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Coming Together at Kickapoo Ranch: Flake Lato 2021

Flake Lato, our annual retreat on the headwaters of the West Nueces, at the tail end of summer, just before children return to school, is always one of the most special weekends of the year. But this year, due to COVID-19, and our remote working conditions, it was more special than ever. Together, we had made it through a difficult year. Spread out all over the country and starved for camaraderie, Flake Lato was a timely and much anticipated antidote.    

Flake Lato 2021

The “seal team,” the early strike force that pulls up the shade structures and gets things organized, showed up Thursday evening, and things proceeded like years past: a little margarita drinking and late night swim, followed by a slightly sluggish start as we untangled the mess of cables and tarps that make up our “tent” overhang. We had Darby’s truck this time for pulling up the tent in lieu of Bill’s but, other than that, all still seemed familiar, until everyone started showing up… 

It was special from the start: First, everyone seemed to arrive early. Tiny babies, who had been wrapped in tight small cocoons two years before, were now full-grown people, running around and chasing after the older kids. Normal-sized former high schoolers seemed too tall to fit in the doors.  Zoom compadres, who in a number of cases, had never formally met, were embracing for the first time, and colorful tents in a myriad of shapes and sizes were sprouting up everywhere. Our own mini Woodstock, 175 people (50 more than two years ago) had come together to just enjoy each other, catch up, and in some cases, meet for the very first time. It was thrilling. 

Friday night was our usual Earl Abel’s fried chicken and, though the dance hall only had 100 chairs, somehow it accommodated everyone. And, with the moon not planning on showing up until the early morning, it was a great night for enjoying shooting stars and good conversation.  

After breakfast in the dance hall, people were off in all directions: kayaks heading downstream, the Raike boys fishing all of the holes, old timers giving jeep tours to newcomers, the warm waters of the bottom hole setting an attendance record. Still plenty of people spread out along the dam under the cool dappled shade of the tent enjoying the day. The dam is where I hung out – the perfect place to ease into a nice long conversation, to both catch up with old friends and to meet new ones. It was indeed the antidote I was needing!

The afternoon wrapped up with our annual dam photoshoot, and with our numbers now exceeding the width of the river, we went with a layered approach, floating the kids on rafts, sitting in the water or chairs, and standing. After the dam shot, we made a bee line to the dance hall to savor the fabulous Mexican dinner by Johnny Hernandez’s team, followed by clearing the tables to try our hands at two stepping. Lessons are probably in order for next year, but being the innovative architects that we are, the shouts of people enjoying games and musical chairs filled the night. 

On Sunday, things cleaned up quickly and everyone seemed to vanish as rapidly as they had arrived. For two days, we packed in activity after activity, and the memories of the laughter and conversations are still tumbling around in my brain. It was indeed our best ever. It was such a wonderful opportunity for us all to just pause and enjoy the remarkable group of people that make up Lake|Flato.

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