The Warmth of the Frio

The Rio Frio came by its name honestly. Spring-fed, shallow and clear, it’s a cold river: perhaps the coldest in Texas.  It can slow to a trickle in summer heat, and, when in flood, puts roadways underwater in a flash.  But if the Frio is flowing well, singing steadily over the rocks, its coursing is pure pleasure.

Other Texas rivers — particularly the Guadalupe, the Comal, and the San Marcos — are famed as venues for kayaking and tubing, but they flow through urban centers. When the season ends and river rats dry off for a final time, there still are dance halls and concerts, festivals, antique shops, and galleries to entertain the crowds.

Along the Frio, things are different.  As the weather turns and school begins, provisioning companies shutter their doors until spring.  Families continue to gather at Garner State Park for weekends of camping and fishing, and birders flock into the valley to track the autumn migration. Hunters fan out into ranchlands in pursuit of whitetail, while autumn bikers test themselves against the famous hairpin turns and steep grades of the “Twisted Sisters.”  Still, the pace of life begins to slow. As it does, the Frio and her people show a different face to the world: a face filled with unexpected beauty and warmth.

I first met the Rio Frio at Concan, a community founded in the mid-1800s.

In 1965, Jean McNair McFadin, great grand-daughter of Charles Taylor and Almira Johnson McNair, explained the unusual name of the town in a paper for her history class at Sabinal High School:

Nestled where the stately cypresses grow tallest and the Frio River, true to it’s Spanish name, runs the deepest and coldest, is the small hill country community of Con Can. No one now living seems to remember how the name, Con Can, came into being, but old timers vaguely recall a Mexican card game, “Coon Con,” which might have been the derivative.

Concan always has been small, and never incorporated.  In 1884, the population had swelled to about 150. By the late 1920s, only 20 remained, but as word spread about the natural beautfy of the area, tourists began to arrive. In 1939, Concan had grown to 75 residents. The same number populated the town when I first visited in the mid-1990s. Today, helped along by even more tourism, the community has grown, claiming 225 residents in 2000, and perhaps even more today.

The View from the Front Steps  ~ Click for greater size, clarity

Over the past decade, my home-away-from-home in Concan has been a small cabin tucked well away from human activity. Occasionally, the sound of a chainsaw carries on the air, or a snatch of conversation between hikers in the woods. Otherwise, there is only the land — ashe juniper and mountain laurel, live oak, sumac, agarita and prickly pear — and the creatures it supports — whitetail deer, raccoon, possum, and a variety of birds.

Cedar and stone: the essence of Hill country life ~ Click to enlarge

The cabin sits about two miles from the nearest primary road, but it’s only 20 feet to the nearest deer trail. The deer manage to move through the dense brush without a sound. They no doubt listen to my thrashing about and say, “City folk, again.”

Tasajillo (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) ~ Click to enlarge

Still, even with the deer keeping their distance, there are delights aplenty in the hills. Tasajillo is abundant. Also known as Christmas cactus, it differs substantially from the Schlumbergera cultivars we commonly call Christmas cactus. Equally colorful, it’s far more prickly, and its tiny glochids can take up to a week to work their way out of fingers.

The Great Hill Country Whaizzit ~ Click to enlarge

Not everything I found was familiar. Some day, an enterprising botanist will publish a plant guide focused solely on seed cases, withered leaves and desiccated stalks. For now, this interesting plant will remain unidentified, until some hours with the books (or a savvy reader) provides a more accurate name.

A Texas Substitute for Snow? ~ Click to enlarge

Of course there wasn’t snow in the hills, but there was an unusual amount of white. Brush clearing had left some patches of prickly pear exposed, and it’s possible their unusual color is due to sunburn. Even some of the grasses had a wintry appearance, a beautiful contrast to the russet and golds of their companions.

Dreaming of a White Grass Stalk ~ Click to enlarge

Eventually, cactus and cedar give way to cypress: a sure sign that water is near. In a good year, the range of color among the trees can be extraordinary: from deep russet to a shimmering, golden orange.

On the Way to the River ~ Click to enlarge
Bushy Bluestem: Life on the Edge ~ Click to enlarge
Green to Gold to Red ~ Click to enlarge
Stone-skipping Heaven ~ Click to enlarge
A Red Line in the Land ~ Click to enlarge
Avant Crossing Grove ~ Click to enlarge

Several crossings help to make the river accessible for those who left their kayaks at home. Near the Avant crossing, I found this stand of exceptionally tall cypress, whose already-falling needles allowed for lacy shadows, and a grove suffused with light.

Not far from Avant crossing lies the Concan cemetery, resting place of several members of the Avant family, including Susan, who lived from 1807 to 1889.

   The Grave of Susan Avant

When the bridge at the Avant camp washed out, it was the Neal family who donated land for a new road and crossing.

One of the Earliest of the Neal Clan

Clara Neal’s gravestones make clear that “carved in stone” doesn’t necessarily guarantee reliability. What isn’t in question is the role some of her descendents played in the founding of Concan’s best-known lodge.

Tom Neal and his wife, Vida, founded Neal’s in 1926, and succeeded for the same reason they continue to thrive today:

As city folk looked for getaways, Concan drew the attention of those looking for the quiet life of the “olden days” – no phones, no radios, no newspapers, no outside world worries. Often guests would stay a week, a month, or a whole summer. Some would bring their maids, butlers, and nannies to assist in the pursuit of a carefree holiday.

By 1954, tbe year Tom Neal died, there were 21 cabins. In the 1970’s, thanks in part to publicity about their great swimming hole, traffic picked up, and the number of cabins increased to 61.

Today, Neal’s store is as well-known for their wifi connection as for camping equipment. While I chose to forego the pleasures of computing on this trip, I’ve spent my own share of time there, drinking coffee and browsing the web or returning emails.

Click the image for a fuller history of the Neal family’s lodge, and more historic photos

Never Mind the Dates ~ Some Men Know What’s Important

One of the more intriguing stones in the Concan cemetery belongs to Lynn Davis. Born October 26, 1897, on the Bob Thompson Ranch north of Utopia, he died in Uvalde in 1977. Married to Sarah Ruth Stitts in 1920, he raised a family,but above all else, he was a trapper.

