Thursday, April 22, 2010
Day 118: Perseverance and Repetition
Seminole, Texas to New Mexico line. 23.6 miles/2242 total
Thursday, April 22, 2010
I leave the parking lot of Walmart on the west side of Seminole and climb a hill on Highway 180, heading west to just across the New Mexico line, in Lea County. And when I say just inside, I mean about twenty feet in.
Lots of high clouds and sunshine today, with the wind blowing in from the southwest. It’s already warm, and should get into the low 80s. Rain predicted for tonight.
The west side of Seminole is the business side. I can see a refinery from here, and numerous small oil wells scattered around the fields. Also there are several cotton gins and grain and peanut warehouses. All the way to the state line there’s a succession of such businesses, in contrast to the deserted stretches in the past several walks. Which is not to say that the highway is a beehive of activity—just that it’s got some buildings at regular intervals. In the distance as far as the eye can see are fields and grasslands.
I neglected to mention yesterday that there appears to be a sizable community of Mennonites in and around Seminole. In fact, there are no fewer than three different Mennonite churches in town, each perhaps differing slightly in theology.
The place where all the Mennonites seem to love to go as much as church is Walmart. Sitting in the parking lot for the last three evenings I’ve watched a steady progression of them. These folks don’t eschew all the modern conveniences, anyway. They have pickup trucks, and from what I can see, love to shop. I don’t know if they buy TVs and DVDs and such, but Walmart was literally crawling with them last night when I went in.
The men don’t look any different from regular Texans—maybe they wear their hair short, but then so do most other people. They dress like regular farmers and cowboys. Maybe a tiny bit geekier, I’m not sure. It’s the women and girls who are subject to restrictions. They wear long dresses, big and loose, which come down to about mid-calf. And on their heads some wear small black bonnets and others wear black scarves. The women look serious, like they’re not having much fun. The men just look vaguely peeved, like a Baptist minister might if he were walking down the Vegas strip with his family.
I don’t know what their teachings and traditions are, but the essence of it seems to involve keeping the women folk looking as homely as possible. Which isn’t at all difficult, because I must say that the adult women are pretty ugly. Serious tire biters. Makeup and modern hair styles wouldn’t help much, if at all. I don’t say this spitefully; it’s just a sad fact. The guys are no better looking, to be sure. Maybe it’s from generations of inbreeding. It’s probably just as well that they should stay out of the general gene pool, or at least confine themselves to the shallow end.
This morning at about 5:30 I awoke out of a pretty sound sleep, as I sometimes do, not knowing whether it was dark or light outside. Sleeping in lighted parking lots will do that. I was in the middle of a muddled dream, and when I became conscious I found myself uttering the words, “Perseverance and Repetition.” The words came out of a swirling cloud, as happens in dreams. It’s not profound, exactly, the way it seemed to be in the dream, but it sure does apply generally to the human condition, and particularly to what I am doing. I think maybe I’ll have a coat of arms made up with those words on it. Maybe in Latin, or in the infinitives. To Persevere and to Repeat. Over the image of a flattened coyote, rampant, like in the photo.
Trees around here, I’m told, have probably been planted by someone. They don’t occur naturally much, except the occasional mesquite that gets out of hand. But the trees I’m seeing are mostly in peoples’ front yards or around buildings.
Today I’m thinking of that old song we used to sing, “I’m Going to Leave Old Texas Now.” One person would sing each line, and everyone would echo it. Sort of a campfire song. It seems particularly appropriate today, for obvious reasons.
I’m going to leave old Texas now,
They’ve got no use for the longhorn cow.
They’ve plowed and fenced my cattle range,
And the people there are all so strange.
I didn’t think much about the meaning of the words until I got here. The plowers and the fencers have definitely prevailed, although the long horn cow seems to be doing okay as a variety of breed.
Here and there among the neat and modest farm houses a mighty and out-of-place house arises, showing that someone got some serious money, probably from oil. Here’s one, set way back from the road, that looks like a French chateau. It’s enormous, and pretty striking.
