Sunday, March 21, 2010
Day 95: Where the Buffalo Roam
Carmine to Giddings. 21.4 miles/1750.5
Sunday, March 21, 2010
I leave from the center of Carmine, heading through the village of Ledbetter and the City of Giddings, to a point about 5 miles past Giddings, a distance of 21.4 miles.
It’s cold, with a strong wind, perhaps fifteen to twenty miles per hour, blowing straight at me from the west. The temperature is about 40, and is expected to get only into the low to mid 50s. On the bright side, there isn’t a cloud in the sky.
There’s not much happening on today’s walk. Nothing really between here and Giddings, which isn’t much either, but does have a Walmart, where I stayed the past two nights. Also, Giddings has a Wendish settlement.
One of my readers suggested that I might be near where the Wendish settled in Texas, and sure enough, when I looked them up on the internet this morning, I found that the Wendish museum and local society is located in Giddings. The Wendish are Slavic people who lived in an area of Germany called Lusatia, over on the east side near Poland. They avoided assimilation and kept their own tongue, which was a Slavic language. Like small indigenous ethnically distinct groups everywhere, they felt picked on by the dominant culture, in this case German, and indeed were picked on, being urged to abandon their language and Germanize their names. In the mid-1800s, when Germans and other central European people were coming to Texas, some Wendish people decided to come as well, in large part to preserve their religion, which they felt was being threatened by the Germans. What was their ancient indigenous little religion? Well, they were Lutherans, just like the Germans, but they didn’t want to be absorbed into the Evangelical Lutheran version that was becoming the state church of Germany. They wanted to be “old school” Wendish Lutherans, even though Lutheranism was only about three hundred years old at that point—far less ancient than either they or their language. But what the hell. So they came over to the New World, aboard a ship called the Ben Nevis out of Liverpool, their Mayflower, and after much trial and tribulation and disease, they made it to Galveston, then settled in Lee County, near Giddings.
Well, now their language has all but died out, and they themselves have succumbed to what they most feared, and happens in this country all the time, namely assimilation. How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, and all that. But it makes a good little footnote.
There are also plenty of regular Germans hereabouts, too, who you don't think of as the oppressors, necessarily, unless you listen to a Wendish person, I guess. The main street of Carmine, which I just left, is called Hauptstrasse.
Little orange-red wildflowers are busy growing on the roadside. The bluebonnets of a couple of days ago are gone, and these pale-poppy-colored blooms are everywhere. I don’t know their name, but I’ll put a photo on and maybe somebody can identify them.
Meanwhile the cattle are busy doing what they do, which to us perhaps appears easy, but you try turning grass into shit, milk, and beef sometime.
At about six miles I enter Ledbetter, just a spot on the highway with a little side road running past some old stores. They’re either closed, empty, for sale, or all three.
Well past Ledbetter now, in the distance I see the water tower of Giddings, looking like it’s only about two miles away. But I know better, and sure enough, after I get over the next rise, a couple of miles up, the tower still looks like it’s two miles ahead.
Off to the north of 290 the cows, some thirty or forty of them, are sitting down taking an afternoon rest under the pale blue unblemished sky.
Now the thin traffic of early Sunday has become heavy and incessant, like the wind. I reach the city limits of Giddings, population about 5,000. Although part of land granted to Stephen Austin in 1821, the place wasn’t founded as a city until 1871, when the Houston and Texas Central Railway came through. It was named after a dude named Jabez Deming Giddings, who was instrumental in getting the railroad through. The name Jabez Giddings, I must say, has eccentric old west money written all over it. Like a character in a Harper movie with Paul Newman.
Giddings is the only city of any size for about thirty miles in either direction along Highway 290 between Austin and Houston, and there’s no bypassing it. So cars have to stop, and they get bunched up. And now that people are done worshipping the God of their choice (which around here is the Vengeful Eagle-Eyed God of Republican Hatred), they are roaming the streets in search of things to do on a Sunday afternoon, and whizzing past me. And for some reason, the wide, accommodating shoulder has disappeared, and I have to choose between walking flat on the edge of paved death, Refuseniks taunting me with their mirrors, or hobbling along the steep grassy slope like a mountain goat.
Giddings, according to the water tower that I’m finally passing, is the home of the Buffaloes. I wonder if they have a live bison as their mascot. They could certainly obtain one. Trot out the flyblown, shaggy old ruminant before the game to take a dump on the sideline of the opposing team.
At the junction of 290 and U.S. 77, in the heart of Giddings, I take a two-block detour south to look at the Lee County Courthouse. And this, I must say, is an architectural gem, dating probably from the late 1800s. It sits up on the grass looking more like a college classroom building than a courthouse, if you ask me. It has a Victorian, but also a Romanesque, quality to it, with lots of rounded arches and squat marble columns, and those string courses I learned about in Brenham, both of brick and white stone. I approach. Sure enough, it was built in 1899. Over on the west side there’s a plaque. It says it was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, similar to the New York State Capitol and several buildings at Harvard University.
On the northwest corner of the square is a marble monument honoring Robert E. Lee, after whom Lee County was named, but mostly going on and on about the valiant Texas regiments that fought under Lee. I take yet another opportunity to spit on the name Robert E. Lee, traitorous cur that he was.
At the outskirts of town I come to a cemetery. Let’s see what the ethnic breakdown is. We have Mutschink, Jenke, Hempel, Peschke, Jatzlau. And some Kellys and Bishops. Then Miertschin and Luecke. So some Germans for sure, and probably some of these others are Wendish names, perhaps Germanized a bit. I sit down to rest on the stone of Fritz and Eunice Heinemann.
No more shoulder. At over 19 miles into the walk I cut over to County Road 200, which runs parallel to 290 for a few miles. This is a relief, because there’s almost no traffic. I smell rotten meat, and then look down to see what I think at first is a deer hoof. But it’s covered with long black hair. A black deer? Then I look closer, and see that it’s a pig trotter. Over in the ditch, badly decayed, is the carcass and huge skull of a wild pig, its canines perhaps two or three inches long. I see all four legs, scattered by some pork-loving carrion-eater. I'll bet it takes no time at all for a pig to be devoured. They are, after all, magical animals.