Quadrifluence: when four disparate elements come together.
For example: You’re driving through some serious American agriculture. Then, out of nowhere, what does your iPod’s eclectic playlist, the one you’d forgotten about, throw at you? SuperFreak. Then, for the first time on your road trip, while giant irrigation contraptions are competing for your attention with ultimate funk, "the kind you don’t take home to mutha," you find yourself closing on the scourge of the American backroads, two RVs. Fortunately, you are on HWY 87 - the straightest stretch of asphalt in the world - so passing is a cinch. So there you have it: Farming, Rick James, Retirees, and The World’s Straightest Road. Spheres Collide.
June 2, 2007
I’d forgotten how beautiful the drive across the top of Texas can be. It’s been almost four years since I last made the journey – I’ve been flying to Oregon to save time – and while much is timeless much has changed.
After a first day cut short by a nasty thunderstorm, I tossed a Doggie Downer to Large Dog – he chomped it right out of the air – and set out this morning under a clear, sunny Amarillo sky. I’ve never driven this far alone before, and I’ve been giddy with anticipation. Time to think and sing and just be was the carrot I’d been dangling in front of myself for so very long. As I left town and the sky opened up, I kept thinking of ways I could describe it to those of you who have never been here, or cast it in a new light to those of you who may have crossed the Panhandle many times.
I decided to just go with impressions…the lazy writer’s answer to an eight-hour drive.
Amarillo itself is an interesting spot. It’s home to the Big Texan Steakhouse and Horse Hotel , Pantex, Cadillac Ranch,and some of the more intelligent people I know. This conundrum sets our theme for today: odd contrasts.
In my part of the state, you can feel the influence of the evangelical right, like oppressive humidity, with every breath. Interestingly enough, once the sky got big, I drove about three hundred miles and only saw signs for Catholic and mainline Protestant churches (Methodist and Disciples of Christ, predominantly; working hypothesis? These faiths are fairly prominent in major ranching families). I saw a couple of “Bible Churches” just before I crossed into New Mexico. This probably means nothing, and was a function of the roads I took (literally, in this case - highways 287 and 87), but still.
On a related note: Dairy Queen seems to be losing some ground to Sonic. Native Texans know this is HUGE.
It’s jarring to see brick veneer subdivisions, so common in NoCenTex, sitting in the middle of treeless plains. The ones out here are usually about ten houses rather than 100. I have friends who are builders, and such houses can be built to last forever, but many aren’t. In contrast are the old houses, both in town and off the road, be they rock, brick, stucco or wood. They’ve gone nowhere for over 100 years. Even the abandoned ones, missing roofs, have walls that still stand true. And to think how those houses were built, especially the farmhouses, in community rather than by corporation, gives rise to naïve but wistful thought.
Other culture clashes? A windmill, probably from the early part of the 20th century, still turning away on one side of the road, and a cell phone tower on the other. Motels from the 40s and 50s, some loudly proclaiming themselves “American Owned,” others offering Thai food. Yam Woon Sen in the Panhandle? This is new since my last pass through.
The visual contrasts in the topography can take your breath away. In the area near Amarillo where they collect helium, little hillocks pop up like balloons. There’s nothing like coming down off the caprock and seeing the dropoff in your rearview mirror. At Dumas, things shift again. Everyone thinks the panhandle is flat, but it’s not. Even when it looks flat, it shapes subtly; sometimes it mirrors the voluptuous rolls of a Rubens nude, other times the almost imperceptible curve of a child’s forearm.
And then there’s the color. At one point on the road, I was struck by the perfect deep rich terra cotta of the turned soil on one side and the lush (it’s been a wet year, you skeptical natives) green of the grassland on the other. Cadmium yellow sunflowers dance above purple thistle.
DYR has me thinking environmentally on this trip, and one of the sadder experiences was driving out of the state while trains of coal were passing me on their way in. Texas has an abundance of relatively clean-burning natural gas. It can be extracted with minimal impact on the environment if mineral owners care enough to write environmentally conscientious leases. But we’re bringing in coal from, among other places, Wyoming, Dick Cheney’s home state. Rant over, but still…
As ranching country gave way to agriculture, many fields sported signs boasting genetically modified crops. My “favorite”? "Americot - Cotton Done Right!" This is an area in which I’m woefully undereducated. I like my 100% cotton things affordable. And pesticides are nasty nasty nasty nasty. I’m wringing my hands on this one.
And then you cross into New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.
On cue: antelope and cloud shadows.