Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 103: The Other Dark Meat

Eastern Mills County to Mullin, Texas. 22 miles/1922 total

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I start from an obscure point on the side of Highway 183 near County Road 330 in eastern Mills County, walking through the city of Goldthwaite and the town of Mullin, a distance of 22 miles.

It’s partly overcast this morning, although the clouds seem about to scatter and let the sun shine a bit. The temperature is in the 60s now, expected to rise to the mid-80s. The air feels more humid than usual. Rain is expected by this evening, and into tomorrow, so it’ll be a good day to take off. I am determined not to walk in the rain if I can help it. I’ve tried it, and it’s not fun. Even with good rain gear you get almost as damp underneath as you do on the outside.

About a mile into the walk I come across two fat goats grazing in a ditch near the road. Another mile on, I see a sign that says "Welcome to Mills County, Meat Goat Capital of America." So there you have it. Those were meaty looking goats.

Soon after that sign I see a flock of sheep and then some cattle, lest I think it’s all goats around here. The cattle breed advertised on the sign in front of the ranch is Limousin. A very old breed, from France, they are said to resemble the cattle drawn on caves 20,000 years ago. I’ve seen Limousin bulls, and they are truly massive, and long-bodied--like limousines, in fact. They use them down here to increase the size of other breeds of cattle.

But back to goats. Watching several small herds of goats near the road has made me hungry for goat meat, which you don’t get much of in this country. I think the last time I had goat was in Connecticut, in some Jamaican-style dish. Curried goat or jerked goat. Maybe in Brownwood, where I’ll be staying for the next few nights, they’ll have a restaurant serving locally-grown goat.

Goats eye me warily as I pass, as if they’ve overheard me talking into my recorder about goat meat. Goat—the other dark meat.

I enter Goldthwaite, population 1802, passing the Masonic Hall, with the symbols of the Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star out front. The latter is the upside down pentagram, a little satanic. It is also a depiction of the head of a goat, beard down, horns up, ears out. The form the devil takes. Others have viewed this with alarm, and labeled the OES as satanic. It’s hard to believe the old blue-haired Eastern Star women are witches or devil-worshippers. And if they are, well that takes away quite a bit of the mystique of witchcraft, doesn’t it? Cooking pancake breakfasts by day, conjuring up Lucifer by night. Like those banal old Satanists in Rosemary’s Baby.

Despite its dinky population, Goldthwaite presents itself as a full-fledged city. After the Masonic Hall I go by a sizable municipal park, complete with a large pre-fabricated playground, a stream, and several acres of shaded picnic areas. A possum, looking out of place in the daytime, shuffles along the rivulet and into a culvert. Ornamental trees, flowering purple, are in full bloom here.

A large banner across Highway 183 promises the annual Goat Cook-Off on the 4th Saturday in April. That’s the story of my life on this trip—I’ll be long gone by then. All the celebrations in the cities I’ve gone through seem to happen when I’m not there. I missed South by Southwest in Austin by a week or so. And then there are the others—catfish festivals, crawfish festivals, coon suppers, the giant omelet.

Uphill I go past the Napa auto parts place and the Wagonwheel Restaurant. I stop into the 1888 limestone block building housing the Chamber of Commerce, and promising an Old Jail Museum. But when I get inside I’m told the old jail, upstairs, isn’t open to the public because it’s being used to house county records while the Mills County Courthouse undergoes renovations. Right next door the courthouse is surrounded with scaffolding, and closed. Well, in a county this small, about 5,000, I don’t imagine the loss of the courthouse for a few months is a big imposition. Go to the next county for your justice. Or maybe to the Baptist Church.

I stop in at the Mills County Historical Museum and spend a pleasant forty minutes looking at the exhibits--just miscellaneous old stuff--and chatting with one of the volunteers, a guy named Rich. He tells me his great grandfather came from Schoolcraft, Michigan, and we talk about Michigan and Texas. I tell him the little I remember about Henry Schoolcraft, that he was an Indian agent in Mackinac City, married to a half-Ojibwa woman, and that he had a tendency to invent faux Indian names, a number of which he gave to Michigan counties--Alpena, Kalkaska, Tuscola, Oscoda, and more.

The locals pronounce Goldthwaite “Gold-wait.” The town was named after a railroad guy when it was started by the Santa Fe railroad in the 1880s. A familiar story. Rich told me that Goldthwaite is very close to the geographic center of Texas, so I’ll consider that at this point I’m halfway across the state. That’s a pretty daunting thought, because I’ve already been walking in Texas for twenty days.

As I head out of town U.S. 84 joins U.S. 183 for the rest of the way into Brownwood. In addition to the usual roadkill—lots of deer, possums, raccoons, skunks—I’m increasingly seeing small furry things I can’t identify, mostly because they’ve been flattened and mangled so much. They look like little monsters from a Mercer Mayer book. I should be getting better at identifying roadkill, but I still see lots of things I that are just bits of leathery skin and fur. Rabbit? Rat?

I’m struck not only by how many people are offering me rides, but by the fact that sometimes they’ve driven a good deal out of their way to make the offers. That's what makes them so hard to turn down. Yesterday someone saw the motor home and remembered seeing me from few miles back, so they turned around and drove back until they saw me again and offered me a ride to the motor home. That’s also happened at the beginning of a walk when people see the car. That's generosity above and beyond.

I step across the road to get a close look at a black sheep standing near a fence. The sheep is black, but the wool is white. It looks like a drawing in a book my brother and I had, illustrating the nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” The sheep looks back at me without a trace of fear or even comprehension.

Cresting a hill before Mullin I pass a pasture in which llamas, or vicunas, or alpacas (I never know which of those long-necked animals is which) are grazing next to goats and sheep, looking as if they know they’re on the wrong continent. They seem more nervous than their fellow ruminants, trotting back and forth along the fence.

Where Route 573 crosses Highway 183/84 I enter Mullin, population 175. The clouds are beginning to thicken along the western horizon. Less than two miles to go, and I am weary. The motor home comes into view just on the other side of the hundredth hill of the day.

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