The Messed-Up Day: And Benjamin Waited

I promised him, and that was my mistake. I was determined not to let it ruin his day.

On Friday I told Benjamin that he and I would take our bicycles to Arbor Hills Nature Reserve, a hilly area in west Plano set aside for walkers, runners, and mountain bikers to live peacefully alongside our smaller-brained brethren of the natural world. Sunday’s weather was supposed to be nasty, and I had some work to do for a customer at about noon on Saturday, so we decided that early Saturday morning was the time to go.

That night, while working from home to complete a scheduled task, I heard from a co-worker that a customer’s planned disaster recovery test was going to start early Saturday morning. “But your part probably won’t start until later, after I do my part,” she said (except that I’m paraphrasing to conceal the details). I originally thought this would take place Saturday evening, only slightly interrupting a planned date night.

I told Shannon that I might not get to take Benjamin for that ride. “Oh, he will be so disappointed. He told me it was going to be the best day ever,” she said (and I didn’t change that quote at all).

I informed my co-worker that I would take my laptop, because when on call I have mobile internet access. If needed, I could take a break from my ride with Benjamin to do my work, and then resume our fun.

If only it had worked out that way. (click any pic to enlarge)

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Nature Reminds Us Again Who is Boss (Ozarks Weekend Part 6)

(continued from Part 5)

(click pic to enlarge)

“That’s fine, Benjamin, you go ahead. Scare off the bears for the rest of us,” I joked. He was only seven, but big enough to tide a bear over until the rest of us got away.

He turned off the main trail and started up a short stretch of large rocks arranged like stairs. They led to the mouth of a small caved formed by an overhang.

Just a few steps up, he screamed a scream that echoed off the distant hillside. He was terrified and in pain. We rushed to him.

“It got me! It got me!” he yelled and cried.

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Put Down the Camera, Dad (Ozarks Weekend Part 4)

(continued from Part 3)


There’s a lot going on in this photo, so examine it closely to take in all the details (click it to enlarge it). See that small figure on the right side? You can just make out the soles of his shoes and the backpack.

That’s my 7-year-old son. While I concentrated on taking a picture of the colorful, towering trees, he quietly made his way up the treacherous rocks and roots leading up the ravine. As he did so, a group above him secured and tossed down their black rope so they could descend.

When I realized what he was doing, I quickly tucked my camera away and moved to get directly below him. Turning around would have put him in much more danger than continuing, so I encouraged him to be careful. By the time I got to the base he had finished, and a woman standing near him looked down at me.

She didn’t look particularly judgmental, but I felt compelled to say something. “I had no idea he would try this without me,” I said. She smiled and then looked back at her crew as they prepared to use their rope.

My heart sped up as I reached a particularly nasty part of the climb, a bare tree root that jutted away from the hillside to form a sort of overhang. Over the years it had grasped a rock. It felt more stable than it looked, so I held fast to it as I worked my feet up the variously jutting stones and hoisted my body to the top.


I sat and then turned to look down.

Yikes! I resolved never to assume my son would be afraid of anything. In climbing, up is almost always easier than down, but I had no idea how he had made it with those short legs and arms. I often remind my wife, “Just let him try,” when he does things she considers dangerous, but this time I had blown it. He could have fallen and got very seriously hurt without anyone there to spot him.

Especially if something unexpected happened, like it did the next day. But before that, there’s that night’s near fiasco.


(to be continued)

Discovering Lost Valley (Ozarks Weekend Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)


I reached and grabbed Shannon’s hand as she stepped over the waterfall and deftly planted both feet on the rock next to mine. While she made her way toward the others, I stayed back to take a picture of the autumn woods we had strolled through to get there. Most of the year, the pool below was the first sign of water along the path at Lost Valley.

Above it was the first cavern to explore — a large tunnel that ran a hundred feet or so to a large opening under an overhang. Water had worked for eons carving the smooth path through the rock. Some of our crew used the trail instead, and they worked their way around to wait at the other end.


Before I got to them, I saw a butterfly lounging on a rock. It showed no signs of spooking as I set my new Nikon P7000 camera to macro mode and snapped off a couple of frames. I suspected it was lethargic from the cool night or the impending end of its fleeting life.

We soon enjoyed views of a towering sheer bluff line, and then explored a large overhang that could have sheltered hundreds from a storm. As the reader probably has noticed, I finally remembered to take a picture while looking out from one of these spots. Also, Shannon got a bit dusty while posing for my failed attempt at including a person in the picture.


The boys, both seven, had no trouble on or off the trail. This helped ease my mind that my suburbs-raised son, more accustomed to sidewalks than dirt paths, welcomed complete immersion in the outdoors.

To make that even more clear, we took a claustrophobic cave crawl to an underground waterfall.


“There are about 20 people behind us waiting to come through, so we have to keep moving,” said A, my sister-in-law. She was not into staying still in a tight space.

Her flashlight’s beam swung back to light the way ahead of me. A large column of rock divided the narrow passageway into an impossibly narrow slit on the right. Benjamin stood in front of me, awaiting instructions.

(to be continued)

Frog Tired and Drinking

I stood next to the kitchen island, my right arm elbow-deep in a two-gallon fish tank, using a standard pair of tweezers to dangle a bloodworm in front of our African Dwarf Frog’s face. Kipp, as we call him, darted his head forward and grabbed the bloodworm. I let the tweezers open and began withdrawing my arm from the slightly murky water.

I was pulling Kipp up like a caught fish.

“The bloodworm is stuck,” I said.

“Hang on, Kipp,” Shannon said.

He let go and swam to a distant corner of the tank. The bloodworm still hung from one side of the tweezers. My mind flashed back to a PetSmart employee who told my wife to just sprinkle a few dehydrated bloodworms in there each day. That was the method we had used to kill the first two frogs and one of the second pair.

I sighed, and might have muttered a curse word or two. “Okay, I’ll take you up on your offer. You finish feeding him,” I said.

Before that, my wife had watched as I cut the thawed bloodworms into bite-size pieces and offered them individually to Kipp, who hungrily gobbled two and dropped at least as many.

“That’s fine, you go sit and have your drink and I’ll do this,” she said.

Sometimes she knows exactly what to say after I’ve worked a stressful 12-hour day. She got Kipp to eat one more piece before he lost interest, then she joined me.

We spooned coarsely frozen piña coladas from plastic blue martini glasses. Kipp swam to the top of the tank and stretched out all four legs, then remained locked in that position as he sank lazily to the bottom. He worked his way slowly around the various plastic plants, visiting every corner of the tank.

There was no television, no radio, and our son was fast asleep in his bedroom. A euphoria washed over me as I enjoyed the coconut concoction and watched Kipp’s acrobatic floating and swimming act.

Just like our son, that tiny frog had infuriated me and calmed me within a five-minute span. Shannon took my glass and scooped it full from the white pre-mix bucket. “You need another,” she said.

Next thing on my list: long-handled tweezers.