmouth fell off the paddle and into her canoe! Needless to say, this caused quite a situation. Fortunately, this cottonmouth was not an aggressive snake and did not try to bite the canoe occupant. After attempting several different methods of removing the snake, a muck boot proved to be the answer. The snake obediently slithered into the boot and was subsequently tossed back into the bayou. Needless to say, I was quickly paddling the other direction! After  this excitement, the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful; however, I definitely experienced some authentic wildlife and nature during this trip.

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Toltec Mounds and King Cotton

With no concrete plans one recent weekend, I decided to visit two historic sites near Little Rock. Toltec Mounds was my first stop. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but the museum and outdoor trails were pretty interesting. According to artifact dating, Native Americans created a ceremonial gathering place at these Toltec Mounds from 660 until 950 A.D. There were a total of eighteen mounds at one time, but only three stand today. One theory proposes that the location of these mounds allowed the Native Americans to determine the winter and summer solstice as well as the equinox. Knowing these dates helped with timing their crop planting and harvesting. Additionally, this location was also thought to be a gathering place for local tribes to celebrate special occasions. The outdoor walking trails are pretty neat; they wind through the mounds and perimeter of the park. It is unknown why the location was abandoned, but needless to say, these people were pretty clever to survive on the land for that long.

My next stop was the Plantation Agriculture Museum. Surprisingly, I was greeted by the curator upon walking through the front door as I think it was a pretty slow day for the museum. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time learning about cotton in Arkansas. Cotton was a way for life for many in the state in the 1800s, and the process of plowing, cultivating, and harvesting the crop required much labor. Since I am a generation or two removed from agricultural and manual labor, I don’t think I possess quite the appreciation for the effort required to farm. However, looking at the information and pictures in this museum I almost had a longing for the satisfaction of a hard day’s manual labor. These workers picked cotton from sunrise until sunset, and over time, the process evolved from slavery to sharecroppers to the cotton gin.

There was actually an entire cotton processing operation setup in one building. This processing involved separating the cotton from the seeds and then compressing the cotton into bails. Another building highlighted information about the storage and transportation of cotton. A local enterprising cotton farmer established a warehouse along railroad lines for convenient transportation. Overall, this museum was pretty cool. While modest in size, all the displays were really interesting and well-organized. After touring this place, I definitely have a new respect for cotton workers and now realize how much effort was probably required to make my favorite pair of jeans.

 

 

Books, Newspapers, and Television… Oh my!

I’m not exactly sure when I started to develop an affinity for coffee table books, but reading this literature has become a hobby over the past few months. My gateway book was innocent enough, an oversized hardback detailing the history of Shaker furniture. The pictures and background information provided just the right amount of material to pique my interest and hold my attention. While a novel requires my full concentration to comprehend the content, I can mindlessly browse through these books without missing too much information. This interest was further fostered by books detailing the Civil War, world religions, golf, etc…

Of course, I still enjoy reading the good old-fashioned newspaper every once in a while. A Sunday edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette is generally worth the two dollars. Granted, news around these parts is generally pretty low key; I mean, the Arkansas Razorbacks and pollution of the Buffalo River can only generate so many articles. Right?

My other source of entertainment is television. Despite the outrageous cost of cable and cringing every time I see my AT&T bill, I’m a sucker for sports, old movies, American Pickers, cooking shows, and, of course, that occasional of Fox News fix. Unfortunately, since I pay so much for cable, I think I need to “get my money’s worth,” which inevitably leads me to watching too much. Has television become an idol in my life? I hope not. But if time spent on an activity is an way to judge priorities, then I’m not completely sure.

It’s hard to believe that all this entertainment can be accomplished while sitting on a cushion of my couch. I guess I spend a lot of my time either sleeping, working, or enjoying down time on the couch. Of course I routinely exercise, cook, and socialize, but I guess the correct term for me would be introvert.