Trekking To and Through Texas

The night of the election was a long one – for everyone! I did not allow myself to watch the results…but woke from an uneasy sleep just minutes before the winner was declared. To say that I was in shock is an understatement! No doubt many others were feeling the same!

Unable to return to sleep, I checked Facebook in those wee hours and noticed that my traveling friends from Windham Maine were in Louisiana and heading to Texas.  I too was traveling into Texas so I messaged them and learned they were heading to Bay Landing in Bridgeport to the west of Dallas.  They were scheduled to be there in two days; I phoned the campground and reserved a site there as well!

Just days before, I was planning the next leg of my journey and had identified noteworthy sites in a loop through Oklahoma that would eventually lead me into Texas.  That plan changed after I saw a news report that highlighted a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in central Oklahoma along with an article that indicated the state was the fracking capital of the WORLD! I opted to travel due south in Arkansas, then through the very southwest corner of Oklahoma to Hugo where I would turn south.  I had a few hours ahead of me so I allowed my mind to wander as I wended my way through the western Arkansas terrain that reminded me so much of Maine. The hills and curves, and the evergreen growth were so similar to what I’d left behind that I found myself thinking of a dream I had before leaving Maine.

I am in a large building. It is too large to be a house; it could be a mansion or possibly an event center. It sits on the top of a mountain with its front door facing northwest. I am inside and I am dressed in a fancy costume of some kind. I don’t know exactly what it looks like but I am wearing a mask.  The mask is all white, covered in feathers and it covers only the right half of my face. 

I am conducting a clearing ceremony saying prayers to the cardinal directions while softly fanning the smoke rising from a bowl in which I am burning sage.  There are people milling about – none are paying attention to what I am doing. At about the time I finish with prayers, I notice a person leaving through the front door.  Yet to say that a ‘person’ left is an overstatement. I really do not see a person but I have a sense of someone’s departure.  That sense of a person is accompanied by a strong calling; I decide I must follow.  As I step outside, the scene changes dramatically from what I was seeing while I was inside.   As I follow through the door, I notice that it’s late in the day and there is slushy snow all over the ground ahead. The terrain directly in front is shaped like a snowboarding half pipe with one high side ending at the west, the other at the north.  The ‘call’ to follow urges me to slide down one side of the half pipe.  No longer in my view, the essence I am following has disappeared over the western edge of the half pipe.  I’m delighted to slide down the first side; the momentum propels me to the ridge at the top of the other side.  There, facing west, I am transfixed in the gaze of one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. I am in the spell of its breathtaking beauty.

As I drink in this sight, the scene around me changes. I am inside once again and this time I see that I am being prepared to take part in an important ceremony. My ceremonial attire is different from the early part of the dream.  As I look down, I see that I am wearing a white gown. It has long tight fitted sleeves, a v-neck, and the fitted flowing bodice drapes to the floor.  The entire surface of this gown is covered in tiny quartz crystals. Draped over my shoulders is a full length white fur and feathered cape; it flows from my neck to my feet as if it is sewn into the gown’s shoulder seam. My feet are bare. At the moment I look back up to orient myself, someone I still cannot see is standing in front of me; this person presents me with two deep red gift bows that I accept and instinctively affix one to each shoulder in epaulette fashion. Next I am gifted four sparkly silver stars, sewn together in two pairs on short white satin ribbons.  These, I sense, belong suspended from the red shoulder bows.  I sense that I am about to undergo an important initiation.  I know that I am now ready for ceremony! It is then I realize that I am not wearing my half mask. I feel anxiety rising as the ceremony is about to begin and I cannot find the mask that clearly was made to be for this special occasion. It seems so odd; I had it just moments ago. When did I remove it and where did I place it?

I wake from this dream feeling that I have lost something important; tears of grief are streaming from my eyes. By waking, not only did I not find my mask but I also did not get to see what ceremony was to occur!  Still groggy but alert enough to realize I have control over  how this dream ends, I close my eyes and see myself in the dream at the moment I realize my mask is missing.

