Roadside Attractions From The Rearview Mirror

compassRose

I feel like I’ve driven half-way around the earth’s diameter.  Actually, according to the odometer on the red Ford Escape, we did indeed travel that far.

Our total distance driven, including side trips for sight-seeing, came to an astounding 13,589 miles!  If you’re into engine care and maintenance, that’s would be three oil changes (and filter, of course).  And, as we pulled into our driveway, we were overdue for a fourth change.

I walked into the kitchen and saw the calendar next to our Samsung refrigerator.  Take a look:

2015Calendar

That was our departure date, October 15.  I see it was a Thursday.  I took the calendar down (I was thinking there was something superstitious about leaving old calendars on the wall.  I only see them in Auto Repair Shops and they have Betty Page photos and the dates are around 1956 and the guys that work in some of these places often have seen times of hard luck).  It took me a day to locate the 2016 calendar I bought (20% off) at a Barnes & Noble store in Texas.  The theme is Circus “Freaks”.  Changing calendar themes from Vintage England Travel Posters to The Circus Sideshow must say something about my change in tastes.  The sideshows are vanishing from America…but there will always be an England.

Unusual things and marginalized people have always fascinated me.

Don’t ask.

So, here’s the new calendar:

AprilCalendar2016

In case you can’t read the dates very well, we got home on April 1.  I was so exhausted and sore from driving that I didn’t find anyone or anything to play a prank on.

But, the Tattooed Girl will brighten that corner of the kitchen until May 1!  This brings up an interesting thought…this sideshow girl was once considered an oddity…she made her living exhibiting herself in a circus.  At least half the baristas in the Starbucks I visited had tats far more artistic, exotic and erotic than our Miss April, 2016.

Culture changes…but, as I said, there will always be an England.

So, let me run the numbers.  Using the above dates, we spent 169 days out there…somewhere out there, driving, camping, hiking or just sitting on a beach.  This come out to 40.6% of a year.  Nearly 41% of a year of my life has just been spent looking at things.

We emptied the r-pod (we’re going to sell it, but it needs a few repairs first) and I piled our guides and maps and memorabilia on the floor.  Of course, I arranged everything to look haphazard and casual, but every pamphlet and sticker and book and CD is carefully placed to give you an idea what we accomplished.  I probably should mention that I couldn’t find most of the guide books and National Park maps and tee-shirts that we purchased along the way.  They’ll show up sometime in late July.

GuidesOnfloorFromTrip

I even re-highlighted my route on our Rand McNally.  Here it is:

Atlas

I’m aware that it’s hard to see clearly, but you only need to see the orange line and the green/blue line.  The orange line was our route to Palm Desert, California.  This is where we made a turn on a highway that was surrounded by wind-mills, and began to set our course eastward.  That’s the green/blue line.

Far be it for me to brag, but I do think we took in a pretty good chunk of the lower part of the Lower 48.

If you’ve been following the many blogs I sweated and struggled to produce for your entertainment, you will know that I did accomplish quite a bit more than just fill up the memory chip in my digital camera.

I became certified in sailing (any keel boat up to 30′).  I posed with Miss Sonoran Desert Queen (and she put her arm around me willingly and eagerly…as she thought of her long deceased grandfather).  I saw my first rodeo, an American child’s dream (if you were raised in the 1950’s).  I saw the graves of dead outlaws and B & B’s that were former brothels.

I drank Tequila in a bar in Juarez, Mexico…the same bar where Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Steve McQueen drank.  I tried to feel their spiritual entities, but looking for the nooks where they sat and kissed and drank, only led me to the men’s room.  We crossed the International Bridge from El Paso.  I looked down at the line of defense our government has built to deter (read ‘keep out’) illegals.  The trenches, fences, walls and razor wire reminded me of the Berlin Wall or the Maginot Line.  I was struck by the seven inches you unknowingly step across that separates two cultures that are so close yet so far apart.  I also did this on a day when I was in constant FB messaging with my son Brian.  I pleaded with him to dig into his iTunes for Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues”, so he could, somehow in the cyber-world, be connected with me as I walked across the border bridge…and he would, at that same moment be listening to:

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Eastertime too.  And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through, don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue, they got some hungry women there, and they really make a mess outta you.”

We crossed the bridge.  Brian said he listened.  But it wasn’t raining and there’s no Rue Morgue Avenue in Juarez.  I did find a Mexican busker who sang Cielito Lindo for us, but no hungry women.  But, I’m not such a dreamer to believe that there are really no hungry women in Juarez…or hungry children…or hungry old men who sit and smoke and drink and think.

Sometimes facts get in the way of a good story.  For me, I have to immerse myself in a landscape, get my hands dirty, my mouth full of dust, get pricked by a cactus or bitten by a scorpion to fully understand where it is that I am standing. If I’m in Mississippi, I listen to Delta blues, if I’m in Texas, Bob Wills goes into the CD player.

