Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Triumph over Common Sense

 Oh, wait. That title doesn't put me in a very good light does it?!!

But it's not as bad as it sounds. Promise!

You see, back in December I posted an entry called Foiled by Common Sense where I bravely tried to justify not fording the river at Trammell Crossing to get to one of my favorite spots in Pedernales State Park. A section of the park isolated from the rest by the river.

Back then, in mid December, the crossing looked like this and I decided that there was just a little too much water flowing over the crossing to risk it, you know, being on my own and all. (The 'and all' means there was no one there to critique the size of my cojones when I turned back.)

Next time I showed up, towards the end of January, it looked like this. Not a lot different, and the water might still have been higher than normal, but it was definitely down by four to six inches. So I tucked Common Sense away in that little pocket any self-respecting man keeps ready for it and pulled the zipper shut tight to make sure it stayed there.

With my socks tucked tight into the toes of my hiking boots and the boots hung from a handy strap on my pack I was ready to tackle the crossing.

Normally my camera rides on a quick-release fitting on the pack's waist belt, but once I took this photo I tucked it into into the top of the pack for a little extra protection in case things went wrong, and that zipper, the one open in the photo, was pulled shut just as tight as the one corralling my Common Sense. (I feel like it's a character in its own right, an amalgamation of Mom's dire warning, Dad's admonishments and hard-won experience, hence the capitalization.)

With pack on my back, waist and sternum straps hanging loose in case I ended up in the water and needed to shed it in a hurry, and walking stick firmly in hand, both hands. for additional bracing, I edged my way out into the river.

Did I mention that the thermometer up at The Van was reading 31 degrees when I got up this morning??

In his 1983 book Tom Brown's Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking, the author recounts a lesson he learned as a boy from his wilderness mentor Stalking Wolf. Stalking Wolf taught him to not fight the cold, but rather to just accept it as part of the natural world. That's a lesson I readily adopted and still practice today. It probably doesn't slow the onset of hypothermia or anything like that, but it puts the cold into its place and I find I can function better and it hurts less.

But this time I didn't have to think about accepting the cold because within a few shuffling steps I was completely focused on making the crossing and didn't give a rat's ass what the temperature was! At it's deepest, and incidentally fastest, the river came nearly up to my knees and the power of the current was doing it's damndest to sweep my feet downriver.

The crossing goes like this:

Face downriver. That way if my feet do get swept out from under me I'm going to land on my pack and not my face. As a bonus, I'll already be facing downstream with my legs out in front of me, the way you're supposed to ride the current in a situation like that.

Plant my walking stick, held with a two-handed grip, firmly on the bottom 18 inches or so in front of me.

Test to make sure my right foot and walking stick are well planted.

Slide my left foot 6 to 8 inches to the left, towards the other bank, and get it firmly planted. Don't try to rush the crossing by taking big steps because that's a quick way to a swim. Also never lift a foot or the walking stick up out of the water because the force of the current hitting it all over again when I put it down could knock me off balance.

Shift the walking stick the same 6 to 8 inches to the left and get it firmly planted.

Shift my right foot 6 to 8 inches to the left and get it firmly planted.

Rinse and repeat. No wait!! Don't rinse! That would be bad. Just repeat, and repeat and repeat. And repeat. If I'm successful eventually the water level will drop as I make it up the other bank.

Now that's an ugly pair of legs!

Here I am on the other side of the crossing. I personally would not attempt something like that in bare feet. My water-shoes provide significantly more protection, and actually give me better traction, than bare feet. They are also light, which is good since I always carry them in my pack because you never know when you might have to take to the water to get where you're going and dry socks and boots are worth a lot more than the discomfort of an extra pound or so on my back.

From this vantage point, looking back from the other side of the river, you can make out the crude 'road' of hydraulic cement that was laid across the ford some time back (It was there when I first came to this park 35 years ago.) It might seem like it's a good idea, but after so many years under water the smooth surface is really slick with algae growth and, unless the water is really low, I make the crossing on the natural bottom upstream (In this case to the right.) of the 'road'.

After getting myself dried off, my socks and boots back on and my pack sorted out again, the first thing I have to face is a steep climb of about 200 vertical feet to get up to the top of the bluff.

This is the only time of the year when the land here seems devoid of any splashes of color (There are tiny little blue flowers to be found hugging the ground but you have to look close to find them.)  but that's just the natural cycle of things and doesn't mean this place is devoid of its own unique beauty. It just means I might have to look a little harder for it, which means I'll appreciate it all the more.

And there is history to be found in this part of the park for those willing to get off the trails and look for it. History from the mid 1800's to the mid 1900's. Like this gate which I suspect once serviced the road that ran north to the community of Cypress Mills from the old G.C. Wilson's holdings. (If you find stuff like this fascinating here is a link to a 73 page (PDF) history compiled for the area.)


This version of the gate wasn't fancy, using hinges fashioned of steel cables and clamps.

 and the hefty Cypress head-post has since rotted at the base and toppled, but traces of the old road can still be found nearby in the form of wagon ruts (Don't expect ruts like you find on a muddy road, after 100 years of weathering and growing over these are much more subtle than that.)

In addition to the old cemetery where some 19 people were buried by about 1900 (I'll have a separate post coming up about the cemetery.) there were several lime kilns in this area. I haven't yet gone looking for them but I'm betting there are some sort of visible remains of these kilns out there somewhere.

Some history is not so difficult to spot. The old road looped through the Wilson property and exited at what is now the boundary between the eastern edge of the park and private land.

It's certainly no thoroughfare, but the gate is obviously still maintained. I would guess that the park service keeps it, and an agreement with the landowner, for emergencies, such as for getting to people stuck on the wrong side of the river during extended floods.

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