Getting a Quick Word in …

Hurry!  While the internet seems to be working slightly faster than a snail’s pace, here is an update on our recent travels.

Dawny and I lucked into a Camp Host spot a few weeks ago here in east Texas.  By the way, that opening picture on the TV show “Sheldon” is NOT east Texas.  They dropped a bit of Big Bend or the Grand Canyon or something mountainous into the background there.  Cowboy boots, yes.  Cows, yes.  Big brown mountains, no.  East Texas is actually pretty green and, at most, has some rolling hills here and there.  It’s very pretty.

We dropped by this sweet little state park just to camp for a couple of nights and to check the park out for future workamping opportunities.  It turned out there was an opening at that moment.  The job will carry us through the end of February, which fits in perfectly with our travel plans.

I am happy to finally get officially started with the Texas State Park volunteer system.  There’s plenty of competition for these workamping jobs during the winter months.  Here is a tip for others seeking these kinds of jobs:  If you can, visit the park you are interested in.  Talk to the person in charge of the workamping program.  Openings often occur when other volunteers have a change in plans and can’t show up, and if you are able to step in at short notice, that is a great way to get two feet through the door.

The only downside to this park is the whole internet and Verizon connectivity issue.  I can rarely get phone calls and the computer is touch-and-go.  Texting is the best bet for anyone who actually knows me if they want to make contact and, even then, I suspect some texts may have been lost in cyberspace.

Here is a tip for you travelers who find yourself in a similar situation with poor connectivity.  If you don’t want to lose a piece of your sanity and a chunk of your computer’s life and soul to cyberspace, do not–DO NOT!–say yes when your computer politely inquires if you would like to upgrade your operating system.  This should only be done when you have a strong internet connection. Feeling agreeable, I said yes when that little box popped up in the upper right corner of my screen.  I was rewarded with a black screen and a small folder containing a flashing question mark.  I spent my days off last week going back and forth to Geek Squad at Best Buy (yay Geek Squad!) where they repaired my operating system but were unable to retrieve much of my data, including all of my photos.  Yes, I know that is what cloud storage is for.  But I’ve never really understood this cloud thing.  I don’t trust it.  I have only used it when forced to.  Have I learned my lesson vis-a-vis the cloud?  No, I don’t think so.  I’ll accept my nice, clean new system and chalk the rest up to collateral damage.

One last note:  The picture at the top of this post shows the land surrounding us when the park had a prescribed burn early this month.  I was amazed how the fire control officers came in and set fire to hundreds of acres all around us (at one point, the flames were within 50 feet of our rig), and not have things get out of control.  Brush was burned, tree skins charred, yet the forest itself mostly came out unscathed.  How can someone toss a cigarette out the window and cause a multi-state conflagration yet these fellows can come in and use the flames like just another tool?  They’re like the Geek Squad of the Forest.  Pretty cool stuff.

Glad I was able to slip a word in while the internet was feeling zippy, but I don’t want to push my luck.  Talk to you again down the road!

Mother Nature & Brazos Bend

As soon as possible after setting up in a new campground, Dawny and I like to get out and explore our surroundings.  While walking through our latest park, Brazos Bend State Park, something odd struck me.  No matter which direction I looked, there was a consistent, straight, perfectly horizontal line on all the trees, bushes, and undergrowth.  Close, far, no matter, the line held true.  Mother Nature isn’t usually that consistent.  She doesn’t often paint in straight lines.  She excels in curves, subtleties, and the beauty of imperfection.

Hurricane Harvey pounded the Texas coast just a little more than four months ago.  Many state parks were closed because of record-breaking flooding and damage, including Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston.  The Brazos River crested at 52 feet over flood stage and most of the park (over 5,000 acres) was underwater.

The horizontal line I saw all around me was the high-water mark on the park’s forest and vegetation.  In many places that we walked, I was weighed down with the eerie realization that the line was over my head.

I have included a few photos in this post to try to give you an idea of what it looked like, although a picture can never do the reality justice.  Especially this sort of reality.  Note the pictures that have picnic tables in them and trees nearby to get some perspective on how high the water was.  Tree lines in the distance look like a mist is hovering a few feet above the ground.  That isn’t mist.  It is Harvey’s high water mark.  Park rangers had to get around in boats.

The Texas State Park system, its workers, and many volunteers did an outstanding job getting things back in order so that visitors could come enjoy this park just a few months after such devastation.  They have been busy in quite a number of parks in southeast Texas, and much work remains to be done.

I highly recommend this campground, by the way.  The campsites are paved, spacious, and level.  Large, beautiful trees provide shade to most of the sites.  The roads (two-way) are freshly paved and easy enough for even bigger RV’s to maneuver through.  The park is huge and there are lots of nice places to walk the dog, including a number of trails.

Be sure to keep your doggy on-leash and away from the water, though.  As noted in park instructions in the picture to the left, Brazos Bend’s most popular residents are some of Mother Nature’s most interesting children:  beautiful, subtle, and very dangerous.

