Author: Bekah McNeel

The Campaign Trail: Day One

Occasionally  I throw around the idea of running for public office some day. I have a family history of public service…and big ideas about how to help San Antonio.

Yesterday, I got a little taste of what my life would look like if I were a candidate for public office in San Antonio.

8:30-9:30 am – Neighborhood Board Meeting: discussion of budgets, 501(c)3 status updates, and revisions of standard operating procedures. Also some really exciting stuff.

9:37-11 am – go to meet a friend at the Farmer’s Market, end up running into 10 other friends, holding am adorable baby, meeting friends-of-friends, etc.

Noon-3pm- Juneteenth Celebration/Neighborhood Association Fundraiser. Knowing this was a neighborhood association thing, I expected the usual mix of African American, white, and Hispanic folks serving up bbq plates and hanging out at picnic tables.

Instead, when we got out of the car at the park we’d never been to on the city’s southeast side, the beehive in my stomach erupted, like on the first day at a new school. We looked like conspicuously pasty glowworms.

For the next three hours I had a blast serving up grilled chicken and potato salad… and  thinking of a compelling answer in case someone finally voiced the question that was surely on everyone’s mind: “What the hell is that yuppie white girl doing in here?”

Of course, everyone was far too gracious for that. They said, “Thanks for helping out! Hope you had fun!” And I did.

4-5:55pm– Lake|Flato pool party. Where I (along with the senior partners in the firm) constantly whispered “who’s that?” to Lewis whenever new hires and interns came through the gate.

6-8pm– Dinner with friends. It ended at 8 only because I could tell that I was about to fall asleep sitting upright, and that control over what I said was waning.

If I were actually stumping, I’d have headed off to a gala, benefit, or rally. But by this point, I’d already made up my mind. I’m not running for office. I thoroughly enjoyed each activity today…but when they fire out of the canon bam-bam-bam like that…I don’t think I stopped talking until 8pm when I simply stopped making sense.

I know someday I’ll think I’ve changed my mind. The desire to do good and effect change will convince me that, yes, I can totally take on one more thing. I’ll be convinced that it will be energizing and exciting.

I know myself, and that’s the sort of lapsed memory/judgement/ability to asses reality that gets me into trouble every time. So, in an effort to do my future self a favor…I’m going to post the following pictures, and just nip that campaign in the bud.

Future Bekah, this is for you. You’ll thank me later:

IMG_3738[1] No hands IMG_3736[1] Strawpedo Shots Karaoke Christmas

Beer Journal: Red Stripe

Some people have wine journals. Liz James told me about beer journals. Mine will double as a travel journal. More than wine, when I travel, I find beer. Not haute beer. Everyman beer. Beer I can order in any restaurant. And these stories are not the stories of the most amazing places I’ve seen. They are about the times when I had a beer, and the people I was with.

This is Red Stripe. It’s a Jamaican beer.

Red Stripe

Red Stripe is my favorite bottle of all beers. And it’s a lager, so I can drink quite a few of them before I feel like I’ve swallowed a loaf of bread (by contrast, I can only drink half of a Guinness before that happens…)

This particular Red Stripe was imbibed in the back seat of a van, upon arrival in Jamaica, my first really big trip with the Walkers.  Both sets of grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles. The works. The fun had begun.

I nannied for the Walkers for 1.5 years. After that I lived with them for another year. I went with them on numerous trips.  California, Jamaica, Chicago, Anguilla, Mexico, and a cruise; but living in the house was by far the best adventure.

There are too many stories to recount, but there was always always some sort of beverage served. And the fact that the Walkers let me paddle off in a kayak with their one-year-old on my lap, or snorkel with their five-year-old, and met me upon return with a cold beer in hand tells you something about just how great of a time we had.

If you look closely, you see little feet hanging off on either side of me.
If you look closely, you see little feet hanging off on either side of me.

Mexico with Celeste

I would share the ups and downs of life in more ways than I ever could have imagined when drinking this Red Stripe in 2008. We would live “in community” in that idealistic way that rarely works in real life, but I think it worked for us.  It was the Walkers who taught me that family can be something you choose.