His stone no doubt says all that needs saying, except for this: he was buried in a panther hide vest made from a creature he tracked, killed, and skinned himself.

I’m convinced that every Texas cemetery has its Germans, and Concan is no exception. Ida and Fritz Rimkus chose a German translation of the familiar, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” for each of their stones.

Fritz Rimkus ~ Pillar of the Community ~ Click for a full-sized view of his stone

A number of Rimkus family tales were recorded during a Concan and Bear Creek School reunion some years ago:

The Caddel family had moved to Con Can from Tarpley, Texas in 1901 and two of the older sons, Jim and Henry, bought seven acres of land from Jim Robinson at $25 an acre, and established a general store to serve the growing community.
The store also served the area as post office and was located just west of the school house. Charlie Moody, the teacher, with his knowledge of mathematics, assisted the Caddel brothers in determining pitch and cutting the rafters for the new store.
Fritz Rimkus volunteered to buy the old school building and moved it to his home place, where it was added to his house as a bedroom. Will Robinson bought the wood heater.
The progressive spirit was evident in many ways in the canyon. The Fritz Rimkus family proudly displayed their new 1910 Willys Overland Touring Car, complete with canvas top and isinglass side curtain…
It was hard to believe that only a year before a black bear was killed on the very trails that cars were then whizzing along. They reached the dangerous speed of seventeen miles an hour on a straight stretch of road, with a downhill slant and strong tail wind.

The same Will Robinson who bought the wood stove from the old school building also served as School Trustee. A member of the famous Texas Frontier Battalion during the late 1800s, he no doubt had learned a thing or two about serving.

The double markers at his grave bookend an interesting chapter in Texas history. In 1870, the Texas Ranger Frontier Forces were formed: companies of 25-75 men authorized to deal with “marauding or thieving parties.” After a series of consolidations, the Frontier Forces were replaced in 1874 by the Frontier Battalion (Frontier BN). The Batallion had 21 fights with Indians. Then, from September, 1875 to February, 1876, no new threats appeared along the border guarded by the Battalion.

In 1901, the Frontier Battalion was reorganized as the Ranger Force and then, in 1935, the Ranger Force was transferred to the Texas Department of Public Safety: a move which eventually gave rise to Walker, Texas Ranger.

As I leave the cemetery ahead of the lowering sun, every path seems connected to the river. A few miles south of Neal’s Lodge, the Frio seeps down into the limestone, flows beneath the surface, then emerges, disappears, and surfaces again near Uvalde. Upstream from Avant crossing, patches of sunlight bloom like lilies above the tumbled riverbed, and I wonder: might Susan Avant or Clara Neal have seen it as I do, a perfect complement to Monet’s Le bateau-atelier?

Waiting for Monet ~ Click to enlarge

Like the generations it has sustained, the river and its land present a variety of faces to the world. From place to place and season to season, change is constant: the variety breathtaking.

Among the dusky cypress, a bit of lingering green goes its determined way.

A Different Sort of Change ~ Click to enlarge

Amid late afternoon shadows, a few free-spirited cypress seem to have waded out into the water.

Swamp shadows at a Texas river’s edge ~ Click to enlarge

Finally, at the river’s edge, I find the unceasing tumble and flow of the water that quenches my thirst carrying on its current words capable of eliciting a deeper thirst, for insight and for thought: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Is Heraclitus right? Perhaps. Surely, I’m far from the same person who first stepped into the Rio Frio. When next I meet this river, which of us will have changed the more?

Only time will tell.

The River, Running Through It ~ Click to enlarge




99 thoughts on “The Warmth of the Frio

  1. The Hill Country is full of surprises…land formations, vegetation, cemeteries, and boulder formations that stun the senses. While I spent a fair amount of time wandering through the land closer to Austin, I never made it south to Concan. Got as far as Kerrville and drove through Junction, but not south. Thanks for this journey.

    1. Here’s a tidbit for you, Janet. Highway 83, that intersects I-80 in Junction, is the 5th longest north/south highway in the US. I’ve driven the northern end, and the southern, but there’s a whole lot of territory in between still to cover. Not only that, 83 will take you right to Concan.

      The Hill Country is wonderful, but the variety across Texas generally is pretty special.I took the really long way round to get to Concan this time, and stopped by a place I’ve never been: Three Rivers, where the Atascosa, Frio and Nueces Rivers join. Fun times.

      1. That is a surprising tidbit. I looked it up and found that in spite of stretching all the way from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, US 83 doesn’t have the cachet of Route 66, or any cachet at all that I’m aware of.

        I checked the map and determined I’ve been on the highway in three places: where you were in the Hill Country, in Laredo, and on the stretch that’s concurrent with I-10 near Junction. I’ve crossed it in a few other places.

        83 is a prime number.

        1. Here’s another prime tidbit for you. Highway 83 runs right past Ingrid’s Handwoven Rugs in Paint Rock, Texas, where I purchased a rug and was given my sweet little puff of buffalo fluff. If you happen to head that way to see the pictographs, I think you’d enjoy a stop at Ingrid’s.

          One of the most amusing lines in the TSHAonline article about Paint Rock is the note that it’s “about twenty-one miles northeast of Eden.” Years ago, I bumped into a meme called Failed Book Titles. “Northeast of Eden” would be a worthy addition.

          1. Ah, then the chances are good that I was on US 83 up there too because I visited Paint Rock about a dozen years ago. I’d like to go back with my current camera equipment. That’d take me northwest of Austin (which is some people’s idea of Eden).

  2. I’ve never made it to Concan, Linda. So I had to look it up. Most of my Texas journeys have taken me further to the north. I drove over 90 once, though, on my way to Big Bend National Park where Peggy and I spent a very pleasant Christmas. That’s as close as I got. Your photographs make the area look quite inviting, however. I think your mystery tree might very well be an oak given the oak balls and leaves.


    1. You’d love the place, Curt, You’d especially enjoy the kayaking. Granted, it’s not quite as wild as the last place you visited, No orcas in the Frio! But it’s a beautiful place, especially if you schedule a trip to miss the height of the “let’s tie up a few beer coolers to our tubes and run the river” crowd.

