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The Path of Adventure

The day shall not be up so soon as I,

To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.

—William Shakespeare,

            What is adventure? Could that perfect trip to the Colorado mountains really be called adventure? That trip where you stayed on the paths, ate little bags of trail mix and hiked in intervals of precisely four miles a day to your next destination, is that really adventure? True adventure begins and ends unexpectedly. There are three elements to adventure that form the touchstone; unexpected starts, unexpected twists that effect the whole, and unexpected events that you will remember forever. My trip had all of those, making it a true adventure. Let me tell you how.

I glanced up and beheld the mystical, towering cypresses that were laden with hoary, dun-colored, Spanish Moss, as dreary a thanatopsis. The dry foliage was swaying gently in the cool, susurrant breeze. I caught my first whiff of the indigenous scent of a bog, a smell that while wasn’t exactly terrible, it was certainly distinct. I could hardly bring myself to believe this had all started a couple days ago when I was doing some banal homework.

I was in the office, mildly bored, wondering how long it was until dinner and endeavoring to study for an upcoming test. My Spanish I, Unit 3, In the House, wasn’t proving to be much of a challenge, it was just time consuming. Eager for a diversion, I quickly looked up when my grandmother leaned back in my dad’s office chair, which gave a vociferous complaint. She peered questioningly at me from over her reading glasses. Her customary ‘country’ dialect in place, she asked me, “would you like to go fishing with your grandpa and uncle this weekend?”

Of course, I would love to go fishing. Although fishing wasn’t exactly my forte, I could tell that the offer just breathed adventure. So with alacrity, I gratefully accepted. This was acompletelyunexpected start. One moment I was memorizing Spanish vocabulary with no redolence of anything more captivating, the next moment, I was contemplating a venture to a place I had never been to before. I hadn’t planned it. I hadn’t expected it. It was just… happening.

Less than eight hours after I had completed my Spanish I, Unit 3, In the House, Test, I was bracing myself on a rebelliously bucking dock which was riding the tempestuous roiling waves of a small inlet of Caddo Lake. I fervidly scanned the dark waters for alligators, straining my ears to listen through the ululating gusts of moist wind. If the knees of the cypress trees, congruous with the black fetid morass along the road or the ‘Gator Crossing’ signs hadn’t convinced me that we were in for danger, then the darkness did. To me, the unpierceable opaque gloom of the wintery night seemed like Class 1 on the Bortle scale. Not that that mattered, because I couldn’t see around the looming cypresses that blotted out the stars anyway. As we looked around by the water’s undulating edge, unnatural clapping noises rang out over the guttering sucking sound of the waves hitting the shore. The source was close to us, but still too far away to be seen with our dim flashlight beams that were swallowed all too easily by the insuperable darkness. We were forced to leave the mystery of that noise unsolved. Personally, I can only assume it was a swamp Siren swallowing a singing slime slug. Maybe not…

 Mirthful, yet more than slightly apprehensive, we succinctly explored the rest of the grounds and water’s quaggy edge. At one end of the state park, we found a dock lit up by buzzing blue lights which were constantly bombarded by kamikaze insects. Other than this frenetic movement, nothing disturbed torpor of the deathly still bridge. Like a long pirate’s plank, the bridge ran suspended for over a hundred feet out above the dismal, indolent, algae coated, alligator ‘infested’ waters. Much to my immense disappointment, and strangely, relief, we escaped the haunted dock with precipitation yet without seeing any alligators or ghosts. The far more realistic hazard was that the weathered, wind and rain beaten planks that held the dock high above the water would snap and send one of us floundering among the lily pads that freckled the lake’s dark visage. That, of course, was of no concern of mine, being far too practical in nature, and I later enjoyed sprinting up and down the dock. Those events were my introduction to the water, the things above the water and the things in the water. I was totally not expecting to be looking for alligators that day and if I had been told I was going to be only a week before, I never would have believed it. But there I was. It was so unexpected.

