Lake for Sale

“The lake of my mind, unbroken by oars, heaves placidly and soon sinks into an oily somnolence.’ That will be useful.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Waves

A quick sketch I made of the Balmorhea campsite.

When our kids were little, we had a popup camper and would go camping almost every weekend, in addition to longer trips a couple times every year. Texas has some really nice state parks – a varied assortment arranged in a ring around the Dallas Metroplex and we could choose our direction and type of park.

One of our favorites was Fairfield Lake State Park located a few hours south of Dallas, right off of I45. It was a heavily wooded lake and was a very, very picturesque and uncrowded spot. The lake had a power plant at one end (which didn’t interfere with the camping – it was only visible if you hiked around the lake a bit from the camping spots) and I understood that the main reason for the lake was cooling for the plant, which ran on locally mined coal. The warm water was supposed to be very good for fishing – and the woods were full of wildlife (you had to be very careful driving at night to avoid hitting deer).

We haven’t been there in a long, long time.

So today I saw an article in the newspaper. Over the decades, the coal has been given up and the power plant closed. And now the entire lake is for sale (apparently the state only leases the land for the state park).

From the article:

Property features include:

  • Recreational lake, estimated to be 50 feet at its deepest point, good for fishing, water skiing, boating activities, and swimming
  • Mature hardwood forest with array of wildlife including whitetail deer, armadillos, river otters, beavers, squirrels, foxes, bobcats, songbirds and bald eagles
  • Pristine lake water with a thriving trophy bass population as well as catfish, bluegill and sunfish
  • 10 acres of wetland ecosystems
  • 8+ miles of highway grade blacktop two lane roads and bridges
  • Three concrete boat ramps with truck and trailer parking
  • Combination of underground and above-ground power throughout the property
  • Massive 4,350-foot earth-fill dam with Low Hazard classification from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Blake Hortenstine, Broker/Partner of Hortenstine Ranch Company, says in a statement that “a water asset of this magnitude is virtually impossible to find anywhere in the lower 48 states, and combined with the land development possibilities and amenities, is the only offering of its kind.”

I have this fantasy of buying the property. I would, of course, allow the state to continue leasing the park for a dollar a year in perpetuity. I’m not sure what I would (other than build a nice weekend house) do with the rest. It might be a good place for an eco-friendly development….

It is a fantasy. I only need one hundred and ten million dollars or so…

I checked the archives of my old blog and found a record of a trip we made down there over Thanksgiving in 1996 – a quarter of a century ago.

Wednesday, November 27, 1996

Beer bait liquor and gas

I spent the first half of the day packing – I made a list of stuff to put together – I couldn’t have done anything without the list.


Baseball gloves and ball
one basketball
one soccer ball
one football
one box of toys
one box of kids books
kids tapes to listen to 

Writing Material

Black cloth covered loose-leaf notebook.
Small spiral bound notebook.


CD's (two little carriers full) 

Clothing, and cold weather gear

Long johns
Sweat suits (2)
Knit hat
Sleeping bag 

Shaving kit

Shaving cream
Nose drops 

Dutch ovens(3)

Candy worked until one – we had planned to hit the road quickly and get to the campsite about 4PM.

We left town on time but ran into a huge traffic jam north of Corsicana. This is the same traffic jam were caught in a year ago. Because of construction the interstate narrows to one land each way for 11 miles. On most days it is no problem but this was the day before Thanksgiving. The hundreds of thousands of people going to Aunt Sara’s house for turkey and fixin’s clogged the highway.

On a one lane road – no one can get through faster than the people before them. Slowly the traffic backs up farther and farther until it is stopped for twenty miles. It is so much more frustrating to be stuck in stopped traffic for hours out in the middle of the country than it is in city rush hour. We crept along. I sat there staring at a sign that said:

Bennies Burgers
Beer Bait Liquor Gas
We’ve got it all!

I have this image of hordes of rednecks hauling ass in their pickups around central Texas eating some greasy burgers from Bennies out of paper bags trying to decide if they’re too drunk to fish.

Finally we reached Corsicana, the kids needed to go to the bathroom so we pulled into a McDonalds- with playland. Soon after the traffic broke up and we made good time on into Fairfield. It was well after sunset and I didn’t want to mess with cooking in the dark after we set up camp so we bought some fast food in town. Our first two meals on our camping trip were Chicken McNuggets and Taco Bell Bean Burritos.

