Driving back roads through flat dry West Texas prairie, one comes upon mule deer grazing among mesquite trees.
They look at you as you pass with dark intense eyes. They are always aware, can turn quick and be gone even quicker, leap over barbed wire fences like child’s play. Deer are handsome animals with deep set eyes, black noses, and ears that are their security. They move freely between Palo Duro Canyon and the ranch and farmland on top where it is windy and exposed and people live.
Turkeys are harder to call handsome.
This afternoon a group of gobblers appear in the back yard and Alan feeds them lunch. When he reaches into his bucket, grabs a handful of corn and pitches it onto their prairie table, they don’t scatter.
He has been feeding them for months and now they come up to his house, onto the back porch, and peer into his living room.
He calls them his “Peeping Tom’s”.
Animals and people now have relationships. Wild animals have become less wild, less something we eat, more something we befriend.
Still, animal’s are wise to be cautious. Human’s easily do inhuman things in a heartbeat.
Nature in the canyon is never far away, and neither are humans.
Palo Duro Canyon cuts through Texas like a big spoon in a tub of ice cream at a church social.
We load three poles, a tackle box, frozen corn, rubber worms and salmon eggs, and navigate three locked gates to get down to the prime fishing holes. There are some good spots below Lake Tanglewood in the canyon bottom that have catfish, perch, stocked trout, and even bass.
It is too early in the year for fish to be biting but we pull in three and throw them back after gently lifting them onto the bank at our feet, carefully removing the hook from their mouths, careful not to get our hands on their bodies, holding them with two fingers slipped under the gills.
Catch and release is a new fishing tenet in human history.
In the old days you fished and what you caught ended up in a frying pan with batter and went on your plate with the head on one end and the tail on the other. Now, we throw them back and eat fish sold at the grocery that were raised in fish farms in Vietnam.
We fish an hour then track down one of our cousins.
H.B. is working in his garden, in the bottom of the canyon.
Questioned, I maintain that Uruguay is a good place to visit, but living there will be worse than where we are when trouble hits the fan.
Palo Duro Canyon is one hell of a secure foxhole in a world turning dangerous.
In another month it will be warmer and fish in this canyon will be biting better. You can bet we won’t throw them all back.
In Canyon, Texas there is a relic from the fifties that overlooks the freeway that plows through town.
This giant statue of a cowboy is known as “Big Tex”. He has been here as long as townspeople can remember and civic leaders have started a fundraising effort to save him from the dust bin.
The story goes that he used to be associated with a western clothes store that has since been torn down. The owner let Big Tex stay on the property because it would have cost too much to remove him.
Big Tex used to have all his fingers and real levi’s specially made for his twenty foot legs. He used to have a shiny hat and you could see a twinkle in his eyes. Tethered down with pipe, like a Gulliver, the elements and time have taken their toll and he needs a new wardrobe and a new lease on life.
The most recent notch on his gun came when Sports Illustrated dropped by for a visit and had one of their models pose with him for their famous “Swimsuit Issue”. What sports and swimsuits have in common is selling magazines and generating interest. Lots of Texans like their sports and lots of Texans like their swimsuit models. Put them together and you have a rising revenue line.
I think I see one of his fingers move when I am taking his photo, but, on a second glance, decide it is just my imagination.
Life, often, gets a whole lot bigger than imagination.
Buffalo’s are not small, short, slender animals. In fact, they have a reputation for hardiness, tolerance for adverse circumstances, and supported Indian’s on the Great Plains for hundreds of years.
The Lady Buff”s of Texas A&M College in Canyon, Texas are slender and wiry and are playing in the Regional Championships for the NCAA Women’s Division 11 College Basketball, 2015. Last year they went all the way to the National Championship and were beat in the last minutes by only a few points. This season has been dedicated to attaining those lofty heights again.
The Lady Buff’s are short, trim, and athletic. They can push the ball down the floor, play ball control when needed, hit outside three’s if the shot is there, and play a great defense that keeps opponents from driving on the basket. They can make free throws and have a bench that can add to the score instead of losing a lead. For this game they are playing an eighth seed and are favored to win the game though nothing is to be taken for granted in sports.
Canyon, Texas is a small town outside of Amarillo. The college has a National Champion Women’s Softball team, a volleyball team that went to the elite eight last year, and, of course, a woman’s basketball team that wins a lot more than they lose. Colleges and women’s sports have been married a long time.
This evening fans are decked out with pom pom’s, clap hands, wear buffalo horns and T-shirts, and stomp in the stands complaining about bad calls by the referees, errant passes, and missed free throws.
We have our tickets and give our support to the team whether they are down or up. This game is entertaining and, in the end, the Lady Buff’s win handily. .
Getting to the championship is hard enough the first time. To go a second time you really have to have something.
Contemporary Fine Art is the calling card of this small gallery in Amarillo.
It’s owners feature works of emerging local, regional and national artists in nine exhibitions a year. They offer personal consulting services and support the community by donating time and money to local causes.
Open, just like their sign says they should be, we drop in and enjoy artists and styles shown this March, 2015. We are finished with lunch at Tacos Garcia , a local Amarillo eatery, that serves as close to New Mexican food as we can get in Texas. Your taste for red or green enchiladas follows you wherever you go.
