Reality Check: 66% Of The Road Trip Is Behind Us

OrganPipeCactus

[Organ Pipe Cactus]

We are roughly two-thirds of the way through our long and event-filled road trip.  As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks, about 263 dusty, windy and empty miles from Tucson.  According to my four weather apps on my iPhone, it’s going to be nearly 80 F today.

We need warmth.  I’m still wearing fleece in the evening.  I’m not shocked by that fact.  As a science teacher for over thirty years, I know that deserts aren’t defined by temperature, but by rainfall.  And we haven’t experienced very much precipitation since it snowed on us in Silver City, NM.

This is the country of the cactus.  I bought a small field guide-book to the shrubs of the Southwest but I can’t keep up with all the varieties of cacti I have seen in the past week or so.

I took many photos of many succulents and I will spend weeks back in the Adirondacks, during our brief summer, identifying them and filing the images away on my 32 MB memory sticks.  I’m sure I’ll find plenty of uses for those close-up pics of spines and spikes, so threatening and so full of that dangerous “Hey, you…yeah you.  Come a little closer and test me…” attitude.  Those spines could sever your Femoral artery.

So, has the trip recharged me?  Has it calmed and satisfied my restless nature?  Am I happiest on the road?

Yes and No would be my answer.  The “bed” in our rPod is making my back feel post-operative.  The “shower” is located in the “bathroom”, but I’ve only used the shower head assembly once since we bought this RV in 2013.

I’m still restless.  I haven’t found what it is I’m looking for on the byways of the South and Southwest America.  I’m not even sure what I’m trying to find…but I have some hope, meager and thin, but filled with promise that there is a place in the Mojave Desert that may be the Jordon River of my creeping old age.  I’ve read about a place of healing and mental regeneration.  I’m heading there.

“I hear the aging footsteps, like the motion of the sea.

Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there…other times it’s only me…”

     –Bob Dylan Every Grain of Sand

I’ll let you know when I get there.  I’ll tell you whether I can wash away the sins of my youth and misspent middle age in the mineral springs of this, most mythic place.  I’ll even post photos.

I’ll tell you the truth about how to cure a cracked and flawed psyche.

And then, I’ll begin posting another set of blogs about our return trip.

Please follow me…read me…and “like” me on Facebook and/or WordPress.  Sometimes I feel I’m a disk-jockey, playing the tunes and spinning the vinyls…late in the night…but the broadcast tower is broken or no one has their radio turned on at that lonely hour…

SeguaroCactus

[Saguaro cactus]

Honky Tonks, Bordellos And Celery

soiled dove of Cripple Creek

[This soiled dove was from Cripple Creek, CO.]

We watched January turn into February in Silver City, New Mexico.  A former mining town from the 19th Century, was a place where miners, tired and in need of a drink and a little love to purchase, would come up from the valleys and down the mountains…and find paradise amidst the prickly pear cactus.

And, the first person many of these rough and dusty men sought was Madam Millie.  I’ll get back to Miss Millie in a minute.

By association with everything about the Southwest USA and our neighbors to the south, Mexico, our 51st state, the last thing we expected was a winter storm that would freeze our water line, render us helpless in the 13 F weather, keep our inexpensive (read ‘cheap’) Wal-Mart space heater churning full-time, unable to cook (dirty dishes, remember), flush the toilet or even wash our hands, instead we resorted to pouring a noxious (and according to California Law) carcinogenic liquid, RV antifreeze, made from glycol and a few dozen chemicals down into our fragile plastic gray tank (dish water) and black tank (icky-poo stuff from the toilet) to keep them from bursting.  We seemed to be stuck inside Silver City with the Palm Springs blues again.

[That was a long run-on sentence.  Not all my fault.  It’s my inner William Faulkner trying to get out.]

So, what did these American Nomads do to pass the time?  We went to the Silver City Museum.  It was a beautiful Victorian building that was once the home of a restless guy who wanted to make a fortune in Silver.  I naturally gravitated to the shop in search of yet another Ideal Tee Shirt, a coffee mug and a book(s).  The first book I spied was titled: “Madam Millie”.  It was the story of Nellie Clark, who worked her way up from the mattress to running the most successful brothel in town.  (She died as recently as the late ’90’s, I believe).   In another book I found in the local library, “Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains”, by Jan Mackell, I had a chance to read about the history of the girls who followed the miners, plied their trade, were murdered, died of disease, wandered off to another boom town, married clients and lived in luxury, became school teachers…or simply lived as a widow or spinster in a town that eventually mined all the silver that the hills could produce.

