Ducks on lily pads

Paddleboarding on the Guadalupe is my replacement for surfing on the East Coast. I’ll confess/complain: it’s a poor replacement. Yes, it has the satisfying feel of being on water, being in the sun, working the muscles, being completely analog without an iPhone within a half mile or more of my hand.

But it lacks the noticeable movement of water around me. Surfing is an invitation or even a dare to come and dance with it. To a large extent, so is canoeing a river that has rapids. Surfing, with its occasional waves that form “tubes” that one can get covered up under and inside, is a return to the salt-water womb — a metaphor that’s not much exaggerated.

Now, the advantage of paddleboarding on a lake-like river as the Guadalupe has formed in Kerrville, however, is that conditions are fairly uniform throughout the year. The variables of course are water and air temperature, which can largely be neutralized with my wetsuit. The variable I can’t avoid is when the river rages significantly above its normal level, which has happened a couple times since I moved here three and a half years ago. Otherwise, it’s placid and navigable. Always.

Yesterday afternoon, I put in at the southern end of Flat Rock Park, just prior to the one-lane bridge that leads to the large open field serving as a dog run. There’s a scored ramp for wheels or river shoes to get traction over the algae clinging to each inch. The rainbow oil slicks circle randomly and then form jewelry around my calves as I slowly shuffle deeper into the water.

Not long ago I showed up and two men were fishing. One was in a kayak about 20 feet off the shore. The other man was standing on the ramp, which was almost completely occupied by his black truck — this is a ramp for putting in and then driving back around the side of the big tree to park, not for using as a parking spot, I might add — holding his rod in his right hand and untangling his line in his left.

Without my glasses, it looked more like he had hauled in a fish, which seemed a happy moment for him and one that required only a slight shift to the right side of the eight-foot wide ramp, so I could make my way down the left.

I said, “Excuse me?” preparing to clarify that I wanted access on the left.

Apparently, the man affected by a tangled line and dying liver believed he had riparian rights, when he had not even littoral rights. (I thought I should flex my NY State real estate salesman license just this once, since it never got flexed before I moved.)

To express myself to you instead with the brevity that Twain or Hemingway encourage but with emotion more suited to Tarantino, the guy wouldn’t move out of the fucking way.

He didn’t acknowledge me, so I repeated my question, which to be fair I should have announced in the indicative case of the verb or even the imperative, since neither of us had rights to the shore or waterway of the Majestic Guadalupe. Admittedly, he could equally have responded using the imperative, “Fuck off.” That rejoinder of course would be the correct verb case for that purpose but would be factually incorrect, because it would assume said rights.

Upon the second question, he looked sideways at me and said, “Really, dude?” I hate it when people I don’t know call me “dude,” especially when they’re angry.

“I just need only about a foot here on the left to slide by.” He had seven feet. To his right was the cooler containing further Liver Death.

“Really, dude?! Can’t you see I’m untangling my line?”

“Oh, sorry; I don’t have my glasses on.” Why I was so accommodating, I had no idea. I had a paddle with a “blade” and metal shaft, like a medieval hatchet, and he had only a skinny bendy stick thing. Of course, he did have a hook. But his line was indeed tangled and the hook had a plastic worm on it, so I figured it would be a fair fight.

(You see how quickly men can devolve to fighting? One has a dying liver and tangled fishing line, and the other has an impatient desire to get on the river at 7:15am when there’s only sun and no wind and the surface is like glass. Selfishness creates a tarbaby.)

He turned back to his line and said, “There’s another ramp right over there.” He tilted his head left toward a break in the reeds and a concrete step leading to another broken step, submerged about 15 inches and surrounded by other rocks obscured by murky water. Not much of a put-in.

I grumbled, did as suggested and had a fantastic session on a beautiful morning.

And then there was coming back in.

He was still there, this time fishing (from the ramp). About thirty feet out, I asked where his line was because I was a stand-up guy and all and didn’t want to paddle over it. He burped its location.

When I started to guide myself toward the ramp, he said, “Just use that other one there.” The ankle-twister.

“I can’t get up that way. I need the ramp.”

“You got in that way. Why can’t you get back up that way?” Made me wonder whether as a kid he had ever lied down on his back in gym class and then tried to do a sit-up. Gravity, asshole.

Now I was pissed. “This is a public ramp.”

“Yeah, but I’m here and you can use that one there.”

I wasn’t going to press it. Tarbaby.

I worked my way up the broken steps and then mouthed off: “You know, this is a public ramp, and you’re taking up all of it.”

