There are times when you just have to go somewhere. I imagine every unmasked stranger carries not just Covid-19, but some alien spore that will launch from their chest like a special effect in a John Carpenter movie. We are living in a badly plotted horror flick. When I heard the Texas state parks were open again with limited capacity, I signed up for a day pass to Cleburne State Park.
My husband Andrew and I arrived at the park just before noon. Texas in June is more suited to early morning or late-night hikes, but we had packed plenty of water in our CamelBak hydration packs. Andrew chose the trail. Although it was marked on the map as “Challenging” it also appeared to be the one with the most shade. Equipped with boots, hat, and hiking staff – I felt I could handle the route.
At the start of our hike, as we trod smartly along the tree-lined path, I hummed the tune to The Happy Wanderer.
If you went to school in the 1960s or early 1970s, I bet you know this song. We sang it at every choir practice or music class. It was written by Florenz Friedrich Sigismund (1791–1877) and since I’m sure the copyright has long since passed, here are the lyrics:
“I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
My knapsack on my back.”
We passed a little stream as I reached the second verse.
“I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun
So joyously it calls to me
Come join my happy song”
The trail Andrew and I climbed, while not exactly mountainous, did have enough elevation change that I felt compelled to stop every few feet and rest. Panting might help dogs to cool off, but it did not work for me. I would have collapsed on the juniper needles blanketing the path, but for the green poison ivy poking up in every level spot.
“How much farther?” I asked Andrew.
He pulled out the map and considered it. “I think we are a little less than halfway to the scenic overlook.”
“I hope there’s a bench there,” I said.
We continued along, Andrew in the lead and me following. I stared at the trail, carefully avoiding anything resembling a stick that might turn out to be a snake in disguise. We spotted a lovely ammonite fossil and I stopped to take a picture.
The fossil reminded me the area we hiked was, in prehistoric times, the floor of an ocean. The limestone we walked on was made up of the skeletal remains of marine life that inhabited that sea. If only we were wading through that cooling water now.
“Do you still have plenty of water?” Andrew asked as we paused and I soaked a towel with cool water from my pack.
“We don’t want to get heat-stroke,” Andrew said, “but I’ve heard that’s a pleasant way to die. You just pass out and go.”
“I’ve never thought of any sort of dying as pleasant.”
“Well, yes, but of all the ways to go,” Andrew continued, “I think if you kick off first, I’ll just head to the desert and walk until I’m gone.”
The trail leveled out along a stretch of wildflower filled, sunlit fields. I sipped my water and mentally checked off the symptoms of heat-stroke. I occurred to me that worrying over heat exhaustion had so consumed my thoughts that afternoon that I hadn’t thought once about dying in the pandemic. Not even when we passed other, unmasked hikers on the trail.
At one point we scrambled down an incline of loose scree, our feet sliding almost from under us. I grabbed at the cedar tree branches bent over the trail, in order to slow my descent. Andrew waited for me at the bottom, then held my hand and helped me climb up the other side. I studied Andrew’s back as he pushed on upwards. His hiking boots kicked up tufts of dried leaves and gravel.
“If I die first and you decide to go off hiking in the desert,” I said, “box up my ashes and take them with you. That way you won’t be alone.”
“All right, I suppose that could work.”
Right after, we discovered we’d been on the wrong trail. We ended up at the point where we’d begun the loop, not a bad thing as we were near the trail sign that pointed to the exit.
I’ll be back inside next week, waiting out the pandemic. I’ve never liked crowds, or crowded places where large groups congregate, so I don’t miss those types of gatherings. I do like my solitary pursuits – reading and writing, but I’m always glad of Andrew’s company. When you’re on a journey, I think it’s nice to have someone by your side. Or leading the way, watching for snakes.