As we were driving the last few miles down the pitch black park access road the kids discovered reflectors – attached to signposts, shining back red yellow orange at us as we moved along. One sign had the silhouette of a deer on it. Nick, of course, asked what it meant. As soon as we had explained it to him a large buck with a full set of antlers bounded out into our headlights. We stared as he marched out into the center of the road, then accelerated into a gallop as he disappeared into the dark woods. The deer was beautiful and ghostly – bleached white by the glare of our headlights.

We reached Fairfield State Park and I set up the popup in site #99. This wasn’t the one we had intended to get, but it was a large site, and turned out to be fine. I started a campfire and we sat around it for awhile, then it was time to go to sleep.

The night was cold, Candy, Nick, and the giant killer dog slept at one end of the popup under an electric blanket while Lee and I huddled at the other. Lee would roll out from under the covers and get cold and wake up. Then he would curl up in a little ball next to me until he warmed up – turned into a hot little BB next to me under the covers.

Thursday, November 28, 1996

A cold, rainy day

It was cold when I woke up so I dragged myself down to the public restrooms for that most decadent of camping luxuries – a hot shower. We have been to many state parks and other campgrounds but Fairfield State Park is our favorite. Candy says it is the trees and the deer, but for me it is the showers. This park was built before the days of energy conservation and the water comes out scalding and steaming.

The morning was fine – cold, cloudy, but bearable. I set up our large tent next to the popup for the kids to play in. The kids rode their bigwheels, clattering and chattering along the park road, to a playground. The made a huge fuss along the way. Lee and I found cattails by the water, the kids called them corny dogs. Lee likes to play the “hot dog man,” pretending to sell sticks from under the popup’s wings – he’ll tell you what your stick/hotdog has- mustard, ketchup – he tells me mine has hot sauce. With the cattails he now sold corny dogs.

Around noon it started to rain – a cold drizzle which put a damper on everything. I overheard some campers talking, the Cowboys beat the Redskins. I didn’t even try to get the game on the radio. Camping – even in the faux wilderness of a state park – I don’t miss such trivialities as sports on TV.

A kid and his teenage sister came over from a campsite across the road and played with Nick and Lee all evening. Lots of raucous fun. I cooked chicken with tomato sauce in my medium Dutch oven and baked some corn in the small one. That was our Thanksgiving dinner. Not too bad, not at all. The only problem was the cold rain, it especially bothered Candy.

We ran the heater in the popup so it wasn’t cold sleeping. The ceramic heater with its fan is noisy in the quiet of the woods, but with the load sound of rain on the roof all night, the heater wasn’t noticeable.

We turned on the radio to get a weather forecast. It said thunderstorms tomorrow and Saturday. It that’s right and it’s raining again tomorrow we’ll give it up and go home. I can deal with the rain, but for Candy being cooped up with two wild kids and a wet smelly dog in the little popup is no fun at all.

Friday, November 29, 1996

We give up

Woke up in the popup, it was warm, we’d run the heater all night. The rest of the world was a cold, wet sea of mud. It had rained hard all night, was still raining, with no sign of letting up. So we decided to bail, to get the hell out of Dodge, to make like a tree and leave, to make like a hockey player and get the puck out of there. Better luck next year.

Packing up was no fun. The tent was soaked, it rained particularly hard while I was gathering everything up. We managed to wrestle everything into the van, the rooftop carrier, and the popup itself. I even managed to pack the firewood we hadn’t burned. So off we went, back home, two days early, but no worse for wear.

Drove back home through the backwoods. The best sign going north was for Bubba’s Bar-B-Q in Ennis.

You Never “Sausage” a Place
Serious Bar-B-Q
ATE miles

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), It by Bill Chance

“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

Nambe Lake, New Mexico


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#31). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.




He had paid in full for the trip before it happened. The trip was not cheap and he had saved up for several years. Nothing, of course, was refundable. After it happened, he didn’t want to go.

But at the funeral everyone said, “You need to go, it will be good for you.”

This was inevitably followed by, “It is what they would have wanted you to do.”

So he went.

The first day he had planned on a hike to a high isolated mountain lake perched in a rocky cirque below three sides of vast cliff faces. It was listed in all the guidebooks as a top ten dayhike in the entire state.

He parked his rented car, slung his tiny daypack and set out. The first section of trail was fairly level through a thick forest. He felt as if his boots were floating above the ground as he moved, the forest was filled with an invisible fog, and his mind was somewhere far away.

Then the trail turned into the wide canyon that led up to the lake and he began to climb. It was very steep and rocky. His legs quickly began to tire and his breath came in difficult gulps. The pain galvanized him and he welcomed it. The ache reminded him he was alive and helped to get his physical self – his muscles, bones, and lungs in line with how he felt in his head.