He had some last word or another, and I walked back to my truck. It was still a great session. Nothing was going to diminish it.


The above was all a bad memory with a tarbaby at its center. Yesterday, which I digressed from, was delightful. I put in at the same ramp, nodding to a couple other fisherman who also nodded back, and after getting myself wet in the middle of the river I paddled downstream toward the dam. The sun and clear skies made for a mid-90s afternoon. There was a moderate wind against me, not as stiff as some days, but significant enough that it was a good workout. I hopped back and forth between right foot forward and left one, working each quadricep. I developed a blister along the base of my right thumb, which indicated that I hadn’t been on the river enough days and also that I was having a good workout. (It could also mean that I wasn’t holding the paddle correctly. But, no.)

I hugged the right (west) bank, where trees formed a pocket of calm from the wind. A great blue heron lifted off from my right and first flew south and then wheeled around to my left, disappearing behind me.

I reached the dam, touched my paddle to the edge just to say I had, and then turned around to head back upstream, with the wind. At first, there was a breeze against me, and I thought of the “walked five miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways” fib. Soon enough, I had a barely perceptible breeze at my back. The sun fell onto my chest and shoulders. I could watch my triceps flexing as I stroked and realized that in surfing one can’t stop to appreciate the way the body gets toned and challenged during exercise.

These malleable machines God allows us to travel in are certainly marvelous things.

Finally reaching the ramp, I figured I’d paddled about 8,000 feet, according to Google maps. One and a half miles.

I had passed a duck couple on the way back. They were standing on lily pads as far as I could tell.


PHOTO CREDIT: Surfer Magazine

Shells the size of pennies

There was one there already — a Great Egret. As I looked south, down the Guadalupe, I saw three more of the elegant white birds. Their necks started to form question marks as they relaxed and settled in. And then the egret closer to me flew to its siblings. It was replaced by its cousin the Great Blue Heron, which landed on the light-colored rock you see in the center-left of the photo. The tranquility of this place is better told in gray-scale tones than in loud color.

I had heard about this river access from Karen, who heard about it from a neighbor where we live. Apparently, not many people from our housing development know about it. Residents can enter through a gate with a combination lock that gets hot quickly in this sun we all know well. I must confess, while I’d feel somewhat unneighborly if we lived in a gated community, for some inconsistent reason I have no problem having resident-only access to this part of our amazing river. I can list multiple reasons that would sound justified to me (e.g. not wanting to be around loud music), but truth be told I’m getting older — something I’m told happens quite often — and there’s no getting around my being kind of snobby and elitist about this aspect of Hill Country life. I’m going to lean into it.

The photo here was taken shortly after I entered the area, having been the only car there, and walked down onto the treacherous and unstable bleached limestone rock to take a closer look. I’d forgotten the water shoes that Karen had reminded me to take, and since I didn’t want to swim in my sandals, I ventured out in bare feet.

The water closest to the shoreline and maybe an inch deep, was probably close to the air temperature of 93 degrees and uncomfortably warm. I told myself it would be easier once I went a little deeper. Soon enough I found myself walking on hundreds of small shells, each the size of a penny, and I remembered it was one of these shells that my son Teak had landed on when jumping into a different and deeper area of the river. The shell ripped his heel open and ended his summertime swimming weeks ahead of the school year. Cuts take longer to heal for a 58-year-old, and I didn’t want to be dry-docked until I started taking out IRA contributions to pay for getting the stitches removed.

I told myself the river bottom would get better soon.

It didn’t.

Small shells gave way to sharp rock and then more sharp rock of a different kind before the water depth even hit six inches. Not only did I wish at this point to have my water shoes, but even my sandals would have sufficed, since the closer I got to the middle of the river, the more it appeared that the darker areas were not indicative of depth but rather of greater concentrations of river moss. [Note to readers, especially those who are from Kerrville: I Googled in vain a more exact or even correct description of what I call “moss.” If I am wrong and you blow up the Comments section below, I must warn you I will be tempted to cook up some egret tenders, and then we will be even-steven.] Therefore, I wouldn’t be able to swim and take the weight off my feet, the heels of which became more and more like cannon fodder to the penny-sized shells waiting for their victim. The underwater terrain was to my soles like free-solo climbing the limestone bluffs would be to my palms.

When I reached the point of turning back, I made a decision to go home and get my river shoes. I had been toying with the idea at almost each step.

In my mind were two paths: “This is so beautiful. I want to get the river shoes and come back.” Or, “This is so beautiful, but (I’m lazy) and I don’t want to make the effort to go get the shoes and come back.” I chose to get the shoes.

