A patch of trout lilies (Erythronium sp.) pop up through leaves Feb. 25, 2023 at Fairfield Lake State Park, which closed last month after nearly 50 years. Photo by Misti Little.

March 8, 2023

There’s something haunting about walking through a place you know you will never get to visit again. 

I’ve felt it in every rental home I’ve ever lived in. How after those final boxes are sealed and you’ve swept and mopped and cleaned the bathrooms one last time, so that you’ll get the full deposit back, you walk through each room and remember all of the memories you built there. Or at least that’s what I do.

And that’s how our final trip to Fairfield Lake State Park was on the last Saturday in February. 

My husband suggested we make the trek up I-45 from our home in Houston for a farewell tour before the state park closed, seemingly for good, the following Monday.

Parlin’s pussytoes, Antennaria parlinii, a spring ephemeral, blooms on Feb. 25, 2023 at Fairfield Lake State Park. Photo by Misti Little.Parlin’s pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii), a spring ephemeral, blooms on Feb. 25, 2023 at Fairfield Lake State Park. Photo by Misti Little.

With no ambition to charge up the trails and without any destination in mind, we ambled through the woods to savor anything we could find. The weather wasn’t the best — overcast and in the mid-40s — but bundled up in a few layers and with the task to soak it all in, we made the most out of those final hours.

Every plant I saw, every turn I took, I would tell myself I could come back another time to see a particular plant blooming. And then I would have to remind myself, this is it. This is the last time I can walk up this gentle incline and notice this patch of trout lilies. I won’t get to plan a trip next spring, a week or two later from now, so I can see them bloom. I will never see them bloom. Will I be the last person to care that the trout lilies even existed in that spot?

I did this for so many plants and scenes. As we drove up and down the park road to get to different trailheads or picnic areas, I would try to surmise which trees would be cut down to fit in a mansion. Was the water oak that I saw the buck under last November going to make it? What about the buck (if he survived hunting season)? Would the white pelicans still land on the lake when mansions lined the shoreline and the water quality declined from all of the fertilizer runoff the homes would require for their pristine lawns?

These thoughts plagued me and I kept pushing them out of my mind as long as I could until I eventually sobbed for several minutes as we made our way out of the park.

The author Misti Little delighting in a wonderfully huge thistle, Cirsium horridulum. Courtesy of Misti Little.The author Misti Little delighting in a wonderfully huge thistle (Cirsium horridulum). Courtesy of Misti Little.

The memories from childhood camping trips and whatever photos my parents might have, would be all I had. There would be no more retracing my steps on the paths my brother and I spent hours exploring on bicycles growing up.

I’ve been grieving a lot of ecological changes over the last year, especially as the Houston suburbs expand further north (and west and east). But the loss is everywhere. Fairfield Lake State Park is just next in line, alongside any number of natural areas threatened by development. 

We can’t even get people on board to stop growing certain invasive species and plant some native plants in their yards, how are we ever going to convince anyone we don’t need another subdivision or strip mall or highway expansion?

And so all I can do is close the blinds, lock the door and hope I can drive by again someday and see how the old place has changed.

“You notice. And noticing, you live.” - John Graves, From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas, p.163, University of Texas Press


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