Don’t be afraid. Just pay attention. When we pay attention, we make better decisions.
I say this to my kids sometimes, when we’re outdoors camping or hiking.
But the truth is: I’m skeered of all manner of creatures. Slithery snakes, freaky frogs, the list is long. I have courage, and I keep learning. Nature frightens me, but I keep going back for more anyway. That’s because breaks from suburbia go a long way for me. They help keep me going.
Last summer, I read an article in Texas Monthly about worthwhile swimming holes. One of them—Boykin Springs—lingered in my mind. The author wrote of cool springs so hidden in the tall pines of the Angelina National Forest he almost hesitated to say much more. A few days ago, we loaded up the RV and the family and drove six hours to scratch that particular one off our list.
As we checked into our campsite at Martin Dies State Park, the ranger made sure we knew the important stuff. While she and Brian chatted, I picked up a slip of yellow paper informing that there are, indeed, alligators in the area. It offered tips, such as: don’t feed them, keep your distance, and what a nest looks like.
All I could think of: my scrumptious children and my own vulnerable flesh at that swimming hole.
I mention to the ranger, we’re headed to Boykin Springs later. Did she think alligators would be there, too? She didn’t say it, but the look on her face said bless your heart all the same.
I don’t know too much about Boykin Springs, she said, but anywhere in this part of the state near water, alligators are a possibility. They generally aren’t aggressive; they mostly shy away from human contact. Just be aware, and follow the guidelines.
In other words: Don’t be afraid. Be informed. But do pay attention.
Boykin Springs is off the beaten path, for sure. I see why that article called it a time capsule. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a rock spillway, campgrounds and a picnic pavilion. A hiking trail leads past waterfalls towards an old sawmill.
At the trailhead, Sofia observes, “Mom, look! There’s a shed snakeskin over there.”
She is paying attention.
This is not at all how I want to kick off this excursion, but we continue on. We go up and down hills, passing our toddler back and forth on the slippery parts. Eventually we stroll up the middle of a pleasantly cool, shallow stream towards a series of natural pools, where we will stop to swim.
The park could use some upkeep, it seems to me, but it is interesting and I like it immediately. The girls—including our toddler—are rapt. My senses are heightened as I put one foot in front of the other. I hear trickling water, birds chirping, the laughter of nearby tent campers, crackling twigs. Boulder after boulder is covered in initials, chiseled in by previous visitors to this place through the decades. I imagine them: a motley crew of lovers, Baptists, and hooligans. Maybe some families, like us.
We arrive at the first pool and everyone but me cautiously climbs in. The water is fresh and cool, but not clear. It’s khaki-colored, taking on the color of the sandy bottom and the surrounding rock. I hang back to snap a picture before I climb in myself. (Who else is going to do that?) My people look a little stiff. I advise them to loosen up a little, try to look like they’re enjoying themselves. I don’t mean to be bossy, but once once I’m sopping wet, I’m not taking any more pictures.
It takes a few minutes to relax. But once we do, it’s so good.
I’m not the most playful mom, admittedly, but I’m aware I’m not likely to be here again. My girls splash me; I splash them back. We look up at blue sky peeking through pines twice as tall as trees at home. It’s not the first time we swim in natural waters, but I love that my girls are expanding their suburban definition of swimming.
I’m feeling rather pleased with ourselves when something tickles my inner thigh, and I freak out. But then—nothing. Probably just my imagination. I settle down from that episode, only to freak out anew when I feel the same damn thing again. The culprit, it turns out, is the slender root of a plant. The kids howl in laughter. They are braver than I, and they know it. What can I say? I love that they are braver than I.
We hit our very nice neighborhood pool a couple times per week all summer long. The heat and humidity in Texas are intense, and I’m grateful we have a convenient place to cool off. But a few hours at these springs are more memorable than all the trips to the neighborhood pool combined. “Memorable” happens when we’re paying attention. When our senses are heightened. When we’re moved, sometimes literally, from where we routinely are.
We didn’t see a single alligator on the trip, and that’s so fine with me. But I’m convinced just knowing they were around contributed to this lovely day. Isn’t it funny, how things work?
I turn 43 years old today, friends! My life is far from perfect. In fact, it has some rather large holes in it. But it is so beautiful, too. I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful to have the love and devotion of a good man by my side, and three healthy daughters whom I love so much. I’m trying to let go of what I can’t control, and to lean in to who God made me to be. God made me with healthy doses of both wanderlust and a love for the comforts of home. He gave me a love of learning, and a heart that cherishes authentic connection. I have to remind myself of these gifts, to remember who put these things in my heart. My prayer is that this next year will be filled with less fear, and more paying attention. Are you with me? It’s a little scary sometimes, but it’s worth it.