The trail twisted up and around beside the tumbling stream coming down from the lake above. The cold mountain meltwater had a subtle unique ozone-like odor, bracing and pleasant. He noted this, along with the tinkling splash of the falling water and the cold air pouring down from above, hitting him in the face, refreshing while the sun rose burning overhead. He sensed all this, but his heart was hard and it didn’t reach him like he hoped it would.

On he climbed, getting tired and thirsty as his water bottle ran out. The canyon kept turning in a rising spiral. He expected to find his destination after every curve, but was only presented with more steep rock.

“Where is that damn lake?” he cursed under his breath.

And then, around a last bend, there it was. A smooth oval of that almost milky turquoise mountain water, tinted with fine glacial rock dust. It was high up, almost to treeline and the evergreens surrounding the lake were twisted – stunted with the winter struggles against snow and wind, but dark green and thick, holding the water in a cup between their trunks. All around rose vertical walls of rock, a vast enveloping escarpment of mixed grays, punctuated with patches of brilliant snow trailing strings of melt water falls. High above, like looking up from the bottom of a wide well, was the sky – a deep purple from the altitude and spattered with thin, high clouds.

The beauty of the scene assaulted him with power and grace. But he was still immune. The lifeless numbness that enveloped him since it happened shielded him from the gorgeous allure of the lake no matter how hard he had worked to enjoy it.

After a few minutes he turned around and started back.

“It will be easier now, going back down,” he said to himself and he was right.

“Well,” he thought, “that was one wasted hike.”

But he knew that sometime in the future there would be another one that wasn’t wasted. At any rate, there were nine more in his guidebook. And more states after that.

Time was what he needed. It was all he needed.



This is another sketch using a writing prompt from the book by Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany. It… and its companion, The 4 A.M. Breakthrough, are unusually useful collections of  writing exercises (rather than simple prompts). I thumbed around until I found a prompt I liked… it was the second one I looked at.

Writing Prompt #110

Sweet and Sour

Describe briefly a lake or a backcountry mountain trail (in other words, a beautiful natural setting) as seen by a person who has just lost a parent in a sudden, unexpected death. The last time this narrator saw the parent, they argued violently. In your narrative do not mention the death, the parent, or the argument. Do not tell a story. Simply show us what the lake or forest or street looks like to someone under these circumstances. 500 words



Why Would You Row A Boat Race?

“I have never heard anyone profess indifference to a boat race. Why should you row a boat race? Why endure long months of pain in preparation of a fierce half hour, or even six minutes, that will leave you all but dead? Does anyone ask the question? Is there anyone who would not go through all its costs, and more, for the moment when anguish breaks into triumph – or even for the glory of having nobly lost? Is life less than a boat race? If a man will give all the blood in his body to win the one, will he not spend all the might of his soul to prevail in the other?”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Dawn, Bachman Lake, Dallas, Texas

The Dawn Remaking the World

“Veil after veil of thin dusky gauze is lifted, and by degrees the forms and colours of things are restored to them, and we watch the dawn remaking the world in its antique pattern.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A duck at dawn, Bachman Lake, Dallas, Texas

Water Off A Duck’s Back

“-Hey, listen,” I said. “You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance?” I realized it was only one chance in a million.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Bachman Lake, Dallas, Texas

I watched the ducks go about their start of the day routine from a bench along the water at dawn. One ritual was to repeatedly duck under the water and rise up – letting the water run off their feathers. Like taking a little duck shower.

Crew Practice

“How often have I watched, and longed to imitate when I should be free to live as I chose, a rower who had shipped his oars and lay flat on his back in the bottom of the boat, letting it drift with the current, seeing nothing but the sky gliding slowly by above him, his face aglow with a foretaste of happiness and peace!”
Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Bachman Lake at dawn, Dallas, Texas

Out of bed at five AM out of the house at five-thirty. My son Lee was running a 5K – four laps around Bachman Lake at dawn. I enjoyed sitting by the lake, watching the sky brighten and the sun rise, the early morning planes lifting off from Love Field, the ducks coming to check if I’d give them something to eat, and the early morning crews rowing on the smooth lake. There was no wind – the only disturbance was from the ducks and the boats.

Lee wanted to run a fast time on the flat and open course. He did succeed in a personal best, beating a time he ran years ago, in high school.

Racing the Wind

White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas

“hark, now hear the sailors cry,
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic…”
― Van Morrison


“Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling’s father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Messing about in boats

“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.”

Spoken by Ratty to Mole in Wind in the Willows a children’s book by Kenneth Grahame

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

(Click for a larger and more detailed version on Flickr)

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea…”

– Antoine de Saint Exupery