Beer Journal: Brewery Tours

I love brewery tours. Especially in Europe.

I’ve done quite a few, but two really stand out.

First, the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. It’s slick, it’s corporate. But it’s got lots of fun things. Or maybe it doesn’t…I don’t really remember.

Why don’t I remember? Because I went to the Heineken Brewery with Lee, on our whirlwind tour of Europe during Holy Week while I was in grad school and Lee was working for The Alley in Houston. Amersterdam was our first stop, and we were there for 36 hours. At no time in that 36 hours was I fully aware of what I was doing. We are so so so tired in this picture.


We’d left my London flat at 3am. By 10am we were at the Heineken Brewery, hyped up on caffeine. Thanks to the samples given at the Heineken tour, by noon we were asleep on a bench on the top floor of the Van Gough museum. At some point there was more caffeine, and this happened:


After that is was around 4 o’clock, maybe a little after…

Somewhere along the line, this happened:

Girl in shoe

The other brewery tour I remember fondly was the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen. I went with my cousins, Matthew, Tommy, and Alex. We were on another backpack blitz of Europe, on the way to Tommy’s law school summer course in Innsbruck. Matthew and I had done a Eurail trip together before, and I think we can both agree that it was a sign of our deep familial bond that we tried it again.

Copenhagen was our second stop after visiting the family in Stockholm/Boxholm. I personally find Copenhagen a little odd, but this was a classic brewery tour. I don’t remember how, but somehow Alex and I got separated from the boys and found ourselves in the bar at the end of the tour (a standard feature). Carlsberg is more generous than most with their samples. We got two full size beers of our choice. To consume in the 30 minutes we were allowed to stay in the bar.


Carlsberg makes Elephant Beer. Which at the time had an ABV of 12%.

I woke up on a bench just outside the brewery. I’m not certain, but I think Alex did too.

I guess my criteria for a good brewery tour is the quality of the nap you get at the end.

Beer Journal: Nile Special

Some people have wine journals. Liz James told me about beer journals. Mine will double as a travel journal. When I travel, I drink beer. Not haute beer. Not craft beer. Not hip beer. Everyman beer. Beer I can order in any restaurant, or snatch at a corner store after a long day of activity. And these stories are not about the most amazing places I’ve seen. They are about times I had a beer, and the people who shared them.

This is Nile Special. It’s Ugandan.

Nile Beer

The first time I had a Nile was at a restaurant called Ethiopian Village in the Kabalagala neighborhood of Kampala. It was 2006. I was with my dear friend Mauryne, and we were just hanging out, letting the evening hang out with us. I had spent the last two weeks in a frenzy learning about development, microinvestment, public health, environmental efforts. We had seen the sights: the B’hai Temple, the markets, the lake. We rafted the Nile (the actual river…not an idiom for drinking too much).

But this was the best part, just hanging out with Mauryne in the neighborhood. That’s when I felt most keen on Uganda. We repeated the experience in 2007, when I came to do research for my Master’s thesis. I find beer when I’m looking to get out of my head. Even if I only have one, it’s the act of “having a beer” that does it. That says “just be here.”

In 2008, I brought another important friend to drink Nile beer with me at Ethiopian Village, Liz Ward. Here we are having yet another Nile at the Ndere Center, a cultural show where we made Mauryne be a tourist with us:

Liz and Mo

In 2010 the Ethiopian Village was the site of one of two deadly terrorist attacks on Kampala during the World Cup. Lewis had just come home from the city a week before. Mauryne had just gone home from the restaurant when the bomb went off. God was good to the ones I love. And I remembered what kind of world we live in…it’s so easy to forget that anything could go wrong when the sun is setting over the hills of Kampala, and you’re eating injera and drinking a Nile.

Florence’s So-Called Life

Florence, our precious little puppy, is 6 months old. She’s a pre-teen. And like all pre-teen girls, her life is really, really difficult.