      I thought at first that I’d found some oak galls. Then, I decided I hadn’t because there were literally hundreds of them. Now, I’ve just done a little more reading, and it seems that hundreds of galls wouldn’t be out of the question, especially if no preventative measures had been taken. If I’d been thinking, I would have brought some home for further examination. But I wasn’t thinking. I was on vacation!


  3. You should submit this post to Texas Highways, and your lovely pictures with it. Sounds like you had a restorative getaway, and dodged the hurlyburly of that one holiday.

    1. We had everything necessary for a good Thanksgiving, WOL, including pecan pie. Woman may not live by pecan pie alone, but she can come close.

      I unplugged so completely that getting plugged back in took a little effort. But yes, it was restorative. I’m glad you like the photos. I learned a few things about my camera — mostly after the fact, to my chagrin. No matter. I brought home a few photos I really like, and that’s a good feeling.

  4. This is a beautifully written and illustrated piece! I enjoyed the photos and the thought of such a peaceful place and its history. There is clearly a lot of romance evidenced in that part of the country!

    1. I thought about you from time to time, montucky. My trails weren’t your trails, but the roads of the Three (Twisted) Sisters rival any mountain driving I’ve done in other states. I’d hoped to find autumn color on the hills, but the cypress more than made up for any lack in that regard. If the oaks had turned, the cypress might well have passed their prime. I suspect they’re like the larch. When they decide it’s time for a needle drop, it can happen fast.

      I had to limit myself, so the wonderful stories of early Con Can and its one-room school had to wait until later. It might tickle you to know that Edwin Rimkus, whom I take to be one of Fritz’s sons, caused complete havoc one day by taking a tick to school and turning it loose. After the poor teacher checked every child, he confessed his misdeed, and was properly “rewarded” with a few swats!

  5. Very nice Linda. Your photos are great. The combination of cameras, phones, lenses that attach to phones, tablets etc. has left me spinning in a loop of trying to figure out how to just get back to a simple photo of the day routine. Next year for sure!

    Your trip away and the summary here was wonderful!

    1. I’m so glad to hear you might go back to that life-on-the-ranch series, Daniel. I always enjoyed it. I thought about you yesterday when I bumped into a discussion of box elder bugs. Give the tree my regards!

      As you may remember, my Canon Powershot died on last year’s vacation. I replaced it with a truly cheap Canon point-and-shoot from WalMart, but finally got a better replacement. I decided against a DSLR for the time being, and chose a Canon GX1 Mark II. I figure by the time I learn how to use it, the mirrorless will have a track record and I can consider them when it’s time for a camera with swappable lenses.

      In any event, I was pleased with my learning curve on this trip. I brought home about 400 photos, dumped 200 right away, and then another 50. I’d say the good “vacation reminders” number about 50, and what I’d call real keepers about 20. That’s good enough for me.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my little travelogue. I certainly enjoyed the travel.

    1. What a great piece, Steve. I hadn’t done any further searches about the community’s name, so this is a useful addition. It’s interesting that there’s no mention of Con Can in the article. Maybe I should put “learn how to edit a wiki page” on my to-do list.

  6. I’m so glad you had a nice vacation.I love the area that you have written about. .Many years ago my husband, I and, the kiddos drove sort of through that area and I was intrigued. It has a natural beauty that I really like. This was a great PR of the area. You should be hired by Texas Highways.

    1. It’s a wonderful place for families, Yvonne. Like the various camps around Hunt and Ingram on the Guadalupe, the generations just keep coming back. I tend to avoid the area during the summer, because of the crowds. Otherwise, it’s a fine, friendly place, and a great base for exploring. There are great parks, Lost Maples, even more rivers and interesting, historic towns.

      Here’s a tidbit I love. The oldest continuously-operating Rexall drug store in the country is in Uvalde. It was established in 1883, and you still can get a real malt there at the lunch counter. Real milk, real ice cream, and real malt powder. No whipped chemical treats for those folks!

    1. It’s such a lovely song, Gallivanta, and I’ve never heard Judy Collins sing it. I especially liked the slight splash of water at the end. I managed to capture a short video of the Frio running, and it’s delightful listening. Along with the Sabinal, and certain of the creeks in the area, it’s some of the most accessible water I know.

      Perhaps we could do a slight revision of the old hymn: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our clutter, mental and otherwise, away”!

        1. I hadn’t thought about it until you raised the issue, but I can’t remember seeing one bit of trash on my trip: not on the river, not at the parks, not along the roads. In various towns you would see an occasional aluminum can or whatever, but the river was absolutely clean. I didn’t see any debris at all in the river, or along the banks, even at the crossings where people might gather.

          Part of the reason may be their serious campaign to keep things clean. Everywhere you go, there are free yellow mesh litter bags available. I just pulled one out. It has a label that says, “Litter bag courtesy of Friends of the Frio, First State Bank of Uvalde, and the Texas Hill Country River Region. Funding is through the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board.

          They’re made for use on water as well as land. Tubers can tie one on and put their empty cans in it as their float along, and campers or hikers can use them, too.

          It’s really touching to think back and realize how pristine everything was. Clearly, the folks in that area are doing something right.

          1. That’s very heartening to know. Our council in its wisdom decided to remove bins from most of our parks as a way to encourage people to take away their trash. I am not sure how well their strategy is working. Litter bags sound like a good alternative.

  7. A superb article with some truly beautiful photography. I love those colours along the Frio and that ‘Monet’ style image is a winner. I would never have thought that country like this would be found in Texas. (that just goes to show how ignorant I am of the State and the false impressions created by old B&W westerns of my long-forgotten youth). I can imagine the simple pleasures of spending time out there, totally divorced from tall the modernities of life. It’s the same pleasure I find up high on a summer’s day, walking the hills and often going the entire day without another human in sight.

    1. Andy, dare I laugh at your use of the phrase “false impressions created by old B&W”? Of course you’re talking about film, and old film at that. But it did make me chuckle a bit in the context of recent discussions about color or b&w on your blog.

