Asia in Sandstone Amarillo College Museum

    Some sculptures exhibited are behind glass, others are open to visitors to peer at closely, peek at the small shadows in the creases of the faces. Some of the work is utilitarian, made to ornament balustrades and pillars. Other works stood in temples before kneeling worshipers and burning incense. Antiquity never quite leaves us, though we try to leave it. Conserving the past, especially if it is someone else’s, is precious.  

Gallery of Asian Art Amarillo College, Amarillo

    The Amarillo College Museum has several floors and this Friday, after Thanksgiving, Alan, Cousin Jim and Scott ,visit both floors. On the second floor, one of the museum’s permanent exhibits features sculptures carved from sandstone dating from the 1st century in Thailand, Cambodia, and India.The sculptures have been donated to the college by local Dr. William T. Price and his wife, Jimmie Dell Price. The exhibit seems an anomaly in Texas cow country with windmills, barbed wire fences and branding irons crossed over gateways the usual West Texas artistic themes. When these sculptures were begun, the craftsman/artist started with a simple block of sandstone and then carved away sand till they reached what was in their mind’s eye. There is no going back with this art, no pasting sand back. If you make an error the entire sculpture is ruined and months and months of work are annihilated.  These sculptor’s, like brain surgeon Dr. Price, work slowly and meticulously with sharp instruments, good eyes, and patience. These artifacts are safe here from the bumpy unknowable future. The past is like a fine piece of china riding in the back seat of a car, with bad shocks, going down an unpaved mountain road. This museum is that same car, safely parked in its garage, and the fine china purring in the back seat like a contented cat.  

Turkey Time A Day of Thanks, 2018

    Pots and pans are on the stove, the table has been set for three, a Butterball Turkey browns in the oven. It took four hours for this bird to cook and slicing it up on the kitchen counter means dinner is close. Alan, Sherrie, and I have Thanksgiving this year at Alan’s. At the White House, a Trump turkey is pardoned but White House chefs are in their sparkling kitchens preparing a big feast of beef, ham, salmon fit for a King and Queen. Dignitaries visit America’s White House throughout the year, and, while discussing policy, like to wine and dine as befits their diplomatic positions. On a turkey’s calendar, November 22 is marked with a huge X and circled for emphasis. On Thanksgiving, they load their families into their SUV’s, tuck in their feathers, and go to the beach, out of harm’s way. Next year I’m planning on being  there with them. Seeing turkeys, in bikini’s, is something I just don’t want to miss.  

The Bench Sunrise Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

    Palo Duro canyon isn’t far from Amarillo. If you head east from Amarillo you hit the Texas Palo Duro State Park where you can drive down into the canyon and access its visitor center and exhibits. On road cuts in the canyon below Alan’s home we look for Indian arrow points lost in ancient hunting miscues. When we drive into the deep canyon to fish we take his 1950’s Willy’s jeep so we don’t get stuck. From this bench, the new morning is quiet spectacular. Light comes to our side of the planet as the other side turns dark. This switch from dark to light comes quickly. Within thirty minutes sunrise goes from a point where I can’t see the creek in the bottom of the canyon to a point I can see the entire creek, as well as homes and houses on the rim of the far side of the canyon.  I hunker down in my light jacket waiting for the sun to start warming the planet. On Thanksgivings, when I visit, I always fall asleep in my chair while football players try to kick a pigskin through goalposts. Having just one day a year where we are thankful and celebrate just doesn’t seem enough. Texas, where my dad was born and raised, not far from here,  feels like home right now. On some bench, just now,around the world from me, someone is watching our sun go down. I hope they are content too, to live,and let live.  

Llamas Larkspur, Colorado

    Llamas are an important working animal in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and other high Andes South American countries used to transport goods where vehicles can’t go. This llama,far from its home and relatives, is boarded at Dave’s daughter Kim’s house in the country near Larkspur, Colorado.  ” Kathy, my ex, rents them out to back packers, ” Dave once told me in one of our conversations. ” She just finished a month long backpack trip in Oregon …..”  Some men talk about their ex-wives with disdain. Dave was different. This llama gives me a look of disdain and I trek back inside with the rest of the mourners. A slide show on a television shows high lights of Dave’s life; his marriage, the birth of his children, his life as a young man, photos of his father and mother, pictures of him smiling. Dave would be pleased with the turnout, not pleased with the preacher, pleased with Kathy and Kim. He would be back in the kitchen tasting treats if he was still with us. His dog, Chaco, has lost weight and acts anxious as he sniffs for Dave  but he can’t find him. When I get home I’m going to dust off my walking shoes and take a trip to Mexico, a trip Dave and I talked about for the last two years but didn’t get around to doing for his health issues, which he rarely talked about. When I get to Mexico I’m going to smoke a stinky cigar for Dave even though I don’t smoke, and have a drink of Crown Royal even though I hate blended whiskey. Dave will be pleased.  