This was an uncharacteristic decision, since typically I would have called it a day — a short one — and told myself, “Note to self: next time bring river shoes.”

But yesterday was a “today” that flies as effortlessly as a heron, and one doesn’t know when one will next see a heron like yesterday.

Be an “Urban Ninja”

Walking out of Herring Printing yesterday at about 8:40AM, I briefly glanced down the sidewalk to my left, where my car was parked, then looked to my right, toward Sidney Baker, and afterwards proceeded to walk left. You may not know, but this rapid head movement is the building exit strategy of a trained Urban Ninja. And, if you do know this, please pretend you don’t for the purposes of this post.

To the naked eye, this swiveling action looks like a life-sized Yankee bobble-head man wearing nice slacks.

I can assure you, it is not.

Here’s what’s going on: when one exits a building, one doesn’t know what’s happening on the sidewalk in front or to either side of him. There could be a number of things.

There could be a mugger waiting to jump you or a gang waiting to run toward, and outrun, you, because you are 58, have a slight belly, and are carrying printed material. You would rather get mugged and have your cash stolen — who carries cash anyway? (I actually was yesterday.) — than jettison the printed material to add another 2MPH of juice on your stride. These gang members have been vaping in front of the Valero up the street and are quick and dangerous. Until their cotton candy-smelling lungs implode. And then they are actually quite slow. And this is why it is good I didn’t jettison my printed material. Because I’m counting on their having vaped, and vaped A LOT, just before attacking me. THIS is the counter-intelligence that an Urban Ninja alone can access.

Pay attention.

Second, someone who has no malicious intent could be walking from one direction or the other and would bump into you. Or, more accurately, you would bump into them. As unlikely as it is that there would be another pedestrian on Kerrville’s sidewalks before 9AM, or even less likely between 9AM and 5PM, you want to take every precaution that you not exit the structure and bump into the other pedestrian. Because, let’s face it, even though you are 58, have a slight belly — which is slowly firming up I might add, despite the smashburgers last night; look, we’re all trying hard here and gimme a fucking break — and carrying printed material that you actually don’t want to jettison under any circumstance whatever; despite all those things requiring commas and a few other punctuation marks and not least of all your patience, Dear Reader, you’re actually a pretty decent guy who doesn’t want to hurt someone else unduly, and you’re also a skilled Sidewalk Navigator who knows how to avoid accidents that others can’t or won’t. For that reason also, you look right.

Finally, you look right because you just never know.

It’s one of those things you just do when exiting a building.

It’s curiosity borne of habit.

The sidewalk is where life happens. Sure, life still happens inside buildings that you are exiting with strategies. But on the sidewalk, between those predictable and circumscribed spaces we call “offices,” “homes” and “coffeeshops with awesome drinks and nibbles” — I’m talking PAX here — are sidewalks where any kind of thing can and does happen. Herring Printing, PAX and the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center are like the brains, heart and lungs of a place. Earl Garrett and Water Streets are its arteries.

Have you talked to the lady who sometimes sits inside PAX with her own travel mug of coffee and has deep creases in her sun-browned face like etches in the limestone that the Guadalupe makes? Most of the time she’s walking along Earl Garrett looking for a shady spot, often on that iron bench next to the ATM at the Texas Hill Country Bank. Some of you have spoken with her. Some of you have seen her from your car. Some of you have seen the red light turning green in front of Francisco’s.

You might also have met David, whose bike carrying everything he owns on a trailer tipped over under the bridge in Louise Hays Park. Or you might have met John, a vet as is David, who painted the corner of Monroe’s with a scene of a train crossing a bridge. It’s hard to tell if the painting is unfinished or just really small, but he was painting it in November 2019 when the air was starting to make his 80-year-old hands a bit stiff with nothing to warm them except the aluminum foil covering a breakfast taco from Mary’s. I’d wager the painting wasn’t finished. Or you might have met Joseph, the young black man who skateboards along Main Street in the rain, heading home in the vicinity of Revival Fire Church. I can say in all truth that I have been to that neighborhood exactly once. I have seen a number of residents from that neighborhood shopping in H-E-B, but I didn’t notice any of them.

At the risk of sounding, well, however this sounds, I’ll summarize it to say that typically I meet people different from me outside of a building and people the same as me inside. Neither one is better than the other. But not using my building exit strategy prevents me from being made the richer by David, John, Joseph and the lady with limestone creases. And you whom I haven’t yet met.

My inside people are my foundation. My outside people are my growth edge.

At top is John in front of Monroe’s. I had his permission to take and use a photo.