My guess is that almost none, if any, of you ever have heard of Brushy Creek, TX. It's about halfway between Athens and Palestine, about 8 miles after you turn off the main highway in Poyner and 110 miles southeast of Dallas. I have no idea what the population is; seldom have I seen another person there other than the people with me. There are some houses and two churches there. As far as I know, the closest Brushy Creek ever came to any sort of fame was when some pieces of the Space Shuttle Columbia landed near there in the 2003 disaster.
My wife's family has a place in Brushy Creek, a very comfortable ranch-style house in the middle of 90 acres of deep pine woods. It's as remote as it sounds, a wonderful place to escape from the craziness of Metroplex life and to lessen the nature-deficit disorder.
I spent this past weekend there, a final retreat before school begins. I had toiled hard and planned well so I wouldn't have any busy work to do; I wanted the rest and deep-thought-free time that begins the moment I enter the property.
This trip was different. Very different. For the first time, I had just too strong a cell phone signal. I didn't realize it until, just a few minutes after we arrive, I heard the chime that accompanies an incoming email. I didn't give it much thought, as the signal has been fleeting for about a year. But then the emails started coming in more regularly; then a text. I ignored them...for a while. I finally just turned off the phone.
This certainly didn't ruin the weekend, and I spent only seconds fretting about it. I could even see some advantages, such as added safety when we were tromping around the woods or if we needed help during one of the frequent power outages. Besides, it's not as if we totally cut ourselves off there, as there is a satellite dish. (The trip also coincides with opening of the European soccer season, and my son and I enjoy many games.)
But I still have felt a tinge of sadness from this. I am bothered that I had to make the extra effort to disconnect; AT&T felt like an intruder into my personal Eden. People could reach into my world without invitation. I imagine the battles with my children when I tell them no staring into screens when we are in Brushy Creek.
We all need places like Brushy Creek, literally and metaphorically. Places that allow us look inward and think about the essence of being human; and, at the same time, almost force us to look outward and ponder our place in the larger universe. Deep, sustained reflection. The kind that doesn't happen when you're clicking from item to item.
I knew this day would come. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. Next trip, I'll turn off the phone before I unlock the gate.