I have recently been living in Texas. You’d need to be like me, an apprehensive Englishman, to share or even understand the uneasy thrill I have felt when walking in its countryside (though countryside is not a fitting word; it’s far too tame for Texas — its wilds, perhaps, or its terrain).
A country hike — if you can find a stretch of land that isn’t fenced or defended with “bob war” — is at best a risky affair in the Lone Star state. I’ve made mistakes. As the blundering innocent abroad, trusting everything I see, I have inspected a poison ivy too intimately on the seemingly innocuous Hike & Bike trail round Austin’s Town Lake (the blisters stayed with me for weeks), and I have been fooled by seemingly smooth-skinned cactuses into grasping hold of their stems and then spent a week tweezering out a hundred tiny and invisible lances. I have tested my nerve by reaching a little too closely toward a lengthy alligator on the Gulf Coast and a saucer-sized tarantula in a Houston car park. I have failed to protect myself sufficiently against mosquitoes and ticks, and then had to spend the next few hours scratching off my skin with my nails and wondering which of the punishing insect-borne diseases now current in Texas — West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis, dengue fever, Lyme disease… a deadly and growing list — would be the one to end my days.
Even as I write now, back in the unheroic safety of my English study, a photograph above my desk reminds me of the living hazards and perils that bothered me — though clearly not any of my American companions — every time I stepped into the Texan boonies. I am pictured next to a Lion Warning sign at the foot of the Chisos Mountains in the Big Bend National Park. (DON’T FLINCH OR SHOW ANY FEAR if you are threatened by “the aggressive lion that has been frequenting this area,” I am advised. APPEAR LARGE. And — the most testing instruction — ENJOY THE ENCOUNTER.) In my right hand, I am holding a sturdy and defensive stick; in my left, I’m clutching a snake bite kit with its “easy-to-use lymph constrictor”; there are rattlers and copperheads about. Just out of shot, a ranger is telling me about the black bear he’d had to “find, immobilize, and relocate” the day before. The bear had separated a German hiker from his rucksack and its stash of apples. Tracking that animal was “as easy as fried pie,” he said. Its dung was full of Gore-Tex. Its droppings were waterproof and breathable!
— Jim Crace, author of Quarantine, Being Dead, and, most recently, Harvest.