I ask the person who gifted me the red bows and the silver stars why I cannot find my mask.  I hear a voice simply say: “Because you no longer need it; it no longer holds power for you.”

Driving south on Route 71, I thought how interesting that this dream came to me last summer and that I had just finished a stay at the Queen Wilhelmina state park in a state known as the quartz crystal capital of the world. The state park has a hotel and event center that sits on a ridge with an east west orientation.  One entrance is due south; the other is due north. It has a beautiful vantage point of the rising and setting sun!

While at this Park, I had painted a piece of bark that I’d found in Kentucky; when I found it, it looked to me like a mask that would cover half a face. I’d also used rose quartz in a ceremonial fire dedicated to an election outcome that would serve our country’s highest good; the fire cleared the energy of these quartz chunks and I had felt compelled to place them along the trail from the campground to the hotel on this south facing slope.  The fire had burned so hot that the 12 pieces I had placed in the fire split into  many smaller pieces.  As I walked the trail and periodically tossed a shard into the thick wooded area beside it, I sensed that I was creating a rose quartz necklace around the queen’s neck. And as I had experienced in Ohio at Serpent Mound, I realized that the prayers I had made at the fire would energetically live on through these stones all along this mountainside!

When I arrived in Da Queen, Arkansas, I turned westward on Route 70, my thoughts were reinforced by the idea that this whole journey was a calling of some kind.

The drive to Oklahoma was short as the border was only 10 miles away. Once in the fracking mecca, I learned I was on the Trail of Tears. Of the few DVDs I’d pack, the documentary of the Trail was one of them. The Trail commemorated the walk in the summer of 1838 under Andrew Jackson’s “Indian Removal Act” that forcibly escorted 15,000 Cherokee from their lands east of the Mississippi to Oklahoma. The only way I knew that I was on the Trail is that the State of Oklahoma placed signs along the way to inform passers-by as if the horror and pain of this historical event were a tourist attraction! As I drove, the sorrow I felt about the treatment of people of color dating from our country’s beginning deepened.  What was the source of the indelible pain that white Anglo-Saxon settlers needed to hide behind that would create an attitude of superiority?  My sense was that its roots resided in the witch burnings of the Middle Ages….a dark time in the world’s history when 6 million women and 3 million men were hunted, tortured and killed because their connection to nature made them impossible to enslave by the powers of those who had accumulated wealth. I thought about the ways in which the fear of the witch burnings became the foundation of a system that we continue to live under today.

The condition of the roadside was in a state of significant neglect. Trash of all kinds flanked the roadside urging one to move as quickly as possible out of the area.  I was devastated by the statement that it made and I wondered how the people of Oklahoma felt about themselves. .

In a book titled “House as Mirror of Self”, by Clare Cooper Marcus, I had read about the emotional bond between inner self and home. By extension, I reasoned that if a person’s home was a reflection of their inner self, then why would this not apply to communities, cities and towns, the state or even the country?  Here was a place that lacked basic care; did Oklahomans numb themselves to the sorrow that this trail represented thus turning their backs on it?  Was this image of self also reflected in their policies on fracking?  Was their economic survival so fragile that they could justify ignoring impacts to the environment? Here was a state feeling the downturn in the domestic oil business! In terms of economic growth, it ranks 27th nationally— Maine ranks 31st but there’s historically been a sense of pride that I just did not see here.

By the time I arrived in Broken Bow, Oklahoma I needed to refuel. In Oklahoma, there is also town named Broken Arrow but I did not get there. What I saw of the small town of just over ,4000 were a few old western facades. Two brothers are credited with founding the town and naming it after Broken Bow Nebraska from which they hailed.  I believe words have power and in my mind this name seemed to insinuate a continuation of the forceful removal of native people by our ancestors who believed it was their right and responsibility to take control of any land they wanted…..much as their land was taken from them.

