Monthly Archives: December 2009

More Santa Fe Blizzard Express

Hermleigh, Texas, December 24, 2009

Hermleigh, Texas, December 24, 2009

Roscoe, Texas, December 24, 2009

Roscoe, Texas, December 24, 2009

Jack Matthews, Roscoe, Texas, December 24, 2009

Farm Fields, Slaton, Texas, December 24, 2009

We had been keeping up with weather forecasts before we left at 5:00 a.m. CST from our home in Mingus, Texas.  The weather forecasts on December 23, indicated that the Arctic snow front would pass through the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma, bypassing our route on Interstate 20 to Sweetwater, Roscoe north to Lubbock, then Clovis, Santa Rosa, Santa Fe.

On December 24, we left Mingus, temperature 37 degrees.  We first encountered snowflakes in Eastland, Texas, but before that, only minutes out of Ranger, Texas, a Federal Express double-trailer had overturned, indicating, perhaps, high cross winds.

The snowflakes would not subside until we reached Lubbock at 2:00 p.m.

We did not encounter snow accumulating on the road until Sweetwater where we made a rest stop.  At Sweetwater, the temperature was below 30 degrees.  By the time we reached the turnoff to Roscoe, Texas, then north to Lubbock, the snow had accumulated on the highway and the wind blew the snow to a white out for a few seconds every so often.  The turn off at Roscoe was treacherous because a white out suddenly occurred at the intersection and I had to “feel” the turn for a few seconds.  At that point, I decided to go into Roscoe and put the cable-chains on the back wheels of the F-250. We also considered staying put and waiting the storm out and Highway Department to clear the roads.

The F-250 I drive is a 2003, the last year they made the 7.3 liter diesel engine.  Our F-250 is maintained precisely to the Ford Motor Company’s guidelines, plus a few of our own.  As a consequence, we have 240,000 plus miles and it pulls a twenty-six foot tack and stock trailer or a flatbed with a DX-55 Case tractor.  We had a full fuel tank, blankets, phones, and food and water.

At Roscoe, I put the chains on and we ventured out again on the highway to Lubbock.  At Hermleigh, we stopped at an Allsup’s for a rest stop but the convenience store was closed.  Our daughter in Lubbock called by cell and said that there was a thirty-two car pileup at Post, so we first decided to go from Snyder to Lamesa, then Santa Fe by various routes, but the latest reports at Allsup’s from truck drivers indicated that the wreck had been cleared.

The wind turbines at Roscoe and Hermleigh were hidden by the snowstorm, but occasionally the wind would die down and we saw the giant turbines, less than a quarter-of-a-mile away, slowly turning in the storm.  Nothing else but snow and the turbines.  We maintained a long distance between ourselves and the car or truck in front of us to give us time to stop.  Yet, we did not have the respect from cars in back of us.  Truckers, however, gave us space.  Since we had chains and traction, I could ease over and let cars and trucks pass us.  Several cars that passed us we later saw in the ditch or median.

Our speed could not exceed 30 m.p.h. with chains.  Finally, at Post, Texas, we stopped and I took off the chains.  Between Post and Lubbock, we were diverted by the Highway Department to tour along the access roads and avoid going over bridges.  In Slaton, a U.S. Postal Service truck was blocking the overpass because it had no traction and was stalled.  We saw several National Guard medical vehicles headed south from where we had come.  We later found out that Governor Rick Perry had called out fifty National Guardsmen to assist in rescue efforts.

From Post, then, we had no chains, but the Highway Department had cleared one lane by the early afternoon on the highway.

At Lubbock, we visited with our relatives and left Lubbock at 4:00 p.m. for Santa Fe, arriving at 9:30 p.m. MST.

Notes

“Postscript by Brenda:  Jack’s writings depict the experience perfectly.  What cannot be conveyed completely was the stress and emotions of the eight-hour drive to Lubbock…but, the picture of him above portrays his attentiveness.  I was never terribly worried because I knew he was an excellent driver and near obsessive over safety.  Yes, I wish we had left a day earlier, but I am happy to be in Santa Fe!  Brenda Matthews, 12.28.2009.”

