Forest or Swamp? You decide.

Thursday morning, LadyBee generously agreed to accompany me on an appointment I'd made to meet with Joanathan Gerland, the Director of The History Center in Diboll, Texas.  I'd asked Jonathan to meet with us so I could determine what level of interest The History Center might have in a book I've been thinking I'd like to compile from their collection of more than 4,000 photographs that my grandfather, J. Shirley Daniel took as company photographer for Southern Pine in the late 40s through the late 1950s.  I felt really lucky to have LadyBee along since she's an accomplished art curator and photo editor, and has even worked in the publishing business previously.  Me -  I haven't a clue about what it is I'm trying to instigate here.

When we met with Jonathan, the conversation was amiable.  I left feeling confident that The Center will be supportive of my efforts in whatever ways they are able, because that's seems to be an integral part of their esprit de corps there.  Jonathan and his staff work tirelessly toward preserving the history of the piney woods region and they accomplish a mind boggling amount given their resources.
After our meeting, LadyBee and I spent some time leafing through a few of the albums that contain prints of my granddaddy's photos, searching for images we found especially appealing so I could have prints made of some of our favorites.  Louis the librarian provided the two of us with identical copies of each album so we each had our own copy to look through at the same time.  It was uncanny how many times the two of us wrote down the same exact numbers on the print request list without ever uttering a word of comparison.

As lunchtime approached, we found ourselves reaching the saturation point and concluded the exercise by ordering 38 prints.  It was time to get on the road and head north to the beautiful Caddo Lake area where we'd be spending the night in site-appropriate lodging. 

En route, we realized we had become famished, and began sussing up our limited roster of choices as we rolled through a succession of towns so small  that the only food to be had was fast. When we pulled into the city of Longview, I almost brought the car to a screeching halt when I spotted a Waffle House just ahead!  Wahoo!  LadyBee had never before experienced the thrill of dining at what is surely my favorite fast food restaurant, so I figured she needed to be initiated in the elusive art of a crispy hash brown and the reward inherent in a pile of glistening raisin toast.  All in all, it must have been an auspicious choice, for soon after polishing off my Texas Bacon Cheese Steak Melt, I found this Kanji character representing the words "hash brown" on my plate!  What are the chances?
After our delicious late afternoon breakfast, we resumed our push toward the swamp. I'd been telling LadyBee all along that we were headed to the forest, but in fact where we were headed was both. Not long after turning off the main highway in Marshall, we began threading our way through miles of greening woods and soon arrived in the tiny town of Uncertain, perched quaintly along the Texas shore of beautiful Caddo Lake.  I think you can well imagine, when I was planning the trip and saw a little place called Uncertain there was no way I was going to pass up going there.  How could you not go?  I'd found an unusual cabin where we could stay the night, one I felt lent the proper dignity and feel for the region: an old houseboat that had been pulled up onto land and made into a cabin!  It so beautifully expresses the noble spirit of repurposing that predominates in the humbler regions of eastern Texas.  Ahem.