After filling up, I continued my drive west on Route 3 instead of turning south on highway 259 to reconnect with Route 70.  I have a penchant for taking routes off the beaten path; it’s adventurous and somewhat risky but gives a much better view of a place than what one might see along a major route.  As I drove deeper into the Oklahoma ‘back’ lands, I continued to imagine what it may have been like for those who walked the Trail. I silently shed a few tears and wondered why our leaders have never apologized for this travesty…..and the anti-life behavior continues!

After a 20 minute drive, I turned south on highway 98 which led me back to Route 70 west of Millerton.  From there I drove to Hugo, Oklahoma where I turned south on 271 where I crossed the Red River separating Oklahoma from Texas.  Arriving in Arthur City, I wondered what I would find in the Lone Star State.  Just north of Paris, I drove to a small remote Army Corps Campground. The road to it was almost impassable.  Soon I realized the campground was closed for the season but campers were welcomed to stay there anyway.  This is common for these campgrounds; notice is posted saying essentially, ‘you are on your own – camp at your own risk’.

I decided it was not the right place for me so I continued south to Paris where I entered route 82.  From there I made my way west to Bonham, Texas and the Bonham State Park.  This campground was a very small but well maintained campground with a very friendly staff.  I registered and parked alongside the only other campers in the park.  Nuttah and I walked a bit to stretch our legs from this 200 mile trek. The loop around the small pond was about a mile and a half long; just right!

By Nuttah’s initiation, I met my camping neighbors; a couple in their early70s from a town just north of there.  They said they camped all season as long as the cold nights permitted.  The next day, my buddy and I walked the loop around the pond once more.  The dock was covered with buzzards drying their wings in the sun. A heron flew low over the pond seeking a place to wade.  This was a simple gentle place.  We loaded up and drove back through town to the on-ramp of route 82 for another 100 miles or so to Bridgeport.  In Bridgeport was a large lake on which the Bay Landing Campground was located.  I joined K Mae and David shortly after they’d arrived. The sites were deep and wide with plenty of room for privacy. We were backed up to a small wooded strip abutting the stream inlet into the lake.

It was so good to see familiar faces; this was my first opportunity to connect meaningfully for an extended period since I’d left Kentucky!  We spent the next two days reconnecting over meals and walks throughout this extensive campground.  It was at this meeting that we decided we should try to winter together; it was a relief to know we’d be in community during out weeks of stationery time.

One evening we saw a buck feeding on the lush grass just at the edge of the woods near a small pond. He stood so still that I wondered if he was real.  I tightened my grip on Nuttah’s leash and the next instant the buck bolted…as did my dog!

I had business to attend to in Austin so I headed south; I was expecting mail delivery at a friend’s home.  K and David had planned on visiting a sibling in western New Mexico so they headed west.  It was Saturday and I had no reservations for that evening.  I travelled first to the Dinosaur State Park; it was full.  A park designed to educate young and old on the evolution of our world throughout the ages, it was interesting to note that to get to the state park, one had to travel past the Creation Evidence Museum (   I did not stop in!

