Our story begins in a place called “Hill Country” in a state known as Texas, where a beautiful river runs through a very old and ancient forest with giant Cypress trees that have been reported to be over a 1000 years old. She’s surrounded by mountains and rocky terrain and she’s fed by majestic mountain springs whose waters were are so pure and clear that you can see right through them down the very bottom of her river bed. Every fish and every plant that called her home have no trouble seeing the sun during the day or the moon at night. Her waters shimmer and sparkle brightly in the sun in a way that most rivers can’t even imagine doing and she was so cool and refreshing that she was christened with the name ‘Frio’ the Spanish word for ‘cold’.
Frio has two sister rivers, Leona and Sabinal. Her sister Sabinal runs through a town that was named after her and also through a park called Lost Maples. People come from all around to swim and play in her waters, camp on her river’s edge and hike through Lost Maples park to see the incredible sites like the limestone grottos, a famous monkey-shaped rock formation and in the fall, the beautiful gold, orange, and red foliage on the bigtooth maples all throughout the park. Leona, she is a different kind of river. No one really plays in her. Her waters are rich in minerals so you can’t can’t see through them like Frio’s and Sabinal’s. They’re mainly used for irrigation and agriculture purposes, including croplands and pasturelands in the local area. Leone is a very proud, very loyal river and she works hard to make sure to supply the very best water to the farmers who depend on her.
On the day of our story, it’s a late spring morning, and little Frio is especially sad. She’s been thinking about the conversation she had with Sabinal that morning who had been excited about the upcoming months and all of the visitors that would soon arrive to come swim and play in her waters. Frio and Sabinal enjoyed this time of year so much and they always planned early on how best to prepare their river edges for the guests.
There’s a lot of cleaning to do along the river, all the fall and winter debris needs to be swept up and sent over to Leona who will make quick work in breaking it all down into minerals for her water that will benefit all the farmer’s crops. The town’s people also play their role in making sure any man-made trash is picked up as well, not that anyone really litters around these parts, but sometimes the winds can blow things around and make a bit of mess. When each of them does their part, the area is a picture perfect site that welcomes everyone from new guests to families who have been coming here for generations. Every year it has gone off like clockwork.
Frio just loves having all the guests come and play in her waters, even as she thought about it, she made a happy little whirlpool. When she finished, however, she realized two things. The first was that she had accidentally caught a little fish in her whirlpool and made him dizzy. She giggled a little as she created a gentle current around the fish to help steady him as he swam. Watching him swim away and pick up speed, the second thing, a much sadder thought weighed heavy on her mind.
She had been listening to her sister talk about a place called a ‘theme park’ and she sort of knew that these were mammoth sized parks where families went on adventures to ride big machines that made them scream and sometimes made them dizzy. She knew about particular parks that were run by a mouse which she thought was absolutely hilarious. Never in her long, long life had she ever met a mouse who could pick up a large stick much less build an entire machine, but apparently, this mouse did. People loved this mouse, especially children, and they would travel far and wide and spent a lot of time and what they called money to go and see him.
When Sabinal told Frio about these parks, she worried that people would not want to come back to Rio Frio, as the locals called it. Why would they want to when this mouse, who must be magic, could build machines that swing them around and make them spend all there time and, what was that word again..oh yes, money? How sad everyone would be if no one came back to visit them and play in Sabinal’s waters and in Frio’s waters or go to parks with monkey rocks or even her park, Garner State Park, that has so many wonderful things to offer, like Old Baldy or the summer jukebox dances.
Frio wasn’t paying attention as she flowed, she was thinking hard about her situation and worrying when she accidentally grew her current too strong and swept all the leaves clean off of one of the oldest and wisest Cypress tress who was dipping his branch in her waters as he stretched.
“Hey,” he shouted in a big burly voice, “you’re mighty strong this morning! I’m bald on this side now. What’s the matter, did you think you were down in the rapids?”
“I’m so sorry, Rooty! I didn’t see you there, guess I got lost in thought. Oh, look at your poor branch,” Frio exclaimed. She couldn’t believe what she had just done. She gathered the leaves back in her current and tried to hand them to the 1,000-year-old, majestic tree who looked at her with a mix amusement and concern.
“Don’t worry about those, little Frio, I’ll grow them back, let them go and help feed Leona’s waters. But tell me, what’s wrong, little one? I’ve never seen you like this and I’ve known you since you were a stream trying your best to water my roots,” he laughed at the memory. “How can I help?”
“I’m not sure you can,” said Frio. “Well, err, actually, have you ever heard of a theme park?”
The gentle giant of tree scratched his bark with his bare branch and finally spoke, “Yes, I have actually. I’ve heard talk of them for years. A lot of trees have been cut down to make room for the land needed for them. These parks can only have certain trees, in certain places and from what I’ve been told, the trees are all misplanted. Not one of them grows there naturally. I also heard that, and I just can’t believe it’s true, but I heard that they grow some of the trees in pots!”
Rooty shivered at the thought of it. “Poor trees. I mean a tree growing in a pot has to be the most undignified thing I’ve ever heard of” he bellowed. Then he gathered his composure.
“Why do you ask?” he inquired.
“Sabinal has heard that there is a magical mouse who created a theme park where there are big machines that swing folks around and they spend a lot of their time and money to take their families there and if that’s true that what will become of us, Rooty?” Frio cried. “I just don’t think I could stand it if no one played in our waters anymore! I just couldn’t stand it!”
“Frio, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. We’re a wonderfully unique place that their human money can’t buy. Have a little faith and see, everything will be just fine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to start growing these leaves back before the guests start arriving. I don’t want to be known as the half-bald Bald Cypress tree now do I? The other trees wouldn’t let me live that down for the next millennia!” Rooty straightened his branch towards the sun but not before giving one more reassuring smile to Frio before turning away.
Frio thought about what Rooty said, and felt a little guilty about his leaves. She hoped he would have everything regrown before all the guests arrived. She made a mental note to check back on him every day. He was one of the wisest and kindest trees she knew and if he said there was nothing to worry about, well, he must be right.
Weeks passed and everyone in the parks and town, whether water, tree, animal, or human all worked hard to make the area ready for the visitors who were due to arrive at any moment.
Spring was the season when the hikers and birdwatchers loved to camp and trek through the parks, mountains, trails and around the rivers just to see the blooming of wildflowers and to catch a photo of the green jays and wood ducks who were always excited about being the center of attention. The birds and animals would spend weeks preening and practicing poses for when their pictures where being taken. Even the white-tailed deer, raccoons and fox squirrels could be seen preening themselves when they woke up and before the camera-wielding hikers started their daily journeys through the area to get their ‘perfect shot’.
It was a time of excitement and happiness around the rivers and late spring was just the beginning of it. Oh how Frio loved this time of year, how she cherished it! She vowed this year would be the very best year for all the guests, yes, she would make sure everything was in tip-top shape for all the guests.
It was at the very moment she heard it, the distinct sound of cars, it was the same sound she heard every year at the start of vacation season. Frio panicked! Was she ready? She felt there was so much more to do! She had to compete with this magic mouse, but she was out of time, because there they were, the first of the many visitors to come for the season.
What will our little river do? Will she succeed in keeping the families that have come here for so many generations happy? Will she lose them all to the mouse and his machines?
Watch for Part II this Friday, May 4th to read what happens.