Saturday, November 06, 2010

Vikings Only Beyond This Point

It's interesting, the difference between country etiquette and city etiquette.

In the country, you wave to other drivers as you pass - though there are certain subtle rules governing that behavior. Pickup trucks always wave. Cars usually don't. SUVs can go either way.

In Austin, if you tried to wave at every other car you saw, your arm would fall off, and somebody from California would shoot you.

We drove out, the boyfriend and I, to Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas. The countryside is beautiful, and you couldn't ask for a nicer day - bright, clear, sunny, and cool, and Texas arrayed in its own particularly understated autumn glory, forests of stunted trees a little deeper and softer in their greenery, a gentle pinkish hue over the long grasses and rocky outcroppings of the hills.

Hiking trails also have their own particular etiquette. You can't very well greet every single person you encounter walking down Sixth Street, no matter how many shot bars you've hit up; but strangers on hiking trails not only say "hello," and "how are you all doing today?" but listen for your answer, and occasionally strike up brief conversations before passing along.

"You're going to miss the car show," one man remarked to us in passing.

"?" said my boyfriend.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," said the man's wife, laughing and shoving him playfully. "Don't mind him, he's just joking."

But why? We looked at one another, puzzled. Six hours later, I still don't know what he meant. Was something awaiting us at the base of Gorman Falls, the pot of gold at the end of our rainbow trail, from which this couple was returning? Or was he making a joke at our expense? I glanced at my companion to see if he had perhaps inadvertently put on a NASCAR T-shirt. But he looked more or less normal.

Further along the trail was a young family returning from the falls with three small blonde daughters, the smallest perched on her daddy's shoulders. "Hey, how are you guys?" we asked them.

"Doing good, doing good," said the daddy. "A little tired."

"I can't imagine why," I smiled, remembering a hike up Enchanted Rock with two-year-old Katie in a backpack carrier.

"I'll tell you what," said the daddy, warming to his subject - and perhaps welcoming a brief rest - "it gets dark out here, after dark."

"..." (or something like that), said the boyfriend, who speaks punctuation fairly fluently, for a boy.

"We learned that the hard way," added our new acquaintance (I believe his name was "Captain Obvious") helpfully, "last night. You want to bring a flashlight."

The falls themselves, which are beautiful and restful, are reached via a 1.5 mile trail which ends in a steep scramble down 50 feet or so of limestone slope - slippery, so Texas Parks & Wildlife has helpfully installed a steel wire railing to the bottom so you have something to hang onto. At the base there is a small pavilion where you can rest on a bench and admire the falls tumbling from the cliff above. The rocks are newly deposited, soft and porous, and the vegetation springing from them is fragile and fresh, so there's a low fence posted past the end of the trail with several signs explaining that, due to the delicate ecosystem in a state of creation here, you must not trespass. "Restricted Area," says the sign. "No admittance beyond this point. $500 fine."

"Except," was not painted beneath this, "for Vikings."

There was a Viking in the restricted area. He had a giant horned helmet, and a red and white shield, and (this part confused me a little) a kilt. A girl was with him, and a dog. The girl had a large, professional-looking camera. The dog was affable. But what would a Viking be doing in an environmentally sensitive area beside a Texas Hill Country waterfall? "Could this be the car show?" I asked my boyfriend hopefully.

"I don't see how," he said.

I didn't either. We climbed back up to the main trail - and, by-the-bye, that's a workout your butt will never forget - and wandered along to the springs from which Gorman Creek, well, springs. A trail leads you to the creek's point of origin, a small pool of almost invisible clarity which gushes over rocks to form the creek; the springs pool shimmers slightly, on its surface, from the force of cold water bubbling up out of the pebbles at its bottom. Halfway there we met another couple, coming back, who addressed us with the familiarity I'm coming to expect from fellow hikers. "Be sure to follow the trail all the way to the end," said the woman. "You have to cross the creek twice. Be sure you go all the way."

"Yes," added her husband, "there's nobody else there, you'll be all alone!"

We smiled and thanked them and went on our way. "They expect us to have sex, don't they?" said my boyfriend. And sure enough, not twenty feet from the serene and magical pool at the end of the trail is a large, flat limestone outcropping about the size and shape of a king-sized bed. Not that we particularly noticed.

But the sun was lowering, the shadows were lengthening, we were over two miles of rocky terrain from the parking lot, and we'd been informed that after it gets dark, it's dark out there. So we didn't dally - we headed back.

Halfway back we overtook an Indian family, chattering to one another in Hindi mixed with Urdu, small children toted on the fathers' shoulders and folded-up strollers in tow, a portable radio playing Bollywood pop. Half the group stopped for a photo, and we passed them, approaching the forward half who shouted after their lagging companions.

"They stopped to take a photo," I explained as we passed the remainder of the group, leaving their radio mercifully behind us. "They'll be along shortly."

"We needed to tell them they just missed the car show," the boyfriend said to me a few minutes later, as we neared the car. "That was supposed to be passed along."

Here it is, for you: gentle reader(s), you just missed the car show. It may or may not have involved Vikings, who definitely should in any case be assessed a $500 fine. Probably more, considering the amount of damage they've caused throughout history.

At least wave at the next Viking you see. Do it for Texas. Then call the park police.

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