Monday, June 13, 2011

Red Dirt Shores

Welcome to the kayak tour of Lake Hefner.  Oklahoma City's drinking water.  Home to 9.5 miles of walking/ running/ cycling/ blading trails.  Classic spot for new, old, and quick romances.  (I still feel sorry for the first boy who took me "parking" here, before I knew what that was.)  Today, you will be introduced to the intimate details you might have missed those thousands of times you only thought you saw the lake.  When viewed from the inside, at the water-surface level, the perspective changes.  The lake view becomes macro.

We will start our tour at Hobie Point.  The sailboaters claim this sandy beach, but it belongs to us all.  What?  You didn't know that Lake Hefner had a sand beach?  It's been dry for a while, but the water is now starting to return.  The sand gives way to mud before we have enough water to float the shallow boats and launch.  Don't forget your water, sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses - you're going to need them!

Heading west and south, we pass Canada geese and great blue herons on the hunt.  We round the side of the Tom Jones Memorial R/C Flying Field (and home to a family of foxes).  I still remember the day that Tom Jones took his last flight in Oklahoma.  Do the kids with remote controls in hand know who he was?  They play on his field, never realizing that another anniversary of his end approaches.  Regardless, his legacy still takes to the skies in the field with his name.  As the daughter of a pilot, I can't forget.

Across from the fishing pier, killdeer babies run like fuzzy ping-pong balls on stilts.  Mallard families take turns sharing responsibility for the young ones.  We pass the marina, where thousands of cliff swallows emerge to clear the air of mosquitoes.  The recent drought leaves plenty of clearance to take our thin boats under the docks and see the busy parents filling the open mouths.  We wonder at their bravery to attempt their first flight over water.

The golfers to our left are oblivious as we glide by.  Look among the rocks and you might spot the blue-winged teal that rests there.  The wide inlet is bordered by nesting Eastern kingbirds.  An occasional grebe is spotted between dives.  This area is in the flight path of the ospreys who perch with fish in talons in the pond on the other side of the road.  When we round the next point, the red dirt shores seem to slough into the matching water.  It is a bale of soft-shelled turtles that sun on the beach.  This is where I learned how to identify them by their pointed noses as they breach for air.

Ahead of us, the water is rushing in from Lake Overholser through the canal.  A little higher, and the water will connect to the shallow bird sanctuary on the other side of the fishermen.  Eight types of egrets and herons reside there, as well as beavers, snakes, songbirds, raccoons, and cormorants.  The blackbirds guard their nests in every willow.  Flimsy starbursts of straight branches make up the nests of the green heron.  Their nervous, awkward ways entertain us.  Rarely-seen migrating species rest and refuel in this area.
See the dark birds with thin, bent beaks?  These few are the last hold-out from a group of 20 or 30 white-faced ibises that came through last month.  The visitors revolve with the daylight, and each season I spot something I've never before seen. 

Jetted ahead by the influx of water, we approach the shallow southwest corner of the lake.  Coots run on top of the water and small fish jump in our boats.  The sides boil with spawning catfish.  Let's follow the dam around and search for mink in the rocks.  Yes, there are mink here.  The runners and cyclists may never see them, but ask the fishermen that sit quietly.  The water tower still proudly brags about the '89 Olympics held here.

Windsurfers and kiteboarders catch the abundant air on the northeast side of the water.  Our small boats become a rodeo when we turn into the summer wind.  There is the Lego-like lighthouse to our left.  Smoky gray cats mingle with siamese by the boat docks.  See the left ear, missing the tip?  These cats are part of a large colony, fed and neutered by volunteers.  We splash past the row of restaurants, promising to come back after dark and listen on the water to the one-man bands playing the patios, or The Wise Guys playing covers to all ages on the lawn at Louie's. 

Further south, beavers are changing the landscape.  It snows with cottonwoods, fighting to reseed.  Pubescent geese mingle with the ducks, looking for a free meal by Stars and Stripes.  The park has a new face, complete with viewing scopes by the flagpole - ruining the days of losing layers and tanlines midweek in the center of the lake.

The muddy parking lot to the west is Paddler's Park - claimed by the kayaking community.  Just think of it as a day at the spa when you wade through the muck to get your boat wet.  A group of politically-active kayakers literally cleared the path to this area.  Their actions helped OKC Kayak to continue to bring boats and their experience for others to enjoy on the waters of Lake Hefner.  On the far side are remnants of a pier by funky, teepee-like shades.  Remember these landmarks when we return after dark, they will guide us back to the shore.

This completes your kayak tour of Lake Hefner, as our paddles dip in the mud at Hobie.  Feel free to stay a while.  Park your chair in the sand, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy front-row seats to a no-special-glasses-needed 3-D theater for another rich, Oklahoma sunset.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Walnut Creek Farms

Andy, the new generation of farmers
I couldn't resist an offer from new friends to visit their farm in Waynoka.  That was just going to be one of the stops on an adventure day at Glass Mountain.  We never made it to the mountain, and my only regret is that my camera didn't get to meet the farm.

