The world is heavy right now. There is not much that I can do, other than what I’m already doing, so we decided on Monday to take a hike to Robbers Cave State Park – a park that has a long family history for me and thus why I usually avoid it. When we entered the park I felt many mixed emotions.
Robber’s Cave State Park is well known for being a rumored hideout for outlaws such as Jesse James, Belle Starr, and the Dalton gang. It would have been the area of Indian Territory that Rooster Cogburn (of the book True Grit) most likely traveled and which Hollywood filmed as looking like California. Tip: It does not look like California.
This park holds some of my earliest memories, from between the ages of five and eight. It was a place that my parents and four siblings visited during summer vacation and it provokes deep flashbacks for me.
Before you turn up the road to the heart of the park, there is a small trail that cuts through the forest to the cabins. I remember after swimming at the pool walking that trail with my brother Daniel. Trudging up the slope in the woods, with a wet bathing suit and towel slapping our backs, we startled a deer, causing us all to start running!
The memory of my sister Lisa, trying to encourage us up the long walk back to the cabins by teaching us Girl Scout songs; I only remember the Ants are Marching. This sister I remember being patient. But how she must have hated being saddled with two young siblings with short legs that made that walk seem like a military expedition to Timbuktu!
These trivial events stand clear in my memories of Robber’s Cave.
Now we drive up using a car, while others in the park use golf carts to climb the drive that winds and winds. I can’t imagine walking this at age seven!
We pull up to the park office to go to the bathroom and to get a map of the hiking trails. There I point out to my partner of 30 years, Acwudu, that the area next to the office was once fenced off and contained deer. As a child I remember standing at the wire fence fascinated by these magical creatures with their slender legs, huge ears, and sweet noses.
When we stayed at the cabin, the free deer in the park would show up in the evening, going from campsite to campsite, begging for snacks. We happily gave them Fritos, a corn chip. This of course is the worst wildlife management you can imagine, but it was in the sixties and early seventies and I loved it (especially as I didn’t like Fritos).
I think one licked my hand, but that could be a false memory.
It was one of the many things about this park that reminds me that what happened once, isn’t the same viewed from the perspective of an adult.
We do a quick reconnaissance of the bottom area of the park that fronts the lake. Here is still a nature center, rentals for paddle boats, and the swimming pool.
I had a fear of swimming in water whenever my feet couldn’t touch bottom so I would edge along the pool, holding onto the side, smelling the chlorine, and hearing the splish-splash of the water as it went down the trough drain. Turning my head and closing my eyes as people would dive-bomb into the pool near me.
It was a time when you wore a white bathing cap with fake flowers on it, because you were told if you didn’t have a bathing cap on the drain would suck in your hair, trap and drown you. Or that was the story you were told and you dutifully put on the cap.
I would wrap my arms around my father’s neck and my mother, eyes just above the water, her hair still bright red, would pretend to be a crocodile. She’d swim after us and I would shriek (in mock fear) so my father would take me into the deeper end to keep me safe from such a ferocious beast.
Robber’s Cave makes me think of that duality of my father’s nature: the care and love he could give only some of us versus the fear his unpredictable anger instilled in all of us.
This summer there is water in the pool but it appears to be closed.
Near the pool is the lake where you could take paddle boats out. I never really trusted these as a kid. And it added another layer of fear of lakes, drowning, and not being able to stand safely on my own two feet.
My legs were short and my older brothers would take me out, me seated between them. They would tease me by paddling us out across the water getting to close for my comfort to where the drop off of the dam was. What if we went over?
I didn’t know if they wouldn’t plunge us over to drown. I’m pretty there teasing started me crying hysterically – casual cruelty was going to continue as I grew older. It was part of their revenge upon me and what my father taught them: be tough, be callous, and already ready to attack.
We decide to do some of the hiking trails that start from the parking lot near the cave. I don’t bother with seeing the cave; I’ve seen it many times. Instead, we take Rough Canyon blue trail and head off with walking sticks.
The trails were developed by the CCC probably sometime in the mid-1930’s-1940’s. The map I’m holding probably hasn’t been changed in 50 years.
I know this because I once worked for the state forestry in a cooperative agreement with the state tourism department. The only thing the state department of Oklahoma Tourism wants is your money through cabins and lodging. They give little care or attention to the trails and it shows. A group of hikers just returning talk to us in the parking lot about getting lost (something we are going to experience this day).
This cottonwood (on the right) likes to grow near water. It has a distinctive leaf color and branching that can be recognized from afar. Settlers and travelers across the plains would look for it as a guide to tell them where to find a water since it tolerates wet conditions and thus grows along creeks and river beds. It’s a very useful tree and has many legends among Native Americans.
On the path, I spot this harmless Northern Greensnake. It tried to convince us that he was just a blade of grass by swaying its raised head in rhythm to the blade of grass above its head.
Further down the trail we let a group of children pass (hopefully the snake skedaddled before their noisy arrival).
It always irritates me when parents let their kids run through the woods as if it is a playground or their backyard. As a former Girl Scout I just feel it disrespects nature. I am tempted to tell them that their shouts scared away a deer, but I keep quiet until the mom at the back of the group, panting and red, asks me how they can get back to the cave and parking area.
What a lucky break! I tell them there is a branch off coming up and to turn right (I didn’t let onto the fact we planned on turning left).
Quieter now we continue until we pass a large rock, which comes to the top of my thigh. It seems to be an important rock. The boulder had caught my attention. It’s upright appearance gave me the feeling of a monolithic stone you might find in a ceremonial circle. It commanded attention.
In passing it, I tell Acuwdu he might want to stop to talk to it. He talks to stuff using energy and Reiki on a shamanistic path (no he’s not a shaman).
I step further down the trail to give him peace to communicate. When he comes up later he is shaking his hands out, trying to dispel the energy from the stone. It had refused communication, but gave an intense feeling of cold with deep roots. When the coldness traveled to his upper arms he pulled away, not wanting to go further with his explorations.
We stop at the stream so he can thoroughly wash off the energetic residue.
Further along and a stream we must cross also catches my attention. I suggest he also talk with it. It is dreaming of when it was swollen with rain, sweeping all before it.
This is a pattern among our walks – something catches my eye or stops me and I ask him to take a look. Today, I realize that most of the things I notice are those that have a darker aspect, something that has an undercurrent of threat or harm to others in its nature.
There is no doubt in my mind these are survival tactics I learned early in my life.
When we get down to play in a large stream, Acuwdu tells me there are happy water spirits playing.
That tells you a lot about our different personalities in a nutshell.
More thoughts, details and photos about this trip will be posted in my NEW Facebook group – Byrd’s Book Nest. It’s a private group where I will share new videos, inside news, Facebook live sessions, and some giveaways!