      Texas is known for “big,” but many people don’t realize how varnied it is. I imagined it all sagebrush, emaciated cattle, and oil wells before I moved here. When I flew into Houston for the first time, from the east, and saw nothing but pine trees, I was astonished.

      The pleasures of such a setting are worth cherishing, particularly when they’re enhanced by perfect weather. The only problem I had with so much sunshine was capturing a good sky. The blue often was “off” — but I think I know the reasons, and I’ll do some experimenting this week, since we have roughly the same conditions.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. It was delightful being there, but it was just as much fun doing some research once I’d come home. I will confess that the impressionistic photo of the river gave me a bit of a start when I realized what I’d captured. If I could keep only one image from the trip, that would be it.

    1. Bella, I only succumbed to the lure of tecnology once, when I called the kitty-sitter to be sure Dixie Rose was coping. If a friend hadn’t had her ATT smart phone with her, even that wouldn’t have been possible. There’s a huge gap in Verizon coverage out that way: no data, no voice. I thought things might have improved over the past couple of years, but no. When I got home, and checked Verizon’s covereage map, it might as well have said, “Here Be Dragons” in the middle of that big white space.

      I’m glad you like the photos. I ran into a photographer who said he always asks the trees to smile for him. I gave it a try, and it might have worked.

  8. Your photos are wonderful! I’m afraid I haven’t had a very favorable impression of Texas until reading this. My sole memories of your adopted state are dealing with Houston sprawl on a working trip with my husband in the mid-70s when I was 20 and had no car to drive for two weeks, and was stuck in a hotel every day. I walked to a Kmart nearby (they probably thought I was homeless), and ate at the same restaurant for lunch every day (they had really good beef stew.)

    Another one is many years later, when we drove across Texas from Baton Rouge (where we were living) to Colorado Springs with three kids in a van, pulling a pop-up camper. They only restaurants we could find were Dairy Queens. ‘Nuff said.

    My other memory is also when we lived in Baton Rouge. For a little backstory you should know that I’m terrified of bridges, especially BIG tall bridges that hump up in the middle. There were nightmares. That’s all I’m sayin’. Anyway, I was driving our van with three other women on a trip to Six Flags with my daughter’s middle school choir.

    We were about ten miles outside of Beaumont when my friend Carla got a horrified look on her face, and said, “Susan, do you know about the bridge at Beaumont?”

    “Bridge? What bridge?” I immediately started panicking.

    “Get off at the next exit!” Carla practically shouted. “Someone else has to drive!”

    So I did, and one of the others, who had no clue, and who was somewhat disbelieving, took over. I believe she snickered a little. As we approached and got close enough to see the bridge in the distance, I went into full-blown panic attack at the sight. I literally had to close my eyes until we made it to the other side. Thank God there was wine in the car. And guess who drove back home? Not me.

    So, hopefully your wonderful travelogues will change my feelings about Texas, and I might even visit there again someday.

    Do they fly fish in the Frio? Because that would be a draw for David. He loves rivers. I caught your little reference to “A River Runs Through It.” One of his favorite movies, by the way.

    Finally (boy, this was long-winded!), I think there are Germans in every cemetery. :)

    1. I’ve come to love Texas, Susan, and if I can help dispel a prejudice here and there, nothing makes me happier. We might have been here at the same time. I first lived in Houston in 1973-74. If you think it was sprawly then, you should see it now. Oh, my goodness. It’s so big that the personal column ads specify geographic location. For example: “WSM, 42, seeks SF, 20-40, inside Loop 610 only.” What a world.

      Your story about the bridge brought back some memories. My aunt is fearful about bridges, and my mom had no time for water. The day I drove them across Lake Pontchartrain was no picnic. I have no idea why we would have driven that bridge. It may just have happened.

      I’m not sure if there’s fly fishing in the Frio, but there certainly is in Texas. Here’s a little bait for you. I do know that the state of Texas stocks rivers and streams. I ran across a fellow fly fishing for trout at a Guadalupe River crossing outside Kerrville, and he’d been having fine luck.

      Speaking of bait, I knew someone would bite on “A River Runs Through It.” I just didn’t know who it would be!

  9. Loved the pictures, especially the ones by the river (life on the edge etc.) sounds and looks like the perfect place to recalibrate the soul. You mentioned pecan pie. You’d like my mom’s pies I’m guessing. Always brings a couple w/ her to our feast. Glad you had a good trip! DM

    1. Brushy bluestem is one of my favorite grasses, and it was fun to see so much of it around. It certainly seems to thrive there, along the river.

      I’m sure I’d like your mom’s pies, too. Has she ever made a black walnut pie? I can remember my grandmother producing those from time to time — depending on how many grandkids with hammers she’d coerced into husking and cracking the nuts for her.

      It was a great trip. And, just so you know — you’re not quite done hearing about it!

    1. He surely did, Steve. That photo is an unplanned, one-shot wonder. I turned around, saw the sunlight and thought, “That might make a nice photo.” So I took it. I didn’t even take a second or third view, and I didn’t know what I had until I got home. I thought it would be all surface, and didn’t consider the possibility that the riverbed would show so beautifully.

  10. With some digging, one can find interesting places like this. They are all over the world. Each has stories to tell. You have found some good ones. I see why you go back.

    The photos enlarged really enhanced the story. It looks like you were enjoying perfect conditions when you took them.

    1. Jim, the best thing about going back to the same place is that no place ever is the same. We meet someone new, we uncover a fact or two, we have a different experience. It all adds up to appreciation and understanding.

      It was a beautiful week. This is the second year in a row my autumn sojourn has been blessed with perfect weather. It was warm enough during the day to wander without a jacket, and quickly cold enough at night for a fire. And, oh — the stars! I was lucky enough to be there on a crescent moon, and there was no light pollution at all. It was glorious.

  11. I have been blue for a week (just got out of the hospital again Friday). Then I saw this piece. I was transformed to a beautiful place. It made me happy. What a gift. Thank you Ken

    1. Blue skies are great. Blue spirits? Not so much. I hope you’re feeling better each day, Ken, and I’m really glad you’re out of the hospital. Your appreciation makes me happy.