 Finding our cabin that we were to spend two nights in, also went differently than I had anticipated. A little earlier than when we went to the water, when the sun was still up, we found our cabin… and someone else’s. Let me put it this way, cabin numbers were quite unclarified. There were twisting, winding paths, a heavy cloak of fallen pine needles from the mastiff proportioned pines and in addition to this, hidden cabin numbers. One or more of these aspects effectively turned determining which of the eight, small cabins was ours into a challenge. Selecting a cabin we thought was ours, number six, if I remember correctly, my uncle and I walked confidently over to the door. My uncle pushed the door open and let’s just say… that cabin was being used. Fortunately, no one was home, but their presence was made obvious by some marigold-colored soup in a plastic container on the counter. That was all I saw, my uncle claims there were some other messes or something, but my eyes were riveted to the soup, probably because butternut squash soup is the only food which I can fairly say I abhor. Finally, and tentatively, we found our cabin. Examining the cozy little building we discovered it had no dishes. What kind of hospitality? we wondered. Indeed, my grandfather had known that such was the case from the description online and had packed a box so full of dishes we could have made a Thanksgiving feast and still not use all of them. Only, little did we know that the box was resting quite contently, and quite lazily, I might add, at my grandfather’s house, a mere two-hour drive away. In the rush to leave, he and my uncle had completely forgotten it. Chagrinned, we had to make a trip to a nearby dollar store and get a cheap skillet, some coffee mugs and those plastic forks you use at parties which have a fidelity for snapping. With these sparse surrogate utensils, cooking turned out to be a challenge, but me and my uncle using our coalesced effort, made the best of it. We learned we work well together in the kitchen, mostly me helping by washing that same pan over and over again, and him cooking quite expertly, using plastic forks for spatulas and occasionally calling on me to gather ingredients or wash that skillet again. I hadn’t been planning to exercise my culinary skills and anticipation proficiency, or ‘helping’ as some people call it, on the trip, but I did, and I loved it. Being a celebrated Su chief, as my uncle designated me to be, whatever that means, was an honor I took rather seriously. But really, I knew that we would be fishing, which I was counting on to be awesome, but cooking, one of my favorite hobbies? It was one of the best parts of the entire trip, creating delectable meals for just the four of us without another care in the world. Aside from the kitchen eucatastrophe, by the time I had settled into my sleeping quarters that night, which was the couch and coffee table combined in an interesting fashion, I was dead tired. Having been offered the choice of sleeping on the makeshift bed or sharing a mattress with my grandfather. Without a single velleity for the latter, thanks to my grandfather’s heavy warnings, I chose the couch/coffee table. Snuggling down on the strange bed, which was far more comfortable than seemed possible, I watched the dancing firelight. My body beginning to be overtaken by sleep, I listened to the song of the melodic snaps from the gas fire in the fireplace, preparing myself for some fishing that I would do the next day and musing over what had elapsed to bring me to the incongruous, yet pleasant place I was. I knew the next two days would be fun, but I never thought they would be adventurous. The adventure was over, I had little doubt. But I was wrong. As my eyes were lulled shut by the peace of the moment, little did I know what was coming next.

Adventure is perfect, even if it doesn’t go like you want it to. In fact, that’s part of the excitement. I learned this after what seemed like just what we came for didn’t work. This was the unexpected twist to our trip, making it adventurous. We began fishing the next day, after a delicious breakfast— cooked with only one skillet. The four of us had spent a while diligently preparing our rods the night before, so we were ready to go. I wasn’t into the venerable sport of fishing but, fishing, as fishing would tend to, promised to be electrifying. Reeling in that big one, taking your picture and finally tossing it back in, or even better, eating your catch, was all part of the touchstone for the greatest of excitements. In any case, I couldn’t wait. We pattered along the water’s marge, and I tossed my line in, hoping for a largemouth bass, a catfish or even a carp. Euphoria!