When she was a baby, it was okay if she ate herself to sleep…

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But now she has to go the vet and be weighed…

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And we never let her have her way…

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Which calls for drama…

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Which is exhausting…

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And her big brother won’t play what she wants to play…

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In fact no one ever wants to play what she wants to play…

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And she still gets scared and needs me…

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But we’re constantly “smothering” her…


Life is tough for pre-teen girls.

Last-Call Adventure: The Gault Site

On our list of adventures to have with our buddy Colin, perhaps one of the geekier ones involved a visit to the Gault Site, one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world. That’s right…the world. I’m not just spouting superlatives. Apparently people come from around the world to study and work on this failed farm outside of Florence, Texas that contained a treasure trove of early human debris.

Human's have been leaving our tools laying around for ages.
Humans have been leaving our tools laying around for ages.

Our adventure began at 6:50 am, when our 9-person caravan set out for Florence, a two-hour journey. Ironically, Colin could not make it (he was having a totally different adventure that he will write about himself), but his sporting girlfriend, Jenna, rustled up a replacement.

The tour through the Gault Site, an unassuming ranch gate nestled between quarries on the scrubby Edward’s escarpment, starts slowly. We saw a railroad boxcar which told the history of Florence in it’s ramshackle remains. A cotton boom-town, destroyed by synthetics and boll weevles.

The boxcar where the people of Florence once lived.
The boxcar where the people of Florence once lived.

We watched an atlatl demonstration and discussed the importance of maclura pomifera (Bodark trees) before heading into the creek bed where the Gault riches have been found.

Gault has yielded, according to our knowledgeable and entertaining guide, three huge surprises.

1) A Columbian Mammoth jawbone with tools nearby. Indicating that the megafauna was hunted and butchered on the site.

2) 2.4 million artifacts (a motherlode by any standard, considering that a successful dig rarely delivers more than 20,000 points, tools, and other artifacts).

3) The footprint of the oldest known house in North America.

This is where they found the mammoth jaw
This is where they found the mammoth jaw

What’s more, while it is the largest Clovis (13,000-9,000 years ago) site on record, perhaps a more significant contribution is evidence of human life before Clovis. It flies in the face of the theory that human being arrived in the Americas by way of an ice bridge connecting Russia and Alaska. It implies coastal arrival, which would require far more sophistication than the walking theory.

The grand finale of the tour was the tent. Archaeologists are excavating down to the bedrock, where springs flow like exposed veins. The meticulous nature of science is on full display as volunteers scrape away each centimeter-deep layer with a bamboo scrapper and a plastic trowel the size of a toothbrush. Since 2007 they have been scraping away at the earth, cataloging every single artifact and separating rocks and clay out into extensively labeled buckets.


It’s always been tempting for me to scoff a little when researchers get going on the habits of prehistorical man and beast. I mean…when I consider how easy it is for me to wrongly interpret evidence of what my own two dogs have been up to…dogs I interact with every day…evidence that is abundant and fresh…and still they mystify me.

But after watching the scientific process, hearing the explanations, the forensic technology, and the sheer volume of the data, I was ready to believe them when they told me that these people lived in tiny bands of 10-12, did not inbreed, and hunted alone or in pairs. That the identical looking chert tools were in fact used for entirely different things, one a hide scraper and the other a steak knife.

A 17th-century etching of the mission church down the road.
A 17th-century etching of the mission church down the road.

What intrigued me most was our guides assertion that people are people, and have been since pre-history. They take the easy way out, they leave messes, they seek shelter, they innovate. Thinking of our ancient ancestors (well, these were not my ancestors, mine were doing who-knows-what and trying not to freeze up in the tundra) as people with similar instincts and motivations was profound. We haven’t changed that much, and one day, that fact might save our lives.

Trying to write a wedding toast, Part II

Part II: Itchy Hearts

I continued to think about Liz’s wedding, making plans for bridals showers, bachelorette events…and started feeling a little nostalgia for the beginning of things. A longing for something new.

