Children of the rocks

2005 December 26
by David J. Ringer

ARROWHEAD STATE PARK, OKLA. — Just after ticking my 90th red-tail, I swung off the highway at a sign for Arrowhead State Park. I wanted a proper look at the cross timbers. I’d noted the rough, oaky hills on recent drives through this part of Oklahoma but needed to see more.

I drove around the park awhile first. Black and Turkey Vultures soared over the hills, and the lake was deserted. I finally parked by the visitor center and took Outlaw Trail down the hill.

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Mosses dot the rocky ground.

The trees weren’t large — maybe only 20 feet. Their bark and the rocks at their feet were crusty with pale lichens, and I tried to be careful where I stepped. Tough twigs contrasted sharply with the deep blue sky, and my sweater was a little too warm for the sun.

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I wondered about the hole in this trunk — I wondered who had lived there.

Surely there was gaiety in summer, but for now, gray titmice moved close to the ground, almost silent, probably killing the insects who only wanted to sleep until spring.

I shook my sleeve in irritation at the droning of a fly — then immediately repented. This perhaps was the only creature who remembered a day when these trees were young. These trees, living in the stones. They might have lived through fire, ice and the coming of the white man.

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Everywhere were details. Tiny forbs lay curled and dessicated on the mosses, amid the leaves and seeds.

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Tough, leathery, intricate, the leaves hung on.

ATOKA CO., OKLA. — The sun’s maddening daggers in my eyes drove me to seek refuge, but west was the only way to go. It had set before I reached Boggy Depot, so my plan didn’t work at all.

There wasn’t much to the state park there. I wandered round the cemetery, and I thought I heard a grunt. I looked up to dozens of cormorants whooshing softly overhead, and as they disappeared over trees, I heard another grunt. Was that … you?

It wasn’t a hostile place, but I did not belong. As I drove back toward 69, I scanned the trees. Never had picked up that hundredth red-tail.

A silhouette — no red-tail!

The Barred Owl resented my abrupt attention, and it flew from the fencepost to a safer tree. I could see it still, streaks, eyes … but I supposed I should clear the road.

The southwest was lit just dimly and strewn with wildly scattered clouds, as if the sun had burned itself out in a fury and all that was left were these darkened wisps. Venus shone high above the chaos, and I suddenly thought of Tolkein’s starfolk. There, in Oklahoma. And the image didn’t go of me, despite Southern gospel on the radio.

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