      It won’t be my next post, but soon I’ll have another for you about this area and one of its strangest creatures. I think it will give you a smile, too!


  12. What gorgeous photos, Linda — I’d forgotten that Texas, too, dons lovely colors for Fall (though in my defense, I never spent much time in the Hill Country).

    It sounds as if you had a peaceful, enjoyable visit. Perhaps we ALL should unplug now and then — if for no other reason, than to keep our sanity!

    When I was a kid, my family vacationed a week in Wisconsin. No phone, no TV. Just lots of fishing, communing with nature, and going to bed early! Looking back, it was delightful, a true refresher-of-the-senses, you know. And it was grand coming back to school with a sunburn on my face!

    1. We do have color, Debbie — and quite a variety of it, depending on which part of the state you visit, and at what time.

      It’s fascinating to read historical documents and memoirs from places like Concan. Even in the 1800s, people managed to get along. They built schools, started businesses, tended the sick and managed to feed and protect themselves, all without benefit of technology or government programs. So many people have allowed themselves to be persuaded they couldn’t survive without either or both, it’s verging on the pathetic. I’m happy as can be for the internet, digital cameras and cell phones, but I intend to stay in charge of their use. Unplugging now and then is part of that process.

      You went to Wisconsin, while we went to Minnesota,but it sounds very much the same: plenty of fishing, swimming, and just being in the woods. It was easy, and peaceful. In those days, people seemed more able to just “be,” without feeling guilty about it.

  13. Wonderful photos. Certainly nothing wrong or lacking in the looks of this autumn compared to the northern states. All areas have their own beauty, for sure.

    You had a really nice break!

    1. It was a splendid trip, Martha. I would have enjoyed it even if cloudy, rainy, and cold had been the order of the day, but it was sunny and warm the entire time. If it does turn truly cold this winter, I may go back for a couple of days in January, just to see how things are then. Each season has its own beauty, too.

      I’m glad you liked the photos. I’ve got much to learn when it comes to photography, but these seemed post-worthy.

    1. You’d love it, Becca. I forgot to mention that in the spring, Neal’s Lodge has a china painting program that brings in teachers from around the country. Various Audubon chapters come to the area for observation and workshops, too. There are a good many “fancy” places to stay in the area, with prices to match, but others, like Jim and Susan’s place, are very reasonable, especially in the off season (September-May).

  14. This beautifully constructed photo essay was filled with surprises, leading the reader onward by contributing to its strong sense of place and landscape. It must be the perfect vacation spot. Hats off to the Rio Frio!

    1. It’s a great area, Mary. In summer, it’s all families and college kids. Autumn brings hunters and leaf-peepers, and spring is for the birders. More than 150 species have been recorded there. I’m not so sure about winter, but I certainly have thought about giving it a try in late January this year, just to see what it’s like.

      I love that you found some surprises here. That means that, at least to a degree, my article caught some of the wonder of a very surprising place.

  15. Oh my goodness! Where do I start in the praise of stunning images? Those cypress trees in flame against the yellows and golds? The graceful trunks that prompt me to capture the lines w/rapid pencil? I paused at the mystery plant – the leaves look like a yaupon and the fruit looks like an old limon mandarina with a very bad case of mold and old age!

    I’ve been on a zig-zag journey along the equator and am finally back home, but w/o power and internet for the past week! ha, i’ve enjoyed living off the grid, and am catching up tonight from town!

    thanks for another lovely post!

    1. I suspect you’re back at the river by this time, Z, and perhaps imcommunicado again: at least for a time. As I recently was reminded, that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

      I looked at some oak galls today, and am even more convinced that, whatever the plant, it’s bearing galls rather than fruit. I need to start carrying a good knife, a hammer, and a magnifying glass with me — all in the spirit of scientific inquiry, you understand. (A side note: has the “Eye” been helpful in warding off “visitors”?)

      The roots of the trees in the “blue cypress” photo were large, and wonderfully tangled. They would have made a fine subject for your sketching. I’m anxious to see what treats you’ve brought us from your own travels.

      Your mention of zig-zagging along the equator reminded me of Mark Twain’s book, “Following the Equator.” On the frontispiece, he wrote, “Be good, and you will be lonesome.” That’s worth pondering on several levels, but I’ve always enjoyed what Jimmy Buffett did with it in his lyrics for “That’s What Livin’ Is to Me.”

      “Be good, and you will be lonesome.
      Be lonesome, and you will be free.
      Live a lie, and you will live to regret it.
      That’s what livin’ is to me…”

      And then the wonderful verse:

      “Spirit of the Black King still
      Reverberates through Haitian hills.
      He rules the sea and all the fish —
      what if he had a tv dish?”

      If you don’t have access to the song, you can find it here, on whichever evening you’re successful in firing up the colander!


      1. ugh.. just lost my reply!

        thanks so much – buffett’s talking and playing right now – a great send off from town as i head home. i spent one more night to get a bit more ahead via internet.

        be lonesome and you will be free – oh and the lessons we learn as we graduate to alone but not lonely, alone and strong!


  16. When I asked Rick about the Frio River, the first place he mentioned was Concan. “It’s by Concan.” I could scarcely believe he mentioned this little speck of a settlement you described. Just as it has left its impression on you it impressed him too, a long time ago.

    Your photographs are gorgeous. I’m envious that you are able to load them to click to enlarge one at a time. The only way I can get that to happen is if I create a tiled mosaic, not always the effect I want to achieve. Very nice job, Linda. The “Monet” appears to be just that! It’s a splendid capture of the water, reflections, and what’s floating on the surface, all so very still and calm.

    When we were first married, Rick had a dog named Val, named for Uvalde. He was careful to remind me he was not a she. I would get confused with a name like Val. After Val died, Rick had to buy some land between the the Frio and the Nueces. He settled on a piece by Leakey and Camp Wood where he and his dad who went in on the deal with him, used to camp in the fall. I never camped with him or them, but I still remember the wonderful cabins along the river and dreaming of owning one or staying at one some day. Well, we never bought one but we did invest in Daughter #2 going to camp in the Camp Circle along the Guadalupe. As she slept in her cabin, her father and I were just upstream in Hunt at the Hunter’s Lodge when we dropped her off, visited for tribe shows, the horse show or picking her up at the end of the summer term. Yes, our family has strong feelings for this part of the hill country as I have written about daughter’s time there from age 9 as a camper to 19 as a counselor.