Millie Clark had the proverbial heart of gold…her girls would hide Easter eggs for the poor children of Silver City and Nellie was known to give away lots of money to charity and food to the needy.  I was fascinated by the book because local history, however tawdry, is what I seek to learn about when I travel.  The brothels were, without question, an important aspect of the Old West.  The “Red Light” book was researched and written by a woman historian.  I’d be reading it right now, but the $25.00 ( + tax ) price tag put me off.  I walked out with a tee-shirt, a mug, a guide to the wildflowers of the Southwest, and a mental image of working girls (some slender and beautiful and some plump and plain) and sweaty cowboys and miners drinking whiskey and beer in the saloons and honky-tonks along Bullard Street.  (I should mention at this point that there was a madam in one of towns of the west who weighed over 300 pounds!  She was extremely popular, and to this day, the town celebrates her with a festival in her honor…her name escapes me.)

old-west-brothel-tokens-3

[Brothel tokens.  Source: Google search.]

Thoughts of tight corsets, buckled shoes, flowers in the raven-hair, ribbons, rouge and lipstick and thick perfume filled my mind as I sat in a distressed leather seat of the public library to get warm and to allow Mariam a chance to answer work-related emails using a strong WiFi signal…something that was a bit dicey at our RV park.

jennie-bauters-brothel-242x300

[A popular brothel in Cripple Creek, CO.  The madam stands at the far right with her hands on her hips. Source: Google search.]

The warmth of the library made me sleepy.  I put my head back and let my mind drift into a very delicate state of half-dreaming…

I was sitting in the Buckhorn Saloon.  Sitting on my knee was Ivy…the loveliest example of womanhood one was to find west of the Pecos.  I had a sack of silver nuggets in my pocket, so her affections were assured.  I had a tumbler of whiskey on the table in front of me alongside a glass of cool beer.  It tasted nothing like Bud Lite.  Outside, on Bullard Street, the dust of a hundred horses and half as many wagons rose in the air.  I heard gun shots.  Two miners had stood in the middle of the street and were arguing over the honor of a painted lady.  When the gun smoke cleared, one guy remained standing.  He turned to look for Irene, but she had gone off with the preacher’s son.

BullardSt

[Bullard Street in Silver City, NM]

The gun shot made me jump in the library chair.  Someone had dropped a book on a table nearby.  Mariam was busy  in a quiet cubicle so I told her I was going for a walk.  I needed to clear my head.  I was confused as to what time it was, what day it was, what year it was…and what century it was.  I walked over to Bullard Street.  SUV’s and sensible KIA’s lined the curbside.  I went into the Tiny Toad saloon.  Guys with beards and laptops sat around drinking craft beer.

I went and picked up Mariam and we drove back to the RV park and sat shivering until the space heater had the inside temperature up to the mid 50’s.  We decided we’d rest a bit and, because we had no water, we decided to go listen to some music at Diane’s restaurant and bar and have dinner.

The guitarist, who had a gray beard and wore a harmonica neck brace, was playing a Jefferson Airplane song.  It was followed by Wild Horses by the Stones.  I thought it was time for Dylan, and, like he could read my mind, he played Mr. Tambourine Man.  Our waitress was a young woman who wanted to be a jazz singer.  She wore no rouge on her cheeks.

“…play a song for me.  I’m not sleepy and I have no place I’m going to.”

But, I did have someplace I was going to…back to our camper…the one with no running water.

I was confused by the old and the new in this town that capitalized on the old and the new.

“See our old houses…see our ghosts…feel the sense of history” said the pamphlets.  But, all we found were pottery shops and jewelry counters.

We went back to the Tiny Toad to have a night-cap.  This wasn’t like the saloons in the faded pictures I saw at the museum.  Miners with their boots on the foot rail, the spittoons, the foamy mugs of beer, the pretty girls of the night at the edges of the photo, standing for a moment at the center of the attention, and then off to the fringes of the picture frame.  Like they were in life, on the edges of society, young and beautiful in their youth, but often forgotten when age or disease pushed them from the parlors of velvet to the shack on the hill.

I looked at a pair of celery stalks in a jar on the bar in front of me.  The veggies got me to thinking…

“What’ll it be today, Clem? The usual red-eye whiskey and beer?”

“Naw, Frank, I’m dusty from the trail.  Think I’ll have a Bloody Mary this morning.”

