We’re at Safebare’s home in NW Houston after a morning walk.
I’m conveniently nude all over, out front in Safebare’s driveway, organizing the car, gathering what I’ll need today.
I hear Safebare making noise with something metal out back, where I had heard his big pickup truck earlier. Looking through the gate, I see him wrestling with his metal canoe. The tailgate is down. I offer to help, as I open and close the tall wooden gate.
The process is easy. Each of us lifts a side of the canoe and slide it into the bed. We strap it down until we are confident that it will stay there.
We’re soon on our way to Somerville Lake. It is a dammed reservoir in the Texas countryside, somewhere out the Interstate towards Austin.
Driving down the thin Forest Service road, we arrive at the gate to the boat launch. The sign says closed! We have come a long way. I haven’t had the opportunity to canude, even canoe for decades. We’re Arizonans. Our lakes and rivers, what few that there are, demand kayaks. We’re three naked boaters psyched up and determined.
Safebare has been coming here for years, he is confused, but historic drought has hit this body of water, too. The slide at the boat launch is probably just asphalt reaching out to mud.
There is a solution he tells us. We turn around in search of one of his skinnydipping party spots hidden off of the road in another part of the lake.
His memory serves him well and we find a metal bar of a fence unlocked. There is no need to bushwhack or use the four-wheel drive.
Bush and brush swipe at the side of the truck on both sides of the two track route in the scrubby forest. We find an opening and stop. Our host exclaims, “Where’s the lake.” His eyes are big in surprise and I half expect his mouth to drop. He explains that where we are stopped is usually the beach. There is no lake. It looks to us like an overgrown field that has been here a very long time.
We drive out into the bowl of vegetation in search, soon seeing water reflecting the sky in the green distance.
The truck lumbers along the slope of the missing lake, sliding in its tilt at times, until we come to mud. Climbing out of the truck, the silty ground feels good on my bare feet, smooth, giving and cool. My feet aren’t sinking, goo isn’t sticking to them. It is just firm and sandy enough, a sensual pleasure.
The early afternoon sun is feeling warm on my back. I’m not seeing any shade, or trees along the water anywhere. The receding water line has left barren unstable distance from any water to forest. Safebear is amazed as he tells us how different things are and how he hasn’t ever seen it like this.
He and I get the canoe unstrapped and get it off the truck. With one of us on each side, it slides gracefully along the soft exposed lake bed. DF grabs a camera to record our activity.
There are many old and interesting hulks of tree stumps around us, buried decades ago by the dam construction, as we slide the canoe.
The mud gets wetter. We sink slightly deeper and it begins to grab feet a bit more, as we approach the distant water.
Finally, we are ankle deep.
The canoe no longer drags, instead it floats in the shallow water. If we get in, the draft will place us on the muddy bottom, stuck. Bent over, a push and pull takes us at least the same distance that we have already come before we can get in. This inlet, being reclaimed at a rapid rate by mother nature, is very near its end. It is mostly a bathtub ready to drain.
Finally, afloat and no bottom in sight, me up front, Safebare at the stern, I begin to reacquaint myself with canoe paddle navigation.
I feel a sensation at my bare feet, the metal isn’t hot. It is wet. I look down to check, figuring that we had tracked in some water when boarding. There is a leak along the seam. Water is pissing in fast! “Dude. We have a leak” Safebare isn’t fazed. I have a small concern about our things getting wet.
Other than dinner in a restaurant last night, there has been no clothing since the gulf. There won’t be any for the foreseeable future, so there is little concern about getting them wet. We might just find a a refreshingly cool wet shirt.
I begin to assess the problem with my imagination and getting an idea by watching the flow. It will take a while to fill and sink, but it will eventually fill and sink. I look at our goal, an island in the distance. It probably won’t bog us down, before we arrive. I decide to take it in stride, but still, I find myself paddling a little harder.
Soon enough, an enjoyable little trip brings us to the distant island in the lake. I get out pulling us ashore, but the canoe moves easier than I expect. I lose my footing and roll onto my back, laughing, but a little concerned about how it is traveling between the space between my legs.
DF and Safebare have curiosity filled expressions, heads tilted, smiles and wondering how that happened. It’s comical. Canoe secured, we get into the adventurous sense of exploration and head down the shoreline.
It is quiet on the lake today, no boats, and calm. Nobody is in sight. There doesn’t seem to be a need for cover-ups.
