Writer’s Block: Recharging the Batteries

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Recently, a friend wrote about the importance of communing with nature. It’s important, he said, going so far as to describe it as vital to our well-being. I’d have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Thanks to some mild cold fronts we’ve had quite a few lovely days recently. Cool mornings give way to sunny days that aren’t too overwarm. The breeze has been pleasant and the air wonderfully devoid of the oppressive humidity which so beleaguers breathing during the summer.

And it’s been on these perfectly pleasant autumn days that I’ve most often felt the tug at my most inner self, that place that most yearns to be outside.

Butterflies flutter along the roadways, their wings set aglow by the sunshine. Raptors perch on the telephone wires which line Highway 100. My good friend, the osprey about which I’ve written before, has returned to the Valley for another winter. In the afternoons as I arrive home from work, his keening call sounds clearly from his elevated vantage point atop a communications tower.

There was even one afternoon where a kettle of turkey vultures floated silently in the sky above me. There must have been two dozen of them crisscrossing the air, riding on invisible highways formed by rising thermals. I stood with my head thrown back, staring at them in wonder.

Yes, Mother Nature — and her creatures — have been gently nudging me to take a real moment to pause, unplug, and, as my friend described it, recharge my battery. And so I decided I would make a long overdue trip to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

The plan, initially, was to stroll around the visitor center, camera in hand, in hopes of taking some photos of whatever migratory bird and butterfly species have thus far made their way down here. But a chance run-in with my likeminded friend meant the plan soon changed to trekking out to the Refuge’s namesake, the Laguna Atascosa itself.

For those who have never been, Laguna Atascosa is a 5,000 acre freshwater lagoon nestled in the heart of the Refuge. It’s one of the few sources of fresh water in a land filled with salt marshes, salt prairies and dense thornscrub forest. It’s a vital watering hole for wildlife, and a crucial site for ducks and other waterfowl. In fact, it was the abundant presence of redhead ducks which ultimately led to the Refuge being established in 1946.

And so it was that I found myself early one morning heading towards the muddy lagoon (what the Spanish “laguna Atascosa” means in English). The air was cool. The winds would become gusty later in the day, but with the sun still making its way over the lip of the world, the breeze was quiet, almost nonexistent.

As we would our way towards the lagoon, it wasn’t long before we found our rewards. It started with a flock of sandhill cranes greeting the day as they took to the air. Then a brief glimpse of a white tailed doe. Dozens of roseate spoonbills and American white pelicans dotted the horizon far out on the lake, along with scores of unnamed ducks. A group of nilgai cows were spooked by our approach and soon leaped into the cover of brush. Later, a small bobcat appeared in a flash, running from the low ground into a stand of trees. And last of all, a pair of Aplomado falcons played a game of tag, half-heartedly chasing each other in short bursts of flight. The falcons are a Refuge specialty, having been successfully reintroduced to the region after nearly going extinct in the last century.

It was an incredible morning.

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