Biking with Birds

Not a half-hour into my daylong adventure, in the middle of a prairie of sea lavender and leatherleaf, I stopped my bike in wonder. A few dozen yards from the pavement, dozens of sandhill cranes comingled with a flock of ivory snow geese, completely ignoring my entrance into this unspoiled coastal scene. I had hoped for such moments when I decided to explore Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge by bicycle. Maybe the famous avian residents—and even its mammals—wouldn’t notice me like they would if I arrived in a noisy car? At the same time, I could pedal to some of the refuge’s more far-flung attractions—and there was a lot of ground to cover. Read more in Texas Highways.

The Birder’s Nest

My son Byrdie had been anticipating our planned visit to the Alamo Inn B&B for weeks. The two of us have been birding ever since Byrdie, then two years old, pulled down an unused field guide from the bookshelf and asked me to read it to him as a bedtime story. He’s six now, and thanks to him I’ve caught the birding bug, too. Still, for all our countless trips to birding destinations near and far, we’d never stayed at a place designed by and for birders. Adding to Byrdie’s excitement, he had recently decided he wanted to be a travel writer—he’s also wanted to be an ornithologist, a veterinarian, and an astronaut—and he was looking forward to serving as my apprentice. Read more in Texas Highways.

Laughter, Fear, and Trump at the Spanish-Language Circus

As I drove toward the small border city of Donna on a cold and misty February evening, the circus tent’s eight floodlight-topped spires glowed Oz-like in the distance. I parked my car in the free lot, property of a neighboring farm-implements dealer, and joined the throng of circus-goers following a path lined by purple flags mounted atop a wooden fence. On the other side was a line of motor homes. My imagination conjured up images of clowns and acrobats inside, applying makeup and readjusting sequined outfits with all the fidgety trepidation of opening night. Keep reading at the Texas Observer

Envisioning a Border Without Walls

If President Donald Trump succeeds in building a “great, great wall along the southern border,” as he again promised in his joint address to Congress last week, it will be an environmental and human disaster. Should the federal government extend Bush-era sections of walls and fencing already in place along the U.S.-Mexico border, it will fragment vital habitat, blight pristine natural areas, run the risk of severe flooding, and further militarize a border region home to some 15 million inhabitants on both sides. No one disputes the notion that a country should have safe and secure borders. But Trump’s “great wall” isn’t the only solution. There is a better way. Keep reading at Sierra

Inside the Nation’s First Bilingual University

“The question of the day is: Are you smart?” professor José Saldívar announced at the start of class. “Don’t just give me a yes-or-no answer. Tell me why.” Seated in a sparkling new classroom at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Edinburg campus, with rolling chairs in the school colors — blue, green and burnt orange — students inched closer together to debate the value of innate ability versus hard work. Their conversations might have occurred in any first-year seminar, but for one key difference: They took place in both English and Spanish, often at the same time. Keep reading at the Texas Observer

Discovering the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidden Byways

When I told my wife, Laura, about my idea of a road trip across the Rio Grande Valley, she was initially skeptical. “What will you see that you haven’t seen before?” she asked. Her point was well-taken. Since we first moved to South Texas a decade ago, I’ve done my fair share of traveling. And don’t road trips typically involve some far-flung locale, rather than one’s own backyard? Still, I had an idea. What if instead of traveling in the fast lane of the expressway, I traveled on the Valley’s “old” highways—today’s “business” routes—where I’d stop for red lights in each new town, rather than zipping by in a blur of billboards and chain restaurants? Keep reading at Texas Highways

¡Viva la Huelga!

The fiftieth anniversary ceremony began with the singing of a corrido. As the guests of honor found their seats on the stage of the octagonal-roofed Kiosk on the first day of June, Daria Vera shuffled to the mic, gripping an official program with the lyrics on the back cover. The guitarist and accordionist struck up the first chord. Her deep, gravel-lined, distinctive contralto struggled to carry over the rumble of the cross-border freight trucks hemming us in on parallel one-way arteries of Highway 83 through downtown Rio Grande City, Texas. But then a high-pitched grito emanated from among the metal folding chairs lined up on the sidewalk, followed by a familiar cry:“¡Viva la Huelga!” (Long live the strike!) Daria’s singing rose up over the din of the traffic, over the murmur of greetings and fifty years’ worth of catching up. In time, her voice regained the volume and assurance of another era, as the corrido’s couplets began to tell its story. Keep reading at the Oxford American