The Cerulean gallery has concrete floors, white walls, light, and enough room to make it a comfortable place to see artists up close and personal. There are artists in every community, painting in little studios that are sometimes just a corner of a living room, an easel on the prairie, or a place in a garage with a skylight added for real light. There are artists working late into the night or early mornings before going to day jobs. They know their lines and colors and art history and pursue their dreams even though the odds are against them making money or achieving stardom. Still, lots of us do things out of love that have a murky bottom line.
It is hard to see how long a gallery of Contemporary Art can survive in a town of cowboy art, cattle and windmills, atmospheric clouds and long vistas of open space. It is true, though, that art springs from individual hearts and minds so it should be as different as people are different.
There should be a place at the art table for everyone, even crazy old Uncle Ed.
Alan, Jim, Sondra and I enjoy this afternoon and I never stop looking for Uncle Ed’s portrait in a hidden corner of the gallery.
Just down the frontage road from the Cadillac Ranch is the Cadillac Ranch gift shop.
It is before nine in the morning so it isn’t open but they have a sign out front that encourages lollygagging.
This gift shop is presided over by a twenty foot tall cowboy sporting a big hat. He waves to freeway tourists and wears a bright yellow T-shirt that says “2nd Amendment Cowboy”. Texas, a sovereign state, can withdraw from the Union when they wish and if you have guns you are more than welcome to sit a spell.
The fact there is a gift shop in the shadow of the Cadillac Ranch isn’t surprising. In Central and South America you have knick knack shops in front of most major cathedrals. In Egypt, you have little stands selling miniature pyramids and King Tut dolls close to Howard Carter’s greatest discoveries.
In the shadow of the 2nd Amendment Cowboy are three old Cadillac’s. Driving one is Willie Nelson. Elvis waves from inside another. The 2nd Amendment Cowboy’s smaller twin brother pilots the third car.
I will come back because I would love to have a little statue of a Cadillac buried into a cigarette lighter, or a 2nd Amendment Cowboy lamp for my living room table.
You can bet, as the day warms up, there will be the sound of target practice close by.
When you pull the trigger, in Texas, you want your bullet to hit what you are aiming at.
No self respecting cowboy would be caught without his artillery.
Before you reach Amarillo, following I-40, you look to the right and see a series of Cadillac’s stuck in Texas dirt in the middle of an unplowed field.
In the old days the Cadillac’s used to be natural, like they came from the factory. They had huge fins, power windows, custom paint jobs, real rubber tires, chrome that would make any car buff salivate. You looked out in the field and the vehicles looked like they had come back down to Earth, like errant arrows, and buried themselves into the soil as far as their momentum would carry them.
On most days you see tourist cars clustered by a little turnstile and see tourists themselves following a wide path out to the cars where they pose for pictures, touch the cars to see how they feel, kick where real tires used to be. The Cadillac’s have been covered with so much graffiti that they are now hardly recognizable.
At the entrance to this entertainment is a little sign that informs you that ” This is not a National Park, Pick up your own Trash.”
This diversion is a brainstorm of an eccentric Texas oil man, Stanley Marsh. There have been not so nice rumors about his sex habits but he was a patron of the arts and how often does anyone create a Texas Landmark that has ended up in coffee table books all over the U.S.? It is unknown exactly what snapped in this man’s mind when he was having barbecue ribs on his back porch shooting Lone Star beer cans with a 45 pistol, but now we have a lasting spectacle that wasn’t here before his epiphany.
Men do all kinds of crazy things and, for the most part, they don’t need a reason. In Texas, the Lone Star State, you are still free to speak your piece and act out your fantasy’s.
If everyone buried a Cadillac halfway into their backyards, we wouldn’t be standing here taking pictures, shaking our heads, getting mud on our shoes.
It’s people who do things no one else would, that we remember the most.
Back in Albuquerque two months, the travel itch started at my right big toe and is working its way up to my right kneecap.
Life since Matzatlan has meandered and it isn’t until a brother’s invitation is offered that I have a chance to scratch my latest travel itch.
On the road at four in the morning, I can’t yet make out shapes of road cuts as I weave my way along the freeway between them. There are road signs waving at me to slow down and I see hints of sunlight struggling to break through the darkness that envelopes me. The instrument panel on my little chariot reminds me it is time to stop for gas and food.
Just outside of Tucumcari, New Mexico, following the old Route 66,I know there are several truck stops waiting for me to pull in..
They both offer travelers gas, a restaurant, a place to stock up on snacks..Though they cater to truckers, their doors are open to everyone, and, in a pinch, a tired traveler can catch a nap in the parking lot with a coat thrown over his head to hide light from huge signs that advertise to those whizzing by, going both directions across our country.
There is no reason to stick around Tucumcari when Albuquerque or Amarillo is only a short hop, skip, and jump away. You don’t need to drive through a whole town when all you need is a piece of it for a bite to eat, a bathroom break or a place to walk your poodle. Freeways created drive by towns and moved us into a different sense of time and space where the country is something to be traversed as quickly as possible, not something to be relished like a sweet piece of hard candy.
After several months home in Albuquerque, my brother’s invitation to visit comes as a welcome relief.