At the other end was a gum-ball machine (did I miss something by not going to Bartenders School?.)  I shrugged and ordered a real man’s drink.  I motioned for the barkeeper to approach.  I cleared my throat and boldly asked for a Hot Toddy.

CeleryOnBar

[In an old-time saloon?]

GumballMachine

[In an old-time saloon?]

As I was trying to sleep that night, I kept thinking of Nellie and her girls.  I read that Nellie was buried only about five miles from our RV park.  Were there flowers on her grave?  I thought about one of the girls who was murdered (details are unclear), but unlike the death of a prostitute (then and now) that usually went unnoticed, the girl’s sister came and claimed her body and took it home for a proper burial.  Most of the girls, I suspect, drifted away when the mines began to close in Silver City.  When they died in another boom and bust town, did anyone shed a tear for them?  I recalled reading about a madam in Cripple Creek, who, when she died, was given the largest funeral the town has ever seen.  But the thousands of others?  Those females who lived by their perfume and charm…?

Did anyone say a prayer for their poor souls?  I feel a deep sorrow for those broken-spirited, homeless, drifting, nomadic restless souls…they usually die alone.  That has to be the worst way to leave this beautiful life and this unique planet.

When we drove out of Silver City the next morning, we crossed the Continental Divide just a mile or so from town, from Nellie’s house, from the museum, from the Tiny Toad Saloon.

The Continental Divide is a geographical line.  But among the lives I had been reading about, there were divides of all kinds.  When it rains, the water flows either to one ocean or to another.  People live lives like that…anything that comes down on your soul, can make you flow one way or another.

ContinentalDivide

But, in the end, we all end up in the same ocean that contains all our collected dreams and all our collected sins and all our collected virtues.

Afterword

When the town decided that one of Nellie’s brothels was to be torn down and replaced by the new Post Office, one old-timer told Nellie: “I don’t need the mail as much as I need you.”

 

On A Dusty Street Corner In Juarez

“When you’re lost in the rain, in Juarez, and it’s Easter Time too,

And your gravity fails you and your negativity can’t pull you through…”

–Bob Dylan  Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues

Let’s be realistic.  You didn’t think I was going to write a blog about crossing the border bridge to visit Juarez, Mexico, and not use this quote by Dylan?  If you did, you haven’t been doing your homework.

The problem here is that I wasn’t lost, it wasn’t raining and my negativity never pulls me through.  Ever. Not here. Not anywhere.

But, I found a moment of beauty and art and sadness and love on a dusty corner…all for a few pesos.  No, it didn’t have anything to do with a Mexican girl named Felina.  It had to do with an old man in a wheelchair and a sombrero…and a guitar.

It was surprising to me how easy it is to cross from El Paso in Juarez.  All it took was 25 cents and you were on the upward arch of the border bridge.  At the apex was the plaque that announced that you just had taken a step into a foreign country.  That’s where the poor panhandlers and sad faces began to appear.  All the way down the Mexican side of the bridge, men, women and children were selling trinkets and gum for a peso, or less.  Some young men worked the stalled cars in the endless line of traffic trying to enter the USA, by selling CD’s or fake flowers.

When we started walking along the main street, no one bothered us, no one had their hands out.  Everyone was hanging out in the store fronts and on benches.  Only about two men looked like members of a cartel, if you went along with the stereotypes.

I was looking for a certain destination.  I wanted to visit the famous Kentucky Club.  This bar, according to my internet research, was the watering hole for the likes of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Steve McQueen and…Marilyn Monroe.  I’m sure countless others, rich famous or just tourists, had licked the salt from their hands and tilted a tequila   living the vicarious life of Marilyn or Liz.

I almost walked past the place.  Mariam had to grab my arm and say:

“Here it is.”

BarKentuckyClub

[The legendary bar of the Kentucky Club]

I sat at the bar and had a tequila.  Mariam had a dark Modelo.  We snacked on a dish of guacamole.  I tried to look as un-touristy as I could, but the more I tried, the more goofy I looked.  I had a backpack, a red Moleskin notebook sticking out of my pocket, a bright orange ball point pen from a bike shop in Fort Myers, Florida, an iPhone and a baseball hat that had the logo of a health food store in Saranac Lake, NY. (Nori’s, if you’re interested). At least I wore a short beard and had a bad haircut that, hopefully, gave me that do you really want to mess with me? kind of look.