From there I opted to travel to Whitney Lake State Park just north of Laguna Park, Texas. After another hour’s drive, I arrived to learn that it too was full!  The lake was surrounded by numerous other publicly managed parks but all were closed for the season.  With a quick search thru my RV Park app, I found a private park nearby. Uncle Gus’s Cabins and RV park was just a few miles away. I called and learned there was one site available for the night. After listening to the owner’s very confusing directions, I pulled up the GPS on my phone and found it quite readily. The owner had also given me the site number and its general location. She said that by the time I arrived, the office would be closed but she would leave me a receipt for our over the phone transaction in an envelope at the site.  I pulled in to the site and got set up. It was a pretty crowded campground but my neighbors on either side were apparently not there. Overall it was pretty quiet, or so I thought. Nuttah and I walked to get familiar with our surroundings, hoping we’d be close enough to the lake to catch a glimpse of it. However after 40 minutes of meandering, we were faced with 3 choices: 1) walk down a road to a marina that included a large sign: Private Property – Keep Out; 2) choose another driveway that said “Park residents and guests not permitted beyond this point”. Our third choice was to turn back.  All seemed fine until about 6 p.m.  On the walk, I had noticed a large communications tower at the edge of the park. It was completely surrounded with chain link topped with barbed wire.  A few buzzards were perching on its erector set-like skeleton. At 6 p.m., an alarm began to sound. It was similar to the siren that the JFK Park in Arkansas used to alert fishermen and other water users that a water release at the dam was eminent.  It lasted about a minute.  After 15 minutes had lapsed, it started again.  This went on every 15 minutes for the next hour.  I thought “this is going to be a long night” but by 7 p.m. it was over.

I think the siren was used to deter buzzards from perching on the tower overnight, but this was to no avail – much like anti-seagull cannons I’d seen used at landfills.  By morning when I awoke as the sun was rising, dozens of buzzards were conducting morning sun salutations. What a sight!

From this location, I traveled to Inks Lake State Park in Burnet, Texas about 2.5 hours away. I was making my way toward Austin where a friend had agreed to receive mail for me.  He and his family were out of town for several days so I had some time to kill before meeting up with them.  Inks Lake had room for me and I reserved a site for two nights.  What a beautiful campground!  It came in a close 2nd to the Hillman Ferry campground at Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky.

When I arrived at my site, the camper to my right immediately made himself available to spot me as backed down a gentle slope before reaching level for the trailer. He and his family left shortly thereafter. The camper on my left was there the first night but gone by the next morning. The site I had was within 50’ of the lake and in direct alignment with the setting sun. There were so many birds on this pond! Very few water craft were noticeable from my vantage point although there were many boat trailers in the day parking lot.

On day one, we walked the campground road network to explore where the trails might be.  On day two we set out for the far northern end of the campground where we entered a trail to Devil’s Waterhole.  That was a short walk down a moderate slope; we followed two little boys and their grandparents.  After hellos were exchanged while exploring the boulders at water’s edge across which was a sheer wall of rock, Nuttah and I continued on the walking path upstream.  The stream ran from the other side of the access road to the park and included a few small falls. It was nice to see rippling water in an area whose vegetation and surface cover screamed dryness.  The trail went up over a large ledge outcrop and then meandered in and around large boulder fields. Everything was lush. Rounding a corner, I thought I had entered a magical forest; everywhere I looked were hundreds of tiny gold and white moths lighting on the grasses at my feet. It was like walking through a fairy village. At one point, a lone woman came up from behind; her eyes were large as saucers as she told of the moth enounter. She was from the Galveston area out for the weekend.  We walked and talked for a short while together; she was clearly processing her feelings about the election.  A little time in nature helps heal open wounds! I enjoyed our connection.

When we returned, I readied myself for a campfire, a spectacular sunset and the rising of the November full moon. We had new neighbors on either side of our site. The one to the left was a couple in their late 60s or early 70s.  At one point, the man came over and asked if he could use the lakeside portion of my campsite to launch his canoe so that he and wife could do a bit of fishing. “Of course” I said, “It’s yours as much as it is mine!” they launched with no issues and I watched them fish for a bit. When they came in at dusk, I helped steady the canoe on shore as they disembarked.  As soon as they both got out, the fish began to feed as the flies congregated on the surface of the water. The ironies of life!