It’s ironic because Liz and Jason have been together for almost twice as long as Lewis and I have, so I really can’t look at her relationship and think, “Ah…I remember being where they are…”

It’s more ironic, because I’m actually not a fan of beginnings. I’m a fan of grooving middles and bittersweet endings. So the nostalgia surprised me. The little itch in my heart for something gone by. Something I saw in movies. Or in a friend’s smile when she changed her Facebook profile picture to include her new boyfriend. Finally I figured it out, what was giving me the itchy heart.

Our first picture together. I probably nearly vomited with excitement.
Our first picture together. I probably vomited with excitement.

I’ll never fall in love again.

Sure, sure, I fall in love with Lewis every day all over again. That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not what I’m talking about. I’m going to be really frank here, because I think it’s important. Because for a lot of people, that nostalgia for falling in love sneaks up and steals a lot of joy.

Falling in love is that nauseating, unsure, tears of excitement/relief/fear soup of suspended reality. The kind that would wreck your health if you experienced it too often. That’s what I can’t get from Lewis anymore. I also can’t get herpes, which is nice.

I dated a guy once who was fond of saying, “I’ve always wanted to do that…” after he made some sort of romantic gesture. It was sweet and lots of fun. Very rom-com. When I was later single again, I would look back on his gestures cynically and think, “That had nothing to do with me. He was just fulfilling his own dreams. I could have been anyone.”

This sort of thing still happens...but I don't stay up until 3 am thinking about what it means. It means he loves me, and it's my birthday.
This sort of thing still happens…but I don’t stay up until 3 am thinking about what it means. 

But now…I’m so thankful for his moments of cinematic grandeur. And the other fellas who wrote notes, or showed up in the rain, or sang to me in the supermarket. It didn’t need to be about me. It was about a time in life.

[Side note: There are also some destructive, unhappy dating moments that I never want to revisit. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those giddy moments of “He likes me!” that only happen once per relationship. And they are going to happen whether you are dating, courting, hanging out, or whatever. People connect, however you define it.]

In my opinion, once married, it’s okay to look back on “He/She likes me!” fondly, even if the “he/she” involved wasn’t your spouse. Because it was a happy time. There’s a pressure to look back on all of it with disdain, but I don’t think that’s honest. Getting married doesn’t dissolve every human connection and every happy memory.

His hand was on my knee. I was probably about to have an aneurysm from excitement.
We’d been dating a couple of weeks. I was probably about to have an aneurysm of happiness, because he drove with his hand on my knee.

On the other end, I think it would be misplaced to go trying to constantly recreate “falling in love” in marriage. Rather than looking back and saying, “Awww…” a lot of people seem to take the melancholy itch as a sign that something is missing in their marriage…when it’s not at all. You can only fall in love with someone you’re not already in love with. So if I want to fall in love with Lewis again, I’d have to fall out of love with him first. And I don’t want to.

It’s also unfortunate when people try to speak that feeling back into existence, as though it is the incantation that will protect their marriage from harm. When people say that their spouse is “new to them everyday” or something like that, it terrifies me. We’ve got way to much invested in this thing to wake up and say, “Who are you?”

Married Lewis knows better than to take his eyes off his injeera when I'm around.
Boyfriend Lewis was naive. Husband Lewis knows better than to take his eyes off his injeera when I’m around. 


Falling in love is a fun and finite thing. Loving, sharing life, is only as good as it’s staying power. Falling in love is about potential. Marriage is about actual. And we should all know that something can be potentially wonderful, and actually horrible.  And vice versa. Like movies adapted from young adult fiction.

The fact that you didn’t marry some of the people you fell in love with is still a very happy ending! I’ll take roses from any old clown, but my gosh I dodged some bullets on getting married (and I was also the bullet myself sometimes). Yes there were tears…the way there were tears when my mom wouldn’t let me drink the whole bottle of Dimatap Cough Syrup.

When I feel nostalgia for butterflies and nausea, I’m not thinking about Lewis. I’m thinking about a feeling I had and liked. It’s a feeling I can’t get from Lewis anymore, because he’s closer than my skin. We’re one. He can be romantic, generous and sweet (which he is, almost always). He just can’t be unfamiliar and new anymore.