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Santa Fe Via Blizzard Express

We made it to Santa Fe, New Mexico, yesterday evening at 9:30 p.m. MST, six-and-a-half hours behind our schedule, slowed and stopped by an unexpected blizzard that blasted into west Central and Panhandle Texas.

Nature commands, we follow.

We missed the farolitos and canceled our reservations at Casa Sena, but arrived at our hotel for the night.  There was room at the inn, if you call ahead.

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Blue Ground I

In 1977, I climbed Mount Taylor during the day and came down the mountain in the evening by full-moon light.  The coming-down at night was unplanned.

I still climb mountains, not with rope and anchor, but one foot in front of the other, up the trail to the summit where a cairn is located, signing my name on the log book tucked in a steel tin.  Mountaineering climbs test body, attack motivation; high altitudes increase depression, morbid thoughts.  One of my climbs, Mount Taylor near Grants, New Mexico, combined the usual test of fortitude with a special insight into mysticism.   Mount Taylor is the southern holy mountain in Navaho mythology and I was determined to see what was at the summit and, more importantly, what was on the mountain that made it sacred.

To be candid, the nature of man’s life is radically material.  For a short period of time, the individual is formed as an ensemble of perceptions and sensations, the life cycle, four score years or so.  Before birth, the ensemble, there is oblivion and after death, the same:  oblivion.  But during the ensemble, there is life, movement, talking, sensing.  Religion, magic, and witchcraft exist as explanations about oblivion, life, oblivion.  Saints, sages, and shamans that seek to explain are in the end, like Thomas Aquinas, swept away by the magnitude of life, the universe, that they become silent (or should) and express only that the ultimate mystery is ineffable [1].

That the ultimate mystery is unexplainable should not mean despair, immobility.  It often does petrify.  Nevertheless, take the body and place it there, here, over there, up there, down there!  Explore.  There is the mountain, desert, ocean, space.  Witness the inexpressible grandeur of the place.  It is all we have, but it is quite enough.

My reasoning, therefore, in climbing Mount Taylor was to put myself on top of the sacred mountain to encounter the ineffable or, at least, be present in nature at a high altitude, looking at vistas from the summit.  I would be a moving participant, a spectator, to the incomprehensible spirit that moves in all things.  I was not in search of the supernatural or mystical in the conventional, religious sense.  Within my life, I wanted to place myself in nature at her most inspiring locations.  That was all, but quite enough as it turned out.  For at the climb’s end, that evening, the coming-down time from Mount Taylor, I saw blue ground, but I did not understand.

(Next, Blue Ground II)

Notes

[1]  Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Mysticism and Logic. See also Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path of Guatama, “The Benares Sermon of Buddha–6th century BCE,” in Elsa Nystrom, Primary Source Reader for World History, Volume I to 1500, Wadsworth, 2006, pp. 38-39.

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Pulling Down the Sun

In days past, the sun’s rays at noon on winter solstice were carefully marked, attended.  The sun in northern American latitudes would be at the lowest place in the sky for a year, thereafter rising higher daily to the summer solstice noon in June.  These two times, winter and summer solstice, were known as meridian passage.

Elsie Clews Parsons made note of the Isleta Pueblo marking light on winter solstice day.

In the roof of the ceremonial room there is a hole through which at noon the sun shines on a spot on the floor near where the chief stands….All sing the song of “pulling down the sun.”…This is noon time when for a little while the Sun stands still [1].

Humans, singing,  help pull the sun down.  And, by singing again, humans push the sun up.  Although scientifically un-plausible, the ceremony embeds connection with the sun in a metaphorical sense that, in turn, reflects the empirical, august, palpable unity that people need with one another to sing their lives into another yearly cycle with nature.

Notes

[1]  Elsie Clews Parsons, Forty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology for the Years 1929-1930, pp. 193-466.  Washington, D. C.: 1932.  From Anna F. Sofaer and Rolf M. Sinclair, “Astronomical Markings on Fajada Butte,” in John B. Carlson and W. James Judge (eds.), Astronomy and Ceremony in the Prehistoric Southwest, Papers of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, No. 2, 1987, pp. 63-64.