Back out on the street, we began to walk a few more steps into this fabled city, this dark country that produces guys like El Chapo, Pancho Villa, Richardo Montalban and Emiliano Zapata.  I thought I had walked several blocks, but we only had gone to the nearest street corner.  There was a man in a wheel chair with his back to us.  He was playing the guitar and singing, but the traffic noise prevented me from hearing him…but I knew I wanted to stop and listen.

I walked past him, turned and leaned against the light pole.  Next to his left ankle was a red plastic gallon-size Folger Coffee container with the top cut away.  A few people dropped a coin or two into the bucket.

He finished a song.  I went up and dropped $2.00 into his tip container.  He reached out and touched my arm and said something in Spanish.  Mariam knows some of the language and she said he was telling us that he had another pretty song for us.

We went back to the lamp-post.  He began singing Cietlito lindo. I didn’t recognize the first few lines…then after a pause…”Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay…”.  It was a song I heard a thousand years ago as a child.  I heard it a thousand times, yet I never knew what it was about.  When we got back to the rPod, I googled the song.

Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay

The title translates, according to one source, as Lovely Sky.  I read the English lyrics several times.  It wasn’t the sky above our heads that is the subject of the song…it’s a woman.  Her name is Lovely Sky.

From the Sierra Morena

Lovely Sky, come down

A pair of dark eyes…Lovely Sky

Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay

Sing and don’t cry

Because singing, they brighten up

Lovely Sky, the hearts.

Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay

An arrow in the air,

Lovely Sky, Cupid has launched it.

An arrow in the air

Lovely Sky, that has struck me.

I watched his gnarled fingers fret the strings.  I looked at his immobile feet in the wheel chair.  I saw the gap from a missing tooth.

I watched as he sang…his eyes were closed…he was singing to me, to Mariam, to everyone, to no one, to himself, to a woman, to a love remembered.

SingerJuarez

[And I don’t even know his name…]

I wondered what kind of life he had.  What did he go home to?  Was it a house of grandchildren…or empty rooms and a bottle of beer?

Me?  We began our walk back to El Paso.  Another quarter in the slot.  No one checking our bags in Mexico…but when we came down the bridge and entered the Port of Entry building, the security was as bad as the TSA at JFK airport.  We pulled out our passports.  I was quizzed briefly. I felt like joking with the Border Patrol guy.

“Bringing anything back?” he asked.

“Nothing penicillin can’t fix,” I was thinking about answering.  He didn’t look like the joking type, so I let it drop

I was waved through.  Mariam had to have her bag searched.

Our packs went through an X-ray machine.  We emerged about seven blocks from where our car was parked.

I would never be able to convince myself that I had seen anything of Mexico.  It would be fifteen miles of malls and outlets, Taco Bells and muffler shops along I-10 East to our RV site.

I felt cheated.  I had denied myself any other experiences in that fascinating city.  I walked fourteen minutes into this amazing country and sat in a tourist bar.  What kind of soul-searching wanderer am I?

But, for a brief moment, on a dusty street corner, I could close my eyes (along with the singer) and imagine I was sitting in a cantina in La Boquilla del Ranchos on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

Yes, I would sit in the cantina and wait for Lovely Sky.

I Heard The Secrets Of The Grackle’s Song

grackle

[Image: Google search]

A short time ago, perhaps a week, maybe more, I spent a few days in Austin, Texas.  We were visiting with a gentleman, William, that I had met during a writers workshop in Westport, New York in October, 2012.  He has been a good friend and faithful follower of my blogs since I began posting them.

Austin.  The home of the long-running pbs music show, Austin City Limits, the Skylark Lounge, a great blues club, a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan that stands on the banks of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River).  Arguably the most famous dance hall in Texas, The Broken Spoke, is in Austin.  It’s where I “learned” to do the Texas 2-step and when my bones and legs couldn’t keep time with the music, I could sit and sip a Lone Star beer and watch the real dudes and drug-store cowboy’s do the dance the way it should be done.  Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys played this city, while virtually inventing Texas Swing music.  A statue of Willie Nelson stands outside the theater where Austin City Limits is recorded.

Austin.  A town where the hills glow violet in the setting sun.  A vermillion hue in the afternoon sky.  And, in that afternoon sky are thousands of birds.  The Grackles of Austin.

