Sunday, April 18, 2010
Day 115: It's Always Something
Western Borden County to Lamesa. 21 miles/2175.7 total
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Leaving from Highway 180 near Texas 1054, heading west into the City of Lamesa (pronounced La-MEE-sa).
It’s cloudy here, but it was sunny in Lamesa when I left. Warmer than yesterday, and it'll probably get into the low 70s. I expect these clouds to break up and thin out in a few hours.
Traffic is even lighter today than it was yesterday, this being Sunday morning. It’s just me and the cattle right now. Some are looking at me from fifty feet away or so, and can hear me. Cows are indifferent to vehicular traffic, but a person walking down the road always catches their attention. I try singing to them, and since I’m in the wide-open spaces of Texas, I try an old Jimmie Rodgers song, “Waiting for a Train.” They turn tail and trot away from me. Guess they only like the Warren Zevon stuff. Or else I’ve lost my touch.
I’m still climbing gradually uphill. Lamesa, at 2992 feet, is about 700 feet higher than Snyder.
During today’s walk I’ll pass another milestone, of sorts. By the time I finish I will have exceeded the length of the Appalachian Trail, which most people agree is 2,169 miles. In noting that I don’t by any means liken what I’m doing to walking the AT. On the contrary, it gives me pause to think that through hikers on the AT walk, over a six month period, the same distance I’ve covered in almost eight months, and under much more rigorous circumstances. They’re lucky if they do fifteen miles a day. Sort of puts things into perspective.
After an hour and a half I leave Borden County and enter Dawson County, named for Nicholas Mosby Dawson, who fought in the Texas revolution. Dawson is quite a bit larger in population than Borden, with about 15,000. Oil and cotton are what it’s all about here.
At about seven miles I reach the top of a long hill and come out on a plateau. As far as I can see are plowed fields. No hills in the distance. It’s mostly cotton. I think they’re going to be planting over the next two weeks or so. The rows are mounded up, with troughs between the rows. That, I presume, is to catch the rain and prevent runoff, and to keep the plants from rotting. But maybe there’s another reason.
They’ve had more than the usual amount of rain here in Texas so far this spring, and that’s good news, although farmers will find something to complain about in just about anything. Too much rain, not enough rain, crop prices, not enough heat, too much heat, equipment prices, you name it. It’s never quite right. If the streets were paved with gold, they’d say it was too bumpy a ride. As Rosanne Roseannadanna said, “It’s always something.” When I was having coffee with the boys on Thursday, it was raining. One of them was complaining that as a farmer you couldn’t get anything done when it was raining like that. I thought, well what kind of rain do you want, exactly? But I think I know already. It would be rain that fell only in the middle of the night, not too heavily, and on a regular and frequent basis.
It strikes me that the biggest difference between these cotton fields and those along the Mississippi River is the size of the fields. With no way to know who owns what, I'd still venture to say that the individual farm size is much larger here.
At the intersection of U.S. 180 and Texas Farm Road 176 is the community of Key. On one corner is a large collection of farm implements. On another is a Baptist church. On a third are a couple of tin-roofed farm buildings and an abandoned house. And on the fourth, where I’m sitting, is the Key Mercantile building, a white painted peeling place with a broad porch held up with rough hewn cedar posts. Of course it’s closed, and when I look in the window I see that it’s been cleared out long since. The pumps out front show that the last price at which they sold gas was $1.25 a gallon. There’s a working soda machine, but I don’t have the right change. I sit and rest on a bench on the porch.
The internet says Key reached a high population of 75 in the late 40s, and it’s been downhill ever since. No official population is listed, but I estimate it at around twenty, if you go out to a radius of a mile or so.
I imagine that a century ago it wasn’t uncommon to be born and live your whole life and die in a place the size of Key, going into a “big” city like Lamesa maybe once a month for supplies, and to raise a little hell.
In the ditches, along with beer bottles and other junk and the bleached bones of animals killed last year, bloom a variety of wildflowers, varying in size and shape and color, but always presenting a feast for the eyes. Oranges, yellows, purples, pinks--varieties in the dozens. These are flowers I’ve come to admire but whose names I won’t ever learn. I’m just not that interested, and I’ve made a conscious decision not to pursue the matter to find out. I do know blue bonnets and Indian paintbrush. And I know that many of the rest have interesting names, like dog piss and cat’s meow and wolf tooth, but I’m content to appreciate them the way the other animals do, without naming them. And if it turns out the other animals do name them, they can keep those names to themselves.
After ten miles through this flat, tilled earth, with only the county roads, lettered and spaced one mile apart, to mark the passage of time and distance, U.S. 180 merges with U.S. 87, and takes a turn to the north into Lamesa.
On the outskirts of Lamesa I come to a working drive-in movie theater, a rarity. It’s called the Skyview. The two movies that are playing are current ones—Clash of the Titans and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so I know they’re open at least some of the time. It’s one of fourteen working drive-ins left in Texas, according to Wikipedia. The same source says that Buddy Holly once performed on top of the concession stand at the Skyview.
I enter Lamesa, population 9952. Unimpressive, spread out and filled with one and two-story buildings. Off to the right is the high school football field. I can see its lights. A church spire pops into view. I pass the Spike Dykes Ford dealership. That sounds like the name of an edgy girl group—The Spike Dykes. Or maybe Spike Dykes and the Fister Sisters.
I stop for a long chat with a guy named Tony, through the window of his pickup truck. He'd seen me back on the other side of Key and offered me a ride. He rounded the corner here in Lamesa and said, “Well I see you finally got here.” We ended up conversing for quite some time. I told him what I was doing, and he asked good questions, like how many miles I got to a pair of shoes. Tony’s from Lamesa, and runs a car repair place or a body shop, I forget which. He told me that Dawson County and neighboring Gaines County, which I’ll reach tomorrow, are the two largest cotton-producing counties in the country. (It’s funny, but I could swear I’ve been through other counties that have made the same claim.) Tony also confirmed that the average cotton farm out here in West Texas is a lot bigger than it is east of here. Here a 640-acre section, one-mile square, is considered a fairly small farm. Tony invited me to come to his place of business for coffee tomorrow morning. I may take him up on that.
I wend my way into the center of town, where the Dawson County Courthouse sits on a very shady square, surrounded on all four sides with wide brick streets, perhaps restored to their original appearance. The courthouse itself is undistinguished, made of brick and very functional, perhaps dating from near the founding of the city, which was in 1903. About three-quarters of the storefronts around the courthouse stand empty.
There's more blue sky than clouds now, as the afternoon wanes. The motor home is in the parking lot of the Dawson County Senior Citizen Center, waiting patiently.