But that’s the best part of a sweet, sweet irony…the more I get to know him, the more I like him. I wouldn’t trade him for all the nausea in the world.

Trying to Prepare a Wedding Toast, Part I

Prologue: Right before I got married, a lot of people started telling me about how difficult marriage would be. So many, so frequently, that I had a panic attack on the floor of my fiance’s kitchen, two weeks before our wedding.

Ah the carefree days of dating...before the harsh realities of marriage. (Not really...this is still what we look like.)
Ah, the carefree days of dating…
What I thought marriage would look like.
What I thought marriage would look like. (Saturn Devours His Children,by Goya)

Part I: People Say Marriage is Difficult

My friend Liz recently got engaged to her main squeeze of five years, Jason. I am beyond happy for them, and ecstatic to be part of their wedding. I’ve been thinking about how I will toast them.

The happy couple.
The  soon-to-be-married.

It got me thinking about marriage, about falling in love, and about that panic attack.

People really like to tell you what marriage is like. Rarely do they realize that they are universalizing the most personal, intimate, unique experience of a person’s life. But we humans love nothing more than to make manuals for doing things right, except maybe selling those manuals.

Don’t buy anyone’s manual for marriage. Unless you are their clone and you are married to their spouse. (If that’s the case, then you need more help than a manual can give).

“Marriage” the institution has some set rules, sanctioned by God, etc. No cheating. Love them. Serve them. You only get one spouse at a time, preferably for life.

“Marriage” the experience…that’s different for all of us. Manual-makers really want to codify it. Marriage is magic, or marriage is mundane. Romance is necessary, so work to maintain it. Romance completely insubstantial, so don’t worry if its lacking. Things will be difficult, but that there’s a universal prescription for making them wonderful. For each and every one of you. You can’t all wear the same size pants…but one size fits all when it comes to the complex intertwining of adult human lives, histories, families, jobs, and dreams.

Contrary to the manuals, best I can tell, every marriage is very different. We make the same commitments.  We have the same responsibilities…but that’s about the end of the sameness.

Sameness ends here.
Sameness ends here.

People have great advice. Great insight into situations. Heed wisdom, seek counsel, by all means. Be teachable and curious. But if anyone starts telling you how marriage is going to go, and what to do about it, slam the manual shut. They just don’t know. After 50 golden years of their own marriage, they still don’t know yours.

Your marriage is unique, because your life is unique.

The experience of marriage is all about the two people involved and how they relate to one another. It’s a different kind of wonderful for every happy couple (and a different kind of miserable for others). For me, it’s laughing at puns, and dropping off cookies at Lewis’s office. It’s having someone to cry to who thinks that every injury against me is completely unjust (and then helping me see how maybe I’m  making things a bigger deal than they really are…). It’s having someone to go home with on the best nights and the worst nights.

This sums up the general vibe of our marriage.
This about sums us up.

We also have our own peculiar difficulties. For instance, I am intense, and he is sensitive. He is persnickety, and I too am sensitive. Going to IKEA is a guaranteed standoff in the “basic white pendant lamp” department. We are people, sharing a life. And an interior design scheme.

Life-sharing is difficult when life is difficult. I said once, at the outset of a dating relationship, “I know I want to date this guy. But I don’t know who I want to lose a child with. Who to go with me to put my parents in a nursing home. Who to go bankrupt with.”

Life is 100% full of people, who do people-ish things and make human messes. Life has tragedy and stress. But if I summarized my life for you every day by saying, “Life is difficult,” and never spiced it up by saying “Life is rewarding,” what would you call me? A pessimist, you would call me a pessimist.

Life is way to big to be summed up in one word, and so is life-sharing. In an ordinary (the kind you have to stay in; there are other kinds) marriage you will always have ample choice of adjectives. Don’t be afraid to be thankful.

And that’s the closest thing I can think of to a universal antidote for the difficult parts of marriage: be thankful. I would be more doubtful about it, if the Bible hadn’t said it first.