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Zacatecas Tutorial

I gave a tutorial yesterday to Alumna Zacatecas.  (I have changed the name to protect her privacy.)  Zacatecas is an older student from Mexico, enrolled in my world civilization course, prehistory to Treaty of Westphalia.  Tutorials are incongruous with state junior colleges.  Instructors have large classes, students coming by the office rarely occurs because of jobs and family.  Zacatecas was different.  She wanted to know things and, of course, there was the final examination on Thursday.  She was blocked in deciphering Omar Khayyám The Rubáiyát [Edward Fitzgerald’s translation, 1859].  She had questions.

“I don’t get it,” she said.  “Just what does Khayyám tell us in these verses about the meaning of life?” Zacatecas added.

Older student in her thirties, asking this?  She was serious about understanding The Rubáiyát . She looked perplexed, not dramatic in face, small wrinkles between her eyes in puzzlement.  Zacatecas had a tattoo about two inches below the hollow of her throat, often hiding it with high collar blouses because it had been inked when she was a teenager.  Physically, somatically, she was interested, but wanted to know quickly and then leave the office.  Other appointments, a teenager to manage?  Many plates in the air.

“Tell me what you think Khayyám thinks is the meaning of life,” I asked.

It began, the tutorial.

“Fill the Cup…Wine of Life keeps oozing…A Jug of Wine…Cup of forbidden Wine…Drink!”  She said, forcing an answer, phrases cobbled together.

“The meaning of life, is to drink?” She went on.  Zacatecas was not being contemptuous, I could tell.  Still perplexed.

No, not the meaning of life, to drink.

In class, I will ask the students to read a passage aloud they do not understand.  Maybe it would work in the tutorial.

“Read the first quatrain, and, read slowly,” I said.

“The Bird of Time has but a little way/To flutter–and the Bird is on the Wing.”  And, so on.

We paused.  Zacatecas pondered, “The Bird of Time….”  Still no change of expression in her face.

“Go on.  The second quatrain.”

“The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop/The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one….”  And, so on.

“Continue, Zacatecas, the third quatrain.”  I thought this quatrain would punch through her confusion since it is the most quoted.

She read the third quatrain, “A Book of Verses underneath the Bough/A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou/Beside me singing in the Wilderness–/Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”  And, there she stopped.

“Is ‘Thou’ you or is it me?”  She asked.  This was not exactly the question or declaration I wanted to hear, but at least it was movement.

I’m not a Rubáiyát scholar, but I answered, “Both, depending on how you read it, what context.  ‘Thou’ can mean any person, you, me.”

She said nothing.  Still cramped, stymied.  So, let us skip and go on to the sixth quatrain.  She read.

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon

Turns Ashes–or it prospers; and anon,

Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face,

Lighting a little hour or two–is gone….

Zacatecas became still in her chair, smiling faintly, looking at the sixth quatrain in her book.  The smile held, her body visibly relaxed, her breathing slowed.  She held the book more gently, less nervous, caring.  The tension left her face.

Zacatecas  looked up at me.  “It’s about living fully because life ends like snow on the desert.”

The sixth quatrain captured her, but did not ensnare.  Zacatecas integrated the refrain, something echoing from the high desert of her homeland, Mexico, an analogy with that day in her life when she parted from others of her village, seeing things they did not.

Tutorial over.  I concluded Zacatecas was beginning to know The Rubáiyát, felt the quatrains, had a new sense, a higher circle of confusion.  She left the office after a few more questions.  Gregorian chant?  Merovingian dynasty?  Slipping her books into her backpack, she pulled her dark pea coat tightly against the Texas cold, her blouse tucked high over the tattoo and walked out of the tutorial.

She will pass that question on Thursday.

______________________________

Notes:

I use Elsa A. Nystrom’s anthology of primary sources, Primary Source Reader for World History, Volume I: To 1500.

Undergraduates, generally, say little to absolutely nothing to their instructors.  At least, that has been my experience.  Therefore, I have focused on para-linguistic qualifiers, above and beyond what tedious pedagogues call body language, although that, too.  The pitch of the voice, facial expressions, postures, breathing, and the eyes.  These behaviors are often the only way they will communicate.  I have young men and women from different cultures and know that different cultures embed different qualifiers for communication.  Hence, my observations about Zacatecas take a rather focused picture in my essay.  During a regular class, I will observe a few students and how they are reacting.  Mainly, however, I am focused on the material.  A one-on-one lesson differs substantially.

