Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Day 113: A Booger To Build

Snyder to Eastern Borden County. 21.5 miles/2134.3 total

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Today I walk out of Snyder and due west on U.S. 180. At the beginning of the walk I’m enjoying the comparative urban bustle, because in two or three miles I’ll be out in the rolling plains with nothing but the occasional cow and those little gas-powered oil wells and the hills for the rest of the walk. Here at the outskirts of the city it's oil-related businesses--drilling equipment, mostly.

It’s overcast and humid, with rain expected, and the wind blowing again from the south, moving the clouds along, sometimes opening up patches of pale blue. It feels like it’s in the low 60s and won’t get a whole lot warmer.

After an hour I come to a place called Union. I know this partly because I saw it on the map, and also because the Union Baptist Church is right here on the highway, along with another smaller church. There are no signs welcoming me, with or without population numbers. On the internet Union gets one of those virtual push pins on a map and that’s it. It does appear that the heart of Union, such as it might be, lies a few blocks to the north, but it’s a pretty sure bet that that heart is barely beating. Probably the Roscoe, Snyder, & Pacific Railroad had a stop here. There’s a defunct restaurant called Little OJ’s Bar and Grill, and a very faded round metal sign that might have stood in front of a gas station fifty years ago.

In the interest of full disclosure, and because there’s not going to be much else to talk about today, I should advise my readers that I have been busy devising an exit strategy for the walk. Anticipating that by the middle of May the weather in southern New Mexico will be getting hot (and I will be getting tired), I’ve been thinking that that would be as good a time as any to take a break until fall or winter, when I can return and finish up the last third of the journey.

With that in mind I’ve decided to either sell the motor home (along with the towing dolly) or store it down here somewhere. I would prefer to sell it. To that end I bought For Sale signs in Abilene, and have put them in the windows on either side, listing my cell phone number and a few particulars. If it does sell during the next few weeks, I’ll look for another motor home in Michigan. I’d like to get one that’s a bit different inside. This one has a queen-size bed in back and a dining booth up front that converts to another bed, for one or two short people. There are many configurations available, and I’d prefer something a little smaller, with perhaps two single beds and a couch.

Yesterday I got two responses to my For Sale signs, one semi-serious and the other somewhat more so. The second was from an old man who saw me parked in Walmart parking lot last evening, and stopped in to look the motor home over. He said he liked what he saw, and wants to buy it and live in it. He said he’d be happy to give me a few more weeks to walk before he takes it. It sounds almost too perfect, so I’m not expecting it to pan out.

If I don’t sell the motor home I can store it. I know of a place in Abilene where I can store it cheaply for as long as I need to if I don’t find any other such facility between here and where I finally stop.

A few miles past Union I’m hailed by a guy up on a hill, standing next to his pickup truck. He thinks I’m someone else. I cross the road so he can see and hear me, and we end up talking for a bit. I tell him my deal, and he tells me his. His name is John. He’s an old retired oil worker who now goes places for a few weeks each year to help build Baptist churches. He’s going to Wyoming this summer. After I tell him I'm heading for California he says, “I’m not remembering too well these days--what’s the name of that city in California down near old Mexico?” “San Diego?” I offer. “Yeah, that’s it. We went out there one summer to San Diego and built us a church. It was a booger to build, too. Then the minister turned around and asked us if he could tear it down, 'cause somebody wanted to buy the land for three million dollars. I was on the committee and I said ‘Sure, tear it down.’”

We exchange a few more pleasantries and I get back on the road. Afterwards I think of all the questions I could and should have asked him—about oil wells and wind turbines and purple sage.

The prickly pear cactuses are back, amid the mesquite and some spiky grasslike plants that grow in clumps about two feet in diameter, out of which sometimes shoot stalks topped with white flowers. I see another type of cactus, which I think at first might be the jumping cholla Roberts warned me about, but on closer examination it appears thinner and less fuzzy. And it's not jumping.

About a third of the way into the walk it starts to rain, the drops coming in almost horizontally with the strong south wind, hitting the left side of my face. Time to take out the poncho. For the rest of the walk it rains off and on, usually for no more than twenty minutes at a time, and not particularly hard.

I enter Borden County. I will be going about seven more miles, but won’t reach Gail, the county seat, until the next walk. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that the population of this entire county is only 729. I see no houses anywhere. What’s interesting is that there are three counties in Texas with even smaller populations. Still, Borden County is the tenth least populous county in the United States.

Some of you might have noticed the affinity between the name of the county and its seat. In fact, both were named in honor of Gail Borden, Jr., the man who invented condensed milk, after whom the Borden brand took its name. Before he did this he was a surveyor and newspaper publisher here in Texas, and served as Customs Collector in the new Republic of Texas, until his removal from that post by none other than Mirabeau B. Lamar, third president (and author of the poem, “The Daughter of Mendoza”). Lamar replaced Borden with a crony, and caught some hell for it.

Borden began experimenting with the whole condensing thing in the 1840s, but not initially of milk. His first product was a mixture of condensed beef broth and flour that he marketed under the name “beef biscuit pemmican.” In 1850 the U.S. Army endorsed this product. (And why not? It combined the shit and the shingle into one cracker.) Arctic explorers used it too. Borden moved to New York (where he had been born) to concentrate on marketing his invention, but it eventually fell through and he lost nearly everything. The world wasn't ready for meat biscuits. Luckily he had also been working on a process to condense milk, and that became a smash. He started the New York Condensed Milk Company, which got a big boost during the Civil War. Borden became a condensing fool, working on ways to condense coffee, tea, meat, cocoa, and fruit juices. But milk, of course, remained the big earner.

Somehow Borden feels like a good name for this vast empty square of land, which must contain more cows than humans. Contented cows (even though that was a different brand). And for that matter, contented people.


Anonymous said...

Hey Peter,
Just wanted to say hello and let you know that, even though I don't always have time to read the whole postings, and it seems I have somehow disappeared from the list of followers, I'm still following...
Thought of you while watching the Woodstock diaries the other evening and hearing Arlo Guthrie sing Walking down the line...

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Just finished listening, on the iPod, to Bob Dylan's book, Chronicles Volume One, read by Sean Penn. A great way to spend a few hours walking.