Connie McCrary is an 80-years-young grandmother from Clifton, TX who loves to fish and travel. For the past several years she and her husband, Don (Poppy), had camped in Questa. Don passed away in 2019, and because of the promise Connie made to him, she returned in 2020 and is back again this year. Connie wrote this story last year for her granddaughter, grandson, and great-granddaughters.
This summer was different for Grandmother. She kept Poppy’s wish for her to return to Red River as they had done together for 40 years. Beginning in 1979, they traveled by motorcycle, towing a trailer with a tent as their shelter (wore out the zipper!), by motorhome, and also in a pop-up trailer.
Over the years Red River became their summer home. They camped at June Bug, Fawn Lake, and Elephant Rock in the Carson National Forest, and at Gonzales RV Park down the mountain in Questa. Grandmother would fish for trout and Poppy would have lunch ready when she came in. In the evenings, he built campfires. All the campers there became family, with potlucks, campfires, and fish fries. There was lots of laughter, with fishermen bragging about fish: the largest, smallest, the most, the least…
The summer of 2020 held new experiences for Grandmother on the river. With just Christmas for company (her cat) she pulled into Gonzales’. Camping neighbors David and Vanny Harris greeted her and helped her set up for the summer. Then there were visits with old camping friends, fish fries with dulcimer playing friends, and trips to see the Stations of the Cross Shrine at San Luis with Vanny. Poppy’s friend Benny Sanchez greeted Grandma and watched over her throughout the summer.
When she went to one of her favorite spots on the Red River to fish, Grandmother saw two new duck families. One morning she saw what looked like a big black pile of mess on the opposite bank. As she stepped into the stream, Momma Duck slowly lifted her head, “Look at that, Grandmother,” she very softly quacked as if to say,“shhh, we’re sleeping.” The black pile of mess was really Momma Duck and her four ducklings snuggled up together! One day, about three weeks later, a newly arrived duck family was swimming up the river as Momma Duck led them around a small falls and back into the river. The ducklings took a detour into the tall grass. Five went into the grass and four came out. They returned to the river and began swimming upstream but Momma Duck swam downstream calling. Grandmother went down to the tall grass—she could see the grass moving—and there she saw the missing duckling struggling, with fish line around its little leg. Grandmother retrieved her needle-nose pliers from her fishing vest and cut its foot free.
Another first was seeing three otters in Eagle Rock Lake. She and Vanny were on their evening walk around the lake when they saw them playing. The next time they were spotted much closer to the bank and were putting on a good show. The three of them came close to where Grandmother was standing, looked at her, and chattered as if to ask, “Did you like the show?”
One day Grandmother found a new spot to fish with nice waterfalls at the Red River Fish Hatchery. On her first flip across the river, as the line drifted back, she had a fish! By the fourth fish, the story begins to unfold… After cleaning it, she laid down her ugly old fishing tool bag, washed off her knife, skinning pliers, and fish. When she turned back around to retrieve her bag there was a snake trying to get into it. Grandmother locked eyes and the snake slithered off underneath the tree roots. Round One to Grandmother. As she banked fish number five, it got hung up between a boulder and a weed stalk. Grandmother retrieved her needle-nose pliers again and when she looked back, there was THAT snake, but this time the snake had hold of her fish. They had a tug of war—Grandmother won Round Two. She didn’t stay there to clean the fish. She had competed with lots of fishermen, but NEVER a snake.
One day, Grandmother was drifting her line beside the shoreline under some willows when a little female Painted Bunting (a bright green bird with yellow breast) landed on her rod within inches of her hand. It stayed there for about 30 seconds and then flew off. A special day in the river!
Another day, Grandmother was wading, and looking down, saw a beautiful 14″ trout just laying there. Upon closer inspection it was on a fish stringer. She had talked with a fisherman upstream who lost his stringer with a fish. He was very happy when she took it to him.
Throughout the summer, there were deer along the river. They would wander up to the condos in Red River, hoping for handouts. Two young does and their still spotted fawn slowly entered and crossed the river one day when Grandmother was in the stream fishing. Following them was a young buck still in velvet. He stopped in the river and looked around, unsure of his surroundings, reluctantly taking steps. He decided this wasn’t for him, took an abrupt turnaround, and dashed back out of the river.
Each morning when Grandmother drove up the mountain to fish at the Red River, the morning sky greeted her with its awesome beauty—sometimes gold, red, or clouds that glowed. In the evenings Vanny and Grandmother enjoyed the sunset reflecting on Eagle Rock Lake or peeking through the trees.
The Red River is special not only for the fishing and water inhabitants, but also other fishermen and the people walking along the river that make up the whole experience. Some have been coming for years, and for some it is their first visit. Being surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, the river, the wildlife, and people enjoying each other makes Red River special.
Grandmother is grateful she and Christmas returned to her and Poppy’s special summer home.