The turning point in most of  Lewis’s and my conflict is when we consider the alternative: What if I didn’t have you? While making the decision about whether or not to spend money on upholstery might be simpler without him/me…who would snuggle with him/me on the reupholstered couch?

Florence and Lewis snuggling on the couch
Florence will snuggle  on the couch…which is why it needs to be reupholstered.

Marriage, the experience, can be the symphonic masterpiece with big bold moments of trust and honesty. Of vulnerability and devastation. But you have to continually maintain that thankfulness that you are on the stage, in the music. Because if you don’t– if you look at the sheet and freak out because you might mess up, or long for that bubbly Top 40 hit–then, yes, you will probably have the kind of marriage that gave me a panic attack.

Dr. Henri Krabandaum, a wise and radical man, once said to me, “I tell every young person, if you love someone so much that you would marry them, your first impulse should be to tell them never to marry you. Because you know the grief you will cause them.”

At four in the morning I storm out of bed, because I’m sleeplessly worried about a client issue, and I snap at Lewis, “Just go back to sleep!” while I slam drawers and doors looking for my bathrobe. On that morning, Dr. K is talking directly to me. I hear his voice booming in my subconscious.

He loves me on these days.
I can be hard to love.

And then, sometime later when I’m feeling ashamed, Lewis tells me, “Life is better now that I have you.”  He says “now that I have you” like we met last month, instead of 3 years ago.

So yeah, marriage is hard. The way sports or music performance is hard. But we’re still the rookies who are just so thankful to be on the stage that we wear every drop of sweat like a diamond. And that is what I want to maintain, the thankfulness.

Last-Call Adventure: Canyon Lake Gorge

Our dear friend, Colin, is leaving us in August. He’s going to Boulder, CO (of course).

This is Colin.
This is Colin.

Lewis is sad to loose a kindred spirit. I am sad to lose one of our only friends who doesn’t think that all of my adventure ideas sound ominously fallible. In fact, Colin trumps me in great ideas that are more…grand… than anticipated.

So, in honor of his departure, we’ve begun to execute what I will here dub the Last-Call Adventures.

May 18 was Canyon Lake Gorge

This is Canyon Lake Gorge.
This is Canyon Lake Gorge.

Walking along the Canyon Lake spillway feels like a trek into a wasteland. Concrete severs the limestone in an attempt to solve a different man made problem (erosion of the man-made dam, which was built to make the lake), this scenario tends to proliferate when left unattended. Canyon Lake itself was born for flood and drought control, because German settlers insisted on inhabiting an area that is more flood-prone than anywhere else in the country. Barry Commoner might have had some thoughts on what we were setting ourselves up for here.

Lewis and Colin surveying the landscape.
Lewis and Colin surveying the landscape.

Case in point: A massive flood event in 2002 that crashed over the Canyon Lake spillway flooded homes, washed out roads, and moved enough earth to cover a football field under 30 stories of rock, soil, and flora. The flood carried such force ( 7 feet deep over the spillway at 67,000 cubic feet per second) that it ripped a giant gash in the land, exposing millenia’s worth of fossils, footprints, and geological features.

The laceration is now known as the Canyon Lake Gorge. The only way to gain access is by paying a for a tour from the Gorge Preservation Society (GPS). So that’s what we did.

Our guide was clearly a geology/archaeology enthusiast, and thus we spent the bulk of our time looking at fossils and dinosaur prints. There was also a rather excited 8 year old in our group, so fossils and dinosaurs were winning topics. However, since Colin is an environmental reporter who writes mostly about water and water issues, and Lewis is a spring fanatic, we took issue with our guide’s overall dismissal of the hydrological significance of the area. But we did learn a lot about fault lines and local dinosaurs, so the day was a most definitely a significant net gain, educationally.

The first layer of limestone to tear away under the flood waters revealed several dinosaur tracks. Personally, I buy about 70% of what any given paleontologist says on the matter because in grad school I became sort of a slave to sample sizes. However, these are undeniably footprints in the limestone, put there by the controlled fall of a bipedal creature long before several feet of limestone formed on top of it. Given the rate of limestone production in nature, the size of the print and the length of the stride…I’m convinced, and awed.

