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.

On Hummingbird Wings

We arrived in Texas today on hummingbird wings and are camping at Walmart.

Woooooo Boy!  I have had to focus mightily on the hummingbird sticker that is mounted on the lower left corner of my windshield quite a bit lately.  We crossed the Mississippi River on I-10 at Baton Rouge yesterday morning.  That is one tall bridge.  Thankfully, the wind was manageable and the bridge didn’t feel too rickety.  In fact, it has a beautiful steel superstructure that I was able to semi-appreciate out of the corner of my eye that was glued to the pavement flashing by under my left front bumper (my emergency focal point–thank you hummingbird).

On the way to Baton Rouge the day before, I was amazed at how close the muddied waters were to I-10 and I-12 north of New Orleans.  The misery index from those record-breaking rains of late last week continues to climb as resulting floodwaters roll southward to the Gulf.  These weren’t just lazy brown waters, either.  No, indeed, there was quite a current flowing along the side of the highway.  At one point, I passed a whirlpool that was in the process of gobbling up all sorts of roadside garbage.  I counted three plastic water bottles disappear before training my eyes back onto my hummingbird.

Continuing west after Baton Rouge, I was reminded just how low Louisiana is while traveling a 20 mile stretch of I-10 that is on stilts.  Cement stilts, yes.  But stilts.  Looking off to either side, all that could be seen was water with trees sticking up out of it.  In a few spots, the road arches up into a bridge formation to allow the passage of watercraft in sections that could perhaps be defined as rivers, identifiable simply by the lack of treetops sticking up out of their channels.

It started out to be a short travel day–Dawny is always grateful for those–as we pulled into our next stop just 30 miles away from the Texas border, Sam Houston Jones State Park.  The park sits in a bend of the Calcasieu River and has a beautiful lagoon with some great walking paths throughout.

Dawny and I saw our first alligator since setting out 20 months ago (I’ve seen them before when I lived in north Florida and was young and stupid and would swim in the same waters they swam in).  We watched as a delightfully young and stupid fellow waded into the water to try to coax the alligator closer to shore.  The gator was at least five or six feet long.  In the picture at the start of this post, note the turtle in the bottom left corner.  That turtle is bigger than my head.

We had a couple of great afternoon walks.  It is a lovely park, although the campground is a bit rough–lots of potholes, poorly marked, small sites, and they charge a “service” fee on top of the nightly camping fee that bumps the rate up 30 percent, from $18 to $24 a night.

So here we are relaxing after our second walk, and I’m getting ready to prepare dinner.  I have the local news on, and I hear them talking about the possibility of closing I-10 at the Louisiana-Texas border.  Apparently this little town just north of us, Deweyville, was totally under water and the Sabine River, which traces the border as it runs to the Gulf, hadn’t even crested yet.  Then they mentioned the rising waters of the Calcasieu River.  And showed pictures of all the poor people who were losing their homes and businesses.

Mandatory evacuations were spreading, and they were spreading in our direction.  The icing on the cake was the mention of more rain on the way.  Not right away.  In a few days.  But all I could picture was being trapped in southwest Louisiana with rising floodwaters filled with snakes and alligators…  It wasn’t too hard to make a decision.

I quickly fed the girl, packed up the house, and unhooked the electric (I never hook up water and sewer, so it doesn’t take long to pack up to leave).  I wolfed down a few spoonfuls of cold pasta and beans, poured myself a nice cup of Poor Man’s Starbuckles, and we hit the road, waving bye-bye to our $24.  Oh well, it was a pretty break.

Holy cow.  As we crossed the Sabine River into Texas, I figured we’d pull into the Welcome Center to stretch our legs.  Not going to happen.  It was under water.  The bottom two legs of the giant Texas star that sits out front was in water up to its knees.

We continued onward towards Beaumont.  By this time the sun was low in the western sky, glaring at us with its gigantic orange eye.  I didn’t want to go blind from looking at it, but where else am I supposed to look?  How about at the cement barriers that are inches away on the right side of my lane… or maybe the painted lane markers that don’t track at all with the reflectors that are supposed to tell you where the lane is?  Holy crap.  I guess I’ll just look at the hummingbird as traffic roars past my left ear at 80 miles an hour… this is Texas, after all.

I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (“White Knuckles, Yellow Lines, and Hummingbirds,” August 7, 2014) that no state claims the hummingbird as its state bird.  I shall claim it now as my own state-of-the-mind bird, and for any fellow travelers who would like to share claim to its blessed flexibility, you are welcome to do so.  Should we hover or zip away?  Feed or flee?  Focus on those sweet lifelines as if our survival, or our delight, depends upon it?  I’m grateful for its steadfast, guiding wings.

Off to bed now.  Grateful also for Walmart’s RV-friendly policy that allows RV’ers to spend a night in the parking lot of many of their stores.  Nice, level site.  Good lighting.  Security cameras.  Groceries just steps away.  Lines marking parking spots quite logical and clear.  Speed limit 5 mph.  Floodwaters far behind us.  And all for free.