Monday, April 5, 2010

Day 106: Nothing To Report

Santa Anna to Silver Valley. 21.1 miles/1986.9 total

Monday, April 5, 2010

Today I walk out of the center of Santa Anna on Highway 84, heading through Coleman to a spot about 12 miles west of Coleman, just before the community of Silver Valley.

It’s completely overcast again, and looks like rain, but none is forecast. Yesterday was about the same, and by the end of the afternoon it was sunny. Maybe this is what passes for rain around here—some cloud cover and humidity in the air. We’ll see.

As I look around the hillsides on my way up and out of the little valley on the west side of Santa Anna, where if I turn around I can see one of the twin mesas looming in the distance, I notice the increasing profusion of prickly pear cactuses. I looked them up on the internet, and discovered that the little red knobs that grow on top of the flat round pieces are the fruits of the plant, and when handled carefully and removed from the plant, can be eaten raw. The knobs are on some cactuses already, but I cut a couple off and discover that they’re not very ripe yet. In doing so I get dozens of very tiny hairlike thorns in my fingertips, that take me some minutes to remove. If and when I repeat this experiment, I will wear leather gloves.

The roadside offers nothing particularly interesting today. At 8 miles I enter Coleman, population 5,127. Coleman is the seat of Coleman County, and the whole business was named for Robert Coleman, a signer of the Texas declaration of independence and a soldier at the Battle of San Jacinto. Now we all know what fighting at the Battle of San Jacinto entailed—barely enough time to shoot and reload a couple of times if you were lucky. Eighteen minutes—somewhat less time than it takes to watch an episode of Leave It To Beaver without the commercials. Even at that, quite a few people were killed and wounded, mostly on the Mexican side.

It’s pretty obvious that the Texas war for independence is the defining moment in history, as far as Texans are concerned, probably more revered than the American Revolution. Even the Battle of the Alamo, which was a complete defeat for the Texans, nevertheless gave rise to the rallying cry, “Remember the Alamo,” and spurred them on to more fighting, and the gaining of their independence four years later. One must view the term "independence" a bit askance, of course. Independence for the Texans meant the end of any hope for independence for Africans in the area. That is, assuming that the Texans had been obeying the Mexican emancipation decree of 1829, which seems unlikely. You might say the Texas war for independence was also the first war the Texans fought for the preservation of slavery. The second one came in 1861.

On the way into Coleman I come to a small park, planted in the southwestern style with cactuses and other desert plants, together with large flat slabs of rock arranged artistically. On one of the rocks there’s a bronze plaque that reads, “In memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose nonviolent efforts in the fight for civil rights has had a positive impact on the lives of all citizens of the City of Coleman, Texas." That strikes me as an unusually generous sentiment, considering that the percentage of African American residents here is less than three percent. Not to be cynical, but I don't suppose there are too many communities with such a small black population that would go out of their way to honor King, not just with a park, but by naming part of a highway after him.

I look down as I cross a small bridge to see my first live snake so far this spring. It’s about three feet long, lying there stretched out. At first I’m not sure it’s alive, but when I pass it scrambles and coils. It’s not a rattler, or a poisonous snake, but I give it plenty of leeway just the same.

A billboard says, “Welcome to Coleman, Texas. Life at a different pace.” I head west into the center of the city, past some pretty torn and frayed neighborhoods. They're pacing themselves, I guess. Then I go north up Commercial Avenue, which is extremely wide. It has two or three lanes on each side as well as a generous allowance for diagonal head-in parking, and the street ends about three blocks up, at the courthouse. The layout of this place reminds me of one of the cities I went through in western Louisiana—Jennings, I think.

I spend a pleasant three-quarters of an hour in an antiques mall on Commercial Ave., chatting with the proprietor, Eric Joffrion, who is originally from Louisiana Cajun country. I buy three knives, too. Now it’s time to get out of town and get back into this walk.

The walk from Coleman to where the motor home is parked is even less eventful than that of this morning. Nothing to report.

Some time after I get out of Coleman I look up to notice that the clouds have dispersed, just as they did yesterday, and it’s mostly sunny now. The only thing keeping the temperature from being uncomfortably hot is a strong breeze at my back, from the southeast, evidently coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.


Michael Roberts said...

As you wend your way West, know that most any plant in the desert will stick you one way or another. For the prickly pear, wait well past the time they flower to allow the nodules to ripen. Most people resort to making jelly with them. Those little needles may last awhile in your hand, but they'll work their way out. Most amazing is how the javelina munch on prickly pears like you might eat a handful of chips. And give any jumping cholla you may encounter a wide berth.

Anonymous said...

You were afraid of dysentery. In North Africa, prickly pear fruit, or "figue de Barbarie", is known to have the opposite effect and should be consumed with moderation.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Mike, I appreciate the advice--the lore of the desert. I got them all out by the end of the day, I think. Not unlike handling fiberglas insulation. I did have to look up javelina and jumping cholla. I suppose I should beware the jub jub bird and shun the frumious bandersnatch, as well.

Michael Roberts said...

Another desert maxim worth hearing ahead of time: Never put your hand where you can't see it. This refers mostly to nooks and crannies in rocks where snakes, scorpions and other creatures may lurk. Also applies to bushes, plants, old boards on the ground, anything that might provide shade. The sun will define your world out here. Sort of like that under-appreciated sci-fi movie, Sunshine, by Danny Boyle. Or Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. You're heading into the zone.