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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Day 2--Houston in the morning

I was, as usual, up before sunrise. The city was already wakening up: morning joggers, dog walkers and the homeless all came out to pound pavement. And at sunrise, as if on command, the entire city's grackle population exploded in a loud cacophony of calls. These birds were clustered in every tree in Old Market Square. I felt like I was in a repeat of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. And I was the only one who cared, as the rest of the city seemed oblivious to the sounds.

And when the sun was up, all was calm again. I walked around part of the Theatre District, walking through the beautiful Sam Houston Park and its historical buildings from the 19th century, its wetland garden, thanks in part to Enron. City maintenance personnel were getting ready to clean the streets or construct a project. I meandered back along Buffalo Bayou Park and back to my van. I still felt tired from the night before and here I did another hour's worth of walking. I saw the pretty part of town in daylight and I was very pleased. I knew there was much more to check out, but I wanted to get going. Yesterday a major thunderstorm was predicted to arrive in town at noon, but other than an overcast, foggy morning at first, it was now clearing up.

Houston did not smell bad at all. In fact, it smelled of a city in bloom. I got whiffs of grass growing, hyacynthias blooming, and the cottonwoods along the river were already blooming. All those nasty things I said about Houston smelling I took back this morning.

My next goal: San Jacinto Battlefied Monument. That was 22 miles east of Houston off the Galveston Bay tributaries and belching oil refineries. It was hard to imagine a state park in all this filth, but once I was there, the small acreage opened up inton a small bird sanctuary, with marshes around a towering San Jacinto Monument. I was more interested in the birds than the monument. I ended up spending 90 minutes here, and this wasn't even on my original plan.

Ninety minutes later, though and I was getting a headache from the petrochemicals belching into the air. It was time to leave and head south toward Galveston.

I was now on the Great Coastal Birding Trail. I saw kingfishers, pelicans, commorants, sea gulls, laughing seagulls, and other water fowl.

How these birds survive in these polluted waters I'll never understand. Either they are more adaptable than we give them credit for, or they are suffering inside, dying a slow death from petrochemicals. The water in the marshes around the oil refineries was brown and the air smelled of buring oil. If birds can live in this, so can humans, and apparently the industrialists think that way, too. There are many oilmen who, when they smell burning oil,, take a deep breath and exclaim "Aah, the smell of petrodollars!"

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