After finishing dinner, same neighbor came by to see how my fire was going. Harold was a farmer from New Braunfels; his wife was a retired school teacher. They had 6 adult children, most of who lived nearby; and they raised Great Pyrenees.  I think he said they presently had 12!  “That’s a lot of dog food”, I said. He chuckled.  They also raised sheep.  He talked about the growth of New Braunfels and how difficult it was to continue farming because there were so many subdivisions around his spread.  “The neighbors like to be in the country” he said, “but they don’t like the side effects of the farms”.  He was seriously thinking of selling out but it was his life’s work!  He then opened the door to the political situation. He said “I bet you and I did not vote for the same person in the recent election”.  I said “I bet you are right”. He followed with “well our choices left a lot to be desired”.  I responded with “yes, I agree with your assessment”.  I then took a chance. I looked him in the eye and said “I’m very concerned about the direction this new administration will take and I think it will be up to people like us to govern ourselves.  You are a good person as am I; we only want what’s best for this country!  It may be that we’ll need to step in without the help of government when the time comes”. He looked at me and smiled nodding his head.

That night I watched the super full moon rise at first shrouded by clouds but later fully illuminating the sky and the places where its moon beams were directed.  I slept soundly. The next day, as I prepared for my departure, Harold brought his lovely spouse over. I learned that they would be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary on the 29th of November.  I shared that I would be celebrating my birthday that day and promised I’d offer a wish of good fortune for them!  As I began to drive off, Harold came running with arms waving. I rolled my window down and heard him say “your spare tire on the trailer is wobbling – I’d hate for you to lose it, mind if I take a look to tighten it?”  “Thank you, I’d be pleased if you did that!” I said.  The reality is that while there was play in the armature that held the spare tire, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere.  At the same time, I knew there was no harm in accepting this generous offer from a stranger – a good person – with whom I’d made a tender connection.

From there I headed into Llano, onto Fredericksburg and Comfort where I took I-10 to Boerne and then route 46 north to Guadalupe River State Park where I would stay for a couple more nights. A beautiful drive from one State Park to another, I enjoyed traveling through the old western towns with facades that I’d only seen in movies.

By the time I reached Spring Branch and the State Park access road, I felt I was coming down with something. As I entered the main gate, I immediately was nauseous. I prayed the feeling would subside but it was an uneasy feeling that had no obvious source.  On registering I was directed to drive in to a certain section, choose a site and set up; then call them with the site number.  Not fully comprehending this process, it sunk in after I saw only a half dozen campers in an area that could readily fit 100 tents or RVs. Obviously, it was off season.

There was no phone service anywhere in this campground; I found many parks to be challenging in this way but then again, people camp to get away from phones!

Next day, I needed to get provisions so I traveled to Spring Branch and found a grocery store. It was beautiful and rather warm.  When we returned, we explored the park and later I took my laptop out to work on a story.  It was then that a tiny lizard came out of nowhere and decided that my black computer bag might be interesting to explore. I watched him briefly and wondered what the message was in his visit.  The nausea that was triggered when I arrived had subsided but my anxiety was growing; there was something about this place that did not feel right.  It was reminding me to pay attention to my thoughts; that my thoughts were fueling my emotions.   Later I met the couple who were tenting a few sites away. They were both Texans and she was of Native American heritage. I asked what they knew of the ride on I-10 to El Paso as that was the route I had planned on using to meet my friends in Deming NM.  He said it was fine but that the closer I got to El Paso, in light of being a lone woman traveler, to be wary of the border as there was renewed cartel activity and agitation since the election and the promise of a wall being built. This was difficult to hear and my anxiety only grew.

Scheduled to head west in a couple days, I contacted my friend in Austin to make sure my mail had arrived and to make plans for my stop over.  Most of my mail was there but I was awaiting another small package. I suspected it would arrive the next day when we agreed to meet.  Meanwhile, Nuttah had gotten into something at one of the prior parks; his right ear flap was festering.   I traveled to town, stopped in at one of several vets and made an appointment for later that day. It turned out to be an embedded thorn or stinger.  Meds in hand, we traveled back to the campground. The next day, we drove to Austin. As I approached from the outskirts I asked my GPS to locate the fabric stores on my way to my destination.  I ended up stopping at two and picked up some unique fabrics that I could use in the many creations I had been making along the way.