We begin to wander. The little island has a slope up to some trees in its center. There is tall grass some places. Soon, little gems begin to get revealed. Strange footprints of very large birds are in the muddy shore.
Raccoons and a small deer are living out here, leaving their prints in the sand. A few catfish carcasses show that somebody is eating well from the lake. Around the bend a stork poses for a picture, but soon spooks.
The island is apparently pretty much circular. I’m beginning to think that we will be walking the circumference, but we see the other occupant of the lake standing on the tip of the bow of his fishing boat, casting. His back is turned, so we turn ours to him and head back. I’m beginning to have some concern about spending all of this afternoon with the direct sun on my shoulders.
I’d think that this would be a great place to camp for a couple of days, in a nude sojourn. Up on the hill in the center, are shady trees and some wood.
I imagine a nice fire at night and a grand display of stars. It is a 360 degree view across this somewhat remote piece of Texas.
Our return has us hungry. DF pulls out the lunch of condiments and jars of preserved food, straight from the shelves of Trader Joe’s. It is good.
It is an intense sun and hot. The water will cool us off and it is deep enough, a grand swimming hole actually. The slope is quick where we are parked, but we find just the right perch to keep stable at neck deep.
The purchase is found by feel. This water is filled with silt. I can’t see my hand before it reaches my waist. There are no surprises under there, no old trash, sharp sticks, or weeds, just the sand and muck. Mystery feels threatening at first, but any worry disappears in a short time.
We are chatting. I’m recounting my canoe experiences after seeing the movie “Deliverance.” We four young men took a day long trip down a winding Michigan creek in rental canoes. Thinking adventure, I expected the wilds like the movie, only to find mom dad and two young children leaving before us. In those times, that was the go ahead to get inebriated. We did and we got ourselves dunked a few times. So, it was challenging anyway.
Safebare, a native, has many tales of the Texas gulf coast and conversation wanders off into tales of Europe and nude adventures. We have had full lives and keep ourselves plenty entertained.
All the while, I keep getting the sensation that something is nibbling on my back. I rub and move around, but it keeps returning.
Suddenly, I am struck on my ankle by something in the murky water. It hits hard and stings that tender spot, surprising me.
I report and Safebare casually tells us, “the perch will do that.” He furthers that they are attracted to bright tanlines. So, there is reason #1003 for not wearing bathing garb.
Well, just a perch attacking me, sounds innocuous. Then there are those critters at my back, that I can’t see. My reports have my compatriots looking at me like they are wondering if I’m kidding them, or just going crazy in the sun. None of this is happening to them.
I quip, “How’s the piranha and alligators?” Then I seriously consider alligators. This is southern Texas. Safebare refutes the alligator hypothesis.
I turn around at once, as quickly as I can, my plan works and I have surprised two tiny fish. The two float at water level looking at me. They are a few inches from my nose, waiting for their next nibble. “Ah HA!”
Finally after a couple of hours, Safebare jumps and gets a concerned look on his face. He has been attacked at the ankle like me. I am verified, justified and laughing, “Oh, the perch do that.”
We soak and rinse out the towels, drying the pool of water at the bottom of our conveyance in preparation for our return to the world.
This has had the feel of a voyage to a deserted island and gone on for a while. We have to make our sinking way back.
We find our way along the route that we came. The truck becomes our beacon. After an afternoon of swishing in water, paddling the canoe feels heavier. We pack it up. And take our time leaving.
There has been a fire here. Probably one of those accidents associated with drought. A home was lost. Property was destroyed, much was saved.
Everywhere, there is black debris and charcoal colored trees that are being taken over by the brush. Fresh piles of grey and white powder are everywhere.
We arrive at the gate. This time it is my turn to open the steel bar. DF is photographing and documents me trying to make the gate look much heavier than it is.
Upon my return into the back seat, I’m tired and content to quietly listen to DF and Safebare’s enthusiastic banter up front.
A few days later, I revisit the website for the lake. There are alligators. There are designated beaches roped off. Safebare explains that the alligators are only upstream…okay.
At Lake Travis a fisherman familiar with Somerville tells about man-sized catfish near the dam that can pull you in if you hold on to your hook and pole….Well, the mysterious mucked up water was very refreshing, all afternoon.
Thank-you Safebare for our visit. You are a good friend.
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Good story. Scary to see or even imagine what half a lake looks like.
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