This is a very unphotogenic dinosaur footprint.
This is a very unphotogenic dinosaur footprint.

From the mega to the mini, our guide called our attention to the crunching beneath our feet and asked us to find fossils. Lo and behold the very tiny things crunching beneath our feet were, in fact, orbitolina texana. Tiny tiny fossilized forminifera (a one-celled creature with a nucleus and hole in its body).

Orbitum texana
Orbitolina texana
Another tiny fossil.
Another tiny fossil.

We proceeded deeper through the strata into the gorge. Each limestone shelf gave way to another stunning feature, more forensic evidence for times past and the general behavior of the earth’s crust.

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Limestone is porous, and so for the Edwards Aquifer dependents in the group, witnessing both the porosity and the solubility of the stone was a telling look into how we get our own water. The water in the gorge leaks out of the lake, though the porous ground, as well as underground canals carved out by persistent rivulets over time. Lots and lots of time. A similar process created the Edwards Aquifer.

Our guide lost me a little bit when he snubbed the Edwards Aquifer Authority for placing water restrictions on San Antonio to save the fountain darter, tampering with right of captures laws (I think that differentiating between surface and ground water is absurd as well, but while I’d like to see ground water protected like surface water, he’d seemed to be advocating for the reverse). He also assured us that fracking would not hurt our drinking water and that the aquifer was far deeper than we would ever need it to be. Oh the confidence of those who don’t have to drink other people’s “rights.” Except that he did spend a few minutes ranting about an ex-business partner who poured motor oil into a hole in the ground near enough to effect his private well.

This water does not belong to you.
This water does not belong to you.

We progressed to an examination of the Hidden Valley fault. The dramatic effects on the rocks as they press and jar against each other is magnificent. It looks like wreckage, and yet its presence makes rivers possible, and fills our aquifer. We also learned the term slickenside, referring to the scrape marks caused by the hanging wall (moving plate) moving against the footwall (stationary plate). I think it sounds like something you’d find at Schlitterbahn.

Under the careful explanations and occasional soap-boxing of our guide, our three hour tour matured into 4.5 hours, but even the 8 year old weathered it well. It’s an amazing place, though I am a little leery of industry building around it, even something as noble as the GPS. It just seems like when a human ties their livlihood to the whims of nature,  the battlelines are drawn. Already there are power washers involved.

I highly recommend the trip, if you are heat/sun tolerant, and fond of a good hike. Take a note from Gilligan, and don’t build your plans around a three hour tour. We lost Colin to a work commitment about 3.5 hours in. On the way out I heard the 8-year-old say, “I feel so bad for that man. He had to leave right before we got to all the fossils!” Darling, but untrue. We’d seen 3.5 hours worth of fossils. But I admire his enthusiasm for the final sites.


Canyon Lake Gorge, as it is now, is the museum that nature made. Her response to Canyon Lake. Her moment to show off what she’s been up to for so long before we were looking.

Goodnight in Old San Antonio

After six years, I gave up my booth at Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA). This has got to be a record for shortest tenure, seeing as how the woman from whom I inherited the booth had it for something over 30 years.

And actually, I’d been trying to quit for about three years, but kept getting talked out of it. But this year, as I slid into April with my hair on fire, I knew it was the magic year. The year where I finally learned to say: “No.”

Okay…maybe “learned to say no” is a bit of a stretch. But when I do finally scream “nooooo!!!!” in desperation, or cut someone off in traffic accidentally, or put my foot in my mouth I have learned to say: Eh…they’ll get over it.

So I quit NIOSA, a massive fundraiser for a cause that I affirm, the San Antonio Conservation Society. While I believe in their end goal, the event wasn’t something I could throw my whole self into anymore. For more on that, see my article in the Rivard Report.