I enjoyed my brief visit with Ben and thanked him for receiving my mail; some of it I had been waiting on for weeks!  We drove back to Guadalupe River State Park for a final night; I made reservations at two different state parks along I-10 and prepared for an early departure the next day. My anxiety continued to grow and I wondered what message I was missing!

From Spring Branch I drove back to Boerne where I picked up I-10 to the city of Junction where I’d spend the first night. Whether my nausea and anxiety were a premonition of my experience on I-10 or whether this highway is always like this is uncertain.  By the time I reached Junction, the wind had been whipping me about so much that I was exhausted and knew I had to develop plan B; I still had a very long drive to El Paso. There was no telling how far along I-10 this wind would be with me. In Junction, the skies darkened and the wind was brutal; temperatures were dropping.  I refueled the car and sat in the parking lot reassessing my route and where I would stay.

While contemplating my next move, I realized that the winds, dark skies and western storefronts had triggered the memory of another dream I’d had more than two decades before.  It was one of those big dreams – I’d learned to describe it as a “nightmare of hope”. This dream grows in relevance as I travel deeper west so I will retell it at a more appropriate time.

I decided that it made no sense to stay in Junction or the other state park further west off I-10. It was still early in the day and I hoped the weather would clear if I drove northwest and took a different route to meet friends in Deming.  From Junction I drove to Menard and Eden, and then on to San Angelo; the weather and wind had settled a bit but I knew I was still not where I needed to be. I continued on to Sterling City and then to Garden City ultimately wending my way to Midland, the home of “George W”.  This was oil country to be sure – Rigs were everywhere!  The air was thick with the smell of petroleum fumes.

I located a park after what had been a much longer driving day than I had planned on; as before, one site was available. The wind started up again and this time the temps plummeted. Thankfully, my propane heater was functional and helped keep my pipes from freezing.  I spent some time reviewing maps and routes and thinking about what I felt along the I-10 corridor.  If you believe that thought fuels emotion (as my little lizard friend seemed to say) and that as energy, emotion can influence weather patterns, I wondered if the raging wind was an expression of the internal and external conflict that had been waging for decades along the Texas-Mexico border; and now since the election, tension was coming to a head.  I truly felt as if I was in a fight-flight mode on that highway; I could not imagine it getting any better as I approached the Mexican border near El Paso. I was glad to have listened to my gut and altered my approach.

I got up early the next day, packed up and hit the road again.  It was near 30 degrees. By this time I decided that I would avoid El Paso altogether and meet my friends earlier.  They were staying another night at Bottomless Lakes Campground west of Roswell New Mexico.  I left Midland and traveled north to Andrews and then Seminole where I stopped at a small WalMart and bought an electric heater for $15. I continued north to Plains and then turned westerly toward Tatum, Caprock and finally Roswell. This last leg was surreal; because of the oil operations that flanked both sides of the highways, the roadways were covered with a slick surface of crude. And when I say slick, I do mean slippery.  The frequency of working oil rigs did not decrease as I traveled northward; this is a part of the country I never could have imagined and it did not mix well with the water that ran in my veins and the air that filled my lungs.

As I entered New Mexico, the oil rigs decreased in number but instead I was confronted with a whole new sense of strangeness.  The roadway noise was almost imperceptible and while I was traveling at 65 mph, I felt as if I was driving at 40 mph. It took me a while to figure it out but as I traveled north, I also climbed in elevation. Austin is at 489’ above mean sea level (MSL) and Tatum is at 3,999’ MSL. My ears were not adjusting; and the rise in elevation was so gradual that it seemed to change the way my engine worked.  Or you could say that my perception was tapping into some kind of speed and sound warp as I approached Roswell.

By the time I reached Bottomless Lakes it was early afternoon….after setting up for the night, grounding my energy was the first order of business!