Using diacritical markings occurs by composing the foreign word in Microsoft Word, then copying words created in Word, and then pasting onto WordPress.  Cumbersome, but gives literacy to the composition.

I have always thought of D. H. Lawrence coming out of the last canyon on the road from Santa Fe, seeing Taos Mountain for the first time, the desert.  He had written about New Mexico,

But the moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend.

The snows at Lawrence’s ranch linger longer than on the desert, but still melt in the spring.

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Wood Not Splitting

This morning at almost 7:30 o’clock, I heard a sharp, loud crack, towards the south pasture.  I thought an oak tree in the grove had split its trunk.

It was not the splitting of a large oak tree, but the sharp, hard retort of a deer rifle.  To the southeast is the Hall place, to the due south is the Bryant place, and west is the Dooley land.  I could not determine the precise location of the wood-not-splitting crack.

Since moving here in 2003, I have seen the deer population go down significantly.  The Halls to the southeast have cleared their ten acres and, thus, removed the brush for deer.  The Dooleys have a deer stand within fifty yards of my Well House Corral.  The Bryants have had as many as four or five deer stands to the south of the native-grass pasture.  The harvest of deer has been devastating.  I now see two deer occasionally, where six years ago, I saw a herd of twelve to fifteen regularly.

After the rifle report this morning, I put on my red jacket, fed the horses, and then walked over our fifty-three acres to see the killing fields around us.  Deer tracks in our creek indicated two, maybe three deer, had passed.  I walked the creek bed, then over to the pasture of gramma, Johnson, and blue-stem grasses.  I saw no hunters, but a half a mile away a white pickup was tucked up against a grove on the Fulfer place.  That was the place of the Wood Not Splitting.

The hunter’s white pickup was new, neither rusted nor bleached by the sun.  The chrome shined.  Was it necessary to kill deer for food this Sunday morning?  To rouse me and my wife with your wood-not-splitting crack?  I’m not so sure I would be the Gentle Stockman if you met me today.

I say again, I have no argument with those that need food to live, to harvest deer for their table, to take a kill with respect.  But, for those that kill to gainsay an image of Western toughness or ruggedness, I think their behavior is violent upon the deer, their friends, and themselves.  There is redemption for the blood sportsman.  Go into the field without a weapon and sit.  Sit quietly for a day and see the stag and doe dash through the brush, across the pasture, and out of sight.  Sit so quietly that you see the deer graze, browse, and lick their young.  Then, if you are not redeemed after seeing these things, you are lost.

The word “deer” is connected to the verb, “to breathe,” in the Indo-European hypothetical.  Harvesting deer without respect cuts off breathing, the deer as well as your own.

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Bill Tiblets Picks Pecans

Abandoned Mingus Grocery Store, Texas

Mingus Post Office, Texas, 2009

In 1999, my wife and I looked at a house to purchase in Mingus, Texas, an old nineteenth-century mining community mid-way between Fort Worth and Abilene.  The house was a wooden two bedroom structure that had been moved from New York Hill along the main highway to 113 East Grant Town Road.  The caretaker and brother of the woman that had lived in the house was named Bill Tiblets.  He and his wife lived next door to the house we would buy.  Bill said, “Set a price on the house.”  We did, and for $35,000 we had a 1913 Arts and Crafts house with about one-quarter of an acre upon which I planted a vineyard of forty-four Cabernet franc, Cabernet savignon, and Syrah grape vines, most imported from California vineyards.  The vineyard flourished over the next four years and we still have a car boy of the Cabernet sitting in the dining room.

Bill Tiblets had lived in Mingus all of his life, been postmaster, and had operated a steak house, “Will’s Steakhouse,” for many years before he retired.  He was tall, pleasant, well-groomed, and friendly.  Bill became a close friend of mine and so did his wife, Will, for whom the steakhouse was named.  They had four sons, Larry, Jody, James, and Charles, and the kind and friendly attributes of their father and mother were ingrained into their behavior.

Bill, however, in his early seventies, was partially impaired by the concoction of old age and hard work.  He had osteoarthritis and from time to time had to use a scooter to get around in the house and yard.   Each week or so, he would call me and invite me to come over to his home next door and have a toddy.  It would be a toddy of Old Granddad whiskey with Seven-Up or Coca-Cola.  We talked and I found out that during World War II, he had been stationed in Brownwood, Texas, for training, and that his wife, Will, had come down to stay with him.  Accommodations were so sparse in Brownwood  with Camp Bowie nearby, that they rented out a clean chicken house in which to reside for a couple of months.