The Grackle is considered by many to be a disease-carrying bird that is a genuine pest.  Cannons have been used to keep them from clustering in various city parks.  On my first afternoon, a late afternoon, when the sky had begun to redden, I saw black objects clinging to the power lines near the exit ramp of I-35.  I could make out that they were birds…but the numbers were staggering.  I can say one thing straight away: I have never seen such flocks of these starling-like, black-hued avians roosting on power lines in my life.  When they took flight from the trees, shrubs and high wires, they would fill the air and darken the sky.  When they moved, when they were on the wing, they moved as one.  I described this sudden turn of direction in my first novel, Standing Stone, as “one shared soul.”

GracklesInWaco

[The swarming Grackles in Waco, Texas. Image: Google search]

These are birds of legend.  To a person unfamiliar with large flocks of crow-like creatures, these looked like something that was left on the cutting-room floor after Alfred Hitchcock decided he had gone too far.

Birds of Legend?

I was familiar with the real birds of legend.  The Phoenix, rising from the ashes.  The Ibis of Ancient Egypt.  The Dove of Noah.  The Eagle of American power and might.

But, the Grackle?  What legend?  What was it about this Raven-like bird that inspired such mystery and admiration…and contempt?

It seems that in the ancient days, back in the time when even dust was old, the Grackle did not make a sound…it had no call.  It was mute.  But, birds need a song to sing…to communicate a message of warning, spread the word about where water could be found…or to call to one another, to seek a mate…to make a nest…to pass on a new generation of life.  For nothing lives forever…

The Legend begins:

In Mexico, the bird were called zantes.  In Pre-Columbian times, it has been said, the mute birds began to seek a voice. They found a Sea Turtle and the zantes stole their voice from him.  They stole the archaic song of the Sea Turtle.  That was the mystical Song of the Seven Passions.  They now had their voice…their song.

800px-Zanate-Sea_turtle_artifact_icon

[Image: Google search]

For eons, they have sung this most sacred of songs.  But, to the modern ear, it sounds like a common cackle.  The sound and the name stuck…hence, the Grackle.

Annoying and obtrusive to most people these days, I found myself alone in a quiet park one afternoon.  I listened to the cackling.  I listened for the song.  It began to clarify in my head.  I could make out intonation, nuance, emotion and meaning.

I began to hear the Seven Songs of Passion.

I heard LOVE…and I thought of my childhood.  My mother, my father, my brothers, my elders, my girlfriend, my lovers, my wife.  I thought of those I never knew… never knew I really loved them, and those who I never realized, once loved me.

I heard HATE…and I thought of killing in the name of God, killing those who are different, killing those who chose to love those we don’t think they have a right to love.  I thought of those killed by others who believe in another God than the One of our birth.  I thought of the death of the spirit in a child by withholding love, by hurting their tiny hearts and bodies.  I thought of those who hate because…they hate.

I heard FEAR…and I thought of a lonely snow-covered trail in the Northern Forest and the fear that I was losing a dear friend.  I recalled a phone call, and then another, followed by yet another, telling me that a parent or sibling was near death.  I thought of the fear that a woman I loved would simply walk out the door.  I thought of the fear of abandonment and the fear of being unloved.  I thought of the fear of dying, the fear of pain, the fear of being afraid.

I heard COURAGE…and I thought of the brave who have died for their beliefs, not for a flag or a symbol, but for  human dignity and the freedom from being a slave of any kind.

I heard JOY…and I thought of how I felt when my children were born.  How I love and respect my daughter, Erin and how she and her husband, Bob are raising my grandson, Elias, to be an inquisitive and curious and kind child.  I thought of how much fun I have when I sit and have a talk with my son, Brian, who is smart, witty and has the heart as big as Texas (with New Mexico and a good deal of Utah thrown in).

I heard ANGER…and I thought of the misspoken words between a married couple, between a child and a parent, between lovers, between nations, between religions, with oneself for not being able to accomplish something creative and meaningful, lasting and full of beauty.

I heard SADNESS…and I feel a billion tears from a million people crying, at a graveside for the soul of someone they will never see or touch again, at a wedding when a father says farewell to a daughter or a son, in an office when a husband or wife hears of the loss of a spouse or child in a misbegotten war, in the heart of a student when the teacher implies he or she can’t do something, in the doorway of a family home when a parent watches their child walk away into the life of adulthood, never to be a child again.  The sadness of those losses are overwhelming.

MourningFigure

[Source: Pinterest]

I heard all these passions from the beak of that dark bird, the Grackle.  I was overwhelmed by this ability to hear these things.  It’s too much for one person to handle.  If more people just stopped and listened to the zantes, perhaps the burden would be spread out…and lighten the load for the few who stop to listen, not just to this one bird of Austin, but to all life.

