May 24th, 2021
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.