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It all began with a puddle. A puddle at the same gas station where my son filled our tank with Diesel instead of gasoline, a few months ago. One drop. One solitary drop speeding down from the sky after separating at the top, bulging at the bottom like a Hershey’s Kiss stretching out, plunging at a slant, the earth waiting with a wide open mouth to drink it up. Reflected in the water drop stood a couple below, filling their car with gas as it crashed down with a plop into a puddle that rippled behind their car, at a local gas stop.

We were on our way to Pedernales State Park for a hike and a jaunt, or by the looks of it, a storm-chase, for all we knew, this past Labor Day. Vanessa checked the trunk for umbrellas while I filled up, double-checking that I hadn’t grabbed the nozzle with the green handle. I looked up. Overcast with an onset of fitful winds, the whole day felt like Jazz. Leaves blowing in the air like mournful notes from a trumpet. A trumpet, not a sax. I couldn’t tell if I was happy or if I was sad. ‘Resting-sad-face,’ as my wife calls it, but I could feel it. The whole day felt like Jazz. Storm clouds hovered above like the coiled tail of a genie looking down upon us, waiting to pounce. We said our prayers and drove for the “Y,” highway wishbone of 290 and 71.

When we passed Dripping Springs, the thunderstorm looked straight at us. A spider with legs of lightning wrapping its trapped prey beneath it with the indigo silk of rain, her eyes set on the next town stuck on its web, trapped down the line. Would it head our way? The wipers rubbed the half-dry glass, braying and squeaking. We looked at each other and laughed, and just kept driving like we always do. We weren’t turning back. We were two buzzing fireflies with weak light just freed from the lid of a Mason jar.

We took a right on the 7 mile road to Pedernales State Park, and the storm followed behind like a drink spill on a table, running across with violet watercolors above a crown of hills. We checked the radar. Our little green square of State Park seemed to be safe from the pulsing tye-dye blobs on our cell phone screens. I told my wife, “We’ll just go. I don’t know if we’ll get to hike...If we have to sit in the car and wait for the storm to pass, that’s fine. If all we do is sit on the rocky bank of the Pedernales, that’s fine, too. As long as we’re out of that house.”

We parked at headquarters and watched the storm, now glacier-blue, drift Northward with tufts of grey clouds that corkscrewed and shredded apart across the skyline. There was no denying it. The wind picked up, running along the treetops, rustling the leaves and blowing our hair over our eyes. So, we parked it. We ate cantaloupe and strawberries out of the trunk of our car and just watched it storm. Watched it change colors and break apart like comets crashing into the atmosphere with grey dust and blue fire bursting forth across the horizon.

We walked to the nearby scenic overlook and a low cloud that moved like mist floated right over us smoking like dry ice. The storm dissipated and we drove down to the bank. We read all of the signs about early settlers and floods and the spring in Kimble county that is the source of 106 miles of Pedernales River. Said it didn’t matter if the skies were clear. The Pedernales could flood in five minutes before you knew it. I could see us, crouched down, reaching for a seashell with childlike eyes admiring the nautilus, as the rapids upstream conspired to crash over us as we dashed for the riverbank.

We scrambled down the boulders. They looked rough and porous, charcoal and black, but they were smooth to the touch, sanded down from centuries of floods. The rock of the limestone riverbed was grainy and dry with a color and texture that reminded me of animal crackers. Soon, we heard the hiss of fast water. We followed the sounds of cascades carving hidden channels of rock somewhere near the tiger-print cliffs on the other side. My wife pointed and said, “If you pretend that cave is an eye, the cliff looks like an elephant taking a drink, with its tusks and trunk submerged beneath the water.”

We sought out another cascade we heard upstream. And another. I felt like I was climbing a water wheel at a water mill, a Sisyphus going around in circles. But, I wasn’t hiking a trail, I thought to myself. I was hiking a riverbed. With boulders and rocks that wouldn’t stop. When we made it to the Cypress tree whose trunk was fringed with roots like a giant tassel twisted and draped over a rock, I realized what I was doing. I was crawling westward to the sunset unaware that I was slowly emptying my mind. But I could still feel a heaviness. Catching my breath, I looked back. My wife wasn’t far behind. The storm had passed, and a plumage of white cumuli puffed up from behind the elephant cliffs. I stopped and leaned on my staff. But I couldn’t tell. Was I happy or was I sad?

I couldn’t tell anymore. Everything felt like Jazz.


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