One of the first things that strikes you when you get to town is the sudden appearance of the mirror like waters of Caddo Lake, reflecting light from openings in the dense canopy of cypress forest that covers the region.  Add in sheets and curtains and tendrils of elegantly lugubrious Spanish moss hanging from every possible tree appendage and it makes a hell of a beautiful backdrop for this rustic village of friendly Texans.
As soon as we had finished unloading our bags from the car into our curious nautical cabin, we decided to set out on a walk so we could explore the area more thoroughly before dark.  Our hosts had advised us to wander a bit on nearby Taylor Island, famous for being the summer residence of Lady Bird Johnson's family for many years.  Lady Bird was born and raised in Karnack (which is about 6 miles from Uncertain) and is said to have gained her intense love of nature from roaming the very woods that we were now exploring.    We wandered down a tiny road lined with guest cabins and private residences, pausing to talk with a trio of lightbeer swilling neighbors in lawn chairs that had gathered to enjoy the beautiful spring evening.  We declined their generous offer of beer, but lingered even so for a half hour or more, engaging in the fine Texas tradition of talking the ears off perfectly innocent strangers.
When we resumed our walk, we ventured out onto several of the small homemade piers that line the lake's edge, thoroughly enjoying several secret little spaces we found nestled among the cyprus, surrounded by richly organic water alive with invisible creatures that manifested in the form of splashing water sounds only.   
On our way back to the cabin, LadyBee cut through a wooded area on the border of a bog, heeding a vague instinct that called out to her.  It wasn't long before she had spotted a small mound of weathered puzzle pieces, one she recognized as distinctly turtle-like in flavor.  Now LadyBee is a huge fan of both turtles and skeletons, making the find nothing less than exhilirating.  She carefully and patiently combed through the bed of pine needles and leaf litter, gathering up tiny bones, fragments of shell and gorgeous transparent scales decorated with rorschach shaped designs remniscent of a Maori tattoo.  I could tell she was itching to try and take a crack at putting the pieces together as soon as we got back to the cabin, but it would have to wait until we returned to civilization and Elmer's glue.
As the dark descended we returned to our hostess Joann's house to get some advice on where we might eat some dinner.  Joann offered to call around and see who might still be open and unsuprisingly, there was only a single place that was still serving at 7:00 - the Uncertain Tavern.  "Is it okay with you to eat at a tavern?" Joann asked hesitantly, not realizing that she was talking to two people who have eaten dinner in far, far stranger circumstances than a local longneck dispensory in east Texas.

The tavern sat in a clearing at the edge of  the woods, deposited alongside the lonely county road that led into town.  There were only a couple of cars parked outside when we got there, but the door stood open invitingly, emanating the glowing neon colors of beer signage and emitting the sounds of popular country music and laughter of those well familiar with the antics of their fellow drinkers.  When we entered, there were only five other folks in the bar - two gentlemen with beards and missing teeth who sat at a table predominated by a half gallon bottle of cheap whiskey (or more acurately HALF a half gallon); a large blonde woman and her seeming companion stationed at the bar tossing back longnecks and chain smoking and then a shy young girl that it quickly became obvious was the bartendress.  As we approached the bar to see about what dinner we might be able to scare up, the blonde woman exclaimed loudly, "HEY!  You've got pink hair!"  A few ticks went by and I smiled wryly, preparing my social boxing stance, waiting.  "You've got pink hair...and big TITTIES!" she tried again.  It was my turn. "Why, yes I do, but please don't stop there..." I invited, "...I love hearing all about myself!!!"  For a very short moment, I waited to see how my fiesty response would land and have to admit I was a tiny bit relieved when it was met with the loud laughter that ususally signals the melting of something unseen.  The fellow who had been sitting with Deirdre (as we would soon come to know her) took the reins for a bit, asking us where we hailed from.  LadyBee wasn't from around here and still wasn't entirely sure things were going well yet so quietly disclosed she was visiting from San Francisco.  I, however, am plenty cheeky and wasn't about to give up so easily on the opportunity to banter, and so told him he'd have to damn well guess where I was from.  Steve, it turns out, is the Coors Light rep for the area and was busy checking on one of his customers, Deirdre.  After he tried several locally inspired guesses such as Longview and Marshall, I figured I'd help him along a bit: "Okay, now, Steve, think about it - where do all the weirdoes in Texas congregate?"  It only took a moment or two longer for him to grasp my point and shout out triumphantly "Austin!"  I signaled his success with a vigorous high five and the official total enchantment of the Uncertain Tavern was well underway.  Before LadyBee and I left several hours later in a hail of embraces and wishes for our continued health and happiness, we had been showered with a cornicopia of gifts including free beer, two awesome t-shirts, a coozie, some Lone Star stickers and dinner on the house!  Better yet, we had a blast, entertained the locals, and experienced the enviable joy of being the Queens of the Uncertain tavern.

In comparing notes afterwards, we decided the whole amazing evening had hung in the balance of those first few moments when I was simply a scandalous head of bright pink hair and they were the rubes who had never bothered to see such a thing.  Yet somehow, all seven of us were able to transcend that wide gulf and form a tiny strange community for the blink of an eye.  And it's been my experience over and over, that the best part of humanity often occurs in just such a void. LadyBee and I  were flush with the thrill of having tasted it on this fine spring evening in Uncertain, Texas. 

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