I approached Mother’s Day this year with a certain amount of anticipation and confusion. These feelings were related to the fact that 15 years ago my mother, Shirley Sertich, celebrated her last Mother’s Day with my father, sister, and me. Eleven days later, she lost her battle with cancer. What would I do to commemorate her memory on this pivotal date? I thought about a few things, such as simply going to a nursery with roses and wildflowers, both of which she was extremely adept at growing. I also thought about just sitting down and going through photo albums to reminisce and yes, cry a bit at the fond memories of those happy times long ago.
Fortunately, I found a most worthwhile endeavor that combined our passion for the outdoors by getting out and doing something. I am forever grateful to Texas Land Conservancy’s Amber Arseneaux for writing a column in the organization’s e-newsletter entitled “Take Your Mom Out(side) This Mother’s Day”! This idea struck a chord and inspired me to do just that; instead of physically doing something with Mom, I would be carrying her memory with me. Amber wrote about doing five things: 1) going for a hike; 2) having a family picnic; 3) getting on the water; 4) going for a bike ride; and 5) sleeping under the stars. I set out to do all five over the Mother’s Day weekend.
Starting in reverse order, I first went to Lost Maples State Park to sleep under the stars. When I called the park to make a reservation, I asked the ranger what primitive campsite she would stay in if she could only spend one more night at the park for the rest of her life. With a very short pause, she said “Site E.” Perfect! Fortunately, the weather called for clear skies. After a two-mile hike with a loaded backpack, I arrived at the site to find it abandoned (except for a wild turkey); it remained that way the rest of the day and evening. Again, perfect!
Though quite a contrast, this short trip reminded me of a hike many years ago, when Mom and my sister Karen took me and a bunch of fellow unruly Boy Scouts to Havasu Canyon. This beautiful area in northwestern Arizona is on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, about 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon Village. The hike included a 13-mile walk down switchbacks, and then it followed along a dry riverbed until we reached Havasu Creek. From there, we hiked to Havasu Falls and were overwhelmed at the beauty.
To say this area is an oasis would be an understatement. The hike was a bit tougher than any of us anticipated, but a good time was had by all once we had a chance to play in the water. Mom elected to take a mule ride out, which made us scouts quite envious. As I look back at what she did, her sense of adventure was clearly evident: She by far exceeded what she had ever done before and kept that winning smile all along.
That “can do” spirit was all Mom. Raising us kids in the desert near Tucson with acres of vacant land in between homes meant that a great variety of desert critters were abound: rabbits, birds, lizards, snakes of every sort, horny toads, and yes, the occasional Gila Monster. Any creature that we wanted to bring in the house was immediately released back outdoors with the admonition that “outside is where it belongs.” How right she was. I am indebted to her for instilling those values in me.
Back to Lost Maples. That evening after a beautiful sunset and a nice freeze-dried Pad Thai dinner, I did what the column said: Sleep under the stars. I laid out the sleeping bag in a nice clearing so I had a good view of the sky. Although a bit windy up on that ridge, I fell asleep looking at the moonless night sky, complete with the Milky Way and billions of stars. Nothing better.
On Saturday, I had a deadline to meet for the next event: Go for a hike. OK, I know that I just did that at Lost Maples, but this hike had a purpose that meshed perfectly with another of Mom’s passions: wildflowers. Texas Land Conservancy had opened their Los Rincones Preserve near Kerrville for the day, with a wildflower identification hike starting at 9:00am. Jerry Morrisey of the Native Plant Society of Texas – San Antonio Chapter led an hour and a half walk identifying many of the wildflowers on the land. I took so many photos that iCloud informed me shortly thereafter that my storage had exceeded its limit! Looking back at photographs that Mom took over the years, including those of Arizona’s Picacho Peak, it struck me that we certainly had that interest in common as well.
Later that afternoon, TLC’s Stephen Ramirez (aka the “warbler whisperer”) led a few stragglers to a grotto on the property and, using his keen hearing and knowledge of birds, he tracked down a Golden-cheeked warbler. I have to say that I was very excited to actually see one in the wild after living in Texas for 25 years! We also managed to see a porcupine that stuffed itself in a tiny rock opening, a few lizards and plenty of bees, demonstrating the diversity of life on this wonderful preserve.
On Mother’s Day morning, I was excited to take on the next event: Go for a bike ride. In preparation for the upcoming Real Ale Ride in Blanco (the following weekend), I did a training ride on the Southern Walnut Creek Trail that goes from Govalle Park in Austin to Manor. I did a 15-mile round trip through really beautiful terrain, seeing all manner of life, from fellow cyclists, families pushing strollers, lots of birds, two snakes, and plenty of greenery. As kids, we would ride on our neighborhood streets, and sometimes Mom would ride with us. Her bike (a Steyr 3-speed) is hanging from the garage ceiling, and I really should find somebody who will appreciate it.
My penultimate event: Get on the water. On a hot afternoon, boating was the perfect remedy, so I strapped the kayak in the truck and headed to my favorite launch site near Festival Beach. It was a beautiful day to paddle and explore the new boardwalk over the water; soon the time rocketed by. Now it was time for the final event, so I headed to HEB to pick up the supplies.
Since my parents are gone and my sister lives in Tucson, “Have a family picnic” in the outdoors was the perfect time to sit and contemplate life’s lessons learned from Mom. Amber’s list included some proposed menu items, and the Green Goddess Hummus Sandwiches sounded perfect. I started by pickling the julienned carrots and onions and mixed Green Goddess dressing with hummus. Thirty minutes later, I toasted whole grain bread, lathered on the Green Goddess infused hummus to each slice of bread, and piled on lettuce, sliced cucumber, pickled carrots and onions. As I sat on a bench by the creek that runs below my house, with the sandwich and a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, I recalled the many times Mom and I would talk about a variety of subjects over the years. Her wisdom in raising me and my sister throughout our lives – even when we were adults – had an amazingly positive effect on my self-reliance and spirit of adventure. Unfortunately, I realized much of this only through retrospection over the years with no opportunity to tell her so.
Nonetheless, the perfect end of an eventful weekend came to a close as the sun set, with those positive thoughts of Mom swirling in my head. After all, she really is still with me.
The TLC staff would like to thank Gary for writing this wonderful blog and sharing the memories of his mother with us. Gary has been a TLC member since 2017 and has attended all of our events since joining. We are so happy to have him as a part of the TLC family.