By Greg Tonian, 2017
Indian Mounds Wilderness beckoned,
Edward Fritz had inspired me to go for 37 years
In “Realms of Beauty he wrote of a marvelous,
Untouched and rare forest,
With towering trees: Beech, ash, pine, oak,
Some so tall and big around,
They were in the record book.”
After being held in winters’ grip,
The ice melted and I made the trip.
I rose early and launched the Buick into the darkness,
Hurtling like a missile through the concrete canyons and viaducts,
I glided past the glass towers,
More than I remembered.
The scents of the city wafted into the cockpit,
Water treatment vapors, commercial kitchens, diesel fumes, tar, sour cardboard,
I longed for loam and resin.
South of town, the eastern horizon took on a rosy hue,
An orange orb floated upward,
The sky was azure, and a sooty locomotive plume of clouds puffed across
The grassy roadsides and trees lining the highway sparkled like crystal chandeliers.
The day was clear and calm and full of promise, but I had 300 miles to travel.
Buc-ee’s and Woody’s Smokehouse distracted me enroute,
But I would need provisions for this adventure.
I-45 to Centerville, Hwy 7 to Crockett,
103 out of Lufkin, 83 out of Hemphill;
I crossed the Trinity, Neches, Angelina and Atoyac rivers,
5 hours later I found the forest I was seeking.
I had 5 hours to explore a 12,000- acre wilderness,
50,000 years in the making.
This would be daunting.
My guide indicated an abandoned road,
I chose that as my portal,
Instead of a trail,
I found trees.
A ribbon of forest had replaced what was once a county lane.
I embarked on a 3-hour reconnaissance,
Weaving my way through a slalom course of new growth.
The surrounding forest beckoned me into its arms,
But I only made short forays outward,
Fearing the disorientation of total immersion.
The quiet was unsettling, yet soothing.
The birds were on siesta,
No mammals were stirring,
I long for that silence again now.
Why do people wear earbuds?
Do they fear the absence of sound?
I tried to calm my senses,
Take it all in slowly,
to fall under the forest’s spell.
Underfoot was a mosaic of fallen leaves,
A clue to the tree species nearby.
Despite the soft brown earth beneath,
The crispy leaves made every living creature aware of my presence.
The sun was high,
the sky a deep blue,
the forest was basking in a cascade of light rays,
a white glow, soft and beckoning,
like a near death experience?
There was a subtle tension in each moment,
A tendril was trembling,
Wanting to unfurl,
The copperhead was stirring, then
It curled tighter and slept on.
One brown skink made a mad dash,
Then burrowed under the leaves,
A wolf spider scurried under a log.
I began to look closer.
I espied a sienna toadstool in my path,
A red-fleshed acorn,
Red holly and yaupon berries,
I stumbled onto a solitary white blossomed flower in bloom.
A “snow” flower? After all it was just the beginning of February!
The Master of this realm loomed nearby,
Pale skinned, mottled with delicate lichen tattoos,
Its outspread arms draped with dry, crinkled, serrated leaves,
Its massive torso thrusting upward to the sky.
The Beech tree stood side by side with the other trees,
Living in harmony with them,
Yet one sensed that this was its turf,
Gladly sharing its domain with towering, shingle-barked,
Loblolly pines, majestic oaks,
Lichen-splotched American hollies,
Magnolias with foot long green leaves.
The reverie was interrupted,
By the sound of flowing water.
Nearby was a creek, at the bottom of a crease in two ridges.
A tributary of Hurricane bayou,
It gushed through a metal culvert that ran under this former country road,
The Hurricane and other creeks of this preserve drained into the Toledo Bend Reservoir,
An impoundment of the Sabine River,
Separating Texas and Louisiana.
I saw few signs of aquatic life,
A few mosquito larvae,
Yet no fish, frogs, turtles, snakes, water striders.
Perhaps the ice melt was too chilly,
They knew winter could return at any moment,
despite the day’s t-shirt friendly air temperature.
Several times, during my walk,
A pale gray, 4-inch insect would helicopter away,
Startled by my noisy boot stomps.
These grasshoppers apparently hop to the beat of a different drum.
They were slender,
Katydid-like in appearance and flight,
But I never could capture one.
Other than a white micro moth and a couple ordinary looking flies, I saw no other insects.
If there were deer, they remained hidden,
but I saw areas where they might have bedded down on the path I was following,
And stripped trees, possibly buck rubbing posts.
I saw one coyote scat,
ashy white clods of bone dust.
A solitary rabbit,
hopped away in surprise.
After weaving my way through the tangled growth,
Perhaps 2 miles into the forest,
I took a break.
I contemplated my surroundings,
Pondered my presence in this arboreal realm,
My next plan of action.
It’s hard shut down the churning mind,
Though the forest implores you to do so.
I opted to consume the barbecue sandwich from Woody’s.
So much for foraging nuts and berries.
So little time and so much to see,
But it was time to make my way back to the car.
The mysteries of this forest were to remain hidden.
On the way back, the light softened,
the birds began to stir,
Titmice, chickadees, a downy woodpecker, and a phoebe,
made their appearances.
Early on my walk,
While taking a photograph,
A small tree stripped my binoculars off my shoulder.
Fortunately, I noticed they were gone, backtracked,
thankfully finding them suspended in the shrubbery 3 feet off the ground
Now my trek was coming to an end.
My car was still there,
The tires were not flat,
Nothing was stolen,
And it even started?
Why do we mistrust human intentions,
Fear the failure of our machines?
I drove off and less than a mile away,
I passed an open area. Populated by tiny pine trees.
No signs of a beech forest here.
I continued for several miles until I found the Indian Mounds Recreational Area.
There I selected a campground with beautiful views of the lake,
Overlooking an inlet surrounded by towering pine trees,
The Louisiana shoreline, in the distance.
There was just 3 of us to be found in this pleasant setting,
Me, myself, and I.
Oddly, I contemplated driving home,
I was in a panic.
I took a deep breath.
I coaxed myself back into living in the moment.
That was what this trip was about.
It was time to set up camp.
Once the tent was up, I went to the water’s edge.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of a white-necked, stiletto-billed waterbird,
I reached for my binoculars, and it dived out of sight.
I was not as crazy as I thought,
It was a loon!
Soon I was able to observe a pair of these special birds,
Diving and disappearing under the choppy blue water,
As high-powered bass boats roared by.
I wondered if any of these birds
Were the same ones I saw in Ely, Minnesota,
2 summers ago, garbed in distinct black and white breeding plumage.
I had read that the mated birds separate for the winter,
Only to reunite the next summer.
As I snacked and nibbled,
The light beginning to fade,
I heard and spotted a red-bellied woodpecker.
The sharp laugh of a pileated woodpecker pierced the silence.
Across the cove,
A Great Horned Owl began to hoot,
Warming up for his nightly hunting forays.
Rising above his perch,
A pale orb arose,
Looking like an escaped Chinese spy balloon,
The full moon lit up the campground.
To add to the magic of the moment, I was able to
Build a small campfire to bring additional comfort
To the peaceful solitude of this deserted campground.
Was it worth it?
I mulled, as I watched embers pulsate and glow,
basked in soft moonshine,
listened to the lapping waves of Toledo Bend Lake,
only to hear that familiar, haunting lament of the loon in the night.
The only answer I could come up with, was,
Yes, for now, everything is all right!