Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 93: The Rooster King

Hempstead to Brenham. 21 miles/1708.8 total

Thursday, March 18, 2010

At 9:21 a.m. I leave from in front of a veterinary clinic in Hempstead, heading to U.S. 290 and to the larger city of Brenham, a distance of 21 miles. I’m back after a little over three weeks of rest, idleness, indolence, and overeating.

First I go by the Waller County Courthouse, a not-bad-looking building from the 1950s or so. It’s undistinguished, built of red bricks with concrete trimmed windows in front, but at least it's not ugly.

This is a sunny morning with no clouds in the sky. At the moment it’s in the low 50s, expected to get into the high 60s. Very pleasant.

Some palpable changes have occurred here in Texas since I left. Spring has sprung. The ornamental trees are blooming and many of the others--sycamores, aspens--have begun to bud out. There are overtones of pale yellow and soft green everywhere. Spring in its anticipatory phase. All except for the oaks, which don’t get started this early, but by way of compensation stay around until fairly late in the game.

Up by the highway, a mile or so into the walk, I leave Hempstead, population 4,691, a town where I, or at least the motor home, have been residing for quite some time, perhaps longer than in any one place since I started the walk. February 22 was the day I rolled into Hempstead.

Up on Highway 290 I stop for my first shot of invigorating caffeine. One of the good things about being out of shape for walking is that there’s really not much to be done by way of getting back into shape other than to walk all day long for a few days. Of course there’s stretching, always a good idea, but no other training or preparation is really required. Just to put one foot in front of the other.

I’ve decided to make my daily benchmark 21 miles, rather than 20, just to kick it up a notch. It’s only another 20 minutes or so, and now there’s more than enough daylight available.

I come upon the entrance to a farm called Rancho Rey, in front of which is a ten-foot statue of a white rooster, with the inscription underneath El Gallo Rey, which means The Rooster King. I stop to take a photo of this royal chicken, and climb up on the pedestal. It’s hollow, apparently made of fiberglass or some similar material. It makes me think of Shelley's Ozymandias:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

I mentioned before that the countryside is becoming more hilly since I’ve left Houston. Not excessively so, just gently rolling, not unlike that of Michigan. In fact, if it weren’t for the absence of maples and birches and the preponderance here of beef cattle, what I’m looking at right now might be taken for Michigan in a couple of months, when spring really commences up there.

I pass another place selling concrete statuary, this one called Outdoor Heaven. A yard full of gargoyles, saints, birdbaths, and lions with their paws on orbs. But when you’ve been to Concrete Heaven over in Hempstead, other heavens just don’t quite match up. I suppose that’s heaven for you. Never quite as good in person as in the imagining. Even Milton saw it as a place where war could break out and all hell could break loose. Sure, God’s in charge, but don’t piss him off. God holds a grudge (which, silly me, I thought was just a human failing).

As I stop to photograph a concrete bison it suddenly occurs to me that I’ve been photographing places like this throughout the entire walk. I remember one of the first ones was up in Michigan, just north of the Indiana border. I took a few pics and the owner caught up to me in his pickup truck about twenty minutes later and asked me why I was photographing his place. He was afraid I was casing the joint so I could steal something later. When he said something like, "I know it's your right to take photographs," I cut him off there.

I leave Waller County and enter Washington County, crossing the Brazos River, a muddy thoroughfare about a quarter of mile wide. Just over the river and uphill a large stone sign built into a hill welcomes me again to Washington County, declaring that it’s "The Birthplace of Texas." So what’s that all about? Well, Washington County is the place where a convention was held in 1836 and the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed. You remember the Texas Declaration of Independence, right? Signed at the bottom by Johnny Lee Hancock, and also by Jim Bob, Bubba, and Bobby Ray.

Meanwhile it is 1:00 and my shadow is beside me on the right, foreshortened, walking in lockstep like a good soldier. The temperature has reached the mid 60s.

At 12.8 miles I come to the intersection of Texas Route 1155 and Highway 290, where it says, “Welcome to Historic Chappell Hill.” Many towns have made the claim of being historical. What of Chappell Hill? It has no population on its signs, and indeed no official signs that I can see. It was established, I have learned, in 1847 by a woman named Mary Hargrove Haller. That might be a historical thing in and of itself, a woman founding a town. She named it after a man, though, her grandfather Robert Wooding Chappell. Cotton farmers from the south moved in. Because this was about the halfway point between Houston and Austin, it became a stopping place, and Mary and her husband ran an inn. There were also a couple of institutions of higher learning hereabouts, Soule University and Chappell Hill Female College, both of which are defunct.

Although I’m just over halfway on the walk today, it is beginning to feel as if I should be just about finished. The time off is telling on my bones and muscles.

At some point as I seemed to have entered “Central Texas.” No more East Texas for me, although from a purely geographical standpoint I’m still pretty much in the eastern part of the state.

These huge cattle ranches that are everywhere make me think not of how many cattle there are, but of how few in relation to the amount of land. I rarely see more than forty or fifty cows at once. Perhaps it’s my ignorance, but it looks to me as if the land could sustain many more cattle than there are. But maybe that would bring the price of beef down or raise the price of feed, or cause some other kind of havoc. I’m sure there’s some economic alchemy at work here. All I know is there is a lot of empty grassland.

At a little past 19 miles I reach a billboard that welcomes me to Brenham, the “Ice Cream Capital of Texas.” Holy shit. It’s the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, evidently, a brand I’m not familiar with. I guess I’ll have to have some Blue Bell while I’m here. I imagine they carry it in Walmart.

Brenham, population 14,237, is also the bluebonnet capital of Texas. Bluebonnets are these deep blue and white flowers I see growing wild alongside the road, and particularly in the grassy median between the two sides of Highway 290.

I crest the hill by the Highway 290 Church of Christ, a little sheetmetal-clad building, right next to the larger Cash Station Pawn Superstore, and head onto Business 290 toward the center of town. I won't get there today.

I’m dead tired, but somehow not in a bad way. Nothing that a pint or two of water and some time off my feet won’t make right as rain.

About a half mile down the road I come to a marble monument that says this was once Jefferson Davis Highway 20. The monument was erected by the Texas Daughters of the Confederacy. That evidently was the name of this road before it became Business Route 290. I applaud the name change.

At last I am reunited with the motor home in J.C. Penney’s empty parking lot, in front of the empty Penney store. I hobble to the door. Rest awaits.


Anonymous said...

Good to see you back at it. You sound refreshed and brand new. I imagine its good to step away from it, however briefly--gives you scale. We are feeling Spring here in the Northeast but unlike where you are--it'll get cold again---Art

Anonymous said...

Not sure how you will take the information that it was Lady Bird Johnson who got the State of Texas to introduce bluebonnets along the state's highways. I guess we all knew there's no more corn on the Brazos but I had forgotten the Walkers were Dutch.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

I remember Lady Bird Johnson's campaign for more wildflowers in Texas. Let 'em grow rather than mowing 'em down. Good idea, and it caught on elsewhere.