Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Natchez Trace

Unlike Texas, you don’t have to drive three days to get out of Louisiana.   We left the Lake Charles area yesterday morning , driving through Lafayette and on to Baton Rouge where we crossed the mighty Mississippi River.  I’ve always wanted to travel the Natchez Trace Parkway, so we turned northward at Baton Rouge eventually arriving in Vicksburg last night. 

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile road and scenic drive through three states. It roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace,” a historic “travel corridor used by native Americans, ‘Kaintucks,’ European settlers, slave traders, soldiers and future presidents.”  Perhaps the heaviest use of the Trace was from 1785 to 1820 when Kaintuck boatmen floated their flatboats down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. They sold their cargo and boats and began the trek back north on foot to Nashville and points beyond.  The Parkway was established in 1938 and is under the management of the National Park Service.  It may be the only 444-mile long, two hundred yard wide National Park in the country.

So what’s the big deal about this Natchez Trace?  There is little left to see of that original trail.  Nature and man have reconfigured (or disfigured) the primeval forests, rivers, bayous and streams that once surrounded the ancient trek (used for more than 10,000 years).  Why have I wanted for years to travel this path?  I have found it extremely meaningful to be in any historical place where men and women before my time have walked and played and lived.  These phantoms, my forefathers and foremothers, blazed a trail that I can now walk or drive and they appear to me (in my imagination) like phantoms lingering still along the Natchez Trace, or Stonehenge in England, or at Delphi in Greece.  I can almost feel their presence.  Does that sound ridiculous?  Perhaps it is.  But I have felt such phantom presence in many places.  When walking through an American World War II cemetery in Scotland I sensed the presence of those young men who rest there.  It happens almost every where: in the Garden of Gethsemane outside Jerusalem, or sailing the Nile in Egypt.  And so it was  yesterday as I drove a portion of the Natchez Trace Parkway.  I felt the phantom presence  of  the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw native peoples.  I sensed the presence of Andrew Jackson, Meriwether Lewis (who died along the trail in 1809), John James Audubon, Jefferson Davis, and Ulysses S. Grant, along with the hundreds of Kaintucks who also traveled that path.  

I am convinced that the cry of those who came before us continues to sound in us.  Their cry joins our cry.  Isn’t that a silly thought?  Nikos Kazantzakis suggested that we “uncork our mind” until we realize “there is no such thing as ‘me,” ‘you,’ and ‘he or she’; everything is a unity and this unity is a profound mystic intoxication in which death loses it scythe and ceases to exist.  Separately, we die one by one, but all together we are immortal.” 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Looking Up and Looking Down

It takes three days to drive across the great State of Texas. We started with an overnight in El Paso, then drove to Fort Stockton the next day and then to Luling on the second day.  Luling is about 40 miles east of San Antonio.  Yesterday we drove from  Luling  some 350 miles or so to Lake Charles, Louisiana.  Three days!   We will likely drive all the way through Louisiana today!

Sometimes I am accused of painting a “bright” picture of the world in which we live and at other times accused of being pessimistic about things in general.  I suppose I am both, as most of us are.  Sometimes life’s stony paths hold my attention and sometimes (especially while traveling) I seem to spend much of my time looking at the clouds. In fact, this is why I think traveling is a good remedy for “what ails you” (which is usually a result of focusing on life’s stony paths).  Here again, what is called the “holy conjunction” is important—we must watch the stones AND gaze at the clouds—and do BOTH at the same time.

When Nikos Kazantzakis was a young man, a neighbor said to his father, “…I think your son’s going to become a dreamer and visionary,…He’s always looking at the clouds.”  His mother responded, “Don’t worry, life will come along and make him lower his gaze.”  And his father had the last word, “Forget the clouds.  Keep your eyes on the stones beneath you if you don’t want to fall and kill yourself.”  In spite of life’s stoney paths and the necessity to lower one’s gaze so as not to trip, we must always make room to look at the clouds. 