    Thank you for this deep slice of Texas, as “authentic” as pecan pie in our area. I know you had a wonderful vacation.

    1. What wonderful reminiscences, Georgette. I’m getting the sense that Rick grew up in that area. There aren’t many people in the world who’d name a dog after Uvalde, or make easy reference to Camp Wood.

      I spent some time in Camp Wood on Thanksgiving day, and have a post planned about the historic missions in that area: San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz and Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. There’s more archaeology taking place there than I ever would have imagined. I knew about work around Indian middens, but not about the reconstructions taking place in Camp Wood. What a rich heritage we have.

      I remember you mentioned your daughter’s experience at camp when I wrote about “Camp Retro.” My recent retreat was structured very much like life at those camps: no electronics, plenty of outdoor activity, time for creativity, and tales around the fire at night. Always, the challenge is to incorporate those pleasures into daily life.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. I’ve never experimented with the various WordPress options, and I’m not even sure this theme of mine (old, creaky, no-longer-available from WP!) would support them. No matter, since I can do what I want to do through my personal URL and ftp server. And, since I tend to use photos as illustrations for writing, it works.

      Just for grins, here’s one more photo from Camp Wood, for Rick. I have no idea whether it’s apartments, or shops, or ??? It does look rather like Central America come to the Hill Country, and that could be exactly what it is: housing for immigrants who decided to spiff things up. In any event, it was a bright spot in the day.


  17. Wow. I would love to see this river and those cypresses some day. Perhaps I never have seen a cypress as I didn’t realize they had needles, and turned color in the fall. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Tandi, I don’t know much about other species of cypress, but these are gems. Some people call them swamp cypress or bald cypress; others call them upland, or dry, cypress. Honestly, in Texas and Louisiana at least, I think the common name depends mostly on where they’re growing. There are a few scattered around my place — but they don’t have a nice river to go with them.

      I’m thinking about going back in full winter, just to see what’s what. Maybe I could find some photos of the river for you with some ice!

      1. I havd lived by 2 different rivers in the wilderness, and I think its a wonderful place to be. They are corridors of life. Always so much to see. I hope you do get back in winter!

  18. What a great invitation to a lovely part of Texas I have never heard of. Your photos are so enticing, I’m sure many others will want to see it in person. Your “hide-away” sounds about perfect, and I know you must have had a wonderful vacation. ConCan sounds about the size my father would have liked. A good story Linda. I felt I had been there too.

    1. Kayti, when I was writing this, I found myself wondering if the Frio was included in the list of rivers in the famous “Texas River Song.” I sat down and listened, and discovered that the Frio, and it’s boon companion, the Sabinal, are not included!

      I suppose they just couldn’t fit them in, since the Pecos, Nueces, Guadalupe, Brazos, Red, Wichita, Trinity, Angelina, Colorado, San Antonio, Little, Sulphur, Sabine, and Neches all get mentioned in the song. Which is only to make your point: there always will be something new, quirky, interesting, or beautiful to see.

      I thought about you when I read about Neal’s Lodges hosting a china-painting workshop every year. They bring in instructors from around the country. You may even know some of them!

      I’m sure you know “The Texas River Song,” but here it is, anyway, in a wonderful version. It’s one of my favorite songs.


    1. You’d enjoy a lot about the area I didn’t even mention here, Sheryl. For example, some of the best cooks in the world are scattered around there — both men and women. I ran into a coconut cream pie that wasn’t to be believed, and some apple streudel that was out of this world. It’s a good thing I was mixing in some hiking with my visiting!

  19. Beautiful photos of a beautiful place. I’d love to see a photo of your little cabin too—it’s vivid in my imagination though.

    My knowledge of Texas is limited, mostly the stuff of legends. When we passed through Amarillo on our way to AZ, we stopped at a little diner and there was a sign over the door that said ‘please leave your weapons in the car’ or something like that. To me it was like saying Welcome to the West! We had never seen anything like that before, especially back east where they still have blue laws.

    So I forget that Texas is incredibly diverse in landscape, and the pictures remind me of the very thing I miss about the east—real trees with autumn colors, and the peace of forest and river. It looks like a wonderful place for clarity and renewal.

    Alternate universe indeed.

    1. Your wish is my command — here are some photos of the cabin and its interior. I’ve stayed in this one, but it’s not in use any more. The basics are the same in all of them, but the level of country cute can vary. What doesn’t vary is that fireplace, and the not-quite-endless but really substantial supply of wood. It’s wonderful.

      For years I would whine about the lack of color in the fall. Then, I learned that if I would just get off my cute little rear end and do some traveling, there was even more color here than in the Iowa I grew up in. In some ways it’s not quite as spectacular, if flaming hillsides are your thing. But the variety is greater, and it stretches out over a longer period of time.

      There’s something else about the area that I cherish — a quality that’s common to most of rural Texas, actually, That’s the friendliness. Pass someone on the road, and a smile and a wave are common. And the acid test? When I was driving those famous, twisting, steeply graded roads at the speed limit or a little less, the locals in their F350s who ended up behind me never, ever tailgated. In exchange for their courtesy, I always pull over if there’s a turnout, and let them pass. I think we call that civilization.


  20. This is an excellent and deep delving look at your “home away from home”, Linda. You have provided a great picture of this part of Texas that is not familiar to the majority of us folks who either have never been to the state or just visit the larger cities. Be careful or the area may become too popular. And, as Steve S. has been doing, the pictures reveal a much more colorful landscape that some might imagine.

    Your photograph of the colorful reflections in the river, that you compared to Monet’s painting, also reminds me of Eliot Porter’s Pool in a Brook, Pond Brook, Near Whiteface, New Hampshire, October, 1953

    1. I’m not too worried about it being overrun with visitors, Steve. In the summer, it certainly is, but that’s great for the people who make the bulk of their yearly income during “the season.” Now, the only dining room within 30 miles has hung out the “Closed Until March” sign, and the ratio of trucks to autos on the road has become about twenty to one. Quiet. Very quiet.

