Things Yet Unseen

Autumn ButterlfyI took The Brunette for weekend getaway in the Hill Country, Camp Wood, to be precise. Camp Wood, Texas (population 817) is place so far out that I had only a sporadic cell phone signal and no internet access. It was wonderful being out of the loop for four whole days. The world, even so close to home, seemed distant, unnecessary. And if I’ve been out here a hundred times, it might be a hundred and one.

It was a wet year and the profusion of White-tail deer everywhere along the roadside, darting out of the brush, grazing in the river bottoms were proof. The grasses, long turned golden or cinnamon or crimson, luxuriated in my fortieth Hill Country Autumn, that time of year when cool, dry Canadian air pushes the humidity out to the Gulf of Mexico and desiccates the cedar and caliche hillsides.

The light, as we drove down from Austin, was intense–falling on the Cedar Trees and Hills of Glenn Rose limestone at parallax angles. We saw several ravens, a small herd of Pronghorn Antelope (the furthest East I’d ever seen them), a gaggle of geese in a pond, kangaroos and camels. The last two were obviously at an exotic game ranch, where I’ve often seen giraffes, Black Buck, Oryx and dik-diks. Axis Deer (many escaped from early attempts at raising them) are so common in the Hill Country now as to be unremarkable.

The sun set and we heard the distant clatter of a high school band. Nueces Canyon High School (1-A) was playing D’Hanis. I spent an hour on the porch, reading poetry and fell asleep to the yipping of coyotes and awoke to the crowing of roosters.

In the morning we drove down the road and ate a huge breakfast of All-You-Can-Eat scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits at the ‘Falcon.’

The Casa Falcon serves the tiny Hill Country towns of Camp Wood, Montell and Barksdale faithfully, delivering the best breakfast in three counties: Edwards, Real and Uvalde. On weekend mornings, Sunday included, it’s impossible to find parking, smashed as I was between flat beds and farm trucks. One old timer drove his John Deere tractor into town.

I caught snippets of conversation as I devoured my bacon:

“Old man Edwards wrecked his truck up in Barksdale last night, too drunk, ran into a frightfully big boar.”

“You certain it wasn’t his wife?” asked a lanky cowboy in camoflage.

“Bill’s got a lot of deer on his land this year, gonna make a fortune leasing it out to hunters,” said another.

“How does someone so dumb raise such beautiful game?”

“Panther’s got their butts whooped last night, 42-6,” an old timer told a younger Hispanic man who’d just walked in.

“We’ll get ‘em next year, then.”

Most were dressed in their cowboy suits: tight Wrangler jeans, shredded boots and plaid polyester shirts. Many wore baseball caps—Uvalde National Bank, Texas Rangers, Nueces Canyon Panthers—but only a few pates were covered with the expected ten gallon hat. For these are real ranchers who eschew the ostentation of the obvious.

After breakfast we drove up Ranch Road 335 across Highway 41 and then down Ranch Road 336 to Leakey and Garner State Park, so named after John Nance‘Cactus Jack’ Garner, former Speaker of the House and Roosevelt’s Vice-president from 1933-41.

The park is set between a small range of Edwards’ Limestone hills and the flood plain of the Frio River. Tropical-looking leaves of Madrone Trees dangle on the cliffs. Toothpick straight Cypress trees, tall with leaves in varying stages of orange, line the banks. Tangerine light dances on the marble green waters, clear straight to the bottom.

“When was the first time you came out here,” The Brunette asked me.

“I was eight years old.”

In those thirty-two years, I told her, little has changed, except for the old, decayed natural river ropes dangling from limbs, replaced by the synthetic, and yet, boys still swing from them in narrow arcs, diving into the water during the warm summer months.

“Just as I did all those years ago,” I said.

“Look at the tadpoles!”

She pointed towards little black squiggles congregating in a shallow pool.

“Wow,” I said. “Tadpoles in late October!”

A gentle wind caresses the branches, pushed down from the high limestone summit behind me. She points at the moon, sailing across luciferin skies, bare of clouds.

I hear frogs croak and the water pour down rapids.

Flying upriver comes a Belted Kingfisher.

“Look at that,” I say.

“This place is special to you,” she says, her almond hair and hazel eyes alive in the early afternoon breeze.

“After so many years of travel and so many distant lands I always return here,” I say. “I’ve seen just about every wonder the world has to offer, from the Taj Mahal to the China’s Great Wall. The phallic towers of Ethiopia to the towering minarets of Istanbul.”

“But,” I continue, “every visit to this undiscovered corner of the Texas Hill Country greets with something new, something yet unseen. It’s the first Kingfisher I’ve ever seen in Texas.”

I stood with a smile and we walked upstream.