Walnut Creek Farms is a chemical-free and happy farm.  The farming philosophy is simple - focused on the health of the land and the growth of the rural communities.  There are multiple types of chickens laying pink and blue eggs (no, it isn't pink for girls and blue for boys - I asked).  There are cattle, pigs, sheep, dogs, and a cat named Midnight.  It is 1300 acres that have been in the family since the landrun.  Walnut Creek Farms provides fresh products to local restaurants such as Ludivine and La Baguette.

When we arrived at the farm, our host, Andy, got his daily orders from his father-in-law, Kim Barker.  Just a couple of quick chores, he said.  What transpired was a beautiful display of the seasoned farmer patiently tending to his younger apprentice, while the newest farmer absorbed like the dry earth around us.  We replaced a broken water hydrant, started construction on a new chicken feeder box, and rounded up stubborn cattle.  Plans were made to collect freshly-harvested wheat from a neighbor.  It can't even be called bartering - it was just plain neighborly sharing in action.

Much more than the physical lessons being shared, there was an overwhelming code of peace, patience, and respect.  Respect for Mother Earth, her animals, and her people.  There was mutual admiration between father and son-in-law that was as obvious as the testicles on the sheep (impressive, believe me).

At the end of the day, we caught up with Andy's wife, Juli, and joined what seemed to be half the town of Waynoka for a dutch-oven feast.  Cast-iron pots were filled with meats, potatoes, beans, cobbler, breads, and even cheesecakes.  Bottles of wine were shared like stories.  Little ones there still know how to climb in the trees, and they were completely unplugged.   

When the sun finally gave up, the guitar emerged.  The stars responded and gathered 'round.  I neither lie nor exaggerate when I tell you that the brightest green glow of a shooting star actually sizzled when it crossed the sky.

The invite and temptation was strong to stay the night.  The VW pop-up camper/ van was definitely a draw.  Instead, I took home pieces of Waynoka and Walnut Creek Farms in my memory.  I feel fortunate to have shared in the abundant harvest of peace and kindness that day.  I want to preserve it, can it, keep some, and share the rest.

Juli, Andy, me, and LaNita

Friday, June 3, 2011


If I never leave the state again, I will still not get to see all of the things I'd like to in Oklahoma.  Then again, it's possible that I have witnessed more wonders of the world right here than most lifetime Oklahomies.  Today is a chance to challenge yourself to get outside and visit someplace in Oklahoma where you have never been.  Pick up a map, follow a trail, get lost.

Have you seined the urban creeks of Martin Park Nature Center, just to identify and release the living creatures captured?  Witnessed the beginning of Spring, when the riverbank branches of Muskrat Row turn into snakes?   Listened to wingbeats of mythical birds in the Red Slough?  Try searching for the state lizard in the mountains.  Get sick of spotting bald eagles at McGee Creek State Park.  Swim in the clear water of American Horse Lake.  Listen to coyotes, wild boar, and Chuck-will's-widows after dark.  Discover that a roadrunner sounds nothing like the cartoon.

There are most definitely treasured spots in this beautiful state, and natural wonders that I just haven't found yet.  I refuse to believe that there is nothing to do here.  There just isn't enough time to do it all.  I may be boulder-hopping in the rock gardens of the Wichita Mountains this weekend, or searching for bobcat tracks in the sand at Stinchcomb.  Possibly treading on a new path for the first time, or spending time on familiar grounds.  I will never tire of this get-acquainted phase of my relationship with Oklahoma.  Can you come out and play?

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I didn't know the word, but I have known the concept since I was small.  When my mother miscarried while my dad was out of town for work, her friend took in seven of us kids for a few days.  What is the appropriate word for a large group of kids?  It is a gaggle of geese, a herd of elephants, a murder of crows.  Maybe it should be a tantrum of kids.  Whatever the word, that is what my siblings and I were.  Yet, someone with two kids of her own took us in that night and selflessly cared for a tantrum of kids while my mother went to the hospital.

The people of Oklahoma display their selflessness on so many occasions.  Baking casseroles at a moment's notice when a friend's family member passes, or giving clothing, water, money, and blood when disaster strikes.  Before the news reporters can grab a poncho and cameraman, the anonymous help is already on the ground and mobilizing troops.

I see this selflessness daily.  It shines when my neighbor returns everyone's garbage bin to the sides of the houses on trash days.  It crescendos when piano students from scores ago return to care for the ailing couple on the corner without children.  And, it whispers when Oklahomies give a smile and a few dollars to any cause with a donation can.  They give cash for the sake of the cause, not the tax write-off.  No, they don't need a receipt.

We are all bound - not by a church, a town, or blood, but by our humanness.  Humanity is still very real, warm, and tangible here.  It will bake for you, mow your lawn, bring your paper to your doorstep, watch your kids, wash your dishes, and sift through the physical and emotional rubble with you.

I was born here.  I should have more of this trait by now.  My hope is that eventually the selflessness of others will seep through my skin, into my veins, and race through my heart.  The electrical current it creates should penetrate the base of my skull, fuse to my brain stem, and become as natural as blinking.  Meanwhile, I make these observations and admire the selflessness in others around me.  I want to learn from the masters surrounding me.