By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
I check the GPS again. Because of the thick canopy above us, the GPS has lost the satellite signals. Now, having led us here, the GPS is blind. It has as little idea where we are as we do.
It's 4 p.m. We may miss our take-out time at Highway 84 where Banks will be waiting. He knows we are city boys. He could do something embarrassing like call out a search. I have a magnetic compass in the boat. We know the road is south. If we head due south, we have to get there sooner or later. Or not. I remind myself of the outdoorsman's most sacred mantra: Do not panic.
Will is staring somewhere out ahead. He hauls on a branch. I shove against a tree trunk. We are free. He lifts his open hand behind his head and waves me to the right, then the left. I don't know where he's taking us.
Then, just as we get there, I see it. Here, the leaves in the water are moving not in circles but in a procession, going somewhere. We are in current again. The floodwater is telling us where to go.
He waves me this way and that. The current picks up. Now it's strong. Now we are barreling along, ducking beneath branches and crashing through vines. Suddenly we break through a deep curtain of Spanish moss, and we are back out on the main channel of the Neches. The water is carrying us home.
A full week later when I sit down to write, I finally realize what I did wrong. To work it out I go to Google Earth and look at the region where we paddled.
The Neches in that area is what geographers call a "braided river." It splits into multiple channels—a main channel and smaller side channels—all of which converge again at some point. The channel I had steered us down that led to the lake with the floating duck blind was a side channel. I thought it was the main channel.
Looking down from the sky with Google Earth, I see that Will was right. Had we followed the open water ahead of us, the side channel we were on would have braided us back into the main channel.
My mistake was in obeying the GPS instead of the logic of the water. Way back at the beginning of the trip when we passed through the wormhole and left human geometry behind, we began to learn how the water would lead us across the fall of the land, always back to the main channel. I learned the lesson but forgot it when I turned on the GPS. The GPS gave me a stern, straight, geometrical, manmade line to follow, and I obeyed. I should have obeyed the water.
I don't know how to do the math on the reservoir versus the refuge, if there is such math. We can't have a city if we can't have reservoirs. I also know that we can always build things, always impose straight lines on land. But how could we ever invent a place like this, so complex, so beautiful, so powerful that it can take our lines away from us?