Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Big Bend ~ December 26 ~ Of Morning Frost and Drowsy Owls

Today’s odyssey began at roughly 6:30am just outside of La Grange, Texas. I packed up my belongings, grabbed the muffins and juice my hosts at the Big Tin Flag bed and breakfast had provided for my dine-while-dashing convenience, and stumbled out the door into the dim pre-dawn light to find my car sparkling with frost. I loaded my bags and breakfast, turned on the defroster, pulled out an old gift card, and scraped away as a dim avian shadow, high in a leafless tree, silhouetted against the brightening horizon, hooted at me sleepily.

With visibility adequately improved, I drove to my grandmother's to launch a brief hunt for my missing sunglasses. An abbreviated search in the dark front rooms revealed nothing, and I didn’t want to turn on lights or hunt in earnest, because two of my cousins were crashed on couches within my search perimeter. I also just didn’t have much time. I dug through the suitcase I stowed last night in my sister’s Tahoe, full of the gear I wouldn’t need for Big Bend, until I came up with my old French Market Jackie O shades. Non-optimal for rugged terrain, but better than nothing. Then I hit the road for real. (I later found the missing shades on the floorboards in front of my passenger seat. Mystery solved.)

I’d forgotten about that time of day, early early, before the sun is quite awake, where every passing instant brings a change to the light, and the world looks completely different after a blink. The dry tawny fields were silver with frost, and as I crossed the Colorado, I caught a glimpse of the pearly wreaths of mist rising from its still-seeming waters. I’ve got my favorite book of all time, Jane Eyre, on my iPod now, and the miles slid by as I listened, driving through fields, past farms, churches, agricultural equipment repair shops, in the strengthening day, racing the sun as it rose.

I made excellent time, in spite of stops in Austin for groceries, Fredericksburg for a snack, and a handful of other towns along Interstates and lesser highways for gas, breaks, and additional supplies, shifting from westward to southward to westward again across the biggest state in the lower forty-eight. (It helps that the speed limit on I-10 is 80 miles per hour out west.) The road seemed to jump over the rolling hills like a kitten running through tall grass, peak around the shoulders of more rugged heights, curve in a long stretch playing with the horizon like a narrow string, then finally sprawl tired and flat for long stretches.

Around 4:15pm, during the golden hour, when the sun droops gracefully toward setting, my heart jumped to my throat as I topped a rise and recognized the Chisos Mountains and Casa Grande Peak ahead. I have so many homes these days, but the few weeks I’ve spent in the park have been so unbelievably rich that this particular horizon has been etched into my heart like the profile of an old love.

I pulled up to my hotel, cut my engine, and opened my car door to absolute silence. No traffic on the nearby roads, no people walking the surrounding gravel paths, no birdsong and not a breath of air to rustle the dry grasses. Just utter stillness for several heartbeats, until I climbed out, swung my door shut, and headed for check in. I’d found my room and was starting to unload my bags when the soft call of an early owl drifted from a nearby grove of scrub, like an echo of the cold central Texas morning I left behind.

I went for a walk after sunset, and remembered how the deepening of twilight mirrors the early dawn in that every blink brings new stars to view. I sprawled out on a park bench on a putting green in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert with the blossoming night all to myself, ignoring the cold for as long as I could just for the joy of seeing six of the seven Pleiades. I’ve been told the seventh sister just cannot be seen by the naked eye these days, but I may try again tomorrow when I’m better prepared to outlast the chill of desert night.

Now I’ve unpacked and am enjoying one of my favorite indulgences: Summer sausage and cream cheese on sesame rice crackers and a glass of sweet red wine. I’m also enjoying the broken and sporadic free wi-fi here in the Badlands portion of the Lajitas Resort. On the agenda for tomorrow: Burro Spring, Ward Spring, and the Blue Creek trail to Cedar Spring. A few relatively short hikes (one to two miles one way) to get me warmed up and to figure out just what I’ll be capable of this year.

On the agenda for tonight, coming soon: sleep.

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