Wild Phlox along the South Branch River in Smoke Hole – 5/5/19

The past three consecutive days (Monday, May 5 through Wednesday May 7) have given us perfect spring weather, with bright, sunny skies, low humidity, and very pleasant temperatures.  I usually classify days like them as, “one of the ten best days of the year.”  By the time the year is over, I’ve usually placed more than 60 days in that category.  Monday was especially fine, and I dedicated four-and-a-half hours of that day to mowing our roughly two acres of yards.  I begin the job by mowing the steepest, wettest, and most constrained (closest to obstructions) yard areas with a push mower, and then finish the rest with our riding mower.  Although the fine weather made the job as pleasant as it can be, the struggles I have mowing the most difficult parts of yards is a strong compensating factor.  This was the fourth of an eventual 15-20 lawn mowings I typically persevere each year.  By early June, the grass in our remaining 2.5-acre field will have matured and reseeded the field, and I will mow it using our tractor, Ferguson, and his mower deck.  Ferguson and I will give that field a final mowing for the season sometime in August or early September to cut back the broom sage (before it is ready to drop its seeds), to keep it from completely overtaking our field.

As a special treat to salvage the rest of that initial beautiful day, Barb and I decided to take a mid-afternoon drive into Smoke Hole—our first of what I hope will be many in 2019.  The majesty of that deep and winding canyon always makes me wonder why we don’t spend even more time there.  Once you enter Smoke Hole, nature closes in around you like a warm blanket on a cold day.  Whatever problems or cares you may have had, instantly melt away as your attention is captured by the sights, sounds, and scents of the wilderness that abounds.  I can only describe the sensation it gives me as a feeling of being truly immersed and baptized in nature.  That’s why I consider Smoke Hole canyon to be a “sacred place” for me.

On this particular trip, the annual renewal of life that makes spring such a pleasant season had taken hold.  We were dazzled by the beautiful, brilliant white and lavender colors of phlox lining the road along the banks of the South Branch River.  The explosion of floral colors enticed us deeper into the canyon to enjoy the next view around each bend of the road.  All the while, the sound of the thundering water rushing over every cataract in the river drowned out the sound of the car engine.  We stopped only briefly to walk out on a concrete bridge crossing (which provides access to the former CCC park that was constructed along a shoe-string bottom along the river) and watched two fishermen troll the waters for trout.

Our Inviting River Beach in Smoke Hole – 5/5/19

Eventually, we made our way to our favorite river beach area in Big Bend, the location of the former Ketterman Post Office.  I say eventually, because rushing your way through Smoke Hole would be an unforgivable sin.  We parked our car and walked a quarter mile to the beach.  The remains of a giant, old Sycamore tree that provided refreshing shade for our special beach site lay shattered along the shore, having been felled by the frequent floodwaters that we experienced last year.  However, even it was showing signs of new life as a new sprig bearing fresh, green leaves was growing from the remaining tree stump.  The water looked as inviting as it has every time we’ve visited over the past eight or so years.  I was surprised to find the water temperature slightly warmer than I expected, even though it was too cold for swimming.

Bunny Along the Path To Our Smoke Hole Beach – 5/5/19

Along our walk to and from the beach we encountered more signs of life.  We managed to approach a rabbit to within ten feet before it darted into the woods.  Also, as we made a pit stop at an outhouse along the path, we found a nest on the sill of a frosted window containing about five recently hatched baby birds.  They were sleeping at the time we found them, but you could see them breathing comfortably in the nest.  They were too young to identify what species of bird they were, and we were careful not to disturb them.  Their mother had apparently left the structure through the roof vent to gather food for her offspring.

Nest With Baby Birds in Smoke Hoe Outhouse – 5/5/19

For me, our hour-long trip into mystical Smoke Hole Canyon was a perfect reward for the work I expended to mow our lawns on such a beautiful day.  It’s a reminder that the most rewarding aspects of our life are the little things we find in nature—the things that remind us all that we are not alone and we are not the most important thing in life.  We often need experiences like that to humble us and keep our inflated human egos in check.  I sincerely hope you can find and enjoy the humbling pleasure of those experiences in nature as you walk your own path in life.