At least eighteen hours of fishing later, I still hadn’t caught anything. In fact, I never caught anything of the animalia kingdom the entire time, considering reeling in the same spent minnow in over and over again doesn’t count. I did catch plenty of sticks, learn how to cast a line fifteen million times when there was nothing to catch, not even water plants, and discovered I have a great love for minnows. When fishing was worn out, I clambered around cypress knees and explored the swamp. I found a gator print, some massive fallen trees and some really great inspiration for a creepy, probably corny, swamp monster story which I am not going to write. I spent some time monkeying around underneath the hundred-foot-long pier because I was bored. There, I balance on a couple wooden beams, where one mismove would mean me taking a dip in some seriously deep green water. Later, undaunted by the cold and the hopelessness, we went fishing after dark on an impulse because we couldn’t catch anything during the day. Thus, I got to go fishing in the perfect stillness of a swamp night. I didn’t catch any fish, night or day, which only served to make my trip better. I learned that some of the best adventures are found when things don’t go as planned, it was the twist of the lackluster fishing that made it the most exciting. There were so many things I would have never gotten to try if I had simply caught one fish early on. I would have kept titularly ‘fishing’ the entire time and never ventured as far into the swamp as I did or go fishing at night. A change that effected what we were going to be doing was one of the keys of adventure. Being a ‘nonfisherman’ as we nominated ourselves, was better than catching fish any day. It was an unexpected twist.

The third key element of adventure is that you never know where it will lead you, in other words, it is marked by unanticipated and memorable events. I thought I would be fishing, and I was, but just not in the way I thought of it. That was an effect on the whole. I knew I would be fishing, because well, I was going to a lake and I had a fishing pole, but some things are a total surprise. A small idea or thing can lead you to something completely new, such as happened to me when we wanted some minnows.

It all began on the first day of fishing. Discovering that the fishing at that point in time on the shoreline of Caddo Lake was less than egregious, my grandfather and uncle were over brooking it and thought maybe we could reverse fate by getting some live bait in hopes that it would work better than the artificial lures we had been using. Piling into my grandfather’s pickup, we headed for the main road. At a four-point intersection, and from a distance, we saw a sign that pointed left, indicating there was a shop with live bait there. Okay, we thought. So we turn left and head on for fifteen miles. After searching the entire way for this shop, we found a different shop devoid of live bait and asked for directions. Yet we received none. Undeterred, and perhaps excoriating the idea of going back to the lakeside without some small vestige of hope, we headed back, unimpeded, to the intersection in search of the promised little fish. Scrutinizing the sign, we couldn’t tell exactly where the arrow pointed, but one thing was for sure, it didn’t point forward. But it did. After finally deciding to try the forward direction, we discovered that, just over a small hill, was the shop. When the four of us entered the building, the first thing I noticed was a smell of burnt artificial cheese hanging dingily in the tepid air of the shop. Crammed in the small building, were two large tables covered with white and red checkered plastic tablecloths. Behind a counter on the far side, standing by a stove, was a huge woman in an apron. Several pots bubbled away, providing that detestable aroma. Most of the pots had stains running down the sides. As I examined the rest of the contents of the small shop, quickly looking over the random articles, I soon realized that they had little rapport between each other, save one unique feature; it all seemed to have that fake cheese on it. The concrete floor had it ground into the grime, the cook even had it on her soiled apron, and the tablecloths had an abundance also, stuck, caked or smeared on to the cheap plastic, completely without hope of ever being removed, at least, ever being removed by the proprietor.  This brings me right to my next point. The counterwoman. As a short female with grey hair and a smoker’s voice, the second woman, not the overweight cook, welcomed us from her position by the only heater in the building. Her invitation was just as inviting to me as whatever was bubbling in those pots… and I wasn’t about to order anything. I carefully looked the woman over… she seemed… rustic. I soon discovered that she had well-seasoned, salty language to match her outward appearance, which I will not go into detail about specific wording. My grandpa was quickly given an exhaustive and obsequious run-through of her stock, which could not be called extensive, consisting of only a couple plastic containers nailed to the wall and containing various fishing lures and bobbers. My grandpa purchased four Styrofoam bobbers. The woman handed him a brown paper bag and he paid her for the bobbers and minnows in advance. Later we discovered that the paper bag only contained three bobbers, not four. Unless in the unlikely case where we had dropped one from the bag, I am fairly certain she defrauded us, and her character was a less than a convincing case against it. But if she would truly steal a single, half dollar bobber, I don’t know how low her income must have been. Maybe she just couldn’t count. Either way, never take small articles in a brown paper bag unless you are sure to check the contents before finishing your purchase. To get the minnows, we had to go outside. Before which, the piratelike woman told us, with an especial look to my uncle, ‘I might as well bring a cigarette.’. A couple moments later, in the shed, which was the minnow breeding area, the woman caught up a net and stirred a tub of half-frozen minnows to life. She fished out a netful and dumped them in a Styrofoam cooler which was rested on a digital scale. I forget how many pounds my grandfather bought, but however many, the scale read that number. With her lit cigarette dangling from the corner of her lips, she pointed to the display and exclaimed to my fazed and possibly suspicious grandfather, ‘Am I good, or what?’.  In hindsight, regarding the authenticity of that scale, in light of the bobber miscount, I suspect something… fishy. When we were leaving, my grandpa complained about the positioning of the severely misleading sign that had sent us thirty miles in the wrong way. Her response to his query was, ‘we have a sign?’. Using her quintessential language, she asserted us that she never knew that they had a sign. Massaging my rubicund hands to warm them and adjusting the bucket of minnows squeezed between my legs, I watched her drag from her cigarette as we pulled away from the tiny patch of a parking lot. The only thing I could think was, that was adventure at its fullest. A wild goose chase to find some minnows in a shed with a talkative, possibly thieving pirate woman, it was absolutely unexpected.

