Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Swamp Adventure

A cold, rainy Sunday afternoon is a rare treat in Houston.  After a day full of chores and other work -- like working on the final paper to come forth from my PhD dissertation -- Sabkha and I frolicked over to the Barker-Clodine parking lot.  It was in the upper 40s with intermittent light rain.  We set off from the deserted parking area north through a flooded stretch of woods.  Luckily I was wearing my waterproof hiking boots as we waded through about 3" of dark, spooky water.  After 100 feet the woods opened up into a large field dotted with clumps of trees here and there.  The field is occasionally mowed by the park service -- but lord only knows why.  Occasionally in the past I've seen equestrians riding their equines around this field, but it certainly isn't set up as a track or anything.  Regardless, it's a nice area to romp around.  Due to the recent rains (and snows), the field was dotted with puddly areas a few inches deep.  Sabkha ran around sniffing.  I like the open field as a Sabkha play area because I can keep an eye on her and give her a zap if needed to bring her back in line.  She tends to get into trouble when we're in thick woods where I can't see her.  If she spots something and runs after it, I often catch this too late to halt her chase.

Without this in mind, we entered the thin woods at the edge of the field and struck out roughly to the north, in the direction of Buffalo Bayou, which snakes across the reservoir.  The woods became increasingly thick as we weaved our way deeper among the branches.  Sabkha bounced around ahead of me, sniffing everything and generally excited.  This was her first time out and about since our trip last week to Arizona.  She needed to let off some steam.

We came upon a drainage ditch that was filled with water and clearly drained into the bayou, although there was no discernible flow.  As I examined the ditch and considered how to cross it, Sabkha saw something interesting in the woods on the other side.  In a single leap she bounded over the ditch and was off at full speed.  A few crucial seconds passed as I realized what was happening.  I grabbed for the shock remote but it was too little, too late.  Sabkha quickly passed out of audible range in pursuit of who-knows-what.  I was left standing in the woods, suddenly quiet, alongside the drainage ditch.  The dark, tannic waters magnified the submerged, rotting leaves and suddenly looked sinister.  I was all alone in these woods -- this swamp -- where I've seen hoards of wild boars, coyotes, a huge bobcat and countless snakes.  The rain began to fall harder and then came in cold sheets, and every breeze stirred the almost-bare trees, causing them to send a tinkling cascade of droplets to splash onto the wet ground.  This sounded very much like an approaching dog pushing through the brush, but I waited in vain.  Suddenly it seemed to be growing dark as I stood in place, calling over and over for Sabkha.  "Sab!"  "Sabkha!"  "Sabber, come!".  There was no sound apart from the wind and the falling rain.  I checked my watch and decided to give her another quarter-hour: until 5 PM.  Then I would start the trudge back to the field and back to the car.  Maybe she would follow my trail back; maybe she would be waiting at the car; maybe she would be found the next day by a bicyclist along the path through the park.  I continued to call, and just as the minute hand of my watch moved to point straight up and indicate 5:00, I heard the far-off but unmistakable sound of the jingling of dog tags.  I caught the sound then lost it, doubting myself.  Then I heard it again and was sure this time.  Sabkha emerged from the brush, slinking, head down, pretending to be ashamed of herself for disregarding my commands.  I scolded her but found my anger alloyed with relief at having her back alive and well.

With a close eye on Sabkha, we marched back through the woods to the open field.  Now my jeans were drenched and sticking to my legs, making it difficult to walk.  The rain continued and one got a sense that the water was rising, all around -- after all, this is a reservoir, it's designed to flood, I thought.  We explored the perimeter of the giant tree-dotted field, then struck off at a diagonal back to the path and followed it back to the parking lot, where a single silver Subaru sat parked, still looking like brand-new from a few hundred feet away.

No comments: