Pandemia Chronicles: Of Cormoran, Ickabogs, and Apple Cinnamon Popcorn

So, what do you do when you’re driving in search of history? In Texas, where there is mesquite, llano, sand dunes, beaches, sea walls and Glen Campbell songs, mesquite, llano, sand, places of great battles and the extermination of Indian people, mesquite, llano, sand.

It’s a lot to drive when you’re on a road trip seeking history. Listening to a top 40 playlist from Spotify can only take you so far before even Lucius and Sara Bareilles start to sound like country songs, with you trying to sing in a soprano twang with your tenor voice. Trust me when I say, that isn’t pretty.

Best to find a good audiobook. And a hotel with a firm bed.

See? Everything turns into a country song.

Cormoran Strikes a Chord

The Cuckoo’s Calling

My music playlists lost their luster right around Carrizo Springs. Well, to be truthful, more like on my way to Freeport and Galveston where I began to listen to my stock of audiobooks, in my case,

I’d always wanted to read “A Cuckoo’s Calling” written by J.K. Rowling but which she wrote under a male pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. The novel generated a series of crime novels for the man character, Cormoran Strike, a burly former British soldier who lost part of a leg in Afghanistan and is just about to run out of luck, time, and money when he lands a case from a rich British lawyer for the murder of his famous sister, an adopted Anglo-African model whom most people believed she’d committed suicide.

No, I won’t spoil the ending. Suffice to say, it started raining in Irving, Texas on my way to Freeport. Listening to a good whodunnit got me through the drenching, an apparent record rainstorm that soaked the Gulf Coast from Lake Charles, Louisiana to, you guessed it, Freeport, Texas and on the way to Corpus Christi via Victoria and Goliad–that’s where the whole extermination of Texas Indians and great battles got in the way of the sanddunes, llano, and mesquite.

There’s something sublime about hearing the exploits of some British war veteran and his intrepid female temp secretary-turned-junior-sleuth, Robin in between stopping and seeing the sights of Comanche raids, Spanish friars ministering to Carancahua “heathens” and Mexican massacres of Texas Republicans (those that fought Mexico to establish the Republic of Texas, not, you know, present-day Republicans. . . .hmmm?). There was even a “holy rich girls, Batman, er Cormoran!” moment in there.

I mean, here I am trying to recover the white-washed story of Texas all the while listening to a British crime novel. Written by a famous British female author masquerading as an unknown male writer.

Like I said, sublime. And, I have to wonder what it was like for Comanches traversing the miles of high plains scrub or bug-infested coastal marshes back in those earlier times? Llano, sand dunes, mesquite, Spaniards wanting to rehabilitate us into Christians, mesquite, sand dunes, llano; Mexicans and Spaniards and horses, llano, mesquite, sand dunes; Texans bringing in silk, top hats, robbing land, umbrellas; sand dunes, mesquite, llano. Seems a bit tedious. I mean if they’d had some kind of traveling storytellers to keep themselves busy, would they really have gotten so intense over the land and power? I can imagine Comanches traveling by night listening to a good book or some tunes. . . .

Well, it likely wouldn’t have changed anything, Euros being who they were; all high and mighty about their “manifest” destiny to get hold of the land and killing off everybody already there. But, hey, I have to think the endless miles of pretty much nothing until they got somewhere to protect their hold on the land–what the Anglos called raiding–would’ve gone by easier with a fair to middlin’ crime novel. Who knows? Maybe it would’ve given them an insight or two?

Yeah, I know, not very realistic but at least you get what I mean about driving in sand, mesquite, and llano being mindnumbingly tedious. You either go mad, singing at the top of your lungs ’cause nobody else is listening, about lost loves, found loves, no loves . . .or listen to a good book.

And, by the way, next time you’re on the road, ask yourself as you’re drivin’ along and some trucker with a double load comes barreling from behind you, is he listening to Toby Keith about puttin’ “a boot in yer ass” or, is he wondering whether the butler did it?

Keeps you alert, huh?

Easy Poppin’ Oatmeal

After all the mesquite, llano, sand dunes and history, it’s best to make sure you find good accomodations. The most important thing about accommodations when you’re on the road is the bed. In my case, is it firm and not likely to turn your spine into an irritated mess leadng you to months of physical therapy?

I’ve become, let’s say more adept at figuring out hotel descriptions online on sites like or You have to look at the fine print, but most important, look at the pictures. A hotel that projects images of swimming pools and fitness rooms, fun lobbies and cool bars, and only one picture of the room with the bed far off in the distance–and that bed with like some outdated “plush” bedspread. . . . . . You know they’re telling you don’t plan on sleeping well and “stay up! “See the beautiful sunset from the patio?!!! Checkout’s at 11.”

But this wisdom has come at a continuing cost of learned lessons. When you’re 22 and likely to be ok sleeping on some nasty couch, taking a room at some roadside motel is, well, a low bar of glamour. I’m a bit older now and I’ve learned that the reason for a hotel on the road is so you can rest because it’s all about the next day. But like visiting my hometown in South Texas with my wistful daydreams about an easier life in the tropics where I relearn why it is left in the first place; it’s too damn hot. So, it is with the ongoing struggle for making the best choice of hotel on the road.

I got into San Angelo, Texas and chose what I thought was a hotel with a good bed, but as I rolled up to my chosen place and saw this big brick of an island in the middle of a strip mall at the outskirts of town, I had a mild pang of doubt.

You can tell a lot about a hotel by all the other people who are checking in. Just remember if it’s mostly road construction workers whose companies have some kind of sweetheart contract to put up (with) their employees or, worse, border patrol agents and “federal police protective services”–yeah, I know,I’m still trying to figure out the exact difference between these two–best to avoid if you can.

I think the difference between border cops and construction workers is that construction workers will buy a case of beer and hang out by their trucks and border cops buy a case of beer and barbeque to all hours. . . Still working on my hypothesis.

In any case, here I was in my block house hotel next to the Walmart and pizza takeouts and for the most part it was a good stay over 3 days.. Though in addition to a good bed, you might want to think about the kind of air conditioner there is inside and how close it is to your bed. Brrrrrrinnggauhh, ka-bump, Brrrrrrinnggauhh, ka-bump, Brrrrrrinnggauhh, ka-bump.

All in all, my 3 days went well for the most part as I said. Until my day of checkout when in the middle of getting ready for the day (polite speak for showering, etc), the fire alarms began to blare.

Now, many times, this kind of thing happens and although the instructions you often get are that you are supposed immediately to walk out to safe outdoors–remember those firedrills at school?

Thing is, such alarms rarely come at opportune times, so, suffice to say that your firedrill training probably didn’t include what to do when you’re just out of the shower, brushing your teeth, and, well, not exactly presentable. What do you do then, run around frantically for a sheet?

I’ve actually had a previous experience like this–I was dressed at the time–and found that I had time to answer a time-honored question, “If you’re evacuating from an apartment, what would you choose to take with you?” I decided then it was my laptop–I already had my phone on me–and then maybe a change of clothes or my coat if it’s winter.

But what the hell do you take when it’s morning without anything on and somebody did something to set off an alarm? And don’t tell me you know ’cause I don’t think you really do. You can imagine those folks on the Titannic and how pathetic it looked them playing their violins on the deck or trying to lug their bags. Point is, you don’t really know what you’ll do until your buck naked, your clothes are over by your bed, and the door out is right next to you. . . .I got dressed. Don’t judge.

Now, while all this is happening, right outside my door, I hear muffled commotion and people running up and down the corridor and then there is this burning smell like somebody burned their toast. Well, I had a toaster in my room too and learned the first day that it doesn’t work all that well and needed to watch it so my bread didn’t burn. I kept thinking, “dolts”! You shoulda just watched your toaster and all this noise might’ve been avoided!

At that moment, the danger seemed to lessen, so, my choice to get dressed seemed vindicated and I proceeded to finish packing my things and leaving the room as quickly as possible because who knows what’s going to happen next?!

Well, what did happen next was how I think the phrase “you don’t know whether to laugh or cry” came to be. As I walk out, there are these two guys (yes, I know, who’da guessed) looking a bit sheepish, the hotel manager walking out the room next door with something in her hand, and one of the hotel staff lugging a microwave out of the room after her. So much for my toaster theory.

I let them do what they had to do but as I was waiting for the elevator to go down, I had to ask. You know I did. “What happened”? The office manager showed me what was a packet of instant oatmeal, rock hard and singed at the ends. Right, I asked again. . . the young woman looked up at me with this packet in front of her face, the other staff member holding this now defunct microwave, they both looked at each other and then to me and she said, “he thought it was instant popcorn”. . . .

Like I said, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I’m sure you guessed the answer.

The best thing to say about all that is, choose your beds wisely but choose your hotels away from Walmart.

Ickabogs and a Teapot Tempest

Any odyssey isn’t complete without a political controversy.

Ok, I don’t think anyone ever said that but somebody should. Ok, maybe it’s just me. I’m ok with that. I just needed to transition this rather Odd-yssey into taking on the rather odd meanderings of “cancel culture”. In the context of my own meanderings.

J.K. Rowling, ok, if you’re already rolling your eyes, you’re going to be even more beset by what comes next because I believe Ms. Rowling has been more than patient with the rather tragi-comic attempts to paint her as somehow transphobic. But I hope you hear me out.

Now, this account is not aimed at defending JK against her false accusers because they seem incensed that she would stand up for women to the rather transparent misogyny aimed at using transgender people to erase the biological fact of women. I think she is much more capable of that than I ever could and, in my view, she has done so in erudite fashion; Harry Potter and Hermione Granger notwithstanding.

Ok, that is a bit of a defense, but it’s just to say that I’ve been following one aspect of this controversy–is she or isn’t she transphobic–which is the curious attempt to censor JKR’s recent children’s (well, young adolsescent’s) book, The Ickabog.

The charges against JKR surrounding the The Ickabog had nothing to do with the story, which is a fairy tale she had told her children, but an inadvertent mixing of posts on Twitter in response to a child’s drawing during a contest she held to illustrate what an Ickabog looks like. Predictably, media pundits turned the issue into a larger controversy that even led to threats of strike by some staff members of the publishing company where the book was being published.

So, I had to know what the hubbub was all about? Apparently, the actual controversy surrounds her fifth book in the series “Troubled Blood” in which she depicts a potential murderer as someone who dresses as a woman to lure victims. I plan now to read that book, or likely listen to it, despite the potential spoiler. But I needed to see what was the trouble with the Ickabog and whether it was somehow a part of the broader controversy that people working to print it would want to strike over it. In truth, I also wondered if JKR’s writing might be so easily misconstrued and that perhaps she might be subect to such charges because of her “tone deafness” as some have reported.

So, on my way to Carrizo Springs, San Angelo, and Albuquerque, I listened to a children’s story.

“The Ickabog“, as, Rowling describes it, “is a story about truth and the abuse of power.  To forestall one obvious question: the idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now.”

I certainly agree it is such a story, but I also found her characterization of the Ickabog “it”self a particularly interesting portrayal given the controversy surrounding JKR’s ostensible “transphobia” that many on the “left” and so-called trans rights activists (TRAs) seem to believe.

To be sure, I have read extensively J.K. Rowling’s tweets and statements; her actual words. One can review those online in many places, I suggest starting with her recent statement on the occasion of the John F. Kennedy Jr. Ripple of Hope Awards. I have yet to see any evidence of deliberately transphobic attitudes or positions from J.K. Rowling and I have looked. A lot.

Indeed, I have found JKR to be not only a committed feminist but a well-versed student of the trans rights issue. I think her story of the Ickabog is illustrative of her mentality on the issues of difference as a whole and the attitudes perpetuated by both well-meaning and deliberately hateful elements of society.

The story begins with a utopian view of a small fictional country called “Cornucopia” in which all of its regions within contribute to Cornucopia in a seeming balance and the seemingly mythical monster called the Ickabog that lives in the marshlands of the North. The poltical advisors of the weak King Fred take advantage of this myth to engage in fomenting terror in the country and illicitly taxing the people to “protect” them from the supposed monster, which at the beginning of the story, they demonize the Ickabog to be a murderous and savage beast.

A great story ensues, indeed as one of power, abuse, and corruption. It turns out that the Ickabog is a real character in the story. Indeed there used to be many of them, but it is found to be a gentle soul whose character traits are determined by the context in which they are born (or “bornded” in the story).

You see, Ickabogs seem to procreate asexually whenever there “time” is come and the Ickabog then becomes an “Icker” (mother/father) that gestates and delivers “Ickabobbles” of different numbers, in this case of two. If they are born(ded) in some kind of strife and terror, they will birth as reactants to hate and terror taken to hating the objects of their terror and violence toward them. If, on the other hand, they experince love and caring at birth, they will develop as gentle individuals with love in their heart. I would think you would agree that such a characterization illustrates some important principles for, say, children and adults to learn from. I won’t tell more of this story and encourage others to read it.

What I was most struck in light of the vilification of JKR’s supposed transphobia is the essential biological character of the Ickabog; a non-“genderized” individual that presents neither as female nor male but a single unique individual that incorporates both kinds of characteristics. The concept of “bornding” is described not as a stereotypical birth or procreative process but unique in that the new beings bornded issue from the Ickabog a) wholly conscious grown individuals with language skills in both “Ickerish” and the language of Cornucopia, which for this book presents as English although it might not necessarily remain depending on the printing. And, b) the new borndings come into the world with their Icker’s full knowledge of previous experiences that give them some wisdom and skill they will contribute to their integration into Cornucopian society in the end.

In short, Ickabogs are a special form of being–human?–that intersect with the biologically dual human species. In the end of the story and what I believe is JKR’s point, the Ickabogs come to be full members of a society that learns to accept them for who they are, their uniqueness, and additional contribution to humanity; much like our society could learn to do by both recognizing our dual biological natures as well as the potential for accepting people for their non-binary aspirations without exclusion. Ickabogs are a different sort of being, first feared but once known, become loving and loved.

It’s a nifty piece of writing.

One way to know the nature of someone’s true heart is to see how they help their children into an arguably difficult polarized world. The Ickabog started as a story JKR would tell her children at bedtime. With great sophistication that not many will automatically see, Rowling weaves a tale of suspense and tribulation with an answer to the question, “how are we supposed to be?” In a voice accessible to young minds and, perhaps, their parents. I think JKR’s The Ickabog would be an answer to Maya’ Angelou’s observation, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”.

I recently learned about a subReddit discussion board called “Explain Like I’m Five” where people work at explaining difficult ideas in simple terms. I think my suggestion for how to learn the connection between ending racism, sexism, trans-, and homophobia would be: It’s a hard answer to come by, but read The Ickabog for starters.

Ethos, Pathos, Mythos, and Ensueños

I’m presently in Albuquerque. Again. I’m returning to my trek to the headwaters of the Rio Grande, which is in south central Colorado. Although much of what I’ve traveled so far is what I’ve seen before, there is much more richness to it. This river is at once a river of commerce, history, and myth. The first people to inhabit this expanse of land now called the Americas is the subject of great debate, conjecture, and largely, despite the hubris with which it is sometimes explained, remains unknown. Archeologists stake their professional careers on established timelines when the first “Americans” came here. Paleontologists marvel how the farther back one looks, without preconceptions, that timeline shifts with every chipped bone or worked stone that is found in “direct association” with each other. Those who consider themselves Native Americans take great pains to show how The People were always here. And storytellers weave the past into our present with an eye to showing us a better future. All such are worthy efforts. All only approximations of what we believe we can apprehend, the truth.

Chris Knight, author of the book Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture, describes how he believes women played the essential role in the development of civilizations despite whether there is now a patriarchy governing world society. He begins his book by observing that despite the data, the evidence mustered, and the pursuit of scientific “truth”, every scientific endeavor is essentially a description of myth; a mythology derived under the aegis of scientific practice, which is really only the latest basis upon which humans explain the world.

One important precept I learned in my doctoral studies (seemingly so long ago now) was that data without a theory to collect it or to support it is just random observation. It is a paradox that for data to be collected, one must have an idea why and for what such quantitities are to be collected. If ¨data¨are to produce truth, why do we need a preconceived if only working theory to collect them? Earlier in my history of radical politics, I learned how “without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement” (cf. V. I. Lenin). Knight’s observation, for me, is a synthesis of these two ideas. Science is not some “hard stop” in the search for ‘the Truth” of things but one version of the mythologies of our time. He points out that it seems a bit convenient that Darwinian evolutionary theory seemed so conveniently to mimic the economic and material bases of 19th century British society. Much like most anthropological and archeological research seems aimed at codifying the essential patriarchal nature of human civilization.

The more we observe and include into the totality of our search for knowledge of the past, present, and propose for the future, the more we begn to realize that rather than simply dispel our myths of reality, we must recognize the utter paucity of what it is we think we know. We simply cannot state with certainty any aspect of reality if only because all we can even hope to know is what we can observe, conjecture, daydream based on our existence as one whole, but utterly fragmented, species of beings with only the modicum of what we think is intelligence.

Our knowledge of reality is based in our rather narrow lens of limited senses of sight, smell, taste, or hearing; all of which impinges on the neural networks of nerves facilitated by a roughly 50,000 year evolved brain. Even what we see or even dream about shows us such is not truly enough.

But of course, there is much we can do within our rather narrow confines. Much we can yet do, learn, dream. I think (which is a better word than “believe” in this context) that we are better served by being open to every possibility, especially our wildest conjectures, our wildest dreams. In this way, we need not be robots to ” feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over us. But write our history in the way it is meant to be, not as the essence of facts but as a form of incense that soothes us into knowledge and the mutual cooperative apprehension of the truth (no, I’m not on LSD or something else, FYI).

I think. . . It’s why we need Cormoran Strikes to solve suicides as murders, people who try to pop oatmeal in a microwave. And Ickabogs.

And to do them as we drive across the sands, llanos, and mesquite along our road.

Gálvezton: A Chronicle Of Pandemia

I remember the wistful ocean breezy voice of Glen Campbell singing all about the ¨sea winds blowin¨, a song about a young soldier remembering a dark-eyed girl by the sea wall that’s protected against devastating hurricanes since it was built and the shoreline raised in response to the catastrophic storm of 1900. That soldier’s memories of sea waves crashing lead him away from the cannon fire of his life at war. It’s a classic tune that Texans everywhere felt proud to see it receive such play on the radio waves. A country music song sung by an emblematic country singer, golden haired Texan? Well, no, Glen was from Arkansas and the song written by Jimmy Webb, from Oklahoma. It seems Galveston has drawn many wayward travelers.

I wonder if any of them know that its name came from a Mexican. Well, a Spaniard who ruled all of “New Spain” from Mexico, which included Texas as a part of the Louisiana territories, Florida, and the “northern provinces” of what is now the desert Southwest.

It took Bernardo Vicente de Gálvez y Madrid a little while to become New Spain´s 49th Viceroy. Before he arrived in Mexico to begin his tenure in 1785, he played a central role in guess what, the “American Revolutionary War”. You see, The American Revolution was, in fact, a part of what was the latest World War at the time–and you thought there’ve been only two, huh? Gálvez and Spain played a significant role in defeating the British in the Louisiana territory then owned by Spain and of Florida effectively leaving the British armies hamstrung of their primary naval superiority. Brigadier General Gálvez was so instrumental in assuring the U.S. colonies´ victory that he is considered a hero of the American Revolutionary War, which was at most one front in the efforts of Spain, France, and the Netherlands to counter the British empire after its success during the Seven Years War, known by most here as the ¨French and Indian War¨. For his efforts, the Spanish Crown made Gálvez Viceroy of New Spain, the Spanish term for overlord of their conquered territories in the New World (sic). He lasted about a year dying in 1786 but not before having commissioned a geographer to map the Texas Gulf Coast, who then named Texas´ largest bay La Bahia de Gálvezton in honor of his benefactor. Thus, the name was also given to the Island in the bay and “Gálvezton¨ was born.

Bernardo de Gálvez Y Madrid, 1785

As long as there have been empires, there have been world wars. It is a sleight of hand in U.S. education to think that “we” have only been involved a just a few worldwide conflagrations. When Glen is singing about “cannons crashing” and “cleaning his gun” while dreaming of Galveston, I wonder if he knew the tale it took to make this island created by the elements to be set within a history of conquest, blood . . .war?

It took Texans a while but eventually they replaced the “z” with an “s” and now we have Galveston. Good thing because I can only imagine how difficult it would’ve been for Glen to wrap his mouth around ¨Gálvezton o, Gálveztoooon!¨ with the accents on the a and then try to sing all about sea waves crashing with a Spanish accent. Probably would´ve gone to some other singer and become some kind of Ranchera song with an accordion and mariachis with the big viola guitars and brass–whole different thing! Yeah, best to anglicize the name and make it an icon of songs and beach vacationers. You know, along with colonizing the rest of Texas, convincing all the Tejanos who lived there to rebel against the “power” in Mexico and make it a haven for the Texas Rangers, King Ranchers, and ending voting rights and democracy.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. That’s a lot attribute to changing a z with an s. Maybe it’s best to start, a little, at the beginning.


Playing my Didgeridoo for the Carancahua at the shore of Galveston Bay, Freeport, Texas

They had names, but perhaps wisely never shared them with the bearded skeletons they found washed up on the beach of their autumn fishing grounds. They did share the name for the Island. Auia was a place of swamps and oyster beds. The People would come there with reluctance–who are we kidding? Just about anywhere on the Gulf Coast to the mesquite plains in southern Texas was inhospitable and they moved with great reluctance everywhere–but it was their home if only for the winter months when fish were plentiful and the water-born roots edible. Los Carancahueses were trolling the shoals on the island in the time the strangers of beards and bones and skin called 1528 en el año de nuestro Señor. They spied him climbing down from a tree entering their chozas, it’s what he called their huts, and taking some fish, a pot, and one of the Qüeshe they loved that dog, he was such a great meal! Why would they take it?! Best to find out so they followed him to the beach where they found several more of the miserable creatures of bone and skin. What sadness The People must have felt to see these fellow humans in such a state nearly dead. The three Carancahueses went to talk to the least emaciated creature whom the others called “Capitán Cabeza de Vaca”. The befallen humans, for they appeared so to The People, seemed to be in need of help and somehow they communicated they were hungry and cold, so the three agreed to return the next day. But just in case, they also brought more of The People should these poor downtrodden be monsters in disguise. . . . Such was what was likely how the native people who first encountered the Spanish conquistadores washed up on the beach of their native Auia whom the Spanish named the Island of Misfortune and whom that surveyor renamed for his Governor, Bernardo de Gálvez.

The island’s first inhabitants are descendants of who are known as the Carancahua Indians primarily lived there in reed and skin huts fishing the bayous and bays needing to cover their skin with mud and shark or alligator grease to ward off mosquitoes that exist in grand carpet-like swarms. Hence, the greater part of European colonization of Texas and the Southwest really begins with a half’drowned sailor washing up on a spit of land that eventually joined onto what we know today as Galveston Island. Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca was a royal appointed treasurer to the grand expedition led in 1527 by Pánfilo de Narvaez whose aim was to ¨explore and colonize¨ La Florida” (that’s right, Florida as in beaches and retirees).

It didn’t take. The 600 soldiers, colonists, including African slaves, set out in 5 ships and within a year had been beset and run aground by storms and poor navigation in a Gulf whose Gulf Stream that ran counter to their intentions was not even discovered fully until the 1770’s (by Benjamin Franklin). Their blundering about the Gulf coast did eventually yield their discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi River where Narvaez and the now wandering explorers constructed makeshift barges of the shipwrecked wood and materials losing many people in the process. Of the full complement of the expedition, about 80 people (not including Narvaez who perished at sea) washed ashore on the now Galveston Island in 1528. Of those, only 4, including Cabeza de Vaca, eventually survived.

In the time between that truly misfortunate meeting and the summer vacations on the seawall, Galveston became the Island of Demise for the Carancahua and whole regions of people from Teotihuacán to northern California.

The account of this failed expedition and along with those of the survivors is described in a report in 1537 by Cabeza de Vaca and the other two Spanish survivors, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado; the fourth survivor–Estevánico the African slave–has no written record and has his own demise at the hands of Puebloans in the Southwest years later. That report played an eventual role in guiding future expeditions into the Southwest, especially of Coronado in 1540.

A Chicano Grows on a River: Following the Paths of Indio and European–Rootless Seeking Home

While Cabeza de Vaca followed–more like dragged along with–the Carancahua eventually west through the Chihuahuan and then Sonoran Desert, the strange fruit of his efforts eventually made their way to the Valley of the Rio Grande del Norte, which in turn led to me. Or at least people like me. In between then and now flows a story meandering like the river fed by many stories like torrents of rain, blood, tears seemingly too numerous to tell or distinguish one from the other.

So, I decided to begin at the end, where I began, at the mouth of the Rio Grande known as La Boca Chica. You see for a grande river, it has a relatively small mouth issuing forth waters, and stories, collected from the southern mountains of Colorado bisecting states and countries as it proceeds inexorably to the sea

Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order, though.

Douglas Adams, A Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy

The road to Glen Campbell waxing about Galveston is a case in point for me of things that happen but not necessarily in the order we expect. To hear that song in 1969 over the radio and the pathos it rises in me as I drive to its seawalls on a stormy weekend in May 2021 is to know that things certainly do happen but that we follow them only in the times we’re meant to understand them. These roads, this river, those beaches all had events important to knowing who it is I am. None of them came to me in chronological order but in the logic only consciousness can bring to sort it all out.

I am on this journey down a coast, up a river seemingly with brand new eyes. I’ve been to some of these before but never also knowing what and how it all happened. There are younger people, Chicano, friends, women, Indian people, sons and daughters of Africa, and sons and daughters of slave owners among them who know very little of what has truly happened. That a country had nearly 250 years of history imposed upon it before “America” ever came to be. That its unwritten history began conservatively over 10,000 years before even that. Consciousness doesn’t require us to have arrived at it on time. Only that we take the time to bring it about.

This time around I am truly like the Carancahuenses, a nomad going to the places where I can nourish. I don’t need to find prickly pears to eat when fish and nuts do not abound, but I am in search of nourishment for a soul. I am like Cabeza de Vaca, taking advantage of the gifts from strangers where I can find them. I am not desperate and starving for my physical survival but I am in dire need to see the sites where people like me actually began. In both cases, they were rootless but not homeless. As am I. For I am neither Hispanic nor am I Indian. But I am both and thus, the place I, we, hold in this world is as unique among the tribes of humans as each of us is within those tribes. If we are ever to find a global unity, I think it will not come because we found what made us similar, but how we have reveled in our differences; enjoined those differences to weave our destiny together.

I don’t know if we will make it. Cabeza de Vaca was so taken by his exploits with the people of the land that he wrote his accounts as an essay to overturn the abusive treatment of native people by Spanish representatives in Latin America. In the end, his focus to be a better colonizer earned the disdain of native people and the discredit of his Spanish peers.

As I said, we may not make it us Terrans. But the quest to see will be the stuff of legends.

A Pandemia Chronicle: From Santa Fe On the Way To Home–There and Back. Again

May 24th, 2021

Homage to Carancahua Burial Ground at Crossroads to Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. The ground at the intersection below the asphalt is where Carancahua Burials exist. The South Texas Indigneous Peoples Association considers this site sacred and hopes someday to be memorialized. I played my didgeridoo here to commemorate its importance to the original migrants of South Texas thousands of years before colonization and its ongoing desecration.

Well, it’s been a while since I began this entry. Time waits for no one. Just because there has been much to tell doesn’t mean Time will let you stay abreast. Where was I? Oh yes. I returned to Minnesota February 12th to what was then the coldest day of the pandemic winter (eventually it ended up being about the 2nd coldest). So much for avoiding the cold on my travels. It seems Minnesota’s winter kept following me throughout, first in Lubbock . . . pretty much throughout in some form or other. Then, at the end of my 1st journey through Pandemia, I came into the Twin Cities during the winter blast that proved historically miserable. Quite uncomfortable for us who now inhabit Minnesota, the “polar vortex” dipped into the Southwest and became deadly for those who thought it wouldn’t come to them in Texas. Personally, I lost an old and valued friend from my youth, Mike Reynolds (see my reflections on Mike below). He was a victim both of multiple disabilities and their intersection with the cruelty of Texas energy conglomerates who never thought a climate changing weather pattern would freeze southern pipes and wreak devastation on its acquiescent citizens.

Since I’ve returned, it’s been cold. And wet. And hot. In the midst of a year of contagion and misery, a sick country has suffered through fire, flood, storm, and police violence, none of which were new but rendered more, well, virulent. In the middle of it all, a killer cop was convicted, another cop became a killer. And then another. Let’s say it’s been a steady rain of snow and ice in a winter of discontent. For such a long time.

It’s difficult to comprehend how little people seem to notice. Until they, exasperatingly, finally do. For those of us who’ve seen it with unblinded eyes too long, I can understand how some of us can find it frustrating when others suddenly come to see it. We speak of “reckoning” and emgergence of new or even renewed “understanding”. It’s why I think such terms as “inured” probably came to be; the condition to be accustomed to the pain and suffering of self or others. The Spanish term “atascado” for me, rings more accurate; to be mired, stuck, bogged, or, more like it, plugged (you know, as in constipated). Those of us who remain still optimistic, maybe foolishly so, continue to believe that there is hope we will move somehow out of our “plugged” state. I don’t believe it to be our nature, but it is clear we have allowed ourselves to remain unable to move past the undeniably painful state we inhabit. Perhaps out of inertia and stupor induced by a ruling class who believe this is the best of all possible worlds.

I’ve been wondering why it was I persevered, risking the constant threat of illness, in traveling through this part of the world mired in its excess of denial, feebleness in seeking the lesser of evils, and seeming inability to do no more than just speak of doing the right thing. Further, wondering why I have chosen to see this world as it was in its origins–what we like euphemistically to call “history” despite knowing that in truth, what has been written down has largely been various forms of a- or even immoral justification for our collective behavior over time. . . . . I think it comes down to this: we may not make it, so, at least there should be some of us (I doubt I am the only one) who can say to whom- or whatever comes next that not everybody believed each others’ hype.

In a recent development, the State or Texas has been undergoing changes in its educational policies to deny the actuality of history under the guise of disputing “critical race theory” as a means to teach history, social studies, and civics in public schools. The term critical race theory, despite being only one perspective on the role of racism in the development of “American” society, is being used as a generic term by mostly White legislators to argue the seemingly inoccuous position that “no race is better than another” (see the link above). Of course, playing to the sensibility of a platitudinal truism has been a time-honored way to appear innocent of violent intent to subjugate people, in this case, subjugating the minds of children and youth.

Doing so, would likely have multiple outcomes beyond distorting the teaching of the truths of this society’s origins. For example, Texas has thousands of “historical markers” describing events and places about Texas history. Many of those describe a range of events such as the origins of Texas’ inhabitants, its governments, wars, and sites of battles. Some of these show the history of colonial expansion across successive European settlement from Spain’s conquest and French trading to Mexican ownership, the Texas Republic and U.S. annexation with such events as the Civil War and Texas Ranger collusion in White landgrabbing from Spanish/Mexican/”Texican” landowners. Much of those markers already distort how history unfolded. This legislation would codify those distortions further and likely lead to even more distortions if not outright hiding of what actually happened. Oppressors, like murderers, always seem to want to hide the evidence of their crimes. Independent conclusions and critical analysis of events cannot be accurate if there is no evidence to see. Everything can be considered speculation when there is no way to show how some races acted as if they were “better than others.”

My purposes are literary and ultimately personal; I want to see the world we all seem to be talking about but either ignore or obscure in grand theories and accounts designed to describe the “sweep” of history, a term that brings to mind brooms and rugs overfilled with dust under them.

The coming pages will will describe my travels as I prepare my own stories. Recently I have been reading much about our human origins with a grand question in mind; how did women come to be so oppressed and how did we arrive at a patriarchal society? Why have women not been viewed as important voices in our accounts of origins and ongoing stories of what has happened? You’ll see that I am trying, not always successfully because of language and the need for economy in writing to avoid using the term “history”. It’s not as mundane as avoiding the term “his” to replace it with “her” story. Rather, I believe the true problem with the term history is that it leads us to describe what we have done and what we are doing as some broad allusion to dates, events, “systems”, “eras”, “epochs” and other generalizable concepts (the “sweep of history”) . In such a framework, human motivations and more blunt descriptions of our behavior to and with each other can be “culturalized” as broad products depicting our general mindsets–why “Americans” are “can do” and Europeans “laid back” or Indigenous people “stewards of the land”. I can read this history or I can go to the places where such events took place and wonder–ask–what were they (we) doing? What must it have been like? If I was to see such people acting and speaking, what would they really have been doing? What might they have said; in conversational terms that today’s ears might understand? These aren’t new literary or historical devices. They are just the ones I am more interested in using.

So, here I go.

Once more into the . . . . beach

At the shore of the vast Gulf

Where knowledge, space, time, and hope meet

Where the wilderness is the vast ocean beset

By incredulous critics, enemies, strangers. And friends.

I am traveling mostly rootless, which is to say that I have no place I call home right now. Except of course that I am on Earth. But I am not homeless, I do have places where I can land, choices I can make. I have chosen to uproot so that I don’t have a constraint while I look into our origins. For me, it is understanding all those rootless nomads who came here from across the north and west and those from across the eastern sea. Funny how “east” was Europe in the past and west was Asia. How the descendants of Africa came north until their children drifted south into what is now a land where East truly met West. In the South. Nomads all claiming primacy when only a few millenia separated them and only two millenia brought them to this grand junction and its conflicts. Far from home.

It’s been an interesting journey thus far and promises even more. Here is where I’ll go:

Spiro, Oklahoma–a place of people who built mounds and pyramids and “disappeared” 50 years before Columbus, and Europe, began their extermination of so many early peoples

Galveston/San Luis Island, where Euro “America” all began with Cabeza de Vaca and the Carancahua peoples

Padre/South Padre Island where the Carancahua ended their days “protected” by the Spanish

Boca Chica, Texas where the Rio Grande (aka “the River”) meets the spaceport to the stars and where the River’s journey ends

Laredo/Falcon Dam Reservoir, the site where it is likely Cabeza de Vaca crossed over the River with his adopted people to meet his Spanish colleagues and his comrades, the Carancahua, became slaves to mine Spanish silver

Carrizo Springs/Del Rio, the southern fork of the Comanche trail as they strode across to build their horse culture dominance of the Southern Plains

Big Bend/Odessa/Lubbock the heart of the Comanche plains

Clovis, New Mexico where the progenitors of every Indian people were “discovered” as they hunted/cleared the large animals that gave way to the Buffalo plains and the rest of Native America

Up the Rio Grande through New Mexico, home to the multiple peoples, coarselfy named “Puebloan”

The Rio Grande through Colorado up its headwaters, the originator of many cultures all along it to the south into the Gulf

The southern plains of Colorado and Oklahoma, home to the Comanche as they grew from nomadic outcasts of Wyoming to the greatest horse culture to control the European advance for over 200 years.

Arizona’s Mesa Verde, home to the Diné people and the Zuni, who resisted European domination

California, graveyard of Indian people in service to Spanish and the Anglo-American greed.

Finally,back to the east, eventually to where I still call home.

In the interim, I hope to meet strange new ideas, beings–some whom I’ve known as friends–and, I hope, much new insight.

Here are some of where I’ve already been:

Spiro Mounds of Oklahoma where the “Mississippian” culture existed from ca. 800 CE to 1450 CE only to be gone before the coming of the European devastation. The descendants of these people are believed to have integrated into existing groups like the Caddoans and Wichita among others of the Missouri-Arkansas-Oklahoma region. The Mississippians are believed to have facilitated trade and commerce throughout much of what is now the U.S. from Florida to Ohio across the West as far as the Pacific peoples of the Northwest and likely had relations with the cultures of Meso-America. The built mounds as burial grounds and monuments to their power, the greatest known to be at Cahokia near St. Louis, Missouri.

I have traveled through the Comanche territory extensively but had never been to see the famed “marker trees” that the Comanche used as guideposts throughout their journeys. These included directed trees pointing toward their more permanent campgrounds, water sources, or low-water river crossings. There are many such trees believed still to exist but only nine so far verified by Comanche elders (see “If these trees could talk” by Laura Samuel Meyn in Texas Highway, October 2017). I went to Irving, Texas and to Dallas to see these trees the week of May 17, 2021 in the middle of what would become another major rainfall from Dallas to the east through Louisiana. The Trinity River is host to two important marker trees, but as you can see, they were underwater as the Trinity had become swelled to flood stage. A third important tree is the “Story Telling Tree” where Comanche brought their children to tell stories vital to integrating them into their way of life. This tree can be found in the wooded area behind what is now a neighborhood park. I entered this area with great difficulty and saw much of the recessed ground that served as an amphitheatre for the telling of stories. I hope to return to get a better look at these parts of Comanche history. I hope to tell the story of the Comanche from a less fearful perspective in which they are now depicted. These marker trees will be an important source. One book exists about these trees, Comanche Marker Trees of Texas; Houser, Pelon, & Arterberry, 2016. It is a short book but well worth reading.

Mike Reynolds–Equipment Manager, Deaf, Teacher, Lover of Life–Friend

I lost track of Mike a long time ago but he has always held a warm memory in what I think of as my heart. How I first met him seems as dim in my mind as words may have seemed to him. I just remember that he came to me, like many of the most compelling souls I’ve met, kinda sideways. In Mike’s case, my first memories recall a kind of wild-eyed set of white-blond eyebrows beneath a somewhat skewed towhead, almost platinum rather than yellow. This is to say he was as different looking from me as a Grizzly Bear would be from a Palamino; both four legged creatures but that’s as far as the physical resemblance goes (of course, we’re two legged, but the totemic notion is apt). No, I don’t think Mike would puff up in my making a reference to him as some kind of stallion, but I think he would definitely laugh about it and give me that sidelong look I remember of him; amazement together with wonder and, well, incredulity. He’d definitely laugh in agreement about me as some kind of bear though. . . .

I counted him as a friend not because we shared many times together in our youth, certainly not later, but because the times I remember were ones where he showed me the kindness, loyalty, love, and comic relief for which I know he was known in his later life. He couldn’t hear–a congenital deafness from birth–so, he found a way to join Texas football in Brownsville, Texas as an equipment manager for the teams where he was a part, first in junior high and then at our Brownsville High School. To say that he was dogged about achieving what he wanted is to say that Eddie LeBaron persevered as a quarterback (yeah, I know not many of you know that reference. Trust me, it works). If there was a time when we first met, it would have been then, as a football player geting towels from the team manager. What I remember was that despite his deafness, he always had something to say–he mastered lipreading as a youth–and I do remember many conversations about a range of issues including politics and, well, football of course. He always seemed ahead of his time, and ethnicity, on issues like racism and war. He was a deep thinker, amazng to those who didn’t really know him but wholly comprehensible if you did. He was a fierce self-advocate for trying to do things “like everybody else” despite his disabilities. He understood that a disability was only a handicap if one or others perceived it so. I understand that in later life he was an amazing teacher of deaf children and as equally fierce in supporting them as I remember him doing so for himself.

There are many instances I remember of Mike, but time and so much distance don’t allow me to give the credence I’d like to give about them. He gained my early respect and sincere caring and, regardless the years and lost memories, what stays is that he showed he cared about me in ways that have always been the most attractive to me, understanding, belief in my worth, and uncompromising willingness to state his truths heedless of the difficulty. To echo what someone I admire once said, about a bear who walked life’s wilderness, Mike was a good person. If there had been a space where I could have told him, that’s what I would have said. And how the term came to have its meaning. Mike was someone I believe would have understood.

And thus, it was so very painful to hear of his dying, especially beccause of the heartlessness of corporate profiteers that turned heating and water quality into disasters waiting to happen and which came to be in the great Texas freeze of February 2021. An event marked by a Texas U.S. Senator flying off to vacation in Mexico saying that his daughters made him do it. When corporate energy companies compensating their customers and themselves with $10,000 electric bills, a Texas Governor blaming the bills and the freeze on wind turbines, and . . .my friend Mike dying from complications of his illnesses and hypothermia–in South Texas. The coldness of climate change in a warm weather precipitated by the coldness of hearts that still rule the Texas landscape.

I don’t know how life really treated Mike after I knew him as a youth. Maybe time sometimes got the better of him and my rose-colored view of his spirit really doesn’t stand up to his later times. I know he has had the great love of a family he inherited when he married, so, I have to believe that at least some of my admiration remains accurate of his character. I just know that he lives forever in my memories as a gruffly gentle personality. One who helped me, and who taught me things I might not have ever known. So that’s what I choose to leave inside me. It’s how Michael Reynolds autographs my soul. He was a good person.

Thought and Language On the River: A Pandemia Chronicle

I was surprised to learn that my thoughts about New Mexico and its troubled relationship with its “Hispanic” heritage begin with my memories of a psychology class during my graduate studies in special education. In Oregon. About a Russian dissident before dissidents were uncool and, you know, thrown onto a Siberian tundra (come to think of it, still true). Trips have a way of tripping you into early lights fantastic. But it’s worth it.

Shaman at Gran Quivira Pueblo confronting Friar Alonso Benavides when the entire pueblo agreed to become Christian [You’re] “so crazy . . . whipping each other like madmen spilling blood . . .and that’s the way you want it, so that these people would also be fools!” Sadly, everybody laughed and the Friar felt vindicated. They shoulda paid attention.

Here I was circa 1987. Or so. I was mildly interested in the psych class, in the middle of a 6th life with yet another personal crisis . . . .yeah, let’s just go on. I don’t remember the instructor, which is a true tragedy because she really changed my intellectual life by making us read a somewhat obscure book about a somewhat obscure early Soviet psychologist, Lev Vygotsky and his seminal work Thought and Language (translated from the Russian, “Myslenie e Rech”, which actually means “thinking and speaking” an important distinction) and introduced by a Russian scholar, Alex Kozulin (who now resides in Jerusalem. Won’t hold it against him). All those caveats are really important if you are to avoid some of the later more distorted versions. . . .

Yes, I know, so what has that got to do with the price of tea in China? Not much, but it does have to do with the price of European erasure of multiple peoples and their languages in the early Southwest. Words like “Christian” can seem so appealing until, well, some friar starts whipping himself and asking you to emulate him (see photo above).

How Language and Culture are Synonymous

You see, Vygotsky’s singular essential contribution was that thought (thinking) and language (speaking) are intimately tied directly to each other. That our intellect is governed by our experiences as we learn to talk, projecting inward; outer speech begets inner speech begets, well, thoughts–intellect, it’s all a product of action.

I remember almost literally devouring Vygotsky’s words. It led me to other theories regarding culture and language, which I will just suffice to state: language and culture are synonymous. Yes, they are the same thing. Language is a product of experience, culture is a product of experience. When you experience something, eventually you or someone who already knows, will tell you what to call it, how to say it, when to use it, and most important, how to remember it.

In the Americas long before Europeans, people here were finding ways to help each other do all kinds of things, hunt, gather, tell a friend that she likes somebody and then they giggle. Humans, we not only have a need to live, we need to tell somebody about it because we don’t really live alone. This was certainly true of the deserts, plains, and forests across what is now Texas, northern Mexico, Al-buh-kirkee (see previous post). They lived along rivers mostly but it was a long way from each other’s habitaciones, so, when they talked to each other, it had to make sense to those around them. Communication wasn’t initially meant to be built from a common binary numeric logic but to tell somebody else where the deer are as opposed to bringing home some sage along with the meat. . . among other things.

A Zone of Proximal Development: Or, Telling ’em What They Want to Hear

Which is why when Europeans, well, first, Spaniards but then all the others, were so impressed–dismayed–that there were hundreds of languages abounding all around what they believed was now their land. So, imagine poor Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, let’s say Frankie for short (he won’t mind now or, you know, it won’t matter). Here he is searching for the Seven Cities of Cíbola, the lost cities of gold and he comes up to the folk that had told Markie Mark Niza (Friar Marcos de Niza) from an earlier “expedition” in unintelligible proto-Tanoan speaking through a translator in early Keres that, “yeah, I think you’ll find Cíbola over there across the great ‘ocean of . . . .’ except only someone who speaks Towa knows about it, so, you should go down the river and talk to them”. . . . Long story short, Frankie and kids end up in Kansas (maybe) looking for some great city called “Quivira” after losing themselves across the Llano Estacado, the great “ocean” being a sea of seemingly endless prairie that all of a sudden descends into canyons along rivers.

Oh, and killing the poor schmoe who agreed to take them, “taking one for the team” so these nasty guys in armor, leather, and horses they wouldn’t even eat for food would get out of their village hair. Yes, probably not all that comical and likely really more dire, but this part of history really sucks, so, it’s best to tell it this way.

Suffice to say that the well-spoken singularly Spanish speakers really didn’t know what to do with all those languages and cultures, so, they decided that, for census and recordkeeping purposes, “let’s just say they’re all pueblos. ‘Cause they all live in adobe huts and settlements.” Maybe not enough said, but it helps. You know, for Chuckie’s sake back in Spain (that’s King Carlos V).

Hidden Languages, Hidden People

There were hundreds of pueblos all along the Rio Grande and other rivers, the Chaco, the Puerco, a lot. And and equally lot of languages/culture. In the recent past, there are 19 extant pueblos in New Mexico, comprising language groups of Tano-Kiowa (Tiwa, Tewa, Towa) and Keresan. However, each of these pueblos have distinct languages, the farther from each other, the less common they are to each other. In addition, are the “Ancestral Puebloans” along the Chaco Canyon; who were known earlier as the “Anazasi”–itself a Navajo name for them, “ancient enemies” (you can see the problem with the term). Many of the earlier peoples, including those in the direct area of Albuquerque are simply lost and the languages spoken, therefore, their specific cultures gone.

It wasn’t a simple process of attrition. Earlier this week, I went to a nature preserve called Bosque del Apache, which is not a preserve of the Apache but which is situated on the land of the Piros people who inhabited that part of the Rio Grande River. Eventually, this people were forced by Spanish disease and Apache raids to leave their homes and join other pueblos. With the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680 where all the different peoples along the river coordinated attacks that destroyed the hated missions built atop their ancestral homes and drove the Spanish out, the Piro were forcibly taken with the defeated Spanish to what is now El Paso. They never returned.

This kind of destruction happened even more acutely when the Spanish eventually returned in 1692 and re-conquered the region putting to death many leaders and destroying many pueblos in their eventual establishment of both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. In Santa Fe, the central downtown plaza was the site of executions for leaders of the subsequent revolt after the Spanish returned. In Albuquerque, land grants were issued, Estancias and later Plazas created where pueblos were once present. In other places, earlier pueblos, were subsumed into later ones such as the Pecos people who became a part of the Jemez Pueblo. Or how many Tiwa, Tewa, Towa, Keres along the Rio Grande joined other peoples including the Diné (Navajo), Zuni, Apache, and Kiowa west and east on the plains and deserts. Different languages/cultures eventually became, well, different and newer languages/cultures. New experience begets new language, which begets new thinking. It just doesn’t always happen for good reasons.

I also visited the ruins of pueblos of the Salinas Missions, Abó and Gran Quivira (seems Frankie should have stayed put a little longer). These two, part of a trio with Quarai village were sites of salt trade before the coming of the Spanish and which were then usurped into Spanish missions.

In these “pueblos”, trade and sharing of ideas and experiences occurred across centuries that likely made the people increasingly open to possibilities. Although they of course had their conflicts (largely poorly understood and only accessible through the minds of Catholic friars or conquistadores), it is likely that when the next “trader/medicine man”, like Alonso de Benavides, Portuguese Friar of the Spanish Crown came to pueblo it’s not surprising that the people of Quivira, Abó, and Quarai were impressed enough to convert to Christianity and laugh at their trusted shaman who thought they were fools. And, thus, began the slow unfortunate, never inexorable, but deliberate descent into . . . heaven.

The term “Pueblo” acutely erases much history and the eradication of many people who spoke to each other and used cultural traditions described in their languages. Today, “Puebloan” becomes alternately a call to unity and to the acquiescence to accept lost identities subsumed into a “native population”. Some may consider this unifying principle a positive opportunity to bring peoples together in an otherwise atomizing existence. And, yes, there is an advantage to it albeit born of centuries rooted in oppression and eradication by continuous waves of European layering over the sherds, sands, adobe blocks, and bones of dead or dying cultures. . . .languages. Many are beginning to reassert that unity born of oppression is not as advantageous as unity born of recognition not just in common histories but alternate and diverse experiences. The unifying center now becomes a rejection of the past as represented by the warriors and “shamans” of the Catholic church who forcibly subsumed whole peoples and their languages/cultures.

What Was Didn’t Have to Be And It Doesn’t Have to Follow

In some ways, it is too bad that the road to finding more democratic and liberational solutions (as opposed to “liberal”, which may or may not liberate depending on what it describes) should have to come in upending centuries of oppression when it comes to the children of rape and slavery (that’s Brown and Black people in case you didn’t already guess). Even the myopic version of “progress” didn’t have to come by so many people dying and their thinking–words, languages; cultures–destroyed. That what we have today came by that road is not an argument but an observation.

Historically, it was unnecessary except to those who believe progress is measured in developing multiple ways to obviate natural experience. We simply do not know if “technology” had to arrive on silicon and in binary numbers converted into bits that result in the type you are reading and not in some organic medium based in bio-electricity for instance.

Here’s a word you should emblaze in your psyche, teleology. And, while you’re at it, inscribe reification too. When we say that “American progress” had to come through the eradication of Indian people, we are engaging in a teleological argument, it happened, therefore, it had to happen, or what happened next wouldn’t have happened. . . .Self-serving, huh?

And, when we speak of, say, a two-party system or, you know, White-based cultural standards as being “American”, we are reifying what exists and comparing every other actual American experience by an arbitrary standard rooted in, well, who won. Up to now, anyway.

I think Douglas Adams put it well,

“Anything that happens, happens. Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order, though.”

(From Mostly Harmless, Book 5 of his best-selling trilogy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

In the Beginning Was the Word

I bet you think I got that title from the Bible, huh? No. It comes from Vygotsky (see? You shoulda known I’d get back to that). In speaking about words, Vygotsky thinks of them not as teleological or reified objects; cat isn’t just Tabby or, you know “Vygostsky” (the name of a friend’s pet I used to know) nor is it some greater thing as “feline’ denoting a more biological speciation. It is, was, ok, will be too, a sign. A signal upon which actions occur and which describe earlier actions (who knows what those are, we weren’t there when it was first “denoted”).

For example–to get back to the subject here–Anasazi was a longtime word naming people who are now called “Ancestral Puebloans” centered around the Chaco Canyon “pueblos”. The Diné, whom we used to name “Navajo” called these people Anasazi, which the Spanish adopted glossing over the translation meaning “ancient enemies”. Get it? See? A word connotes much more than a name. Another example, Comanche is a word taken from the Utes by the Spanish to mean “People who are always fighting us”. The beginning of a word is not its name; but its deed. It’s implication. Its reason for existence. And it is based in every single element of action and perception–prejudice and bias–that we imbue it to tell the world what it is we’ve experienced and, therefore, finally, think.

So, my word–my bias–is to describe myself as Chicano; a politically based term rooted in my experiences. It leads me to inscribe the world with a commitment to uphold neither my European nor my Indian roots, but my existential roots traversing multiple worlds; accepted in some manner and rejected in others.

It reminds me a bit of that scene in Young Guns the movie with Emilio Ésteves as Billy the Kid where he and Doc (Kieffer Sutherland) are behind a rock outnumbered by a posse and he says grinning, “excitin’ ain’t it?” Exhilarating in the glory of your moment, ignorant of the real danger that lurks around you. Or, you know, when Edward James Olmos in the movie Selena complains to his daughter that “the Mexicans hate us ’cause we’re too Anglo and the Anglos hate us ’cause we’re too Mexican. . .it’s exhausting!”

Walls in Glass, Rivers Telling Lifetimes

My journey through Al-buh-kirkee and Niew Mex-uh-Co has been a study in words I’ve always taken for granted, Pueblo, Anasazi , parks, nature preserve, Rio Grande. . . .Manuel. When I look at the river, it’s no longer about how polluted it is nor how tame it’s become against flooding. It’s a highway through multiple histories, forgotten lives, unknown tragedies; inexorably streaming to a sea absorbing all the blood and pain, love, and exultation. They–the river and all the people that it met–make me different somehow even though I only lived upon it for a short time, just two lifetimes. And met her once again–for the first time–during my ninth.

The sun shines opaquely through warped glass this Sunday afternoon, a bit like the enlightenment you think you see when you look deep into your history. You see the brightness, feel the warmth in the afternoon sheltered by Lime Green walls and desert prints. Knowing that so much is yet to learn once you walk out the door into the sun.

“Excitin’, ain’t it?”

Grand River–People and Hearts At the Banks : A Pandemia Chronicle

It’s a grand river in that it is long cutting through the heart of a state, two countries, and of history. It was never meant to be more than a place where people could settle, live their lives, nourish from the waters squeezed from the snow of mountains and the rain that graced the land along the way. People live along its banks, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. History turned it into borders and the places everyone across the years would covet.

I’ve spent some time in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Al -buh kirkee, Niehw Mex a Coh. It’s tempting to correct the locals, and the tourists from overr yonderr and say the word correctly Albukehrrkeh with, you know, that lilty Spanish/Mexican accent that the writers on Saturday Night Live like to mock when gringos try to say it, or even a fluent Spanish TV reporter might do when “reporting live from Isleta (eeslet-tah) Nuevo Mehico”, I’m Manuel Barrrrerra”. And we’d all be appropriately cognizant of our “cultural relevance” in knowing how to say Latino names and places. Except, of course, that Spanish is also a language of oppression and Al-buh-kirkee is just the name of some guy from Spain, the then (1706) Viceroy Francisco Fernandez de la Cuervo, the eighth Duque (that’s Duke to y’all) De Alburquerque of Spain. The extra “r” isn’t a typo, Duke Al-buh-kirkee was really Duque de AlbuRquerque. You can imagine how difficult it is for an Anglo mouth to wrap itself around all those “rs”, so, hence, Al-buh-kirkee. . . . You’d think you could say, the “rest is history”, but . . . .not quite.

You see, Albuquerque, like New Mexico (I’ll leave you to your pronunciations as you like), has history deeper, and hidden, in among all the cultural “Hispanic” relevance. It is a town commissioned by Europeans atop multiple generations of villages, pueblos, that lived along the river, the Rio Grande. Like all the places I have visited on this journey, “Paleo-Indians” were here nearly 12,000 years before our present. They and their descendants were ancient long before the Spanish came. They had evolved into more “modern” cultures over thousands of years by the year 1540, when the colonizer/”explorer” Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came to see if there were cities of gold lyin’ around for him to claim.

New Mexico is a place of ancient origins, from Clovis to Las Huertas Canyon near Bernalillo, it is the site for evidence of the earliest known settled peoples (sorry, can’t really make myself say “Paleo-Indians” too much longer) in the northern part of the “Americas”. There are earlier sites further south in Patagonia near Chile, but the people known as the “Clovis culture” and “Folsom people” were the first respectively evident here. I can see why the state claims itself to be the “land of enchantment”. In many respects, history, actual history and not just that of the European incursion, began here.

In New Mexico, much of the early peoples existed in multiple cultures with many languages. Albuquerque is a rich case in point that is too often centered in the existence of the “pueblo” Indians. in truth, all along the middle Rio Grande River flowing through Albuquerque, various peoples existed. In the heart of this city, those people who lived here called themselves Tigua or Tiwa. And these people were evident from south to the north, east and west, all Tewa/Tiwa/Tigua. They were called Pueblo because the Spanish grouped them into people who lived in settled places, often in adobe structures on the banks of the Rio Grande, or the Chaco, or the Galisteo. What is common about these people is something more basic, they lived along rivers.

Rivers and Rifts

When I arrived in Albuquerque, I was drawn first to the river, the Rio Grande. The same river around which I grew up in South Texas, but now much further north; I’ll call her “Rio”. Rio begins in Colorado, her heart drawn from the mountain snowmelt of the Rocky Mountains. But if Colorado holds her heart, the greater portion of its north runs like an artery through the heart of New Mexico, granting life and providing home to the early peoples of this land. It is here where Rio’s journey really gets interesting. You see, she is a product truly of a land that was in process of growing, spreading, building and becoming truly . . .grand. Rio evolved in what is a “rift valley” a spreading zone of the continent filled by the waters flowing through it. I can understand how it was a place that grew civilizations by so many people.

It seems so narrow and petty to think that “civilization” only came with people in armor plating, unknown diseases, astride animals descended from those who once inhabited this very land. What they brought of value, horses, were in fact originated from here, what they found of value, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, great stores of silver that fueled the growth of economics, also from here. And what they uniquely brought was not industry, but arrogance and want, that somehow they could “advance” this world, inhabited as early as their own European descendants, and decided to call it “new”.

The Pueblos Beneath

All throughout Albuquerque, the history that was here is largely hidden. Where once there were pueblos, there were then mercedes reales (royal gifts), land grants given to pay Spanish soldiers and colonists for their efforts to grow the Spanish empire, from there were “estancias”, smaller divisions of land inherited by the children of the “original” landholders. And still later, victors of later wars, with Mexico and then the Civil War, gained access to lands from those who had bet wrongly and supported the other side. You wouldn’t know that this enchanted land actually belonged to no one but was one that provided so many mercedes naturales to those who came just to find their place in the sun, along a river.

In my searching to understand who were the original people, where the pueblos actually were, I found very little. It seems that much of the history of the early people is based on the now smaller number of existing pueblos, mostly outside of the cities. When I walked along the Rio Grande Paseo Del Bosque Trail, there were notes about the existence of pueblos along the river’s banks.

But there was scant evidence of these early settlements.

I was able to find a helpful document about one of the “plazas” that were early Spanish settlements, “LOS RANCHOS PLAZA (LA 46638): Test Excavations at a Spanish Colonial Settlement in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, 1996–1997″ by Kathryn Sargeant and her colleagues (2005). Their report documented the layered history of early Albuquerque.

Now, I’m sure that there may be other such documents available. But what was revealing from this paper is how sparse the evidence of early Spanish settlements and the even rarer evidence documenting the early pueblos here. To this day, of the existing number of pueblos, many of their locations in this area are documented as ‘lost” only referenced that they were identified by early colonists but unknown where they are.

I went to the site of the former “Los Ranchos” settlement where thousands of pre-Spanish artifacts and dwellings were reported by Sargeant, et al. (2005). A very different place. It’s clear that history in Albuquerque is considered primarily about ‘Hispanic heritage” and while early peoples are identified in the culture and history, prominence is given to those that survived and the richness of their ubiquity throughout the landscape seems relegated to one of mystery and magic, enchantment. Rock art is appreciated, but who these people really were and how they lived seems all but forgotten, or ensconced in a singular cultural entity, “pueblo”.

People on the Banks–Connected by a River

I think I would have liked the river people here. They must have been very different than the story that is told about them. I can imagine them earlier hunting and gathering the natural bounty on and around the river (many of the native fish are long gone and much of the other fauna too). Then they changed their culture to one of agriculture stemming from their trade with southern and northern people. Corn and beans in particular from what was Meso-America (indeed, there are places around the area with the name “Aztec”). They traded up and down a river, connecting with other river people east and west. To them, a river was a place of unity despite all their likely differences. A place to come together and to learn what could be learned. They wrote on rocks about their experiences turning their experiences into stories that today seem mystical. I’m sure they built their own versions of a spiritual world. How could they not in a place with such mountains, forests, sunsets, and dawns? And, it is likely that they had their conflicts, especially in times of scarcity; droughts and flooding all along a river.

So, yes, I think I would have liked them, which is to say I would have argued philosophically with them, debated about many issues of the day, maybe even united with them to overthrow oppressors. Which is to say that they struggled with being human–frail and haughty, superstitious and logical. Just like us.

