I awoke Friday morning to crystal clear azure skies, scoured cloudless by a fierce cold wind that made the Spanish moss wave back and forth vigorously. We had made big plans the previous evening to get up early that morning and take a canoe out on the lake, but those plans were scotched shortly after I stepped onto the back porch and grasped how windy and cold it'd become - apparently a front had come through overnight. As we packed, I broke the news to LadyBee and we quickly formulated plan B - see if we could instead find a local guide to take us out on the lake where we'd be pretty well assured of seeing some wildlife, and from the comfort and safety of our host's mechanically propelled boat, no less.
We went into town with the notion of first finding a cup of coffee and then seeing to the tour. Our first stop was a
pre-Sensitivity-Era-named establishment named Crip's Camp (photo at right by LadyBee). When we barged in the door, they'd just finished pouring the last overcooked pot of morning coffee down the drain and then had the audacity to tell us they'd done so. Too bad - we'd have to find someplace else to break our fast. Our hostess Boo was apologetic though, and worked tirelessly to try and find us an escort to compensate for her lack of hospitality in the breakfast department. This resulted in one particularly hilarious telephone conversation that I got to both eavesdrop on and participate in.
"Hello, Johnny, this Boo, up Crip's Camp...Boo!....Crip's Camp!!......BOO you dumbass!!! Boo WHO- yeah-ha, ha, very funny." The poor fellow on the other end of the line was evidently trying to explain that Boo had the wrong number, but she wasn't having any of it.
"C'mon on you dumb son of a bitch, wake up! It's Boo! I got two ladies wanna go out on the lake and I want to see if you can take 'em." More evasiveness from the other end of the line, where confusion apparently reigned. After several more attempts at browbeating the poor fellow into recognizing her, Boo handed the phone to me, hoping I could penetrate the fog where she had failed.
"Howdy! My name's Shiree and I'm looking for a guide to take two of us out on the lake. Are you available this afternoon by any chance?"
"Well, first off my name is Ron and there's no way I can take you out on the lake, because my leg is broke."
I handed the phone back to Boo thanking her profusely, and assured her we'd be fine making arrangements of our own and so set out again to see what else we could scare up. We pulled into the parking lot of a little place not too far down the road when we saw a sign indicating it was the Uncertain General Store and Grill. Even more fortuitously, the red Open sign flashed coquetishly off and on in the window, suggesting the place might actually be open and serving food! Yahooo!
LadyBee and I entered eagerly and started asking questions right away: Are you open? Do you have coffee? Are you still serving breakfast? Where were you born? What is this? Do you know someone who can take us out on the lake??? Our juggernaut of inquiry was met by the equal charasmatic force of the two gracious and lively sisters who run the place, Kay and Nita (Nita at far left, Kay center, photo by LadyBee). Along with our waitress and Kay's adorable (and I seldom say that word associated with children) grandson, the six of us had a grand time cutting up and swapping stories while LadyBee and I sat and ate our meal. They were all so friendly and open and fun loving - what great folks! After it was all said and done, I came away with not only a belly full of chopped bbq beef sandwich washed down with cremora enhanced coffee, but also a bottle of golden pink mayhaw syrup, a belt woven by a local artisan using aluminum can pull tabs, and a jar of mahogany brown pre-made roux for tricking people into thinking I can make real gumbo. We were even able to arrange our swamp tour tableside before finishing our lunch! How's that for successful one stop shopping?
Our tour guide Johnny (whether it was the same Johnny we were looking for before or not, I couldn't tell you) arrived just as we were settling up our tab and we were soon being ushered out to an electric paddle wheel vessel called The Swamp Thing that was docked on the lake, directly behind the Grill. It's a big covered skiff with a paddle wheel in the back that runs off the same kind of battery you'd use for a golf cart, so it's nice and unobtrusive, perfect for sneaking up on unsuspecting wildlife. The wind was still blowing a gale when we set sail, but we didn't care - we were bundled up snugly in our coats with the sun shining brightly down on us as we sat on our fancy cushions, drinking in the strangely gorgeous scenery.
We puttered through silent groves of monochromatic cypress, limbs bare but for a profusion of silvery tufts of moss waving in the wind. We passed a few feet from a beaver den that housed three glossy brown beavers sunning themselves contentedly on the roof. They were nonplussed by our passing, obviously enjoying the bright winter sunshine as much as we were. Johnny filled us in on the history of the area as we toured about, pointing out the last remaining "tea house" building left standing in the region. You see, in the olden days, the Texas side of the lake was dry (i.e., no fire water), the Louisiana side plenty wet. Those wiley Cajuns soon figured out they could do a landmark business in contraband peddling to desperate Texans on the Louisiana side and cabins on stilts began to line the Louisiana shore offering, according to Johnny, pretty much anything you wanted. Unsurprising seeing as how the area had long been a lawless refuge of scofflaws and pirates (boasting guest appearances by Jean Lafitte, the rock star of pirates, even!). The lone tea house left standing (tea house denoting the place housed a still) is now unglamorously used as a rustic fishing camp by a bunch of grown men that can buy cheap booze at the Uncertain Tavern instead.
Photo by LadyBee
LadyBee and I enjoyed our tour thoroughly, the serenity of it having soaked in just in time for our longish drive back to Austin that afternoon. We hadn't been traveling long before the scenery began to change back from spooky cypress groves and deep piney woods to limestone boulders, paddle cactus and pesky cedars. Before we knew it, we were barrelling down I-35 from Waco, managing to roll into Austin just in time to have supper with Mark. We regaled him with tales of the Uncertain Tavern and our unending stream of good luck with all the wonderful folks we had met and it made me realize what a lot of fun and adventure we had managed to pack into three short days. But then that's par for the course when you're living large. Wahooo!