Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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birds call, snakes swim

We work early this morning and drove to Hagerman National Wildlife Reserve up on the Oklahoma border. We passed tall green corn stalks with yellowish tops, a real challenge to my notion that wheat and alfalfa were the only "money" crops in this part of Texas, and that everything else was just garden plot farmers' market stuff.

I overshot the exit and misplaced us (which, really, is just to say that I was driving, because the rest of the idea flows from that thought). We stopped in a tourist information center where a nice retiree-volunteer type man pointed out the way to the preserve some five miles back. We browsed the air conditioned brochure stands, filled with hundreds of Texas places familiar and arcane. I took the brochure for Henderson and Kaufman counties, rural northeastern Texas counties a short drive from us. My wife took the brochure for Mustang Island, the beach locale well to the south. The nice man, who had come outside to check whether the US and Texas and Grayson County and Mexican flags were all in good flying condition, saw us admiring the neat native garden in front of the building, and toured us past sights such as "this is how the red honeysuckle looked before we trimmed it away". We headed off to the preserve.

We drove the five miles down the expressway before we hit the Farm to Market road to the reserve. The hills began to undulate slightly, while we saw more trees than at home. Birds played everywhere--we saw many scissortail flycatchers.

When we got to "Reserve Road", we began to see the marshes, ponds and giant Lake Texoma, the waterways that make this such as incredible bird refuge. We saw tons of white herons, a few of the regal great blue herons, and the snowy egrets, with the snowy "grandfather's beard" behind their heads.

The ranger's station was only open Monday through Friday, but a self-guiding station was sufficiently helpful to point us in the general direction of the hiking trails, while vague enough to add a pleasant ambiguity to the proceedings. On our left and on our right was marshland. By one bridge, we passed a mother and two sons fishing. At another spot, we stopped to see a gorgeous redwing blackbird, each wingspot an incredible crimson, who sang a short, unsyncopated song and ate a seed pod off a weed/bush.

We saw so many herons! Flocks of herons, standing herons,
herons swallowing fish, egrets with fish protruding ever so slightly from within long, immature necks. We drove at the slowest velocity possible, through a maze of wet and bird.

Lake Texoma is a huge manmade lake which straddles Texas and Oklahoma.
The preserve is at the old town of Hagerman, which was built in the 1920s by Arkansas folks, but quite sensibly abandoned in the 1940s when word got out that the US Corps of Engineers was going to inundate it soon with a major lake.

We parked by a hand boat launch, where some were fishing, others sitting on an old car, drinking beer. Twenty feet away, an oil well, twenty feet high, pumped up and down with a strength and grace that was 9 parts John Henry and 1 part Janine Turner. We headed to the trail, which was a dirt road cutting through wetlands, on which motor vehicles may no longer travel. We walked into a shady forest, which soon gave way to wet marsh on either side of us. We passed a flock of herons, which kept readjusting its location when it saw us coming. We saw tiger swallowtail butterflies, giant yellow wings with black vertical streaks. In contrast to the herons, the tiger swallowtails were oblivious to us. We saw purple thistle in late bloom, scores of sunflowers, primrose, and those yellow flowers with red tips. We saw pure yellow coreopsis and jimson weed and brown muddy pondlets filled with mosquito fish. We heard birdsong of dozens varieties of bird, none of which I could identify if asked. The weather was scorching hot, but the marshes, rather than being disagreeably humid, were like a breath of fresh air, like life injected mainline into our veins.

We felt the cool and watched everything around us, with eyes, with binoculars, and with some inner sense I cannot define.

When we turned around to walk back, my wife spotted a swimming snake in a bit of shallow water. Soon we had seen five of them, slithering out the letter "s" underwater, graceful, though wary of us. I could only see one well enough to guess species, which I believed to be "water moccassin"; the others I ascribed as non-poisonous water snakes, but I really have no idea. I find that as a naturalist-identifier-of-species I make a very good bad poet. My wife said she had always wanted to see swimming snakes; swimming snakes on White Oak Lake were the pleasure and bane of my childhood summer lake cabin days. Water mocassins are very territorial, and will swim towards one in an effort to frighten one away. They are poisonous, but "not very" poisonous. Something in my personal theology is supported by the fact that a water mocassin lacks much venom, but will be aggressive, while the local coral snake is entirely deadly, but lacks fangs or any real willingness to bite. As I wrote that line, I stepped on a small diatonic keyboard which has slipped under my writing desk, and the resulting "c" note felt like a recording angel warning me not to take great comfort in my animalian metaphors.

We drove back to our home town, stopping on the way at a local chain Tex Mex restaurant. One can get great Mexican food in LA, not surprisingly, but one of my great joys in moving back to Texas two years ago was to be back with that odd border food called Tex/Mex. It is not really "Mexican" food--it is from about fifty miles above the border to about ten miles below, as to states that border Nuevo Leon and Chihuahua especially (by Sonora, the taste is different). But it is to me "real" Mexican food, and we have it in the Dallas area. We had the nicest high school age waitress. I was so intrigued when the family next to us asked her an extremely animated set of questions. Surely some secret was forthcoming, if my Spanish only went beyond "quenta cuesta, por favor" and "quisera orangina, por favor". The girl smiled at the family, lifted the cuff of her pants, said "esta Payless", and all was revealed. I had a wonderful enchilada and taco and tamale combination. The tab for 2 was 14 dollars.

When we returned home, I plunged into the poetry books from the library. I was very impressed by 2 things by Countee Cullen and 1 by Sun Ra. I then drove my wife to the nursery to get new hardwood mulch; we have just gotten our little flower beds free at last (thank god they're free at last!) of Bermuda grass, and, having composted, now are ready to mulch our way to freedom. We listened to Alice Cooper sing "I'm Eighteen" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy" in the car. Then I settled down to John Ashbery and Anne Sexton and Frank O'Hara. I read some poems, then I read the bio blurbs at the end. It's amazing that all the poetry in the US outside California and Harlem is locked away in the English departments of prestigious universities. I wondered if, like herons and egrets, good poets don't need a wetlands preserve, where bad poets and fishermen could come to see them wade in the water.

We rented the Shipping News video, which we began last night. I find Cate Blanchett interesting even when she plays unattractive characters. I want to finish the video today, make reservations for my business trip next week, and then try to decorate the cover of that poetry book exchange for my last pending deal. Then I must mow the grass, but only at the very end of the nearly longest day of the year, when the shadows start to fall, risking unmowed lawn patches ("mohawks"), but sparing me heat stroke.

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