Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

I'd seen the sign a few times before indicating a state park just off 59 north of Kingwood when I'd been driving home. After looking it up online, I planned a day around a visit. We picked a cloudy day and although I was nervous about rain (which has been the bete noir of my enjoyment of driving ever since a thunderstorm almost washed me off an elevated section of Beltway 8 years ago), it seemed like a good day for a shady walk in the woods.

Intending to rely on the signage provided by the state, I didn't print out a map. We almost missed the turn when the road seemed to dead-end instead of dog-legging, as it turned out. We found the road, found the turnoff (still following those impassive brown signs) and found ourselves winding down a little two-lane road through a neighborhood that looked like it was several decades old. Tiny houses set back from drainage ditches, stained bricks indicating just where the leaks and the water had run for years down their surface. It was hot and cloudy and there were few people outside.

We continued following the road, which eventually twisted past what looked like an empty plantation house, complete with servant's wing. You could see straight through the glass on the front door to that on the back. Around another curve was a giant Baptist compound, set back and gated from the neighborhood. We'd mistaken it for the park at first.

A black truck had come up behind us. It turned with us when we found the entrance to the park. This was a dirt road running under the tangled tree-cover. There were two entrances off this road that were marked as closed to traffic, but the truck turned down one of them.

We continued to the parking lot, which was empty. There was a visible notice that all visitors were required to sign in at the visitor's center. The light was green and gold, drowned in the manner of light that had already passed through the thunderclouds that were gathering at each horizon. One of us stuck a head out the window to see if it felt like rain. I stared at the empty rusted swing set and the leaf litter.

We didn't make it to the visitor's center. I'm ashamed to say that by this point I was completely freaked out. The images from the web showed a neat, full park and this was like the ghost of that park. I think even one other car might have convinced me to at least find the visitor's center. But an empty parking lot? Empty giant swings? Creepy.

So instead of a nice day in the park, I had an object lesson in mood and how slight quirks of setting and timing can switch the tone from Happy-Adventure major into Gee-Haven't-We-Seen-This-Movie minor. Hopefully we'll be able to get out to that park again in a better frame of mind.

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