Saturday, October 22, 2011

Garner State Park: "Hey, I'm only 15!"

After an extended summer of Gulf Coast drought and three-digit heat, the rick-man and I were anxious to escape to cooler locales in our condo-on-wheels--without leaving Texas.  Due to last winter’s CoachHouse build in the RGV (Rio Grande Valley), we missed an entire season of camping in my beloved Texas state parks.  And so within the confines of air conditioned household living, the rick-man and I were actively monitoring hill country temperatures, anxious for any forecast that promised a temperature range that stayed below the 90’s. 
And so finally, a mid-October cool front was forecast, allowing us to pull the Airstream from the RGV CoachHouse lot, northward, through the beautiful countryside and amazing diversity of south Texas.  Many Texans never venture the back-roads south of San Antonio.  It would surprise most to discover the softly rolling hills covered with a beautiful mixture of Live Oaks, Mesquites and shrub brush; and in rocky fields, a healthy supply of cacti thrown into the mix.  This country drive made for a beautiful and relaxing way to reach hill country parks; no I-10 traffic; no large cities to skirt.  And so I drove northward, through the land of Scissor-tailed flycatchers, mockers and birds of prey, pointing ourselves toward a first stop at Garner State Park.
This trip would be my first instantiation of a long-held lifestyle dream:  to spend school-year weekdays (when most folk are at work or school), camping in our state’s beautiful parks.  This lifestyle would bring a completely different experience than a weekend, summer week, or holiday trip, where state parks are filled with the tax-paying masses that enjoy these lovely, publicly held jewels.  For many work-filled years I had envisioned a time in my life that allowed me to arrive at a state park on a Sunday afternoon, just as the park was “clearing” as park rangers say, and enjoy the quietness of a park that would be “mostly empty”.  Reservations and specific dates and destination planning would not be required.  I’d just chase good weather and great destinations.  And weekends?  I envisioned myself “camped” at carefully selected commercial RV parks in pleasant towns, where the week’s laundry would be done, groceries and other provisions could be bought, and blogs could be posted with internet connection.  And so, here I am, this Saturday evening; side-by-side with the other “big rigs” at this perfectly adequate commercial RV park:  laundry in work, the internet waiting my post, and a Wal-Mart around the corner to purchase supplies.  It is noisy with city noise, but tomorrow night I’ll be in another state park.  I have arrived at that time in my life to instantiate my dream.  It feels pretty good. But I digress.
In fact, the rick-man and I arrived at Garner State Park this week ago, Saturday.  The heat chased us out of the RGV, and the cool temperatures beckoned us to pardon any weekend crowd.  And with Garner known as a popular summer destination, especially to families with teens, I had hopes of a “just mostly full” park.  We were lucky—we got a lovely, shaded campsite in the Live Oak Camping Area.   We had lots of neighbors, but only for one night.  And we were staying three.
I had no expectations of serious birding at Garner, but I was entertained by this Ladder-backed Woodpecker gleaning his dinner from the Live Oaks of our campsite:

But this trip to Garner would not be about birding.  This stay would be about relaxing bike rides through the park, walks along the river, and just sitting outdoors to enjoy the beauty and the cool weather.  It was delicious. 
Even though the Texas drought had taken its toll, it was great to see that the heavy rain of two weeks ago had brought freshness to the foliage, and a flow to the river:

And a weekday bike ride to the original campground of the park, where the beauty of the river is the famous and treasured destination to many, gifted an absence of people, and a bounty of nature.  I sat and listened; no people noise; the noise of nature doing what nature does—actively in the present.

But a favored memory of this visit came with the first bike ride to that old, riverside section of the park; on Sunday, when people, and their stuff--and their noise, were littering the landscape.  I was pushing my bike up the one “steep hill” of the park road, looking down at the front wheel of my bike, when I suddenly heard a teenage male voice call out: “Ah, you can ride it up that hill!”  I was caught by surprise as I did not see or hear his presence, as he apparently hiked a wooded trail on the opposite side of the park road.  I smiled to myself, kept pushing, and then without much thought I stopped and called out, into the direction of his voice:  “I want to watch YOU ride your bike up this hill when you are in YOUR seventies!”  Now, I was ready for my expected answer from the male teen—something along the lines of my not appearing to be anywhere NEAR my seventies, or some other banter about my apparent lack of biking skill.  But instead, I got this specific reply from a head that peered out from the wood:  “Ah, I’m only fifteen!”  And with that, his head disappeared from view, leaving only the sound of his fading footstep to speak for our opposite directions and different goals.  I continued pushing my bike up the hill, head still down and hidden underneath my trusty birding hat.  But I was grinning from ear to ear over this unexpected encounter; analyzing his last sentence with its many potential meanings, taking my thoughts from the uphill task at hand.  Do I know his exact thought attached to this response to my challenge?  No, and I won’t ever.  But it delights me that I can continue to wonder about it.  We all see life from our own knot hole.  And from his, I’d simply have to wait an awfully long time to see him do anything, in his seventies.    


  1. You are such an amazing writer and even more amazing person. I love your view through your knot hole. Your enjoyment of nature and the simple interactions of human contact are refreshing. I have just finished reading the book of Ecclesiastes and for some reason the many admonishments to enjoy life to the fullest was the theme that jumped off the pages to me. I wasn't sure why this theme seemed to stand out so strongly. Your blog speaks to me as you model that admonishment. Congratulations on reaching a level of life appreciation and contentment that most can only dream of attaining. You are becoming my idol. Love the pictures also.

    Your Retama Neighbor.

  2. Garner was always one of our favorite state parks as kids. Mom and Dad took us there fairly frequently. I remember that we loved the paddle boats--racing each other and having bumper-car-like battles in them. (Hard to do much damage in a paddle boat!) It was there that we all learned one of our first Spanish words: frio. That river was cold and clear!

    I get happy goose bumps just thinking about it.

  3. To be 15, carefree and free of aches and pains that comes with getting older. I just pray that when I near my seventies (or early retirement), I get to experience the world through binoculars very much like yours! Beautiful pics!


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