Having been presented with an irrefutable sign.
By Lad Moore
For most of my working career, the dictates of corporate employment took me to duty stations a great distance from home. Those absences seemed like exile, serving only to make me long to return to the place I had left.
True to this need for reconnection, I reserved one week a year to revisit my insatiable mistress; fishing and frogging the bayous and main waters of East Texas’ Caddo Lake. In the course of those years I took many of my friends there. Introducing them to the lake was like showing off some cherished personal belonging. Later, I began to regret my generosity. Many of my guests assumed the same level of ‘ownership’ that I held and began including their other friends. There was something about the pristine wildness and the rare beauty of the Spanish-moss tapestries that made me selfish. I did not like others losing their hearts to the lake as I had mine.
Caddo holds a special place in our state’s history. After its peaceful days as habitat for its namesake Caddo Indians, the lake was never again allowed to rest. Spanning decades, man’s ego devised many plans for this, the largest natural lake in the state. Some of the schemes were grandiose, some just folly. Steamboats once ploughed the waters from New Orleans to the port of Jefferson, serving as an important waterway from the south. Much later there followed private development of homes and businesses to support the growing popularity of recreation. Perhaps its heyday came in the 1950s, when there were few competing lakes. Norman Rockwell-modeled anglers in expensive outfits and wicker creels traveled great distances to enjoy Caddo’s unique character. Lodges and campgrounds were built to complement its beautifully rustic state park. The lure of the cypress and moss-framed scenery brought tourists by the carloads. Some visitors came and went in a single day. Some stayed a lifetime.
Thankfully, the sanity of time prevailed over these pressures and most dreams of aggressive development were one by one subjugated. But even today, with the adjoining property pending protection as a refuge, there still stir controversies over the lake’s purpose. There are those who wish it to enjoy a natural evolution. Others want to tamper with its heart to artificially serve special interests such as industrialization and water exploitation. Sadly, the squabbles about claims, ownership and rights of determination may go on forever.
Like some say about the state of Texas itself, everything at Caddo Lake is bigger and grander than anywhere else. It’s true of the nesting birds, its arm-girth moccasins, the spring and fall crappie runs, and especially true of the prized frogs that reach extraordinary size in its secretive backwaters. In keeping with this theme of grandeur, such was…
It was daybreak on a May morning that was forecast for scattered showers. As I sat on the pier with cane pole in hand, mountains of green-black clouds began to march menacingly at me from the North. Their darkness gave the scattering egrets an eerie contrast, like Styrofoam sailing against black velvet. At the bottom of the approaching curtain was a hundred-foot wall of churning sky, rolling like yesterday’s crawfish-boil. The wind brought a sudden chill, banishing the warmth of the yellow sunrise just past. Webs of electricity began to lace the clouds together, emissaries of St Elmo himself.
In an instant, campground tents were billowing like towels pinned to a clothesline. Coffee pot lids joined potato chips as impromptu airborne missiles. Campers still in nightclothes were scrambling, as would ants disturbed by a sudden exposure of their hiding place. Then came awesome arrays of cloud-toearth lightning, streaking like tracer bullets. Their brilliance illuminated the darkness to reveal a submissive heaven, engorged with rain and stones of ice. Random blasts of thunder trailed the lightning, crashing like the crescendo of a dozen angry kettle drummers.
Now poured a merciless torrent, cascades of water from a bottomless urn. I scuttled to the safety of the steel and cement canopy beneath Big Cypress Bridge. Golf-ball hail began to pound my new pickup truck, a weather-sin I could not forgive. I bolted for the truck, hoping to move it under the cover. I was quickly driven back. All things of man must relinquish their mastery, at least for this moment.
It ended as suddenly as it began, the storm losing its potency like the anticlimactic whimper of an extinguished Roman candle. I stepped out from under the bridge into a freshly washed day. Soon my stunned camping comrades joined me and we stared out over the water. A carpet of steam stirred gently across the now-placid lake, rising like the sweet vapor from freshly baked bread on a morning windowsill. Suddenly the wonderment all fit; this place, its history, the wildlife, and now this humbling, terrible storm.
It was heaven’s smorgasbord with melded recipes that contrast awesome power with the beauty of creation.
No, I thought, this place and its purpose must not be altered. Somehow we must always be reminded that we are merely overnight guests.
* * *
The author’s three collections of short stories, Tailwind, Odie Dodie, and Riders of the Seven Hills are available at all traditional booksellers. Copies signed by the author
The story featured here holds © Copyright 2010 by the author, Lad Moore. All rights reserved.
GIVE US YOUR FEEDBACK. CLICK ON “COMMENT” TO TELL US WHAT YOU THINK or use one of the alternative methods for providing feedback.