A Tree Grows in the River

I have to ask myself why I chose to describe New Mexico by what lays hidden underneath its sincerely held pride as an enchanted place with such a rich multi-layered heritage. After all, I am not from here. Who am I to question a collective wisdom written so eloquently and respectful of all their differences? I think it is because this history sounds like what it is we want to hear. Respect the legacy of an earlier era, earlier people and the equanimity in examining all past sins as having made “us” (well, they) stronger. That acknowledging a past of pain is just that, the past. And now the body politic is that much more reflective of a “common” history.

It’s that urge to equanimity–a curious word describing composure and calmness in a space of turmoil recognizing both the good and bad of terrible experience–that bristles on me like a pine cone I have stepped upon in bare feet, without the protection of a sturdy insulated shoe.

It’s been so easy for me to “find the good” in all the pain and ardor I’ve experienced; what I have meted out and what I have taken. My journey has been one of hopeful discovery for what really must have happened out here. In the wilderness.

But it has also been to discover that what has lain underneath my own layers. Not to explain them away but to understand the pain and tribulation in the choices I have made that have led me here. By myself. When so many other paths I could have taken and been so much more content. Why it is that contentedness has never been enough? Why the pain across the ages for those who were never heard or just ignored is such a preoccupation? it’s not as if I have not been heard, I have. It’s not as if the chance to “excel” did not present itself, it certainly did. . . . Those were never what I really wanted.

I think the story (ies) I must tell are to delve below the layers, beneath respect for “growth and change”, our eventual “getting there”. To accept my impatience with . . . equanimity and to regain . . .honesty. We can’t have things become “all good” if we don’t recognize how really bad we’ve been. How dishonest we have been even when we never told a single lie because we weren’t honest with . . . . well, because I wasn’t honest with myself.

The world has really got to change. We can’t keep accepting “all the bad with the good”. We really have to stop mixing things like that and thinking “shades of grey” are just the cost of being human. Being human cannot be just about mistakes. At some point, we have to get it right.

Maybe I can’t do that for the world. But maybe . . . .

I think that my journey has been like a tree in winter. Leafless, swaying with the winter winds, blanketed by snow, dampened by the rain like tears. A raw, barefoot exposure to a season in discontent so that I can feel the sun when it comes in warmth despite the cold. When love and springtime come, I’ll become clothed because I had the roots and trunk, the base integrity of soul to stand, be naked and be honest. To make each year count. Just so I can give shade to those who come. In smiles and laughter.

Palo Duro Canyon–No Winners But Great Loss–A Pandemia Chronicle

Approximate Battle Site in the Upper Palo Duro Canyon

I entered Palo Duro Canyon not realizing how vast it is. It’s considered the “Grand Canyon of Texas” and is, in fact, second only in size to the actual Grand Canyon. It’s origins are humble, a sandy Palo Duro Creek, a stream atop the Llano Estacado converging with another creek, the Tierra Blanca (“White Land” meant to describe the limestone upon which it flows–Really). Together they form the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River that has formed the canyon through the Caprock Escarpment of the Llano. It was a “yawning chasm” largely unknown to Europeans until 1874 meticulously etching a place of refuge for anyone adept enough to find it, at the edge of what seemed like a vast unyielding plain. The Canyon has been continuously inhabited for over 10,000 years and known to the Spanish as a result of the Coronado expedition who came across it in 1541 when the Apache inhabited it. It was mapped by the U.S. Army in 1852 but was under Comanche and Kiowa control until the “Red River War”.

From the time of the Comanche rise in the late 1600’s, Palo Duro was a place well known only to the Comanche and their Comanchero suppliers and not suspected as their refuge. To be sure, it wasn’t the Army that found this redoubt of the Comanche, but by a combination of Black Seminole Scouts who encountered the Comanche on the Pecos River and Tonkawa scouts, Indians known for tracking and who had aided the U.S. and the Texas Republic over many years because of their enmity with all those who had displaced them from their lands in Oklahoma through their resulting migration into south central Texas. The Comanche were not the ones to displace them, that was the Apache. By the time of the U.S. campaign, the Tonkawa had been well emplaced as U.S. scouts. This despite having been herded into reservations, ironically back in their ancestral lands of Oklahoma.

A Great Loss, Not Really a War

It was called the Red River War in which the Comanche were defeated by overwhelming U.S. military force. A narrative written convincingly to the ears of Texans. As distant from reality as the the real fear it hides. Texans, well, those who’ve tried to dominate it, wear bravado on their sleeves and write them on the historical markers all along the highways. It assuages not their guilt but their trauma of a period where their helplessness was given respite by the luck of treachery, decimation by disease, and the orchestrated destruction of the buffalo. It was a war in name only and a battle that was largely unfought. And, even in surprise, all the Anglo could do is further poison the Comanche well of sustenance, destroying their stores, killing their horses–that way the Comanche couldn’t steal them back, because the Army knew the Comanche could–and leaving the Comanche to roam horseless and starving on the plains. With no buffalo herds and the dead of winter coming, the result was all but written long before, Ranald MacKenzie entered the Palo Duro.

When MacKenzie’s army came upon the camps at Palo Duro, they found a village led by Quanah Parker and a host of Comanche, Kiowa, and Souther Cheyenne. The Quahaddi never thought the Army would find them here, it had long been a place hidden in plain sight protected by the great canyon walls and labyrinthine meandering of this Red River fork. The Army took the village by surprise, but despite that, the Comanche/Kiowa/Cheyenne conducted a rearguard defense to protect the retreat of the elderly, women, and children. Indeed, as they Indians scaled the canyon walls, they proved to give deadly fire on the U..S. soldiers preventing them from killing many or taking prisoners. Although successful in preventing slaughter, their defense meant that they would relinquish the village and their large stores of buffalo meat, lodging travel equipment (lodgepoles and teepee hides), and, worst of all, their over 1400 horses astride which they were largely invincible but without them wholly helpless. They escaped but on foot across the plains, it was only a matter of time before they would have to accept defeat.

Historical Treachery Made in Anglo Destiny

Two groups that facilitated the Anglo victory over the Plains people were Black Seminole along with the African-American ex-slave “Buffalo Soldiers” and the host of Indian scouts that helped to find the Indian resistance. This was historically true in the so-called Indian wars. At Palo Duro, it took the great tracking skill of the Tonkawa scouts, long enlisted to support the Army, to find the largely hidden village. This pattern in using cultural-geographic “informants” marked ultimately the military demise of the ever-decreasing forces of Indian resistance, first to Spanish colonial ventures and then successive Anglo incursions from the Texas Republic to the U.S. Army. Along with the largely (but not completely) unintended unwitting infestation and death by European disease, the many peoples who inhabited the “Americas” were eradicated in great numbers and then sytematically defeated militarily through the exploitation of enmity between different peoples born largely of their own histories of struggle to coexist. It is a form of historical treachery, comprehensible but nonetheless ultimately self-defeating. One can only imagine how an Indian people could play such a role in hunting other Indian people but whatever the justification, the result would be the final defeat of Indian people to withstand the onslaught of “Manifest Destiny” through the Southern Great Plains and the “opening” of the West to White settlement. History is all too often prescient only in hindsight and the toll for its advance is paid by the defeated.

And, of course, this historical treachery was greatly effective in a context where disease reduced once great numbers and great civilizations and the actions of the “victors” in destroying the means of subsistence. In the case of the Comanche and the people of the Plains, it was the systematic destruction of the buffalo herds that formed their lifestyle and their sustenance.

My Journey’s Encounter with Palo Duro

I hadn’t understood what Palo Duro really was until I came here. Of course, I’d read much about it. Most of what I’ve written above comes from the accounts of S.C. Gwynne in his ” Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” along with Pekka Hämäläinen‘s “Comanche Empire”, popularized for easy access with the help of Wikipedia.

What I didn’t expect is to see its immensity. It is a national park with a multitude of hiking trails and ways to expore including it’s own lodge for visitors and a “glamping” site to accommodate “luxury” camping. It is a site of natural wonder in which the past is greatly hidden or romanticized, a “glamping” experience obscuring the demarcation between one historical civilization process of early peoples in what was a new land and the disruption brought by much later immigrants claiming for their own the land through decimation and destruction inconsiderate to those who had come before.

Seeing all of this had to have an effect. I see the predecessors to my own history and the layers stacked one upon the other, obscured by recreational pursuits, destructive new industries, unremarkable stripmall towns . . . and incomplete histories marked in brief highway markers. Much like the layers across my multiple lifetimes in pursuit of identity, love, meaning, career, and happiness. Driving down the roads, I see myself riding into history and the features of discovery, struggle, desire for one’s place under a sun, and the predictable but not inevitable result crossing, sometimes intruding, into other’s lives.

I come closer to understanding what my life of “layers” has been by uncovering the layers that reside in the histories of all the people that preceded those around me, from those formed like my own dual DNA, Indio and European, and all of those others who comprise the product of our common history, its struggles, its sadness, denouement, joy, and hope.

I’m not sure we have understood that what was forseeable did not really have to be. We can blame what happened on what we didn’t know. It simply isn’t true. There was much to learn from the genesis of Western democracy in understanding our need for human solidarity. As much as there was to learn from the tendency of early peoples to enslave and subjugate in the development of the societies and cultures of the “Americas” before the European devastation. That neither of “us” ever heeded either caution is to me a chosen ignorance albeit written in the longness of history. Seen only with a paltry hindsight and one which we now must so directly attend. Yes, it could have been different. But therein lies the seed of hope. That it could have been different means that it remains possible to do different now.

And, as for me, what comes to mind is that “ain’t none of us clean” and by ourselves, we each may not bring the world to its great resolution, but we each, I, can understand that seeing all the devastation, all the destruction, all the anger these so easily engage is always a choice. We, I, can choose. We may have to fight to bring about a better world. But we can choose to fight with better tools, not by ourselves to save others, but to assure that all of us is brought into a different history. The destruction of a hateful society based in violence, bred in anger is so greatly needed. But the destruction of people never has to be the goal.

Yes, all I say here is naive and I am as much a realist; I am not alone in determining what may eventually be the answer. I do believe that when the “great gettin’ up morning” finally comes, we’ll find that what made the difference is our desire to be each of us worthy, each of us happy, each of us free. That from each of us we gave our best and to each of us we gave our all.

El Llano Estacado–Blanco Canyon, White River: A Pandemia Chronicle

By from en.wikipedia to Commons by User:EvaK using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,

I arrived in what is now Lubbock, Texas, the latest “stake” of history that’s settled over the layers of existence that is the “staked plain”, the Llano Estacado. The term “estacado” usually means “stockaded” or “pallisaded” and refers to the fortress-like rise of the escarpments at the edges of this formation. The “stake” refers to how earlier inhabitants would mark the llano with stakes of various types to guide their way.

For a flat, desolate, seemingly featureless plain of what was a shallow sea millions of years ago, so much has happened in its nearest past. Geographically, the Llano crosses Texas on the west in the “Panhandle through the Permian Basin and somewhat fusing with the Edwards Plateau, another raised flat land that reaches near to Austin and San Antonio. In the east of New Mexico, the Llano ends with the Mescalero Escarpment near Roswell. But this region represents a larger whole merging the histories of western Texas –Oklahoma, and the respective eastern corners New Mexico and Colorado and the western parts of Oklahoma and Kansas; what was the domain of the Comanche. These states claim a portion of what would otherwise be one geologic and geopraphic unity.

Once the sea dried, it became home to a multitude of floral and faunal migrations mxed in with homegrown indigenous plants and creatures; the first layer, the first “stake”. It seems inevitable that all these creatures great and small would be followed by a second stake, human immigrants. Although it is not likely that humans came only via a landbridge “Ellis Island” to the north, a great many did and they proliferated multiple cultures and civilizations. It also seems that the first act of these early peoples was to help along the clearing of the large mammals that once ruled unobstructed. They didn’t do so with disease, but they did fashion spearpoints and a desire to survive, to colonize. After all, the entire area was truly “despoblado”, inhabited only by . . . .food and the materials for shelter.