(Direct link to Brazos Bend State Park’s website:  https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/brazos-bend.)

Relocate! Relocate!

Allayne came out of the office to pet sweet Dawny who, once I had opened the door, was doing her best to barge headlong into the place.  We had arrived at this small campground in eastern Louisiana (Lake Bruin State Park) earlier in the day and came by the office after settling into our campsite to tell Allayne, who had checked us in, what a pretty park it was.

“Yes, most of the people who work here have been around at least ten years. It’s such a beautiful place.”  The peaceful look on Allayne’s face told all there was to tell.

Dawny found her beautiful place by Allayne’s knee so she could scratch behind her ears while we chatted.

Whenever we walk by any building:  shed, restroom, office, cabin, outhouse… it doesn’t matter… if it has a door, Dawny wants to go inside.  If I give her enough leash, she approaches the door, sniffs, and waits, anticipation tugging each wag of her tail.  Dawny can’t read, so all she knows is that, if it has a door, there might be someone inside who will give her love and/or cookies. Preferably both.  This day she lucked out with the lovin’.

How nice a life my girl has had that closed doors hold such sweet promise.

I asked Allayne about the local wildlife, especially the creepy-crawly kind, which I am increasingly beware of the further south we travel.

“Oh, yes, we get some action here.  We had an alligator get into the swimming area–”

“There’s a swim beach here… with alligators in the lake?” I asked, my wide eyes betraying any semblance of the cool, seasoned, old-lady traveler that I may have constructed up to that point.

“Sure.  And snakes.  I was out here on my cell phone one day and right over there,” Allayne pointed to a small gully that ran under the sidewalk leading to the campground office, “I saw something slither out.  It was slithering and squirming… totally creepy.  It must have just shed its skin and stuff was stuck to it all over.  It looked awful!  I quickly called the ranger:  ‘Relocate! Relocate!'”

My politically incorrect and fearful mind silently screamed:  Oh my God!  Relocate?  What if it came back??  Did they relocate it far enough away???  Kill it!  Just kill it!!  At least blindfold it, pick it up by the tail, spin it around until it’s good and dizzy, then toss it somewhere over there by Arizona!!!

“Relocate!  Relocate!” Allayne interrupted my neurotic thoughts, recalling her call for help.  I recognized a kindred spirit looking out from her wide eyes as she continued the story.  Help arrived.  It was a water moccasin.  They relocated it.  All was well with the world and this was once again a peaceful place.

Leaving Allayne to get back to her job, Dawny and I continued our walk around the campground, including wooden docks and platforms that stretched from safe, solid ground through the dark, moss-draped shoreline into the blue of the lake.  Absolutely beautiful.  Albeit not free of alligators, snakes, or bears…  A fellow camper reminded me that the namesake of the lake was, indeed, “Bruin” for a reason.  Bears used to be quite plentiful in the area.  Sheesh, I thought I had at least left the threat of bears behind me in the Appalachians.  Apparently not.

Unlike my dear traveling companion, closed doors signify something very different to me.  They make me nervous, hiding the unknown.  Turns out it’s mostly just local life living out its local life.  The nice part is that the more familiar it becomes–by staying a while, taking time to chat, or through repeat visits–the less scary it becomes.

So, Dawny and I pick up our tails and continue with our own version of ‘Relocate,’ in this case joining the snowbird ranks migrating south for the winter.  Our current journey will cover about 2,000 miles from northern Virginia to east Texas, with a stop to visit friends near Dallas.  By the time we reach Dallas, we will have visited nine campgrounds, all of them new to us.  Our route is a new one, too.  I am proud to say that we survived the tangle that is Atlanta for the first time.

It is a good life.  Each door opens to another beautiful place, filled with lovely views, friendly faces, and kindred hearts.  We need only to open our own hearts, to recognize and relax, to give and receive.  Dawny, for all of her simple brilliance, has that part down pat.

* * * * * *

Short review of Lake Bruin State Park’s campground:  Five out of five stars.  Please keep in mind that this is from the perspective of someone traveling in a 25 foot motor home with no tow vehicle and who does not need sewer hookups.  Although not very convenient to I-20 (the park is over 35 miles south of exit 171), it was well worth the trip.

Lake Bruin is an oxbow lake formed from an old loop of the Mississippi River that was cut off from the main river channel ages ago.  It used to be a fishery and was donated to the state park system in 1958.  Fish, turtles, and alligators were raised in basins that now cradle the park grounds and some of the camp sites.

The campground road and the sites are paved.  Most are pretty level and fairly spacious.  Each has 30-amp and water hookups and there is a decent dump station available.  There is a nice mix of sun and shade.  It is a good idea to scope out the sites before picking the one that best fits your needs.  I was able to get a good Verizon signal and several over-the-air TV stations.  The restrooms are modern and immaculate, and there is a laundry room on site.

Park staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, matching the charm of their surroundings with the best of southern hospitality.