WatercolorTears

[Image: Google Search]

 

 

Mix Mesquite, Sage, Fire, Oil And A Dash Of White-Line Fever

WhiteLineFever

You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst.

You shall wander far in safety, though you do not know the way.

–From Be Not Alone, a hymn commonly sung at funerals.  Words by John Michael Talbot.

“Somewhere on a desert highway, she rides a Harley-Davidson…her long blonde hair flying in the sun…”  These words were written by Neil Young.  I was riding on a desert highway, but there was no long blonde hair and no Harley.  Just a red Ford Escape pulling an R-pod.

Deserts have always intrigued me for their power, lines of sight, clearly defined horizons and the emptiness.  Sometimes they’re referred to as The Fearful Void or the Empty Quarter.  It’s no coincidence that the three major religions of Western Civilizations all had their roots in the sands of the Middle East.  Sand is not known for its quality of holding vegetation, but these gods of Islam, Judaism and Christianity all have very deep roots.

NearPecos

This was the ideal environment for the “Desert Fathers” to retreat and contemplate the meaning of life and death.  It is a place where a man can hear God’s speaking from a burning bush, or be forced to listen to one’s own inner voice…and confront the truth about his or her own soul.

desertwanderer

[Image: Google search]

The desert attracts mystics, loners, drifters, outlaws, survivors, fanatics, preachers and cheaters.  In these modern days of RV travel, it attracts the casual tourist.  Once it attracted those who had nowhere else to go.  It was the last stop for the pitiful souls that lived their lives on the edges of society.

It’s kind of a rule, I guess: Outlaw mystic bigamist simply don’t have time to shovel snow or put salt on the ice of their driveway.

There are towns in Texas with names like Bug Tussle, Ding Dong, Muleshoe, Spunky Flat, Mudville and Wink.  None of these would we pass through, however.  We’d have to settle for Austin, where I learned to do the 2-step.  San Antonio, where I finally walked through the door of the Alamo.  We stayed at Junction.  Drove through Sonora to Ozona where we parked in a nearly empty lot that was ringed by pre-fab houses.  No office.  No showers.  Just a few rusted Maytags and a few new dryers.  It was there that the owner/manager came to pick up our check that we had dropped into a black lock box.  Her husband sat in a pick-up truck while we chatted about life in these parts.

“Don’t stay over in Pecos,” she warned.

“Why?”

“It’s an ugly place, with ugly houses, ugly stores and ugly people,” she said.

We settled for Fort Stockton instead of Pecos.  I confess I was disappointed.  The pure romance of the name, Pecos, was enough to tweek my interest.  At the Old Fort Stockton Cemetery, I stood amid forty or fifty graves, marked only with iron crosses painted white.

There were only a few names.

Our RV park in Fort Stockton was on a rise on the west end of town.  I had a fantastic view of the four lanes of I-10, paved straight as a ruler to the west, the point of convergence seemed to be beyond the horizon…at the very ends of the earth.  White lights came from the cars heading east, the red tail-lights were the cars and trucks heading into the unknown regions beyond El Paso.

Where were they going?  Who was in those cars?  Were they heading toward a dream and away from a nightmare (or the law), or was it the other way around?

I wonder about these things.

As we drove north from Fort Stockton, we passed through Pecos.  We crossed the Pecos River…the stuff of cowboy movies and pulp westerns.  It wasn’t as bad a place as the woman who held our $35.00 check in her hand…in a laundry shed in Ozona had said.  It was in Pecos that I gave up counting the number of a certain store, for I have found a place more ubiquitous than McDonald’s or Wal-Mart.

I found the most common retail store in North America…and it’s the Dollar Store or the Family Dollar.

FamilyDollar

We drove north on Highway 285, crossing empty stream beds named Cayanosa Draw, the Salt Draw and others that I forgot.

More rivers, more draws…more nothing.  Here was a sign for Odessa.  There was a sign for Alpine.  One for Saragossa, one for Pyote and one for Wink.

It was not a hot day, but the strong winds tore the car door from my grip.  I stopped to take a photo of an abandoned liquor store that probably sold its last bottle of cheap Tequila in 1963.  A semi sped past me at 80 mph, kicking up a cloud of dust that penetrated my tightly closed eyelids.

