Some summers, in the dead heat of July, my dad and I would load up the station wagon and drive seven long hours to East Texas. As the trip would drag on, I'd pull the fold-out map from its place behind the visor and check off towns as they went by - Huntsville, Jasper - markers to measure our progress. Despite the 70mph speed limit, the ride seemed endless. Bored, I would clamor over the seat and into the back to forage the styrofoam ice chest for snacks, before climbing back over to sit (unbelted) in the passenger seat, where I'd try not to fidget.
Late in the day we would arrive on the shores of Toledo Bend, the enormous reservoir that delineates the southern half of the Texas/Louisiana border. We would pitch our canvas army surplus tent, fold out cots, and unroll cotton sleeping bags. Dad would sit out under the towering pines with my godfather (better known to me as "Uncle Juggy") who had driven up from Beaumont. On folding lawn chairs, with their legs stretched out in front of them, they would drink cans of Schlitz or Falstaff and reminisce about their glory days as fraternity brothers at UT. I'd sip a coke and daydream about the fish I planned to catch the next morning.
Toledo Bend, from toledo-bend.com
In my memory, I'm mostly shirtless and tan, with brick red East Texas dirt clumped on my sneakers and staining the pair of blue jeans I'd wear the whole week. Sometimes, they'd let me sit in the back and practice piloting the flat-bottomed aluminum johnboat. I'd steer the small craft with the tiller of the outboard motor, the wreaking smell of gasoline belching out behind us. We'd search for a promising clump of trees or brush where the lake's plentiful schools of crappie were likely to converge. And when we'd find one, we'd drop our lines in the water, and see who could hall out the most fish with a single worm. There might have been some big talk about whose fishing skills were best. Mostly though, these rituals of fishing were treated with something approaching monastic reverence.
Eventually we'd end up back at the campsite. We probably ate bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread and I distinctly recall fishing stubby Vienna sausages from a can. They would nap away the warm afternoons in tent shade while I read a Hardy Boys mystery, or worked on a puzzle. I remember it being very quiet.
I suppose what really sticks with me from those trips is just that stillness - the feeling that you only get when you're in a place that is relatively untouched. In those days, when you passed the city limit sign on your way out of town, you and your foldout paper map were on an adventure. Out on the water, it was on you to keep your eyes open for the submerged tree stump that might leave you and your boat stranded - or the cottonmouth that might wrap itself around your stringer of crappies. The spirit guides were ever present and the wildness of the land felt unremarkable - innate and pervasive.
These days, our fullynwired, on call, perpetually entangled, glued to the news cycle lives accelerate year after year. And as anyone who knows me would attest, I am the last person to be parted from my iPhone. I love cities. I love their crowds and their energy. I love their fancy restaurants and their high-rises - all of it. Hell, I lived a good chunk of my adult life in New York City and loved it.
But often I feel the call of wild land, and I find myself wondering where I might still find that - untrammeled corners of the earth seem scarcer now. So whenever I can, I seek out spaces where I can pick up just a trace of real connection to the earth and her bounty. Often I get my fix through travel, but I have also come to love certain spaces that fill the void right here in our town - most obviously our stunning green belt and spring-fed swimming pools like Barton Springs and Deep Eddy.
I'd also point to our very own garden patio at Texas French Bread. Its beauty and meditative quality draw me out there again and again. Sometimes I'll take a glass of wine out to the picnic tables and eat a light snack in the early evening. The giant oak tree drapes comfortingly over me with its long limbs. In truth, sometimes I talk to it when no one is around, and although it could be my imagination, I'm pretty sure it reassures me that it is happy and feeling well loved, and that it enjoys all the people who come to keep it company. And once in a while, I might tell it a story about the deep green forests on the shores of Toledo Bend, how it rains there a lot, and the way the tall pines like to dig their gnarled toes into the sandy red dirt.
But as usual, I digress - sorry. I believe the pitch I was going for was this: as we ease into summer and the days get longer, the garden is in its prime. We want to tempt you into our space, so we've started a special Sunday offer of half off mussels, frites and rosé by the glass - available both in the restaurant and on the patio during dinner hours.
If you haven't been out there, I encourage you to come join us on Sunday evening to wind down the weekend. It's beautiful, it's affordable, and sometimes it doesn't even feel like you're in a city anymore. And be sure and say hi to our beautiful oak tree. It's very friendly.
Hope to see you soon.