Legacies and Memories

Bastrop State Park, CCC cabin 9.
It’s a perfect place to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Jane, Emma, and Molly started the day by running in the charity Turkey Trot through downtown Austin. I stayed home to fry chicken. After that, we drove out to the park.

On a sandy bluff stands a cluster of about a dozen low cabins under tall pines. Wood-shingle roofs cover walls of rough red sandstone or dark-painted slabs of loblolly pine. Inside the cabins are one or two bedrooms, a bath, a kitchen, stone fireplace and a small living room or dining room. They’re modest yet rustically grand.

We arrived under a thick blanket of gray cloud. In the little dining room we spread a light snack, opened a bottle of wine, and drifted easily into chat about family, holidays, and camping trips. We had so much to be thankful for.

There we were, a family immersed in love, full of joy at being together. We enjoyed the memories of past holidays and good times with the larger family in the comfort of the natural world.

Shortly, we moved out back.

Across half the back of the cabin is a spacious porch floored by stone, with a roof of pole rafters and planking supported by thick square columns. The porch looks east, across downslope, valley, and upslope.

We gazed at the panorama under a low sky while carrying on crosscurrents of conversation and laughter.

Towards evening we brought out the feast: fried chicken, vegetables, salad, and apple pie! The merriment took on an earnest air. We pulled out a deck of cards and played raucous rounds of spades.

There we were, taking shelter in an American legacy. We enjoyed the sturdy beauty of the cabins that our countrymen built some four score yeas ago. Young men, down on their luck, desperate for work, formed into a Civilian Conservation Corps, and they worked with craftsmanship, with pride, with artistry. They built lasting gifts to our land and people.

One stone step down from the porch is a rough yard. Rocky soil and thin green grasses slope down about 15 paces to the edge of a bluff. In the middle of the yard lies a fire pit.

Fortunately, the park was soaked from recent rains, and I had bought firewood at the ranger station. Molly lit a fire. She and Jane took turns stoking and poking the flames. The blaze filled the firepit and leaped upward, red and yellow. As darkness fell, the glow rose. When rain fell, the flames leaped up to meet it.

There we were, taking pleasure in the proof that in one of our nation’s darkest periods, our leaders showed the wisdom, and our people showed the courage, to face adversity with realism and determination. They worked together to make the country stronger.

Two more rains fell during the night.

I woke before dawn, made coffee, and walked out to the back porch to sit and write and watch for light. There was no dawn, and the sky went from soft black to soft gray. A cool wet breeze moved the pine needles.

Beyond the bluff lies a little valley where a sandy stream winds through tall grasses, yellow and brown. The valley holds the memory of a small lake where men fish from small boats.

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A devastating flood broke through the dam, and the lake escaped.

Across the valley and up the opposing bluff stands the remains of a gorgeous forest. Tall dead trunks lift broken limbs to the sky. A few scattered survivors lift their green crowns among the skeletons. Below, on the forest floor, a green thicket is rising from what was only black ash.

A devastating fire killed thousands of acres of trees and wildlife.

The heavy sky stretched dark and unrelieved. From the devastated forest across the little valley, crows called. From the green treetops above the cabin, crows called back. In the yard, red cardinals hopped in the green grass. Tiny titmice and chickadees hopped through low branches. A dove burst into flight.

Jane opened the screen door to say good morning.

Here we are again facing adversity. Maybe it’s greater than the adversity faced by the generation of the New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps. But we can only face an adversity we can comprehend. With a great legacy, we look within for great wisdom and courage.