Once more, I stopped counting the working oil pumps.  The levers rising and falling like a children’s teeter-totter.  I thought all the oil in Texas was gone decades ago.  I was wrong.  A minor boom was driving the economy of half the state.  Dozens, perhaps hundreds of such pumps stretched off into the distance.  Several wells were burning off the excess gas vapor, the flames whipping in the wind like giant Satanic birthday candles, all roaring without a sound for me to hear.  The wind blew away the noise.  These wells were miles away, but I could almost feel the heat

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It was a Dante-like landscape.  Fire.  Dust.  Empty.

I wondered if a sinner went to a place like this if a stain remained on their soul when life departed?

The flames reminded me of orange Chili peppers.  I felt hungry but not enough to brave the numerous burrito shacks that lined the streets.  With my digestive history, I knew I’d pay a dear price for eating the real thing.

I knew sooner or later, I wanted to taste the genuine burrito, not a Taco Bell version.  But, I had many miles to make this decision.  I’ll get brave.  Maybe I’ll manage to dance the 2-step again before we arrive at that odd spa in the Mojave Desert that I’ve been telling you about…you remember, the place that healed many bodies and souls…and hopefully mine.

But, that place is many miles from where I sit and type this post, here in the common room of the RV resort.  I’m looking out of the window, a cactus plant blocks some of the view I have of the pale blue sky, high clouds and the occasional car and truck a half mile away on Highway 285.

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[Image: Google search]

My Moonlight Sonata

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“Moonlight becomes you, it goes with your hair.

You certainly know the right thing to wear…”

–Popular song

For many years, the Full Moon has fascinated me.  In the North Country, in the death-like silence of the mid-winter, and the snow on the ground is seven inches deep, and bending the branches of the cedar trees, you can read a poem, by Rilke or Yeats or Frost, using only the light of the moon to illuminate the page.

If you had a wall-map of Texas tacked to the paneling of your family room (and who doesn’t?), and you stood outside of the sliding doors (for distance), and you shot an arrow, aiming for the center of the state…you would hit the approximate spot where I’m sitting now.  That is, of course, if you considered the drop of the arrow due to gravity.  I’m not in the dead middle of the state, but I’m close.

We spent Thursday night in Junction, hard by the Little Llano River.  Tonight we are in a deserted RV park in Ozona, hard by nowhere.

I was out walking through an older section of the town cemetery as the sun slowly sank toward the western bluffs that ring this little town.  It was getting late and I needed to get back to the Rpod.  But, before I reached the car, another object in the sky caught my eyes.  It was the rising moon, waxing toward the Full phase. It will be a Full Moon on Saturday night, January 23; our fourth Full moon since we began our road journey.

I wondered about the Native Americans, the people who populated this valley long before white men with whiskers and whiskey came through.  I thought about how they died and returned to the elements.  And then, watched from the shadows as their children and their children’s children stood and watched this brushy, arid, and beautiful place give way to ranches and cattle drives.

I also wondered how these First People marked the passage of time. We have the modern calendar artificially divided into minutes, seconds, days, weeks, months and years…according to what some king or some Pope decided was convenient.

But, I wondered if our images of smoke signals were rooted in reality.  I learned that the use of smoke is an ancient tradition here in the Americas and not merely an invention of Hollywood.

Drums were often used to convey messages across long distances. But, this was information. This was not specific to the passage of time.
Sitting Bull probably never said: “I’ll meet up with you in twenty minutes at the other side of the mesa…”

No, it seems much more likely that they used the passage of seasons and the phases of the moon to convey time.
“Oh yes, my son, this took place many moons ago…”
“I will meet you near the bend of the creek in two moons…”

It makes perfect sense. The moon is as predictable as the rising of the sun. And, it’s conveniently segmented into twenty-eight days cycles (oddly, the same time frame as a woman’s monthly cycle).

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So, tomorrow, night, in Pecos, Texas (any better name than that to invoke the west?) we will watch the Full Moon rise for the fourth time since we left New York State.

Our first was on October 27, in Brunswick, GA. It was a Blood Moon (or, more commonly, a Hunter’s Moon). I remember it was a warm night in Georgia. Halloween was approaching. It all seemed right.
Our second was on November 25, in Fort Myers, FL. I remember the overly warm night as I struggled to get the perfect photo of the moon through the palm trees. This was the Beaver Moon. 

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Our third was on December 25, again in Fort Myers.  It was a strange experience watching the moon rise, while standing against the edge of the swimming pool at our RV resort while Christmas carols drifted through the air from someone’s CD player.