The third stake on this flat unified plain came with the development of a host of simple to greatly sophisticated cultures; Jumano/Chisos, Anasazi/Pueblo, Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, many others. All of these interacted with others to the east and further west. In their midst entered the Apache, Ute, Kiowa, and an almost inconsequential group of ostracized Shoshone known to themselves as the Nermernuh, to the Ute, kimantsi–“people who alway fight us” or “enemy”–and which the Spanish eventually formed into their tongue as Comanche. The Comanche highlight the fourth stake to this flat land, Mesa, buttressed by eroded canyons that made the land appear like a “palisaded” steppe, “estacado”.

If you watch and listen as you drive through this featureful expanse, you can feel the layers speaking in emotions, from the bones of camels, elephant ancestors, giant sloths, and especially ancient horses and bison to the laughter of Juman/Chiso/Pueblo children and the laments of expelled Shoshone for their lot in trying to eke out a living, unwanted and on foot, atop a sea of grass and succulent buffalo steaks galloping all too fast to catch.

It took a fifth stake, the Spanish, to change history, They brought along the descendants of the earlier horses, those now extinct in the Americas but from whom horses first evolved. There is some belief that horses have remained here and to many Indian people there is a view that rests within their collective memory. What is undeniable is that what the Spanish took for granted as transportation, the Nermernuh/Kimantsi/Comanche learned to prize above all else as their salvation; the ships that would carry them across the seas of grass and the harvest of its bounty. For 250 years, the Comanche sat astride the Llano Estacado holding back the Spanish, French, Mexicans, Texans, and Americans. Until the buffalo were gone and then so were the Comanche. A few other layers have come since then but this journey is about understanding what came before the layers that have obscured a deeper past, a deeper origin.

Ancient Lakes, Ancient (Mega) Fauna

Lubbock Lake is a dried former lake where prehistoric flora and fauna and of human layering in the land can be found through every period of human history for at least 12,000 years. The lake was part of a meander of the Yellow House Draw itself a former part of the Brazos River. It served as a water source until the 1930’s and when the city of Lubbock tried to dredge it to revive access to the underground springs, they were unsuccesful but in the process uncovered the layers of different peoples who “staked” their claim to life on this land. Layers on layers of cultures and the fossilized bones of earlier extinct megafauna like the bison antiquus, the predecessor to the the “American buffalo” (bison bison). Those layers, stakes, begin with the bison and their contemporary megafauna, the mammoth/mastodon, giant sloths, horses, camels, lions, tigers (sabre-toothed) and short-faced bears (yeah, you know you want to say “oh my!” Go ahead).

Long before bison bison, the ancestors of the favored resource of the Comanche and other people of the Great Plains in North “America”, there was bison antiquus. B. Antiquus existed 125,000 to 14,500 years before the present (BP) along with other pleistocene megafauna and that finally disappeared from the Americas around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.

There is some controversy about how the megafauna died off, but my favorite paleontologist, Timothy Flannery makes a compelling argument for the final demise of the megafauna as a result not of changing climate, but of the human migration that followed on the heels, or hooves, of these now extinct animals.

Buffalo weren’t just food for the early immigrants of this continent, their social, and eventual poltical, economy rested in the existence of these “Target runs” on hooves. One can see why early people built their lifestyle and subsistence around them.

Contrasting Blanco and White

Blanco Canyon is an ever-widening erosion in the Llano Estacado originating out of the steppe from the White River. it is interesting to note the difference in language to denote the same color, “Blanco” and “White”. I’m not sure why this distinction is made, but the metaphor is all too poignant when you consider its history. For, the first battle between the Comanche, led by their last warrior chief, Quannah Parker, and the Anglo, and Black, U.S. Army under Ranald MacKenzie was fought here. Well, to call it a battle is to give the army too much credit, they were largely routed resulting in MacKenzie receiving a debilitating and lifelong painful leg wound. One which would mark him psychologically as well as debilitate him physically from then on. The Comanche surprised the fledgling army unit, stole their horses, and the soldiers barely managed to survive with their lives. Some didn’t. For MacKenzie, it was a learning experience that he used effetively, eventually copying Comanche tactics to his credit and that led to their own surprise attack at Palo Duro Canyon that eventually broke the back of the Comanche resistance. A compelling account of this campaign and the life of Quannah Parker can be found in S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon.

I visited Blanco Canyon at the White River to fnd that it was now a rest stop and visitor center on U.S. Highway 82 about 34 miles southeast of Lubbock. I was struck by the great effort that was spent in stamping (another word for “staking”) the presence of the State of Texas all over this rest area. From well adorned stone walls and large picnic tables with the Texas star in the center all through and even down to the White River to the multiple flat rock viewing platforms, it seemed like the State wanted to make sure every inch of that space, arguably a space of military failure for Texas and budding “America”, was staked out as a place of honor. Indeed, reading the account of the “battle” on the Texas road marker (above), the reported account does its best to obscure that the Army was caught by surprise and that they were routed into a retreat.

The account of history by historians takes pains to leave little doubt that this space was now owned by the eventual victors from Comanche “terror”. It set in context to me the name of the river, like a metaphor for the coming staking of this majestic land as ceded to its new owners, themselves a “river” of White for generations to come. It is something I have recognized, especially among anglo Texans throughout history, to do their best to stamp out any evidence of earlier failures and assure their claim to supremacy. It is a vindictive effort at vindication of their perceived power over history.

Erosion and Recovery of Truth Along the Staked Plains

In both cases of Lubbock Lake and of Blanco Canyon, layers of earlier life and the lives of people in history have been revealed with the passage of time either through the eroding landscape showing who was there and their mark upon the land or by the stamping of a layer to hide what had happened, shoving “under the rug” a failure to establish a more hidden truth; that not every result was a pristine march of victory. That march is layered in a half truth of eventual military victory when the truth is that the Comanche were ultimately defeated not by military prowess alone but with the added success of White poachers that destroyed the buffalo herds–to call them “hunters” is to stretch the meaning given the relatively easy work one can do to ride up to buffalo and shoot them. That along with the weakening of the Comanche by disease like all other early peoples.

Layers of the truth are removed over time. Like a river cuts what seems like a flat interminable plain into canyons revealing all the history layered one on top of the other, I have found revealed my own different layers. From the fears at the bottom of a recurring dream to a search not for a single “heart of the matter” but the kernels of a seeded heart nurtured by the richness of the many different lives I’ve lived; the stamping of passion, intellectual growth, and lost memories that brought me pain as well as wonder. Layers that can only be seen when riding through distant histories of long dead ancestors and the reflections on my own history as the sands upon the winds, and the miles, go by.

I am roughly halfway through what I am sure is just one stage of a curious journey into time. And what motivates my heart. I fight the anxiousness to reach completion. It’s better to savor the very time I am takng. Tomorrow is a day best known before its passing. Today was a good day. To remember.

Odessa (Texas): What Time Fills–A Pandemia Chronicle

I’m not really sure why I decided to stay over in Odessa. It was meant to shorten my trip between the Big Bend and Lubbock. The majesty of Big Bend and its centrality to the Comanche territory was–is–a hard act to follow. So many thousands of years of forgotten history and so many thousands of people who had inhabited and commanded in the “uninhabited” Santiago and Chisos Mountains. And then the brief but deadly entry of Spanish, Mexican, and Texas colonists. It seems logical now that my travel to the Big Bend would take me to the beginning; up the Comanche Trail

Odessa is situated as a part of the vast sea of grasslands that is the Permian Basin and now the sight of large oil reserves. Odessa’s origins are unremarkable as a cattle watering stop and shipping point named by the Russian workers who came to build it (appearing much like the steppes of their native home of Odessa in souther Russia). The Comanche roamed this territory hunting buffalo and, of course, as the road they took on their way to the south through the Big Bend and north to their home grounds at the base of the adjoining Llano Estacado in places like Blanco Canyon and Yellow House Canyon around what is now Lubbock, Texas. The Comanche hunted here because of the buffalo migration route. Near the Odessa city center is a “Buffalo Wallow”, what used to be a large depression in the ground where buffalo during their migration would lie and roll around in the dirt to rid themselves of parasites and their winter fur. Today, the buffalo wallow is gone and in its place is an artificial lake and a children’s garden. And lots of duck, geese, pigeons and blackbirds. The wallow has been filled by time and the city’s runoff.

A Meteor Crater Filled by Time

As I was coming up on Odessa, I spied a sign for the “Odessa Meteor Crater”. . .You know I had to go.

It turns out that about 20,000 years ago, a relatively small metallic metorite struck the unassuming grasslands and Wham! Instant, literal, dust bowl; when a meteorite strikes, it creates a fine powder of “rock flour” from the shattered sandstone. Over time, the crater has filled with sand and plants to create only the outline of the impression in the dust. For some time, researchers thought they would find a solid core of the metal but it appears that the metorite broke up and created a several craters close in from the main one. There is a shaft where people dug deeper to the center of the impact, but they never found the “heart”.

A Time Filled With Life

Somehow, I found a metaphor in this meteor story. I sometimes feel that on this journey, I am searching for the “heart of the matter”, that one big piece that will explain my life, my universe, my everything–those of you who know about Douglas Adams will likely get the reference, my search for the question to the answer, which, of course, is 42. I think that just like the pointlessness to Adams’ query, the question, or the answer, may not reside in the mythical heart that I’ve been seeking to find. Perhaps, just like the multiple fragments of Odessa’s meteor(ite(s)), there never was a single heart, especially at impact with the vagaries of life? Perhaps, instead there have been different little pieces and they reside within the several lives I’ve lived, Hippie football player, musician come antiwar activist, revolutionary socialist, dancer, singer (again), teacher of children with disabiliites,, research scholar, husband, father, teacher of teachers, singer/dancer/narrator, student of history and time. And, just like time has a way of filling impact craters, especially in places as ephemeral as sandstone on the prairie, or humans, perhaps the craters in our heart are filled with the accumulation of time’s . . . markers. Perhaps I should spend my time seeking out the kernels that are at the center of each of these remarkable moments in my historical timeline?

I think this journey took me to Odessa to understand that just like me, the Comanche have had many pieces of a full heart. They cannot possibly be just the fierce warriors the world has chosen to focus upon them. Anymore than cruel conquistadores simply meant to bring destruction to the world.

History, at least the kind we’re used to reading, and studying about, has a way of making the lives that have been lived in two-dimensional characters, sometimes full-blown portraits, sometimes caricatures, always just a painting if sometimes even in film. We think about history in the deeds that were done, the reasons, the pretexts, even the contexts, but always just about what is salient.

I wonder if we are really to learn from history, we might want to see the less salient, the more mundane, the comedy, the frailty in our character? I thought about that as I wondered what it was to be at a buffalo wallow? Is there something we can know about the lives of buffalo; other than, you know, dinner? Is there something about a Comanche warrior that is salient in what might have been the mundane, or in the times when they may have failed in what they did best? Is my journey just a set of places I have come to visit, or is it also when I tried to find something meaningful when all there was was a meaningless drive across a vast sea of nothingness, stabbed by oil pumps? And then to come upon a metor(ite(s)) crater filled by time and a wallow, now filled by city runoff, where long dead fleas once died a rather silly death from a beast rollin’ in the prairie dust?


So, imagine a couple of Comanche hunters looking to get a few easy kills sneaking up on some buffalo contentedly scratching themselves on the ground, all happy, snortin’ away. Maybe flickin’ a few fleas at one of their partners, “Flea fight!”, fur all flyin in the lazy afternoon sun. The two Comanche, let’s say they’re named the equivalent of “Joe” and “Hector”, see it’s their lucky day, “Yeah, we got lunch for about 3 months” Joe says. “Let’s get up close so we don’t miss, we’re kinda short on arrows”. Hector snorts, “Yeah, you really need to stop wastin’ ’em on the damn Spaniards, just let ’em go next time so they can bring back more horses”. “Yeah, ok, but we need to get these buffalo right now! “C’mon!” said Joe as he started to crawl up close to the wallowing buffalo. “Don’t get so damn close, you’ll spook ’em!” Hector warned. “Nah, just c’mon” said Joe. And, as Joe got closer, the dust started to get a little thick, “Ahh (he tried to hold it quietly)”, “Ahihhh…”, “CHOOO!” he sneezed. . . . . . Years later, Joe finally took a wife and had a few children. One of the boys, while taking a bath in one of the springs with dad noticed this somewhat large holey scar at the top of his dad’s butt crack. “Wow, what happened there, dad?” “It’s an old battle scar when some Spaniard tried to sneak up on me” Joe said. “Hey, dad. Some of the other kids saw some buffalo out in this hole rollin’ around in the dirt, can we go hunt ’em?!” “Leave the damn buffalo hunting for the experts, son. ‘Fore you know it, fleas and fur can get all up in your nose. Just let ’em play .. . . “

I’m just sayin’ that nobody seems to think Comanches did anything but steal horses, kill settlers, and kidnap people. Fearsome warriors, adept at hunting. All that had to happen with a few life lessons. Somehow!