 In protest to the unanticipated adventure, some critics may vituperate, stating that it tends to result in disaster. I agree it can very well do so. It is always necessary to practice common sense and when on an adventure, to remain aware of your surroundings and how you react to them. A breach in either, can prove dangerous. While slogging through the Texas mud, I was sensing the world around me, paying close attention to where I was walking and what I was walking on and the direction I was headed in. Also, never neglect park jurisdiction.  

                           That was my adventure, at least, most of it. I failed to retell how my uncle was wearing a mask to avoid catching COVID from a fish, or so my grandfather and I thought. I forgot to recount how I devoured four sticky marshmallows the size of my fist in one night, or about how I engaged in the Great Bottle Cap Wars with my uncle, who sweetened his coffee with sour worms, or that my grandpa almost choked to death on his own steak or about how he nearly set the entire park into immolating conflagration with lighter fluid in attempt to augment his stubborn coal fire and time would only fail me if I began to relate my great love for spearing those happy little minnows under the chine, or if I had enlightened you of the legacy of George Kevin II, the beloved crawfish lure that won the affection of my uncle and I. From the minnows to the rude guys at the gas station, it was all unexpected. True adventure is formed of three elements, requisite to all, is the element of surprise. Never before had such an adventure begun over Spanish and the creak of my dad’s office chair, and I never knew I wouldn’t catch any fish on my trip to go fishing, but instead I would see my first real alligator print and explore a bog in search of the carnivorous reptiles, and I never imagined that I would meet a lady like the one I did at that rundown bait shop, when we were just on a little whim to buy some minnows for bait. But the point is, an adventure can arise over something as mundane as a boring homework assignment and the true adventure doesn’t necessarily start a year ahead when you save up paid time off or buy your trail mix. No, adventure just happens, and even if everything goes unexpectedly, it may just foment your greatest adventure yet. That’s adventure. Unexpected.

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