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A walk in the Piney Woods

August 28, 2009 am31 10:15 am

East Texas was for work. I volunteered, helped teachers. The last day got cut short, as we were asked to leave an event.

But then, a nice highlight. I got to experience some of East Texas’ natural beauty.

The previous Sunday I drove to Radcliff Lake in the Davey Crockett National Forest, poked around.

But Friday after lunch I went for a two hour hike in the Stephen F Austin Experimental Forest, southwest of Nacogdoches. It was gorgeous, breathtaking. We do not have forest in the northeast that looks like this. We don’t have forest that smells like this: a rich mix of sun-baked pine needles, dust, fresh needles, a touch of mud, with bits of dozens of other plants and flowers mixed in.

Click through to see the full-sized photos

The forest was thick, but not dark, as the sun penetrated all the way down, with just small patches of shade. The wind swayed the pines, I could see it, I could hear it, but I couldn’t feel it or taste it – the wind did not reach the forest floor.

At home, thick trees grow on and around hills – land that wasn’t worth keeping clear or building on? But the SFA forest was flat.

No, almost flat. It was crisscrossed with creeks, mostly dry, with steep banks. The one I stepped across (bridge was out) had just a trickle of dampness, but the bigger one seemed to have some water creeping. The banks were hardwoods, and what a variety! Cottonwood, chestnut, walnut, oak, elm, sycamore, ash, gum. They were all familiar, but not the same as we have at home. There was a little loop by the trail head, along and around a creek, with labeled trees.  The sun there got through in shafts, and leaves floated downward, now lit, now in shade, gently settling on the ground.

The flatter parts were pine, and pine mix. The sun came through freely. The needles, too, fell. But they are heavier. Or less wing-like. Or. Or what? In any case they fell faster, and harder. Joined 2, 3, 4 at the end. They snagged on bushes, in trees, or just hit the ground.

Actually, I didn’t notice the falling needles. A colleague had, in cruel jest, sent me off with words to enjoy the forest – and be careful of rattlesnakes. In the pines I took a few careful steps, listening for a snake moving, watching out for holes that might contain a resting serpent, and then stopped to look up at the surroundings. Not much of a way to hike, and I must thank the first group of joined pine needles that landed, not with a thud, but with a touch, on my shoulder, for scaring the breath out of me. When I realized what had hit me, I regained myself, laughed at my idiocy, and resumed walking, normally…

The paths were wide, cleared, and partially overgrown. Instead of pavement there was a bed of pine needles. Instead of gravel – loose pine cones. And instead of the reek of oozing tar, the sun baked the needles, burning the smell into my memory. There were little holes (not snake holes), and patches of grass and ground cover. Every so often a bench had been planted, and signs too, directing me to Loblolly Hollow or Dogwood Gulch.

I was alone, absolutely alone, for almost two hours.Maybe it was too hot to be out? 95ish. The guest book had been signed once that morning; the previous entry was a few weeks old. Yeah, Texans must feel the heat, too.

My loop was just 2.1 miles, but I kept circling, trying different cut-offs, different combinations. It was absolutely magical. I was in no rush to leave. Finally, I heard a distant rumble – yet another thunder clap to the north that would not reach us. But that was the signal. I took out my phone, called my mother (it was her birthday) and quietly chatted (quiet, like in a library, like a loud voice would have been as polluting as a plastic bottle or a McDonalds wrapper) the fifteen minutes back to the car.

There was a breeze back at the trail head. And not another soul.

And that’ll be my last memory of East Texas!

One Comment leave one →
  1. ade permalink
    August 28, 2009 am31 11:24 am 11:24 am

    You obviously could have gone there on vacation but would you have ever gone here if you hadn’t volunteered? Another example of how being a teacher puts you in contact with some great opportunities and experiences.

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