Anytime on this trip, “Happy Trails” would be a welcome tune.

I drank a Lone Star beer at the Broken Spoke in Austin when Mariam, my friend William McHone and myself took lessons in the Texas 2-Step.  I even bought a pair of cheap cowboy boots for that night.  I didn’t do very well.  I have no sense of rhythm…only the desire to move around the dance floor to the sound of Texas Swing…and hold my honey in my arms.  I still have the boots, but I still can’t dance the Texas 2-Step.

I saw things that made me cry.

I saw acres of cattle, with no place to graze, penned and waiting to be herded to the killing rooms.  The miles I drove past these death-camps smelled of cow shit.  I wondered if it was their diet…or their fear.

I saw shanty-towns of the most squalid poverty and hopelessness.  I saw Native Americans reduced to playing “Indians” for the tourists…like me.

When we entered a National Park, I flashed my Golden Pass, which allowed us, as seniors, free entry.  I pondered the situation of an average family with four kids paying close to $100 to see the extraordinary landscapes that really belong to all of us.

I laid a flower at the grave of a prostitute in Dodge City, Kansas…a luckless young woman (somehow, I prefer the term “Soiled Dove”) who died from an infection caused by bar-room brawl over a cowboy, or was it Bat Masterson, or a banker, or a lover.

I placed another flower at the grave of an old friend of mine who died forty-some years ago.  He died and I lived.  We were hiking the same trail in the High Peaks.  I lived to return to his grave and place that Adirondack wildflower I had picked months earlier.  Now it was dried and withered from months on the road.  A flower from the mountains that were his last views of his life on this earth.

I saw an elderly man after he tripped on the curb outside a 7-Eleven.  He was bleeding.  The EMT’s were all over the situation.  But…was I seeing myself in fifteen years?

I saw a woman crying while she sat an outside table at one of the thousand Starbucks we visited.  She was alone in whatever sorrow had overcome her.  It took me days to get the image of her heartbreak out of my head.

I saw another woman crying in a bar.  She was with a male friend.  What happened?  Was she leaving him?  He leaving her?  I couldn’t tell, but the scene made me turn away.  I sat in her seat more than once in my life.

I cried one afternoon in the countryside outside of Dallas.  It didn’t have to do with the trip, directly.  I was driving to visit a large cemetery about fifteen miles southwest of the city.  I was listening to NPR and I sat up straight in the seat of the red Ford when the radio host announced that David Bowie had died.  I mulled this over for a few miles.  I realized I didn’t have any Bowie music on any of my playlists.  Then it happened.  They began a segment of “All Things Considered” with the opening riffs…the soaring chords of  “Let’s Dance”.

I didn’t dance.  I pulled over onto the shoulder and wept.  I wept for the lost talent, the lost beauty, the lost art…and another lost member of my generation’s music.

But, I saw sights of jaw-dropping beauty.  Rainbows that lasted over an hour.  Rock colors I never knew existed.  Canyons and valleys and washes and rivers, many that are famous and many that are unnamed.  Actually, I think nearly everything in the world has a name, I just didn’t have the right map.

When you travel, always have the right map.  It doesn’t have to be of any place you’re planning on visiting, but it’s good to have the map anyway.

There are maps of the wild and empty deserts of Arizona and California.  And, there are maps that exist only inside one’s mind.  These are usually the most interesting ones to use as guides.  Landscapes, towns, roads, Interstates, trails and horse paths can change with a sudden rainstorm.

But, the map that has your heart and soul and restless spirit as the compass rose…those are the maps to carry.

You can’t buy them on Amazon.  You were born with them deep in your chromosomes.

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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

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[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

BurningOff

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.

desert

[Image: Google search]

My Moonlight Sonata

800px-Full_moon

“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).

MoonPhases MoonPhases

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. 

 PalmMoon

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

battleAlamo1

[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.

Alamo2

[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.

postcardAlamo

[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

https://patrickjegan.me/2012/12/16/the-legend-of-the-davy-crockett-pajamas/

Night Of The Living Entropy

RpodInPark

[Just to give you the right perspective.  We are a small fish in a large sea of RV’s]

[en-tro-py n, pl -pies  1 : the degree of disorder in a system  2 : an ultimate state of inert uniformity]

     —Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2014 ed.

I recently completed reading Deep South by Paul Theroux.  He is, arguably, the best travel writer working today.  His Great Railway Bizarre set a very high standard for that genre.  In Deep South, he begins by reviewing the styles of other travel writers.  Historically, he says, the wanderer often writes of how hard the journey is and complains a great deal of the difficulties encountered.

“The local food was exotic but I had to close my eyes to take a mouthful.”

