There was no fishing rod in my hand, no back-drawn bow with a broad-tipped arrow on the string, and no bag of duck decoys shoved into my shoulder.
But truth be told, there was no place I would have preferred to be earlier this month as my wife and I were in Hawaii celebrating our 30th anniversary. After seeing Pearl Harbor and the sights, sounds and tastes of the beautiful island of Oahu and its wonderful people, we rented a car and drove as far as we could in search of adventure and natural beauty beyond beaten paths.
And at the beginning of a dusty path was exactly where we were, a hiking trail that started from the parking lot at the end of the road in Ka’ena Point State Park, a place where a mountain almost seems to fall into the ocean. .
Although not a deer stand, duck blind or dawn bass water, it was definitely one of the wildest places, the remotest and most beautiful that I know, and with my favorite person, no less. As the beautiful Mrs. B and yours truly stood there watching the crashing waves – expert surf territory where powerful, if not deadly riptides lurked – the wind howled near gale force, the waves gathered noisily and crashed on the sandy shore, and the deep Pacific Ocean stretched before us as far as the eye could see.
Literally, the next stop beyond that beach was Midway Atoll, the collection of sandy islands to the northwest, an isolated location that served as a crucial battlefield for the United States Navy during World War II when it sank four Japanese carriers and regained the top. hand in the greatest war of the 20th century. In the years that followed, Midway became a naval air base, housing as many as 2,000+ residents in 1970 and only a handful of residents today.
Now a National Wildlife Refuge and Marine National Monument, only the occasional biologist, Navy personnel, and on rare and frightening occasions, commercial airliner passengers looking for a landing spot to emergency in the middle of the big blue of the ocean, have the privilege of seeing the wild and picturesque beauty of the second northernmost atoll in the world.
While I will probably never be able to visit the sparse Midway Islands – the waters around Midway were open to anglers and fly fishers in the 1990s, and the fishing was spectacular according to those lucky enough to taste it – I felt no remorse as I recently stood on the shore of Oahu and gazed to the empty northwest.
The state park and adjoining Ka’ena Point Nature Preserve – home to rare plants and wildlife, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal – was quite the consolation prize, offering stunning views which was almost literally the end of the world, for this Texan, at least.
Thinking about it all, I realize that the wild and scenic place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was far from the top of Pike’s Peak, just outside Colorado Springs, several thousand miles to the east .
This high-altitude location, of course, is a 14,115-foot mountain peak that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write a poem in 1893. Published in 1895, and composed with music by church organist Samuel A. Ward in 1910, this sight of Colorado inspired a string of beautiful words to unfold that millions of our countrymen will sing at some point this weekend during the long holiday period of the calendar celebrating Independence Day and Uncle Sam’s 246th birthday on July 4.
You know the poem well because it became the familiar song America the Beautiful, a melody whose lyrical lyrics remind us of the great and spacious skies of our land, its amber waves of grain and the mauve majesties of the mountains, the patriotic dreams and liberating heroes. who loved freedom more than himself, and of course, the grace of Almighty God, who showered his grace on you, from sea to sea.
This song is a favorite around America’s birthday because despite all the tragic and embarrassing headlines our country has seen lately, the land of red, white and blue remains a place of freedom the world envies, a land where dreams and opportunities always await, and a place of unparalleled beauty, off the beaten path and otherwise. As the sobering headlines of the past few months and weeks continue to remind us, the United States is far from a perfect place here in the 21st century. But it’s the land that I and so many others still love, even if some don’t.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the beauty of our land – and of our two states right here in the Red River Valley – remains an inspiration, if not a challenge, as many threats loom now and in the future. on our wild lands, wildlife habitat and natural resources. spots that still inspire. Because of the amazing career path I’ve taken as an outdoor writer, I’ve been blessed to see many beautiful places around the country in a wide variety of settings that remind me of some of the reasons why l America remains beautiful in so many ways here in 2022.
From the beaches of Florida and the mountains of New England to the deep blue waters of the Great Lakes, the huge and mighty Mississippi River, the rolling woods and highlands of the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, the shores and the forests from Alaska to even the hot dry Mojave Desert that I recently flew over on my westward flight, there is so much natural beauty at so many different bends across our land, scenes straight out of of the Creator’s web.
This wild and rugged beauty of America knows few bounds except the push of progress in concrete and steel and the seasons put in place by the hand of the maker. With few exceptions, there are breathtaking moments in the harsh realities of a wintry landscape, during the warm lushness of a wildflower-filled spring, in the deep green and heat of summer, and during the ephemeral beauty of a colorful autumn.
Texas is also teeming with such outdoor beauty, from the views of the Panhandle to the rolling plains and the Crosswoods region in the west, to our own Red River Valley and the Pineywoods of eastern Texas. which are only a few hours away. 69. If you need mountains, there are great high-altitude spots in the Big Bend and Trans Pecos region and softer, gentler hills in the Texas Hill Country near Austin. Here, too, the seaside awaits, from the marshy backwaters of Sabine Lake near the Louisiana-Texas border to the sandy beaches around Galveston, Rockport and Port Aransas. And don’t forget the captivating, arid beauty of the Gulf of Mexico located at Padre Island National Seashore.
But you don’t have to travel far from Texomaland to find incredible beauty either, because it’s often here, in our own backyard too. From a bright red cardinal in a backyard bird feeder to a massive white-tailed deer standing here in Grayson County during the mad November month to a flock of snow geese or mallards settling in Hagerman NWR in the fall with bluebonnets blanketing the spring landscape at Denison Dam, there’s plenty of beauty to be seen here in Grayson County too.
And sometimes it’s right there in front of our eyes, if we’ll just try to find it. In fact, the other day I went fishing with my son Zach and got lost trying to catch a big striped bass on the end of my fly line. A little later, when I looked up, I caught my breath and almost gasped at the spectacular sunrise unfolding right before my eyes over the gentle waters of Lake Texoma.
It was a reminder that for all its flaws and flaws, America is still a wild and beautiful place, often filled with wonderful people who make our lives so much richer.
And very often that beauty and those people are here, in our own backyard, and not on the other side of the world.