      I like Porter’s photo. Someone else had suggested that my photo might have been better had there been a focal point in it, like a leaf. I happen to prefer my photo as is, but I see the point, and it’s nicely illustrated by Porter’s work. On the other hand, while the photo might have been “better” with a leaf (or bird, or fish, or anything else), at the time, there weren’t any. So, I just took what was there!

      1. Possibly if you were to enter the shot in a competition, then yeah, something in the foreground might have been a boost in the judging. But who’s judging here? It’s a lovely image and very successful if it reminds of Monet or Porter. :-)

        That sounds like many summer places, Linda. The local businesses have to seize on the opportunity. We travel to Acadia N.P./Bar Harbor most years and the late spring to early fall makes or breaks the businesses there. Literally. Every year we notice new businesses and the absence of some that we visited previously. We visited one particular restaurant every year for their lobster rolls. They are gone now and the lobster rolls at other shops just aren’t as good. The shop turnover there is disappointing for us and, I am sure, quite devastating for those who gave it a try.

  21. I see you’ve made wonderful use of the one bit of technology you took with you — your new camera! The details and colors are beautifully composed through your eyes. I especially like the stone-skipping scene. Just glorious.

    1. It was wonderful fun, nikkipolani, and it simply couldn’t have been more perfect in terms of weather, color, and solitude. During the water sports season, people who live along the river can be a little touchy about intruders — understandably so. This trip, there were so few people about I felt comfortable ranging a little farther afield. Besides, there’s rather a difference between hordes of beer-drinking tubers, and a solitary person with a camera.

      I want you to know I skipped a stone or a dozen at that exact place. After a little practice, I was back up to three hops.

  22. A beautiful piece of nature writing, Linda. I’ve enjoyed your photos too. Did you take them with your new camera? Oh so sharp and colourful. Yes, more of these nature journaling and you can publish a book. Keep them coming… which means, go on more trips. We are the beneficiaries. :)

    1. Some color for you, Arti, after all that white your provided for us. I finally remembered the word I was looking for: “ermine.” Several articles say that the ermine and the short-tailed weasel are the same. Is that what yours was? They may be different species, but at least I remembered that the white pelts were the ones reserved for royalty.

      I did take the photos with the new camera. It’s been fun messing around with it, and I’ve learned enough about it now to think I’ll be even happier with it once I learn a bit more (or a good bit more!).

      I need to settle for a while. I still have some things in process from last year’s trip to Kansas, and there are several more posts to be worked up from this trip. I guess I process my stories more slowly than I do photos.

          1. No, I didn’t link that. But it’s a totally different animal, the weasel in winter, as compared to all these photos on websites showing the ‘ordinary’ brown weasel in warmer climates.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos, Rosemary. I have a couple of posts yet to be written about places that are very near to Concan, and they may be of interest to you, too. There’s more to the area than the river.

      In fact, the primary purpose of my trip wasn’t the river at all, but another place with an extraordinary history. I decided to set that aside for the time being, since the river was so beautiful this year. Who doesn’t like sharing beauty?

  23. Spending time in that small cabin must be so restorative. How did you discover it, and what made you know it was just the right place? (Of course your post tells us a lot about that, yet at the same time, you’ve described so many places that, from the way you so beautifully write about them, could have been “the right place.”) In reading this, I think about a movie we recently saw, The Homesman, which was, in our view, so off the mark it was appalling. I’d much rather a movie that hewed to the visions you give us of what is real and valuable in the world.

    1. Well, Susan, there’s always a story, isn’t there? After circumstances led to the sale of The Place outside Kerrville, I moped around a bit, regretting the loss of the perfect getaway. I had an open invitation from friends and former neighbors, and did visit with them from time to time, but I didn’t want to impose, and occasionally just wanted to get away.

      Then, I had a revelation. People head off to the islands all the time to bareboat charter — saves the hassle and expense of actually owning a boat. Why not apply the same principle to a cabin?

      I did the ony reasonable thing. I went online, and searched around for bed and breakfasts in the hill country. In the midst of all the unbearably chic ranch houses and such, I saw the log cabins, and the mention that they were solely for the enjoyment of “mature nature lovers.” A phone call or two later, and the arrangements had been made.

      It was only after my first visit that I knew iI’d found my new place in the country. There’s an old saying that goes, “Purchase necessities, but rent your fun.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that.

      I just sat and read the entire wikipedia entry on “The Homesman.” Good grief. The frontier was harsh, and there certainly were women who suffered emotionally because of the isolation (and, in Nebraska, the incessant wind). But I must say — the description of the film sounds like ideology in search of a plot. Reality was much more interesting.

      Still you have reminded me of one of my favorite photos, taken by Solomon Butcher. It shows the David Hilton family at home in Sargent, Nebraska. Who wouldn’t have a pump organ on the praire?

    1. I included that photo of the shadowed cypress just for you, BW. There’s a set of three photos from that spot, all slightly different, and they certainly reminded me of your swamp. The effect is different, of course — I suppose it’s because the water is so clear, and the blue of the sky reflects so well even in the shadows. But your cypress and these have a lot in common.

    1. Thank you, Otto. I’ve been thinking about what you said on your site about the need for focal points. The last photo here is one that I also like, very much. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder: what if that branch of leaves were extended out over the impressionistic view of the water which I shared? It would have been a stronger photo — point taken!


    1. It’s always chancey, isn’t it? The trees can be “ahead of schedule,” or behind, or our schedules don’t allow us to spend the time enjoying them that we’d like.

      In any event, I’m glad you enjoyed these. I also enjoyed my brief look at your blog. I’m sending it on to a friend who taught in Zambia for several years. I think she’ll enjoy it as much as I will.

      Many thanks for stopping by. You’re always welcome!


  24. I see that your followers lined up to form a long line to comment. 83 with me to be exact. The narration of the story and the beauty of your pictures atrracted the eyeballs to your site.

    This article could easily be found in a main story of a large circulation magazine or a large newspaper in any major city in the world.