“Los Despoblados” Riding on the Trail of Fears: A Pandemia Chronicle

The Spanish Named These Lighter Outcrops “Caballos”–Horses. They seem to run across the rocks.

To the Spanish and Mexico, the area of the Chihuahuan desert on the Rio Grande was uninhabited, “despoblado”. To the Texans and U.S. Army, with the help of the “Buffalo Soldiers”, it was a land that needed to be cleared of its native inhabitants so that it could finally become populated by “real people”. It’s interesting to note that today, the Big Bend area of West Texas remains despoblado, except from tourists, researchers, and state park personnel, all of whom are focused on the wonder of a land and its former inhabitants, those despoblados who began inhabiting this area 8,000 years ago.

Basket Makers to Ghosts

Nancy Edwards (1968), a young high school student in Marfa, Texas described the first inhabitants of the Big Bend as “the Basketmakers . . .men [sic] of Asia and possibly came across the Bering Strait thousands of years ago”. Today, these basketmakers are now known as “Paleo-Indians” and were here between 8,000 to 6,500 BCE. Personally, I like Nancy’s description of “basketmakers”. Paleo-Indians sounds a bit like folk who might hunt and gather for uncooked food at Whole Foods more than a people living a subsistence lifestyle before the “dawn of time”. I like the idea that they made baskets. Seems like they might have been Salt of the Earth. This despite the likelihood that they contributed to the demise of the large megafauna of the post-glacial period according to Timothy Flannery in his excellent book, The Eternal Frontier.

Eventually, these people evolved into more distinct groups whom the Spanish called “Jumano” who built adobe huts and grew a range of plants such as corn and squash or collected plants like mesquite beans and hunted small animals. They represented “America’s” first immigrants from which all the major nations and peoples that built civilizations, or just baskets, on this continent before Europeans came. The Big Bend was a wilderness upon which history was written in spearpoints, bone tools, pots, and, yes, baskets not to mention pictographs (see previous post on Del Rio) long before history was ever recorded by, well, our current predecessors (you might guess at what descriptors I used for Europeans before I decided it’s time to stop pressing the point).

I took the roundabout route through Big Bend that took me first to Panther Junction at the northeastern edge of the Chisos Mountain range and then to Terlingua back to Alpine, Texas. The Chisos range is wholly enclosed within in the Big Bend park and is loosely a southern part of the Rocky Mountains. It represents the core of what was a much larger volcanic “mound” that has eroded into its present shape. It is a majestic range of mountains named after the Chisos people, one of the Jumanos who inhabited the “Despoblado” region. Chisos refers to this people but is also believed to be their name for “ghosts” or short for “hechizos”, the Spanish name for “enchanted”. In either case, the ghosts of the “uninhabited” land seem to remain.

A Trail of Fears

Later, the Jumano were, mostly forcefully, incorporated into other people who encroached upon them like the Apache and the Comanche. The Big Bend is best known historically as a major branch of the “Comanche Trail” who by the early 1800s had largely displaced the Apache. The Comanche rode into northern Mexico on raids for horses and people. Phyllis Duncan called it the “Trail of Fears”. The Comanche ruled the southern plains largely because of their unparalled skill in using horses to hunt and garner horses and people from other tribes, like the Jumano and from the Spanish or, later, Texans. The Persimmon Gap was their route to and from Mexico. Driving through the Persimmon Gap had a certain poignancy today.

Driving A Lonely Path Into the Wilderness

I undertook this journey to uncover a history of the past and to examine my own. Driving through this, for me, newer history took me someplace I didn’t expect to see. I am acutely aware of my precariousness as I’ve driven, first through the familiar path to Brownsville and my “fortress”of fortitude, South Padre and now into places I had never been. I know that driving through the midlands of Iowa, Missouri (well just a piece of it) , Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas is a great danger in a time of unparalled plague, among people alternatively doing their best or at times greatly irresponsible in putting themselves and others at risk.

I drove today through history in the midst of history in the making. As I write, I note how Los Angeles County in the State of California has begun to ration the use of oxygen to only people with a chance likely to survive as coronavirus cases swell and overwhelm hospitals and their staffs. I am aware with few exceptions, every state of the Union remains at alarming levels. I travel knowing that at any moment, someone with asymptomatic infection may cross my path. In addition to seeing wondrous mountain ranges, “seeing ghosts” of peoples oft forgotten by “history”, I spend my days deciding do I dare go inside a gas station to use their bathroom, deciding whether to go inside a restaurant and eat something more healthy than a breakfast burrito from McDonald’s (I so far decide the latter, just too much risk)? And, what of the people serving me through that drive-thru window? Are they working sick? Not to mention entering a hotel (eventually I’ll try to find an AirBnB for a longer stay with its own set of risks) or a public restroom (so far, I’ve found these safer, or at least I think so in my mind 🙂 ).

I am quite aware of these and then remember that my life at “home” in Minnesota was just as frightful, despite for different reasons.

The world remains in grave danger and I really don’t believe it matters where we are. It’s best, at least for me, to recognize the “Four Agreements” (Drawn and adapted from Ruiz) reconciled for my travels through Pandemia:

Be impeccable with my word; tell myself the truth, be honest, and know what it is you are doing

Take nothing personally; people act as they will, doing the best they can to be intelligent. They are not trying to hurt you and you must expect from them only what they appear able to do. This one has been especially challenging for me, hence, why I am on these travels.

Make no assumptions; A friend you trust can make mistakes, it’s best to own your own safety and not cede it to others. Among others, do not assume they think or act like you despite their seeming agreement with you.

Do the best you can; be as safe as you know how to be within the choices you have made. It may not be enough, but it will be what you must do.

And, just like every human effort, the above is fraught with unforeseen dishonesty, personal perceptions you cannot avoid, unassuming assumptions, and only as good as you are able.

Today, in a time of history making–the State of Georgia hangs so many things in this country in the balance despite the flawed belief that a new government will be all that good. Today as history records some of our gravest mistakes in judgement compounded over years that threaten our entire planet, the ghosts of people largely ignored by history, who made baskets, sought their solitude beneath groves of palm trees, those who fought and tried their best to stave off annihilation, all of them speak to me. In the winds and sunlight gleaming on snow inside a forest made of rocks. They tell me that, despite the risk, and your possible demise (sorry about that, brother), it is good you came to say hello, honor our presence. It’s all we ever asked. We were lonely and, well, it was good you visited.

I think that I’ve been lonely all this time. Just like them. It was good I came to visit that part of me. Despite the danger, it was best I came face to face. I’m not sure what I do with that. Not yet. But I am here. And I will do my best. To come home.

(San Felipe) Del Rio To Alpine: A Pandemia Chronicle

I have been to most parts of Texas in my life, but never to the Big Bend area of the Rio Grande River. I thus left Brownsville to begin what is the least known part of my journey. It begins with a trip to Del Rio, Texas. My route took me close to some earlier memories, like Kingsville and through Cotulla. Going through Kingsville took me back to to a time in the 70’s as a young anti-war and Chicano activist. I was hitchhiking home to Brownsville for what, I don’t remember. But as I was thumbing my way through Kingsville, I was stopped and detained by Kingsville police ostensibly for hitchhiking. It was illegal to do so on a public highway, but the incident seemed a bit unusual since there were many people doing just that on most days in and out of the Valley. Somehow I reached my mom and she along with her companion, a man named Leonel, “Noni”, Garza came to get me (I was only about 20-21 at the time and with few resources or contacts; what can I say). What was unusual was that there is no record of this “detainment” (aka, arrest). It was not the last time I was “detained” on different occasions during my youthful career as a revolutionary radical activist. Among these included having police visit my apartment and speak to my roommates (I wasn’t there at the time, on the road, you guessed it, hitchhiking to activist conferences), detatined for traffic violations in Houston and a little later in Chicago and a curious set of incidents during a journalistic tour of Texas with a couple of fellow reporters for the Militant newspaper reporting on the “Raza Unida Party”, an organization that was centered in Crystal City, Texas, which of course took me through Cotulla. I am today unsure if all this activity (along with others in different parts of the country) was a result of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a program with far-reaching coordination with local law enforcement agencies that targeted antiwar, Black, Brown, and other poltical activists. My experiences were rather mild compared to what was happening to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and activists around the Black Panther and Young Lords Parties, but COINTELPRO was a pervasive counterintelligence operation in the radical movements of the time. . . Maybe. Or, maybe I just engaged in a lot of legally questionable traffic and hitchhiking activity deserving to be called on it. It just seems there should be some record of all this scofflawing.

Like I said, leaving from Brownsville through the upper reaches of South Texas took me through some memories.

To be sure, I skipped over that part of my memories and proceeded to Del Rio. What we know today as Del Rio, Texas began, well, for Europeans it began as San Felipe Del Rio a small enclave of Spanish colonists (they liked to call themselves explorers at that point in time) who settled on the (north) eastern side of the Rio Grande from their main colony, Ciudad Acuña directly opposite on the (south) western side. in truth, the region had been inhabited by native people for over 10 000 years before the “Joneses” (“Cortezes”?) came to (build a) town. You know, on top of everybody who had been living there all along. We know this to be true because today we’ve learned how the history of indigenous people was drawn on the many pictographs within the caves and rock walls all around the Rio Grande and Devil’s River. Once the Spanish and subsequently, Anglos of the Texas Republic, not to mention, Mexicans and “Americans” (yeah, still have the problem with the broad stroke designation for the U.S.) came to town, one has to wonder why the vistors/explorers/colonists were continuaully in a state of surprise and incredulity when Jumano (those were the ones before the Spanish), Apache, and Comanche would try to get them off what they believed was their land the one way native people could get their message across; kill them. As many as they could, wherever they could, however they could. I mean, what part of “get out or I’m gonna burn your face while you’re still living” did they not understand?

Especially, since all those unwanted guests kept standing up in front of them with some proclamation about how they–the native people, that is—would have to convert to Christianity, or, grow corn or something or they would either be annihilated or enslaved to mine silver. Or grow cotton, whatever. And (!) proclaiming so in Spanish, or English (whatever), ’cause what the hell, don’t you foreigners in your own land not understand the King’s English, er Spanish?

So, San Felipe Del Rio, named for that King the Spanish who wanted the Jumano/Apache/Comanche (whatever) to submit, became, finally (!), a place. Hence, “someplace between here and Mexico”. Now, hundreds of years later, the “Barrio San Felipe” is a cultural center portraying the “Latino” heritage of the “Hispanic”, Mexican-American–c’mon now, Chicano–people. I was struck by the cultural trappings of the Barrio proper situated behind an Arc and surrounded by neighborhoods telling of significant poverty “across the tracks” from the rest of the city.

This cultural framework, of course, is situated, as we “Raza” are, within a history of oppression beginning with our existence as the product of rape and assimilation into “Hispanic” culture and then successive additional racism from the advent of “Texas” and then “America”. Our focus on the European part of our “culture”, a denigration of who we are in my view, began in the disintegration and subsequent extermination of our native roots, all but obscured by our adoption of the Spanish “heritage” in our blood.

The chief symbol of this layered history is, of course, a bridge.

If we cannot end the time of bridges as the closed gates they’ve become, I will do my best to open them. If it be just a sound that’s drowned in the cacophony of the wind. Perhaps the effort will give the sun and winds a bit more strength.

Alpine At the Gate

I’m now here in Alpine, at the gate of the Big Bend. I’m weary, but excited to see what else I haven’t seen. My day was full of great sites, among the unevenness of history and this land, once named for native people, but has come to be so different. I can only hope that the winds and flowing streams will see a better law “West of the Pecos” and a better, farther “past” where palm trees witness better times.