As time passed, I could tell that Bill was in a state of physical degeneration, becoming less and less mobile.  Still, however, he would walk as best he could.  One day, he and his sons came over to the house and we went outside to see the old steakhouse that he had owned.  The steakhouse was across a nearby creek that used to have crawdads and bullfrogs when the climate was wetter and cooler, back in the 1930s and 1940s.  Bill, his four sons, and I picked up relics from the cafe that had burned down (a case of arson): spoons, forks, knives.  Brenda and I had already picked up some Buffalo-style platters in the rubble.  We use them to serve steaks to our guests.  But, on that day, Bill, his sons, and I reflected on the steakhouse so many people enjoyed.  Bill said that people would fly into the landing strip on New York Hill and come down to their steakhouse to eat.   Will’s Steakhouse was also known as Little Lowake, a steakhouse near San Angelo that was as popular in Texas as The French Laundry in California.

Lowake Steakhouse, Concho County, Texas

As Bill’s degeneration worsened, he walked less and less, motored more and more.  We still had our weekly toddies.  He continued to joke.  He tolerated the local minister’s visits to insure his passage to the afterlife would be comfortable, although, like me, Bill professed skepticism at such things as heaven and hell.  He much preferred the company of his family and friends while alive to thinking of  reverie beyond the grave.  Bill worked in his wood shop and plant nursery in his last days.

Our houses, as I said, were next door:  the Tiblets a brick house, ours the wooden Arts and Crafts of 1913.  Pecan trees bordered our property with a 100 foot vacant grassy lot between us that we kept mowed.  Larry, Bill’s son, trimmed around the mesquite and pecan trees.  The vacant lot had been a parking lot for a dance hall in the 1930s and 1940s.  The pecan trees would seasonally give both our families a sufficient harvest for munching, perhaps a pie.  We could see each other across the lot and we would talk almost daily.

One fall day, Bill drove his scooter to the pecan trees between our homes.  I saw him through our kitchen window.  He sat briefly under the shade of the trees, warming in the sun, and then he wiggled out of the scooter, got on his hands and knees and picked pecans.  His impairment prevented him from bending over from the scooter.  I called my wife to the kitchen window.  “Bill is picking pecans on his hands and knees,” I said quietly.  He would put them in his pockets and occasionally empty the nuts into a bag attached to the scooter.  Over the next few weeks, Bill would pick every few days or so, easing himself down from his machine.

Bill possessed the good in mankind,  the deep-down drive to keep going, despite pain, to maintain a simple but necessary ritual of harvesting pecans when ripe or making a pie for the holidays or feeding the horses or cattle.  Necessary toil.  I saw Bill on his knees that day, but he was a thousand feet tall, decked in finery, and crowned with an ancient helmet of self-possession to duty, until the end of his time, his day, his life.

Bill died later that year.  We all will have our end, but until that day, we need to get out of the chair and harvest the fruit on the ground, on hands and knees, if necessary.  Like Bill.

I raise my toddy everyday and toast to my friend, Bill Tiblets:  “A votre exemple.”

______________________________

Notes:

Bill’s children and widow have moved from their home on Grant Town Road in Mingus.  Will lives in Gordon, Texas, a few miles east of Mingus, and her children have all built homes nearby  on top of a hill, overlooking Interstate 20.  The Arts and Crafts home Brenda and I lived in for four years has been sold.  The present tenants have let the vineyard lapse into semi-chaos, but when I drive by on the way to the post office I do see Cabernet franc vines robustly staying alive.  We kept the Mingus house for a couple of years as we moved  to our ranch.  We got a good price for it since I had cleaned up the dead trees and had planted the vineyard.  I miss the house and so does Brenda.  Bill’s children are settling in on the hill and each son has the drive and initiative of their father: construction, home repair, accounting, water plant worker, and other skills.  Brenda and I talk about Will and Bill and our life next door to them in Mingus, but the one topic that always comes up is Bill Tiblets Picks Pecans.

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Filed under Recollections 1990-