Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mission to Butterflies

There is nothing quite like listening to Willie Nelson as you drive across acres and acres of rustic Texas terrain.  And if you are sucking on a fresh-picked grapefruit or orange, only moments off the tree, then you must be travelling through the Rio Grande Valley.  Like many of you, I have visited South Padre Island and Brownsville -- even backpacked across the border into Matamoros, Mexico, and two months' worth of points beyond.  But I had never been to McAllen, Edinburg or Mission until yesterday.  I don't know the Valley, really.  The past 24 hours have been filled with the kind of experiences that make you wonder what wizard is behind the curtain orchestrating them.  Sometimes, when you stop forcing life to follow some arbitrary plan, stop trying to dictate or predict outcomes, you are treated to tiny treats.  You are treated to surprises that sweeten your journey more than any sugary delight wrapped in shiny paper.

Yesterday I hung up my bikini for the season.  We left Corpus Christi to take Sage to the 15th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival in Mission, and by the time we return to the beach in a few weeks, the water will be too cold to swim.  (Dang.)  We have been planning to attend this festival for months.  As I always do, I searched online to map the quickest route, to search for lodging, and information about the festival.  I called an RV park located next door to the state park.  Everything was arranged...but then life happened and we did not leave Corpus Christi until much later than anticipated.  Long story, but for some reason our phones would not connect to service ANYWHERE yesterday.  Not even in places in our old neighborhood where we have had a strong, reliable signal for two years!  This inexplicable technical mishap delayed the start of a design presentation, pushing back the rest of the morning's activities.  That meant we would not be able to stay in the park I had called because they close at 4pm and gates lock at 5pm.  We arrived in Mission around 5:30pm with no reservations and no clear idea of the layout of the town.  The plan had failed.

In another lifetime, this would make my head spin (and, yes, my mouth would spew pea soup.)  Yesterday, though, I saw this quandry as more of an opportunity than a 'failure'.  We could explore the city a bit, find the state park and feel our way around the place before deciding on a place to stay.  The drive south was spectacular.  I was blogging so I did not see as much of the changing plant palette as David, yet I picked up enough from quick glances that I knew I had been transported to a very different place.  Different in terms of flora and fauna, climate, culture -- so much.  I stopped typing and started observing.  I took my time...I breathed slowly and deeply.  Needed that.  Drove around the state park grounds briefly before setting out to find a place to park for the night.  We had decided to find WalMart and 'boondock' (google that).  On the way, we noticed an Anglo couple in their 50s, maybe early-60s, walking with several yellow bags from Dollar General.  I watched them turn into a cozy RV park.  Parks line both sides of this road for miles.  This park, Americana, is smaller, older, and seemed more...friendly, I guess, than the others.  In the other parks we passed, nobody was outside.  All the streets were wide and swept perfectly clean, but nobody mingled.  Apart from site-after-site filled with rigs, there were no signs of life anywhere.  Except at the Americana.  Curious.  That looks like a place we might stay, I told David.

Immediately after we pulled in we met the folks who run the place.  Residents waved as they walked toward the game room where the men were playing pool and the women were playing dominoes.  The roads are narrower but still very clean.  Most of the sites have natural-looking vegetation.  Whether or not it's native, most of the plants and decor appear to have always been part of the landscape.  Other places were too manicured and resort-like for us.  Americana has character, genuine style that must evolve naturally.  It can not be forced, taught or bought; it is are its residents.

We found a little site directly next to the bathrooms and showers, pool and sauna, and game room.  While we were unpacking and setting up, Mr. Jim (the man-in-charge) showed up to introduce himself.  He introduced us to his Boston Terrier, Ollie.  What a coincidence, I told him.  Our little girl is somewhat fixated on that name.  She names all our new toys, shells and imaginary friends 'Ollie.'  We put Ollie and Sage together; Folsom pouted and growled from inside the truck.  But now she has a real friend named Ollie!  Bliss!  We explained we were only staying one night because we had brought Sage to see the butterflies, but that we have to get back to Dallas by Sunday night.  Why, we have a butterfly expert right here in the park, he exclaimed.  She has written 6 books about butterflies and gives presentations about them.  Let's go!

Mr. Jim invited Sage and me to ride up front on his golf cart with him and Ollie, and David rode on the back.  We drove over to Miss Kim's house.  She was out for a walk so we tracked her down.  We chatted briefly and then David asked where we might buy her books.  She had some in her house!  So after we took care of a little shopping (Folsom needed food) we stopped by her house to buy Butterflies of Northeastern Mexico.  She even autographed it for Sage!  Although she was leaving this morning for a one-week trip to Oaxaca, Kim spent about an hour talking with us about travelling in Latin America, living simply, living thisclose to the U.S.-Mexico border.  Funny, we didn't talk much about butterflies.  We all leafed through the book together after we returned 'home'.  Dreamy, vivid photographs of skippers and swallowtails, hairstreaks and metalmarks, and more.  Instantly I knew I wanted to visit with Kim again.  Maybe we will be back soon, and maybe she will be interested and available to swap more travel stories.  THAT is my kind of girls' night out.

Today we rushed through breakfast, through getting ready, through packing up.  We were eager to get to the butterfly festival.  Sage painted butterflies made out of coffee filters and clothes pins.  She colored pictures of butterflies.  We walked the butterfly gardens, petted a sphinx caterpillar, toured exhibits about birds and their flight patterns.  We waited in a long line for a long time to get her face painted but left to see the other booths.  By the time we returned, the artist had stopped accepting face-canvasses.  No big deal.  Folsom was overheated and pooped out from walking all over the grounds.  Sage had had a great time, and even boogied in front of a roomful of folks watching their kids demonstrate zumba fitness.  I know I probably should have pulled her away, but she was having so much fun and the teachers and other kids seemed to enjoy watching la guerrita shake her groove thing and imitate their dance moves.  At least I could have encouraged her to move to the back or the side...not front and center!  What can I say, what can I say...

Sage and Folsom have been sleeping for hours.  David and I have been nibbling on fresh grapefruit and oranges and listening to Willie Nelson.  He's driving, I'm blogging.  Sage is awake now and smiling as she snacks on raisins and watches the scenery blur past her window "really fast."  We are almost to San Antonio and once again the plants and topography are changing dramatically.  Once again, we find ourselves reflecting on a meaningful day in this journey.  Sweet, sweet journey, it is.

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