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Lake Whitney State Park
"Best little town by a dam site"
It's been cool, muggy, and intermittently sprinkling all afternoon. Like all Texas State Parks, Lake Whitney has a pay per amenity type fee structure. It's $2 per person to get in, then $14 for a lakeside drive-through site with water and electricity. I'm getting spoiled, and it leads to Sin.
I didn't need electricity, and went for it anyway, paid an extra $5 without even thinking about it. Like $5 was nothing.
My Silas Marner Society credentials will be at risk if this gets spoken of among the Brethren.
Lake Whitney is near Hillsboro, north of Waco (or Wacko, as some think of it). It's a COE site, formed by a dam of the same name across the Brazos River, and is home to 15 governmental parks and any number of private facilities. This is a hard core fishing lake, well stocked. It has a purported surface area of 23,500 acres when water is at the spillway crest, and at flood can contain as much as 1 1/3 million acre-feet of the wet stuff.
Of course you wouldn't want to be here then.
So much for the brochure. Here's what I like: it's very quiet. With the lamentable exception of one other silent fellow at the far end, I have this whole small peninsula to myself.
Well, there is that large boat floating a couple of hundred feet off shore, the one festooned with a dozen rods waiting in racks at the rear, with "Striper Sniper" written on the side. I wondered briefly if that was the name or model. But heck, even they are quiet.
One interesting thing. This state park is situated entirely within a large peninsula jutting out into the lake. There's 137 campsites ranged along the shore. Right in the center of that space, between the banks, is a 2000 foot paved runway, and one end of that is just a short walk from the water. I guess people fly in here to fish, but there are no planes in evidence now. Maybe the Governor will show up.
I'm not a pilot. I've had a couple of heart attacks. Probably couldn't get a license now. But for 3 or 4 years in my 30s I fooled around with a local glider club, roaring up and down beside the runways at Georgetown Airport in an old Ford Galaxie, a big V8 junker with no brakes to speak of, dragging stick-and-canvas sailplanes into the air at the end of a long tow rope.
I am remembering this now because I just got a letter from the Union Benevolent Fund that Floyd Bates died.
Floyd was the Austin fireman, retired many years now, who got me interested in gliders. He was a longtime bachelor, living out on Lake Austin, and he actually built his own glider from plans, over several months, right in his living room. Linen and varnish and wood, two wings that unbolted from the fuselage. I remember he had to remove a big picture window at the front of his house to get all three parts out when he was finished. Built the whole thing for something like $5000.
I can also still picture him diminishing into the sky, circling higher and higher and higher, following a buzzard inside a tiny thermal at the end of a runway during the contest out in Marfa, putting the big boys and their sleek shiny Glasfluegel toys to shame. He could milk a thousand feet out of a thermal that was just a bump on the way down to them. They were too big to get inside it.
"Master" Bates, they called him. I followed far behind with a chase car and a trailer, zigzagging down dusty county roads, tearing across the Texas desert, trying to keep him in sight.
I guess I still am, but once again he won't be needing me. Some things never change.
I'm not a birder, either, but I'm beginning to see how I could become one. No sooner had I parked and put my feet up on the picnic table, lying back with a beer and a book, than the trailer was attacked by a barrage of small birds bearing ragged bits of leaf in their beaks. Unfamiliar creatures: brownish orange wings, creamy breast, a long beak, and white eyebrows. Perhaps 4 or 5 inches long. They beat their wings wildly, making a rushing sound, like "butterrrrrrr".
They were hopping about on the axles, eyeing the bottom of the trailer, but apparently couldn't find any holes up under there. One briefly claimed the area behind the welded V of the trailer pin, but I got up and chased her out of there before she could get a nest started.
She didn't like it much.
I went back to McMurtry's "Sin Killer", but kept an eye on her. Then she flew abruptly in the open door of the trailer, colliding with something. Probably the refrigerator. I wasn't worried. I went on back to reading, sure she could find her way out again.
But no. I kept hearing this "bonk...bonk" as she collided with window after window, working her way around the inside. "Buttrrrr...bonk, bonk." Featherbrain. Finally I got up to check on the situation. Sigh.
My visitor was clinging to the middle of the back window screen, above the couch, her tail feathers splayed out against the surface. She was very alive and alert, tracking my approach. She didn't seem much intimidated. I've never seen such a direct fierce expression on such a tiny fluff-ball.
It was easy enough to read: "Don't even THINK of messin' with me, Bubba. I'll fly straight down your throat and out your ass."
Every few seconds she'd throw herself at the nearest glass surface again, back and forth across the back corner. "Buttrrrr...bonk. Bonk, bonk." This was an interesting situation. I leaned over by her and got down the Audubon Bird Guide, then backed off and leaned against the sink, flipping through the photos.
She just couldn't figure out glass. She didn't try to get through the screen, though she perched on it, but glass was beyond her.
Lessee. Not a sparrow, beak's too long. Not a Veery. Not a Thrasher. "Bonk." Maybe some sort of Wren or Thrush. "Bonk." But the colors weren't right, and then there's that eyebrow.
"Buttrrrrrr.....bonk." Wait. There it is, I think. Very close. A Marsh Wren. A male marsh wren.
What? No bonk? He'd gotten down behind the couch. Not good. I waited, but no sound. Finally I pulled the back forward a bit, and "Buttrrrrrrrr", he blew out around the side, hitting the window there - bonk - again in front of the dinette - bonk, bonk - and then.... then he found the front door and was gone, hesitating not a bit, drilling for the trees.
Peace at last.
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