One of the benefits of being liberated (retired) is the ability to look back (and most older folk look back far too much) and realize that you have spent far too many days gazing downward at the rocks, and too many years letting life lower your gaze, when you should have been “looking at the clouds.” In every chapter of life we need to be “always looking at the clouds,” and  “gazing downward at the rocks,” so as not to stumble and fall.  We are capable of BOTH/AND—doing two things at once.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ

Monday, February 19, 2018

Farewell to Texas

If all goes well today we will cross over into another state besides Texas.  Texas is an awfully big place.  Former governor Ann Richards put it this way, “I thought I knew Texas pretty well, but I had no idea of its size until I campaigned it.”  

I noted a sign along the Interstate yesterday which said, “Don’t mess with Texas.”   Then I met and talked with some fellows with their souped up V-8 Diesel Turbo pick-ups at the fuel pump yesterday.  That meeting confirmed for me the truth of the signage.  I wouldn’t want to “mess” with any of those guys!  They seemed to me to be as tough as their trucks!  On the other hand, I’ve met some of the most courteous and generous people here in Texas; people who are willing to bend over backwards to help you.  Texas has everything—all sorts of geography, all sorts of people, all sorts of all things!  Texas, in the last analysis, is like everywhere!

There are all kinds of jokes about Texas and there all kinds of impressions and descriptions of the Lone Star State and its people.  General Philip Sheridan wrote back in the late 19th century, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.” John H. Holliday, the infamous “Doc” Holliday of western legend, purportedly said, “At the risk of descending to unscientific generalizations, 90 percent of Texans give the other 10 percent a bad name.”  Davy Crockett, hero of the Alamo said in 1836, “I must say as to what I’ve seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here.   There is a world of country here to settle.”

This “world of country” called Texas has a uniqueness all its own.  People have indeed come to settle here and Texas is the second largest populated state in the union and has a growing, highly diversified economy which includes the new technologies.  “I must say as to what I’ve seen of Texas” (to quote Crockett) it is a Big Country, with wonderful scenery and genuinely kind people.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Where Have All The Roadrunners Gone?

We drove some 240 miles yesterday from El Paso to Fort Stockton, Texas.  I am trying to be faithful to my new discipline of driving a maximum of 300 miles per day.  At this rate, in TEXAS, I may not get out of the state until next month! 

On our way west several weeks ago, we stayed at the Roadrunner RV Park here in Fort Stockton. We decided to stay at a different RV park this time around just to add some variety to our life on the road.  Actually, we stayed at this park, the Fort Stockton RV Park, last February.  The Fort Stockton RV Park has the “Best Little Cafe in Texas” called The Roadrunner Cafe.  We took advantage of the cafe for both dinner last night and breakfast this morning.  (I needed a break from cooking and doing the dishes). 

Fort Stockton has a rich history.  The Fort grew up around Comanche Springs (one of the largest sources of spring water in Texas) and its mission was to protect the western expansion.  In 1867, the famous Buffalo soldiers were stationed at the fort. 

Today we continue our journey eastward on Interstate 10, traveling to (and I hope, though) San Antonio before the day ends.  

I have yet to see a roadrunner on this trip.  Normally I see one or two here in Texas or in New Mexico or Arizona.  Where have all the roadrunners gone?   A roadrunner’s life is not an easy one and has many dangers.  Roadrunners are preyed upon by hawks, raccoons, snakes (even though the roadrunner enjoys rattlesnakes for dinner on occasion) and skunks.  During the winter months, many roadrunners succumb to freezing, icy weather.  Another and much more prevalent predator these days is the automobile. I feel a certain kinship with this bird since I am somewhat of a roadrunner myself.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Desert Rain

Last year we had a little rain shower or two while driving across the desert (Sonoran).  It felt strange then, so you can imagine what it felt like yesterday when torrents of rain fell upon the desert—all the way from Tucson AZ to Las Cruces NM.  Last night here in El Paso TX we had heavy rain with thunder and lightning.  We will drive today from El Paso to “Somewhere” TX.  The temperature will be about 70° and rain is not expected.

Rain is supposed to bring forth new life to the barren landscape of the desert according to all those nature films I’ve seen through the years.  I was tempted to hang around a day or two and see if this rain-drenched desert might come alive with blossoms and so forth, until a fellow told me it was the wrong time of the year for that to happen.  “You need to come back in April or May to see the effect of this rain,” he said.  I may just do that!

We have a tendency to expect things to happen overnight—whether it be the desert coming to life after one rain, or for our problems (individual or societal) to go away after a good night’s sleep.  We know it doesn’t happen that way, but we keep hoping all the same.