“The insects swarmed into my eyes and nostrils and ears in uncountable numbers.”

You get my point.  Theroux was saying that to complain was to miss the point of the journey.  A good book about a great journey is supposed to impart a flavor of the local dialect, food, and geography.  Most importantly, to me, is trying to listen to what a stranger has to say…listen for their story…listen to the local legends of the back roads and byways.

Sorry, but I’m going to turn away from Theroux’s fine advice and complain.  Not about where we have traveled but instead, of how we have traveled.

When people see our r-pod, the words we hear most are: “Oh, how cute is that?!”  I admit that it is indeed cute, but it doesn’t do a thing for trying to fit months of clothes, books and stuff into something that has rounded ends and no room for closets.

While Mariam has been away for a few days in New York City for meetings, I fully intended to work on my novel and have room to spread out and just think.  It didn’t work out that way.

Let’s start with this table I am writing this post from.  This space is either a table (for writing and eating) or its a bed…but it’s not both.  It takes time and effort to make the table into a bed…time I could be out looking at a cow, a horse or listening to a local tell me a tale or two.  So, to save me that effort, I’ve taken the bottom bunk (which is about three steps away from the table/bed, and moved the clothes (remember, no closets) to the table (when I’m not writing or eating), or to the top bunk, which is already piled with…stuff.

RpodTable

[My writing desk and dinner table and bed]

I will admit the lower bunk has a real “mattress” so that my back pain in the morning is not as intense as usual.  But, the back pain has been replaced by the pain on my forehead from knocking it against the bottom of the top bunk.  Laying in bed at night is a particular (and somewhat morbid) challenge.  I propped my head up on a pillow to read.  I looked up and saw the wood panel above me.  I measured the distance from the tip of my nose to the bottom of the top bunk.  I held my fingers apart and measured.  It was just shy of 4″.  I felt like I was the guest of honor at an open casket funeral.  Now I know how Bela Lugosi felt between takes of Dracula, while he waited for the cameras to be moved.  Now I know how Bela Lugosi feels now.

Bunk

[My sleeping arrangements]

BathroomDoor

[There is a bathroom/shower behind these towels]

About fifty feet from where I’m siting, is a large blue mobile home…a bus-like affair.  A woman ties her little black dog to the BBQ pole and goes off to do laundry or drives away to shop.  The dog yelps and barks until she returns.  And, I’m supposed to concentrate on maintaining a narrative line in my novel-in-progress?  I can’t.  I’m easily distracted.  So, I escape to a nearby Starbucks.  We have a ‘card’ so when I buy a Cold Brew or a hot dark roast, I feel like it’s free.  I sat yesterday in an overstuffed leather chair and began to take notes on my characters when a large number of students from the University of Texas at Arlington came in.  At a table near me, three young men were huddled around a laptop.  One of them was telling the other two about his new idea to create a website to help other people find websites.  I realize that this could be the next Zuckerberg, but he didn’t have to tell the entire coffee-house about how many pixels he was planning to use, or what CSS meant.

I came back here.  The dog was inside, but I could still him/her barking…in that plaintive yelp that means: “I’m annoying everyone around here, but I’m so cute!”

I waited for darkness.  There was a beautiful crescent moon in the western sky (I thought I was in the west??).  I decided to do a load of soiled clothes in the nice warm laundry room.  I was hoping to catch the State of the Union speech (our TV has no reception), but a heavy-set woman was watching a martial arts movie.  She had a cough that would frighten a brown bear.  I didn’t want to catch some strange Texas respiratory ailment, so I darted back and forth to the r-pod and the laundry, trying to win a game or two of Scrabble with a high school friend, Jackie B.

Which brings me to our car.  The rear hatchback has been stuck since early December, 2015 while we were in Florida.  Just for fun, I tried pushing the button and much to my surprise, it opened!  I lifted it up and a bag promptly fell out and a bottle of red wine broke on our bumper.  I sprayed WD-40 all over the latch and succeeded in mixing that with the spilled wine.  That’s why I was doing laundry last night.

I didn’t have a banner day on Tuesday.  I wish I was back in Vicksburg, sitting in the back of The Tomato Place and chatting with Mallory, Luke and Angela.  Life was so much simpler a week ago.

But, y’all know where I’ll be on Friday night.  I’ll be in Austin, doing the Texas 2-Step…making strange squeaks with my rubber bottom soles.

My birthday is coming in May.  I want a new and bigger RV…and I want a pair of cowboy boots.  Just like the ones I had when I was five years old.  I wasn’t in Texas, I was in my backyard.  And, my dog, King, didn’t bark…to much.

PinkRoseOfTexas

[“You can’t lose if you close a blog with flowers”. My grandfather once told me.  These are roses,  They’re not yellow, but they’re from Texas]