I have stared out of that booth for 133 hours. Five and one half days. In all of that time, these were the highlights:

1) In the beginning, I was very…VERY into the whole thing. This photo was taken my first year in the booth, when I was 24 and kept company with primarily college students and single people. Back when stumbling home exhausted and sticky and smelling of beer was super cool. Back when I had a job that started at noon.

Liz and Bekah NIOSA

photo credit: Nell Glazener-Cooney
photo credit: Nell Glazener-Cooney

2) Nothing delighted me more than the men who would come by the booth in the drunking hour… not to see me. Dress a man up in a frilly blouse and a corona and you’ll have a line out the door.


3) I had many faithful helpers over the years. Becky Meyers, Justin Clement, the Behams, a whole host of Trinity Students who worked a shift every single year they were in school. But by far, the Volunteer of the Years(s) award goes to these two. I inherited them with the booth. They were the only thing that made it possible the last two years (when I had a job that didn’t observe “NIOSA week” as a holiday).

Rusty and Diana

4) I have a whole philosophy on Big Red, thanks to NIOSA’s contract with the RC Company and their refusal to sell Coca Cola or Pepsi Products. Here were some of the greatest quotes to come out of Cold Drinks #2.

THE “You didn’t do so well on multiple choice tests, did you?” CONVERSATION

Customer: You don’t have Coke?

Me: No. We only have RC products.

Customer: Pepsi?IMG_2491[1]

Me: No. We only have RC Products.

Customer: Dr. Pepper?

Me: No.

Customer: Diet Coke?

Me: No.

Customer: Okay, I’ll take a Big Red.

THE “What the hell is your 7 year old doing here on a school night?” CONVERSATION

Customer at 9:30pm: Do you have anything without caffiene?

Me: 7-Up

Customer’s Kid: I hate 7-UP!

Customer: Okay, he’ll take a Big Red.

THE “This is why America is obese” CONVERSATION

Customer: Do you have water?

Me: No.

Customer: Okay, I’ll take a Big Red.

Me: *blank stare*

I was beginning to believe that people only ordered Big Red as a last resort (which would mean that the four other drinks we served were beyond hope). But then there was this conversation, the year we decided to use the booth as a public health research venue.

Customer: I’ll take a Big Red.

Lewis: Here you go sir. And if you don’t mind my asking,  how often would you say you drink Big Red?

Customer: Most of the time.

Lewis: *blank stare*

5) I am pretty sure that NIOSA is the single most significant thing I have ever done (six times) to/for my immune system.


6) Lewis coming along was a major change for my relationship with the booth. It was the beginning of a new time…a time when being irrationally tired had relational consequences.

I think the Conservation Society secretly knew this, and thus employed their prerogative as the arbiters of preservation. My maiden name (and the endless volunteer energy that went with it) is apparently one of the many monuments worth saving. 2013, when this picture was taken, was my 3rd NIOSA with the last name “McNeel.”


7) Whether it was the very earnest cloggers, or the wildly inappropriate “flasher” character that roved the dancefloor, the booth was never lacking in spectacle to observe. Of course, the perennial favorite of drunk festival-goers across the Anglo-German world is the Chicken Dance.

We kept a yearly tally of how many times the chicken dance was played.
8) The whole event has this sort of mom-n-pop feel to it. No one bothers with new-fangled conveniences like computers or health codes. So you can’t help but wonder how much money it could possibly make.

Millions, or more appropriately, tons.  One trip to the ticket weighing station underneath the booth at Sauerkraut Bend, and you see that these moms and pops are nobody’s fools.

About 5% of the nightly spoils. Each of those tickets is worth 50 cents.
About 3% of the nightly spoils. Each of those tickets is worth 50 cents.

9) Odd as it is, perhaps the thing I’ll miss the most is walk out, after it’s all over. There is no moodier light than the fading of a heat lamp. No more melancholy sound than the last of the revelry 100 feet ahead of you. No more atmospheric icon than the trash and debris of the party covered in confetti. It would have been easy for my last walk out of NIOSA to be a nostalgic, bittersweet moment…but then someone spilled beer on my shoe and nearly poked me in the eye with their sausage skewer…

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