“Since 1968, 1,516,863 have died from guns on American soil,” someone has reported.  Isn’t that enough “rain” to bring about some kind of discussion about the issue?  It is not just an issue of mental illness, parental discipline, or religious faith that is needed.  Prayer ain’t goin’ do it!  Sleeping on it isn’t going to solve it.  Let’s talk about it—then let’s do something about it.  “Yes, we can” do something about it.  There has been enough “rain” and it is time now for new life to blossom forth in the barren and deadly desert of guns.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Arizona: Every Kind of Country

Fifty-four years ago I visited Arizona for the first time.  We were driving a little black and white 1957 Opel Rekord with a white top that I had purchased for the large sum of $350.  I bought a little metal roof-top carrier for the top of it, loaded all our possessions in or on top of the car and off we went from California for the East coast.  Along the way we visited “new” family—some in Phoenix, others in Kansas, Ohio, etc.  Phoenix was terribly hot (in April).  Traveling north to Flagstaff it was cold and I had trouble starting the car because of both the cold and the altitude.  It was that issue which caused a cog to pop out of the Opel’s transmission while being “pushed”.  The transmission was temporarily repaired enough in Flagstaff for us to creep cautiously across the Painted Desert to Albuquerque where we connected with the Unser Brothers garage, and a new [used] transmission could be installed.  I’ve already told that story—but it always come to the fore when I’m in Flagstaff.  Fifty-four years ago I had no idea that our son, Luke, and his family would be living here in Flagstaff.

I attended an Air Force Chaplains Conference at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona in February some thirty-plus years ago.  I left Maryland in an ice and snow storm, but arrived in Tucson to sunshine and 80-plus degrees.  For the first few days of my visit in Tucson I was convinced that I should move my family to Arizona!  But, alas, it didn’t happen!  And what if it had?  Would my son Luke have met Kim, born and raised in Tucson?

Arizona has all kinds of terrain (and thus weather) from the desert valleys of the Sonora Desert, to the White Mountains and the Kaibab Plateau.  “Arizona is a land of contrasts geologically, racially, socially, and culturally,” according to a Arizona Guidebook in 1940. “Its mountains tower a mile or more into the air; the rivers have cut miles deep into the multicolored earth. Snow lingers on the peaks while the valleys are sweet with the fragrance of orange blossoms. Here are sere deserts and the largest pine forest in the world. Here are fallen forests turned to stone, and forests of trees that have survived the slow change from jungle to desert by turning their leaves to thorns.”

I think Zane Grey in his book, Valley of Wild Horses, has his character sum up Arizona much better than I can. "I had a pard who came from Arizona. All day long and half the night that broncho buster would rave about Arizona. Well, he won me over. Arizona must be wonderful.
"But Pan, isn't it desert country?"
"Arizona is every kind of country..."

That Opel looked something like this.....

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Common Cold

“Happiness is a tablet,” writes Mitch Album, author of Tuesdays With Morrie. “This is our world.   Prozac.  Daxil.  Xanax.  Billions are spent to advertise such drugs.  And billions are spent in purchasing them.  You don’t even need a specific trauma, just ‘general depression’ is enough, or anxiety, as if sadness is as treatable as the common cold.”  Sadness is not very treatable by pill or fluid and neither is the common cold as far as I’m concerned.

I wish there were such a tablet to treat and cure the common cold at the moment, but I don’t know of any.  We have both developed a cold! Consarnit! That is my diagnosis.  The worse part is that we are suffering from these colds while visiting our grandchildren.  Where’s the tablet to make colds go away?  We’ve been trying some over-the-counter remedies, eating a lot of chicken noodle soup, and drinking lots of water, but we still have colds.  We can “treat” the common cold, they say, but there is no cure for it.  Pam Ayres wrote:
Medicinal discovery
It moves in mighty leaps,
It leapt right past the common cold
And gave it us for keeps.”

Gene Tierney said, “Movie failures are like the common cold.  You can stay in bed and take aspirin for six days and recover.  Or you can walk around and ignore it for six days and recover.”  We will try to do the latter while here in Flagstaff with our grandchildren.

Ethan and Eleni on Katie's Wedding Day
October 2017