East Texas certainly has its redeeming moments. For every gurgling F-150 on a billboard-strewn freeway, there seems to be an occasion like this night last December:
Savoring my first moments of solitude after the week’s busy return to teaching, I am the lone human spectator at Lake Livingston’s daily festival of dusk-time beauty. A great blue heron flaps by, wingtips descending just millimeters above the glassy surface. A low, ringing croak, a rush of water on spindly feet, and it is a rigid stalk in the shallows.
Prey will not be hard to find. Despite the current cool spell, fish jump like midsummer, questing with a splash for their own meals. Above my head comes a surprising hiss of air as a squadron of coots b-lines towards destination unknown. Marvelous sounds. There are dogs barking and trucks’ muffled droning from across the lake, but for now the choruses human and non-human strike a peaceful balance.
Draping it all is the Western horizon, soft and orange as a ripe peach, its light mirrored on the water before fading to violet and blue-black in the East. Jupiter and Venus already stand proudly in the cooling sky, portending a long-awaited clear winter night. Like Thoreau in his fishing boat, I lose the boundary between sky and water, starlight and reflection, descending into the depths of my own mind. Like Norman Maclean, “I am haunted by waters.”
A pyre-like brushfire blazes a few hundred yards away, cremating the piney corpses of the summer’s historic drought. Trucks across the lake roar human ubiquity. Yet water – even a shallow, manmade body like ours – has a way of inspiring optimism. There is no wilderness here, but its scrappy cousin, wildness, is filling my nostrils with vigor.
It’s official. If I cement this move and trade in my Massachusetts license plates, I’ll pay the extra $30 to Parks & Wildlife for the ones with a horned lizard and the words “Keep Texas Wild.” I can’t think of a more important phrase to take with me through this rugged and resilient place.