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!