So, like the persistent tide of the oceans, another Full Moon will rise tomorrow at sunset.  It will be the Wolf Moon. With any luck, the skies will be clear and the view will be profound and mystical, in its own way.  Such a common occurrence, yet so fresh and amazing.  Perhaps a coyote or even a wolf will howl at this moon…and echo through the canyon lands and mesas of western Texas.

Where the February, the Snow Moon find us?  Somewhere in the deserts of Arizona or the Mojave of Southern California, perhaps.  It may rise over the mythic town that will provide the promised cure for my troubled body and distressed mind.  The town that I’ve promised to tell you about…when I finally find it.

I’ll do my best to frame the perfect photo against a Sarguaro cactus.

If you’re up to it and the sky above your head is clear, step outside after the moon rises…and join me.  I’ll be in West Texas looking at the same dark mara and the same bright cratered features.  Let’s then wish each other a good night.

April 22, we will be seeing the Pink Moon from either Rainbow Lake, if the weather cooperates, or maybe we will remain for a few days in New York City and watch it rise, bright, dazzling and so urbane, over Queens.

 

At The Alamo: All The History I Needed Was On My Pajamas

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[Source: Google search]

I grew up in a time when kids had heroes.  Mythic heroes.  These days, it seems like anyone who performs his or her duties is a “hero”.

It’s fair to say that most children, throughout history, had their own heroes.  The ancient Greek boys had their Spartans and the Irish youth had their patriots.  The girls had Cleopatra and Helen and Florence Nightingale.  But many of these mythic figures leap from the pages of books…and literacy was mostly for those who lived a life of privilege.

I would go so far to say that millions of young people looked out into a field and watched their dad plow and sweat for twelve hours a day.  Or watched from a broken window as their mother hung out clothes for a family of nine…to dry in the midwest wind and sun.

But, I grew up in the heyday of television and I grew up in America.  I grew up watching stories unfold, in flickering black and white, through the vision of Walt Disney.

Disney owned the hearts and imaginations of an entire generation of baby-boomers.

What boy in America wasn’t in love with a brunette named Annette?  What girl didn’t want to ride the range with Tim Considine (from a Disney TV show)?

I was fortunate to have a large yard to play out our war games and treasure hunts.  We were the Cowboys and we were the Indians…just like the ones we saw on the small screen.  We were the troops of the U.S. Army reenacting the battles that were just recent memories of many of my friends fathers.

Around the time I was seven or eight, I discovered my “true American hero”…and again, it was Disney that put this man on the map of our imaginations.

We’re talking about Davy Crockett.  A real historical figure, his shadow continues to fall across a dozen states.  The real Crockett bore little resemblance to Fess Parker or John Wayne.  But, the image of his making his last stand on the walls of the Alamo, here in San Antonio, is etched forever in my mind.  I knew all the pertinent facts of his life.  I knew them because they were printed on my most prized possession…my Davy Crockett pajamas.  For a more descriptive story of the untimely fate of my legendary pajamas, go to the link at the end of this blog to find “The Legend of the Davy Crockett Pajamas”.

Now, after sixty-one years (give or take a few), I am standing in the plaza and gazing at the facade of the Alamo.  It was odd to be confronting something so mythic as the Alamo, like a Greek scholar viewing the Acropolis for the first time.  In this plaza, under my feet, under the fresh paving stones and cobbles and landscaped palm trees, thousands of bodies once littered the ground.  These were the Mexican soldiers who finally took over the little Mission building on March 6, 1836.  Doubtless, some bones have never been recovered.  This plaza was, therefore, hallowed ground.  It seemed to me that the groups of tourists and families were oblivious to this fact.

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[Source: Google search]

In the end, it was all for nothing.  The Alamo was recaptured a short time later…became part of Mexico…and the rest is history.

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[Source: Google search]

I stood in the cool air and looked at the famous building.  I saw John Wayne up there on the wall.  I saw Fess Parker swinging Bessie, his rifle.  I saw the real Crockett pointing his weapon toward the advancing Mexican army.

I heard Fess Parker sing a song, the last song of the movie, to his side-kick, Buddy Ebsen.  I think that song was the Green Leaves of Summer.

I may be not be remembering this correctly.  After all, history is soon forgotten.

One thing I’ll never forget is the history that was printed on my flannel pajamas.

AlamoMe

The Legend of the Davy Crockett Pajamas