    The color, textures, bokehs and angles of your photographs lead me to believe that maybe you were once a photojournalist or had an occupation related to it.

    Your assertion of not bathing in the same river twice is a good one. Heraclitus was right; everything is in ever-present change. Yesterday I was younger than today, and so on and so forth. Nothing stays the same, except perhaps inifinity, time and eternity.

    Congratulations on a work well done. It is a darned good work. Glad I had the opportunity to read and view it.

    Thank you!


    1. Nature provided the color and textures, Omar. I just wandered around, looking for bits of life that attracted me.

      When it all was over, I’d come to a couple of conclusions. One is that I’ll be able to get adequate macro shots with the new camera — adequate for my purposes anyway. Once I’ve really learned this camera and saved my pennies, a camera that accepts swappable lenses would be nice. (Think: telephoto) For now, I’m just happy with what I have, and am feeling more comfortable with it every day. And besides — I want to wait and see what your experience with your new mirrorless camera is!

      No secret photojournalism in my background. I had a nice Kodak Brownie when I went to camp, and had some kind of camera in Liberia, but I don’t even remember what it was. I didn’t start taking photos again until I started sailing. Then, I began this blog and found it often was easier (and more satisfying) to illustrate my writing with my own photos. I admire the work of the professionals, but I don’t have enough years left to attain that kind of skill.

      I am learning, though. A year ago, I would have assumed Bokeh was a city in a country like Uzbekistan!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. It’s nice to be able to share such a colorful part of my state with other people.


      1. Explanations of your past experiences with cameras and photography in general is good enough for me. I’m glad you are getting acquainted with your new device.

        I’m still waiting to collect the money necessary to buy my new camera. In the meantime, I keep shooting with the gear I now have.

        Yeah, Bokeh was a new word for me too. We are both learning the tricks of the trade.



  25. My, what glorious photographs! Many thanks for sharing them with us. I especially liked the Manet like image. Do you find your writing inspired by this or are you distracted by all that beauty? I’m not sure I could write in such glory… perhaps at night.

    1. Well, Allen — at the very least, this post was inspired by the river’s beauty. I had an entirely other purpose is heading west to the Frio, but the post I intended to write once I returned home still is on the back burner. After I discovered I had some decent photos, I got caught up in historical research about the families of Concan,and here we are.

      As for writing in the midst of such beauty: I didn’t, and I don’t. I always take a notebook with me when I travel, and maybe a book or two about the area I’m visiting, but any real writing waits until I get home. I’ll take notes, record snippets of conversation, jot down thoughts, and so on but, as crazy as it may sound, starting to write too soon feels like short-circuiting the process.

      Experience first, reflect after — that’s my motto. It’s probably why I’ve always loved and laughed at this, from Annie Dillard: “Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.”
      But the real world has to come first. Thoreau got it. His way of putting it is perfect. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”


  26. I was thinking of “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” as I read through this delightful post – so no surprise to find your Annie Dillard Quote here! What a wonderful place to have as a retreat, Linda…and terrific photos. I especially liked the Monet one of the river…and I love the way you bring folks’ lives, well lived but long forgotten, up for a breath of 21st Century air.

    It also made me realise that I grew up, not only near the sea, but by a little river, the Glen, and a salmon river ( much beloved of local poachers), the Creed, which flowed through a serene and densely wooded area into the sea. And for the last thirty years, my husband and I have lived three floors up in a handsome red sandstone Victorian tenement, overlooking the local Botanic Gardens – and the river Kelvin. I can hear it now as I sit here in the quiet of early morning…

    1. I knew about your river view, Anne, but I’d never stopped to wonder about its name. Now I know, and in the process of exploring a bit have learned that it has salmon again, as well as an association with Lord Kelvin. (Or he with it: the river did come first.) Now I know it converges with the Clyde there in Glasgow, too, although I confess that Kelvin and Clyde sounds enough like Bonnie and Clyde to make me laugh. Rogue rivers…

      I do like your image of bringing some of those old folks up for air. The amount of information available online about the little settlement truly is remarkable. The fact that families like the Neals have stayed in the area and maintained businesses there for nearly a century helps, as does the emphasis on education in the community. Pride plays a role, too. Many of the families clearly are proud of their forebears, and have done quite a job of recording their histories.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, and the photos, too. It was a beautiful trip, and entirely refreshing.

  27. a fascinating post, especially for a genealogy researcher such as myself. it’s been consuming my time once again and i get wrapped up in the particulars of people who are unrelated as i run across their lives looking for family members. (btw, not all of those you mention are on find a grave and i know someone must be diligently trying to find them. you should consider adding them).

    wonderful to see where you go to get away.

    1. That’s a great suggestion, Sherri — to add names to Find-a-Grave. Here, I started with the gravesites, and then looked for information on the people, so I was working in the opposite direction. But there have been times when I’ve had only a name, and needed to know where they could be found. I’ll make that one of my projects once we’re past Christmas.

      It’s quite amazing, this experience of getting to know someone we’ve never met. There’s a good bit we can’t know, but of course that’s true with out next-door neighbors. And isn’t it true that one thing leads to another? More than a few people I know have started out by “just looking for a little more information on Aunt Alice,” and the next thng you know, they’re regaling you with accounts of 1860 quilting bees, and wondering why she never did marry that nice Svenson boy.

      I’m blessed to live in a place that can provide my kind of getaway. Up in Concan, I don’t even have to split my own wood.

  28. And I was thinking of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift From the Sea” as I read through your post and comments. It’s refreshing to share your vacation, for you have chronicled your renewal as well as your observations and experiences. The photos are wonderful!

    1. I’ve been thinking myself about how often water plays into the work of my favorite writers, NumberWise. Linbergh has the sea, Dillard her creek, Thoreau the pond. And then there are the individual works: “Of Time and the River”, “The Old Man and the Sea”, and so on.

      One could do worse than track a river by day and watch fire by night. What’s so interesting to me is that, even though they seem opposed, the experience of watching them is exactly the same. Both constantly are changing, and yet both are constant. And here we are, back to Heraclitus.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I certainly enjoyed taking them. As you know, it’s required some time to re-engage, and I’m still not fully there. Maybe tomorrow!

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