Since this is the last day in Texas, it’s time for a statistical wrap-up. I walked in Texas for 35 days. I came in on February 12 and sixty-nine days later I’m leaving. I walked 734 total miles in Texas, and have averaged 20.97 miles per day in this state. And my overall average daily mileage for the 118 days is up to 19 miles. I reckon that I’m just about two-thirds through the entire trip now.
I got 59 ride offers over 35 days. But I must say that probably 50 of them were from west of Austin. Part of the reason for that is that during the first part of the Texas walk I was on four-lane divided highways, where you almost never get ride offers, and part of it was because I was in more urban areas, and city people just don’t offer rides.
More statistics. I got a total of $6.72 in change from the roads of Texas. Also a Hong Kong 20-cent piece from the early 1990s, which I found down by Austin. Odd, because it doesn't even resemble a U.S. coin.
Another important category is roadkill. Raccoons and deer were tied for the most with 47 each. Third is 45 birds of all kinds that were big enough to count—owls, hawks, waterfowl, etc. Next come 38 skunks, 20 possums, 16 cats, 15 armadillos, 13 turtles, 12 rabbits, 11 coyotes (most of them in the last week), 8 dogs, 4 snakes, 4 things that looked like nutrias, 2 pigs, one frog and one squirrel. In addition, I saw hundreds of mammals, in various states of decay, that I couldn’t identify. Patches of fur on the asphalt. I predict that coyotes will be among the most frequently seen roadkill in New Mexico.
At about a third of the way through the walk I arrive at a place that the map says is Paynes Corner. It’s anchored by a large grain storage facility, and it has a sand and gravel yard. In the distance are perhaps fifteen modern-looking houses.
At the halfway point I pass a gigantic complex called West Gaines Seed and Delinting, which also has a peanut storage warehouse. It consists of seven or eight enormous buildings, about three hundred feet by seventy-five feet, sheathed in vertical sheet metal siding, painted gray or blue. The whole thing is about a half mile from one end to the other.
With two miles to go, in the distance I can make out the yellow and red colors of the New Mexico welcome sign. In the foreground is the Texas community of State Line, consisting of two open gas stations and two closed ones and a few other crappy structures. On the north side of the highway is Hester’s Self Serve. I think I met Hester herself when I stopped in there earlier. She was about five feet tall and a hundred years old, and was holed up in a little booth, behind bulletproof glass. But she couldn’t hear anything from in there, so she kept having to open the door and come out.
As I approach the border of the tenth state on this journey, I think back to when I entered the second one, Indiana, in September. At that time I wondered if the people in the new state were going to be different merely by virtue of living on the other side of an artificial political line. Of course in some respects they must be—they pay different taxes, go to different schools, perhaps see themselves differently based on their state’s reputation and image. But in the most basic human terms, they were the same. So many myths and fears abound concerning people from "other" places. It's part of our unfortunate tendency to slip into paranoia when faced with the unknown.
It might be that New Mexicans, since they are not taught that manufactured Texan mythology about their supposed heroic fight for freedom and independence, think differently about themselves. However, the eastern half of New Mexico, from the Rio Grande, once was part of the Republic of Texas, and even after Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona became part of the U.S., Texas sought to exert some suzerainty over New Mexico and Arizona (at one time combined and called simply New Mexico). They were both slave territories which the Confederacy tried to control. So eastern New Mexico might carry some awareness of its history as part of Texas. But I have sensed, from visiting New Mexico before, that New Mexicans are more comfortable with their mixed Anglo, Mexican, Indian, and African American ethnicities.
At long last, at 23.6 miles, comes the billboard that says, “Welcome to New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment.” And I step over the line at 4:51 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time and prepare to be enchanted.
This marks the end of this portion of my walk across the country. I will now take a break until fall, when I plan to pick up right here at the border. This will not be my last blog posting, however, and I invite you to stay tuned. I still have the long trip back to Michigan ahead of me.