So what do you do on a warm, sunny April day in Texas County when the weather feels more like it’s summertime?
Surely there is no shortage of choices, but one good idea is – of course – hitting the river for a float trip.
That’s precisely what I did last Sunday, enjoying a trip down the Big Piney River along with my wife Wendy, daughters Roxanne and Claudia, our Pembroke Welsh Corgi Gertie (the Permapup) and our friend Harold Mitchell (you might know him as the guy who does that awesome woodworking to create bowls, pots and other items).
We put in at the Tony Hogan low-water crossing south of Houston and paddled north to just past Dogs Bluff on Harold’s property below his house. Me, Harold and Capt. Gertie were in a canoe, while the women were all in single kayaks.
Not much rain has fallen so far this year, so the water level in the Big Piney was pretty low for April. Subsequently, we had to drag our craft across a few more shallow spots than one might expect for the time of year (especially the two big boys in the canoe).
As Harold put it, we “did a little more hiking” than a floater would normally do on that section of the Big Piney in late April.
No matter. The trip was wonderful.
Mere moments after we set out on our journey, I was reminded (again) of just how beautiful portions of this part of North America truly are.
The day’s ample sunshine caused the water to create captivating reflections that shimmered and danced off of the numerous bluffs on the river’s eastern shore.
Those same bluffs (dozens upon dozens of them) created a landscape that is so uniquely Ozarks that it made me feel as much as see their charming natural elegance.
As we moved along, myriad species of fish (some downright big) were easily visible in the river’s clear water.
And birds shouted and sang from every angle up in the thousands of evergreen trees and rapidly-greening leafy versions.
Several times I found myself saying out loud, “that’s just awesome.”
We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar just across the river from an incredibly picturesque hillside, with a rocky base and dotted with native shortleaf pines to its crest.
As we stood there taking it all in, we noticed a happy couple of big largemouth bass swimming back and forth in a deep spot near a submerged log under which they had obviously set up a nest (you could see the arrangement they had made in the gravel at the river’s bottom). Watching them operate as a team and knowing they were “together” was pretty special.
At another stop at a very deep spot below a tall limestone bluff, Roxanne got in for a swim and basically shared the water with several big soft shell turtles that had been surfacing and diving in the sizable pool. And all along the way we saw red-eared sliders sunning on logs and deadheads on both sides of the stream, sometimes plopping in the river when our presence disturbed them.
Maybe the highlight of the trip’s plentiful wildlife viewing was when a pair of whitetail deer crossed a shallow portion of the river right in front of us, taking only three bounding strides to go from one side to the other.
And of course, Gertie had the time of her life (for about the 1,000th time). She swam, barked and even got to fall in; when the canoe hit a submerged boulder at one point, it came almost to a stop, but the dog (who had most of her body on the front seat next to me) kept moving.
We all felt an exhausted satisfaction when we reached our destination after about five hours, and were glad we had made the effort. All in all, the experience was one I thoroughly enjoyed and one I’m proud to say is readily available only a couple of miles from home.
I’ll admit that I paid a price for the day’s adventure, as my aging body was sore from head to toe that night and I felt it for the next couple of days. But I’d pay that price again.
And I probably will before long.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.