There once was a place , a magical place for those who knew of it. It didn’t really have an official name but was called simply the River Bottom by those like me who loved it. To be more precise, it was a stretch of land bordering the Trinity River where it ran through Polk County, Texas.
I said before that it was a magical place and it was, at least for me when I was just a thirteen year old kid. Lush, thick grass carpeted the land in a green so green that it defined the color and with a texture so soft that laying in its expanse was like snuggling down on a feather mattress. Most of the Bottom was covered with ancient, first growth timber and profuse, bushy undergrowth which was almost impossible for a man to walk through. Interspersed throughout this wild tangle was open glades of varying sizes, from a few yards to many acres.
My favorite was one of the larger glades, perhaps ten acres in size. Open to the clear blue sky and the blazing Summer Texas sun, it looked like a green lake surrounded by thick forest. Right in the middle of this open expanse was a small grove of great oaks that, in the July heat, offered an island of dark shade and cool respite. Within that grove there was one oak taller and more majestic and older than the others and that was my favorite tree.
This was a place I sought out at every opportunity. It was my place though as a child I did not own the land, I owned it in my heart. I would spend every minute I could laying on my back under that giant old oak, staring up through its branches and listening to the old tree’s song as the wind stirred through its limbs.
I could take the saddle off my horse and turn her loose without fear of her wandering far away. She was quite happy to spend her time grazing on the rich grass or walking a few yards to get a drink from the slow moving river. She and I would share the space with different herds of deer that would move slowly through the glade eating their fill and then disappearing back into the thick forest.
Time here, stood still for me as I lay in the grass and counted the fluffy, white clouds as they scuttled across the sky above my head. I would daydream of all the things I would do when I grew up, of all the places I would travel to and all the people I would meet.
I carved my initials in that old oak and I promised myself that, when I was all grown up I would take a pause from all my travels and I would come back to this place…this special place. Little did I know that fate had other plans.
By the time I was twenty that special place lay under the weight of eighty feet of water, in the middle of a giant, man-made lake. The giant old oak, that had weathered two hundred years of storms from mother nature finally had to succumb to the needs of man and it lay on the new lake’s bottom…rotted and forgotten by all except perhaps me.
You see it was decided that the great city of Houston needed another source of water so the powers that be decided, in their infinite wisdom, to put a dam on the Trinity and form a lake of over 84,000 acres, on what was the River Bottom.
There was no opposition to the proposed project. After all, local folks saw a chance to make a lot of money from the sale of their land that would border the new lake to rich people from the city looking for a retreat from the rat race of their daily lives. There was also the money to be made from tourist using the lake as a recreational vacation. It is a fact that over the years, several fortunes were made by locals because of that damn lake.
So it disappeared, that magical glade, nestled within that wild forest once bordering the Trinity River and no one shed a tear…well…almost no one.
I remember the day, so many years ago, when I was in my twenties. I took my boat out on that lake and I found the spot, I was pretty sure marked the spot where my glade once was and dropped the anchor.
I sat there in that boat and stared down at the still, deep water and I wondered….did that ancient oak feel pain as death took it. As water rose and then the ground softened and turned to mud and its great roots no longer held it up. Did it have a moment of sadness as it slowly toppled over and settled onto the lake’s bottom and died?
That was so very long ago, but lately I have thought more and more about that glade and that old oak tree and sometimes I think I know exactly what it was feeling.
Age will do that to you.