Beth’s Place Benkleman, Nebraska

    This might be Beth’s Bar and Grill, but it might not be Beth who serves us. This morning our hostess, waitress is a short, stubby, older looking than she is woman who wears house slippers and a blue apron. She screws up her face funny when she writes our order into her little spiral notebook, grasping the pencil tightly. ” Is that it? ” she says, looking at us as she reaches for our four menus as if she doesn’t want them to get away. ” That’s it, ” we say. ” We should have been higher, ” Weston says, ” the seismic was no good. ” His dad nods. Max and I check our silverware for food the ex- con dishwasher didn’t take off.  This little Bar and Grill,in Benkleman, was in its heyday in the 1950’s when oil drilling in the Continental U.S. was strong and wheat and cattle brought good prices. The wallpaper, yellowed now, was new then and conversation was heady and animated. World War 2 was over and servicemen were back home with most of their limbs and some of their mental health. ” Disappointing, ” I add, the only coffee drinker in the group. ” If the oil isn’t there, it isn’t there, ” Neal reminds us. When the food comes it is as plain as the building. There is no salsa or sprig of parsley to give the plate a fancy look. A man sitting at the table behind us is happy Beth is open on a Sunday morning with snow on the ground at seven in the morning. He has hot tea , reads his local newspaper, checks cattle futures and has his toast with a bit of orange marmalade. He appears to be a regular who is joined by a friend halfway through my eggs over easy. There are three pool tables in the back of the restaurant and some evenings, under dropped lights, men will be playing pool, watching football, and drinking beer, staying out of their wife’s house. There is money in alcohol, not so much in food. Dry holes, last time I looked, still cost me a fair bit of money. Disappointed, but not dejected, we all leave Beth a good tip, even if we didn’t hit anything but dirt.  

Out in the Middle of a Farmer’s Field W.C. Fields #1

     Going into the hole you add pipe, coming out of the hole you take away pipe.. It is snowing but the drillers don’t stop. When you are drilling a mile down you don’t leave the hole open long. The Earth doesn’t tolerate straws dipped into its reservoir and can close its teeth with a snap.  You drill, test, lay pipe and produce, or plug the hole. Trying to hit a target you can’t see and can’t know the size of , covered by roller coaster layers of Earth 4000 plus feet down, is tough. A fair number of wells are busts. A few  are bonanzas. Every project looks good or you wouldn’t be out here freezing in the middle of winter in a place not even fit for cows. My brother Neal, at my request, always tells me, before we drill a well, about John Steinbeck’s  rabbit in ” Of Mice and men. ” Keeping your dream in full view is essential for any initiative to get off the ground. Before each calculated gamble, on Neal’s skill and experience, I rub my stomach, like a big Buddha,for good luck. In this life, you can never have too much good luck and too many superstitions.  

As American as Apple Pie Near Benkleman, Nebraska, November. 2018

    On the derrick, a crew of three roughnecks stop drilling to make the pipe going into the Earth one length longer. A length of pipe is retrieved from the squirrel cage at the top of the rig, lowered to the captured and clamped pipe at the roughnecks feet. The new length of pipe is screwed onto the top of the pipe coming out of the hole, by two drillers, using chains and muscle. The tool pusher then touches a gear, when all hands are clear, and the newly extended drilling pipe rotates, and down drilling resumes. Drilling in the continental U.S. hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. The derricks now are built from steel instead of wood, the drill bits are sharper and last longer, there is electricity instead of whale oil lamps. Drilling is quicker and there are more tests to determine if a well will be profitable.There are improved methods of extracting oil from your discoveries. There are more environmental regulations. The men on the derrick are still rough and tumble pickup driving young men with crazy habits and a big bucket of problems. Most have too many girlfriends, too many kids, too many addictions, and too small a paycheck. When the price of oil drops, drilling stops and small towns like Benkleman suffer. Much of the employment in this part of Nebraska is in the oil fields and state revenues are buoyed by taxes on each barrel of oil brought out of the ground. When the price of oil increases, good times roll.  Seeing a new pair of boots in the driller’s shack is comforting. The country still needs energy, unpopular as the idea is to some.  You can’t learn the oil business from books, you don’t find oil if you don ‘t drill, and Max and Weston doing what their dad does is natural.  

In the Geo-Hut Home Bases

    The Geo-Hut is adjacent to the derrick, hooked up to electric with heaters blasting 24/7 to deal with deteriorating colder and colder weather. Snow started yesterday and has laid a six inch blanket atop the Geo-Hut roof. Inside the trailer-office-bunkhouse, one bed is covered with clothes,gear, and Max’s guitar. A sleeping bag is on the other. In a separate room is a desk, a microscope, and a place to spread geological maps. A bag of groceries is on the floor by the front door. There is no stove or frig and an orange portable toilet is at the edge of the drill site,at the field’s edge, and it, thankfully, has paper. Max has been here several days, arriving after the well was surveyed and spudded. There are long stretches in drilling where nothing happens, then short quick stretches of anxiety or exhilaration when the drill bit enters a pay zone. This evening, late, the creators of this business plan peer at samples, measure how the interior of the Earth is conforming to their mental picture of it, wait for more samples, decide which zones need to be tested to see if they are to be profitable. This well is the end of a long process of coming up with a prospect, leasing land, selling the deal to investors, lining up a driller, making sure your t’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted, all legal and proper. We don’t stay all night, have an upstairs hotel room in Benkleman heated with three little electric heaters plugged into the walls. Tomorrow morning, early, we’ll be back to this well site looking for a profitable bottom line.. The oil business is predictably unpredictable, in a predictable way.  
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