I’m back to wrapping my head around Texas, and not having much luck.
The All Valley RV show is going on this weekend. We went for a very quick visit on Thursday. There was so little to be seen so we didn’t stay long. A year ago we were in Tampa at the Tampa RV Supershow and let me assure you —there is no comparison. But then one doesn’t expect that here.
On the way home we stopped at the Texas state tourism office in Harlingen where I found more helpful information about birding sites and a new version of the Texas Tourism brochure. What that short stop really did was to get me thinking about the diversity of this state.
We are purposely sticking close to home right now. Considering that we had not been planning on buying a home before we arrived, the decision to do so put a temporary crimp on cashflow so being old fashioned we’re cutting back for a couple months until the bank balance recovers. That sort of low profile and refusal to spend a lot of money accounts for some of the things I’ve been writing about lately. I’m amusing myself in stationary ways! Going nowhere and doing very little. And trying to get a feel for Texas is proving challenging. Let’s face it, we humans tend to summarize things, or categorize them, or profile them, or turn them into cliches. Texas, however, doesn’t translate into cliches easily.
Texas is over 268,000 mi2 That means four Wisconsins would fit inside the state of Texas. It’s 879 miles along I-10 from the Western end at El Paso to the Louisiana border; and 881 miles from Texhoma to Brownsville on the variety of roads that it would take to make the trip. that’s a lot of space!
Reflecting on a lifetime in Wisconsin I know it was hard enough to wrap one’s head around Wisconsin as an “entity.” There are unique areas of the state no matter whether you look at it from the cultural, geologic, agricultural, employment or any other vantage point. If Wisconsin is diverse — then what the heck is Texas?
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone tell me they moved to Texas because of it’s beauty. That’s not a criticism; merely an observation of fact. Oh, be assured there are beautiful places here. But there can be a lot of space in between them. It could be that Texas is more about getting stuff done, than it is about appreciating the place the stuff is done. In our small circles of friendship it’s much more common to hear people talking about diversity of bird and butterfly life than it is to hear them talking about scenery. The scenery here is flatness. Lots of Yucca and scrub and fields. There’s also a lot of agriculture here — the Rio Grande Valley provides produce for a good part of the nation. But among our acquaintances there’s not much talk much about crops. Perhaps because we’re all retired and while we might like to eat and because we’re all retired agriculture sounds too much like work!
If I step back to that topic of Texas natural beauty, I’m sure that when we head to Hill Country with Katy that we’ll see some of it. We’ll be a bit early for Bluebonnet season but we’ll have other years for hunting the grand Texas Bluebonnet! On our last trip to Texas I had learned about the Blanco Lavender Festival and this year we might actually get to participate. I hope so… It’s going to be a busy Spring what with a wedding in Milwaukee so we’re taking a lot of things under advisement for now.
One of the aspects of Texas I think I have to investigate is the nature of Texas towns. Any place of this size is bound to have more ghost towns than Wisconsin. There are plenty of places that have been abandoned as new and bigger roads have replaced rural farm life.
We’ve seen a lot of different architecture here in small towns. That includes a lot of businesses with covered porches. Surely that’s more of a Southern thing. They are pretty uncommon in Wisconsin. All that snow load in the winter you know — and nowhere near the heat in the summer. A lot more towns seem to have developed lengthwise along the highway than I recall in Wisconsin.
There are also attempts to cope with problems in different ways. Take for example the Austin Moon Towers erected in the late 1800’s to provide safety lighting for Austin citizens. They were a creative attempt to address urban lighting. I have no idea how effective they were — any more than I have any idea how often those porches out in front of the businesses were used — in the days when they were built. But they are residual reminders of days gone by and ways of living never to be repeated. My point being that in a state this size there are bound to be a variety of places that are unique and creative attempts to bring meaning and ease to life in new and novel ways!
If you love birds & butterflies this is a great place to be, but I’ve noticed that I’m spending more time in odd sorts of places. Take for example the Hidalgo pump house museum. I’m not sure whether birds actually like water pumping stations and wastewater treatment plants but it sure seems that humans think they do because a lot of sites preserved for birders seem to be adjacent to one or the other. One of the nearby hot spots is in Hidalgo (50 miles from us) where the World Birding Center has put in a facility adjacent to the old water pump house. Getting to these out of the way places takes us through a lot of towns and we are getting acquainted with small town life in ways we had not in Wisconsin. Wildlife refuges too are often in locales disused by humans — it seems that we relegate to birds and critters only those places that humans and businesses don’t find appealing. 🙂
Similarly the National Butterfly Center is located in Mission Texas — just another 20 miles down the road from Hidalgo. Not only is this a great resource for how to attract butterflies to your property, it’s a great place to see them. November and December are their most butterfly-populated months and at times one needs to make sure to keep their mouth closed unless you want to inhale a butterfly — but it’s a fascinating place if you have a thing for butterflies!
I haven’t said anything about Oil, or chemical production. Texas has a lot of industry and a lot of industrial plants in what appear to be god-forsaken places. Of course oil is big here. So are chemicals, and the railroad tracks needed to move railcar after railcar of chemical to manufacturing sites around the country and the world.
I haven’t said much about the fine arts in Texas — we don’t yet know much about where to find symphonies and art museums within a days’ drive in this great big place. Over time we shall, I’m sure. Right now I’d be happy if I could find a civic choral group that performs in English — might be time to see if my voice still works. Then again as I get older I’m an ever increasingly fidgety sitter — so maybe I’ll be happy listening to YoYo Ma on CD instead of in the concert hall. Thus far the concert promotions I’ve seen haven’t been of interest to me.
When I look at the map of this state I wonder how much exploring we will ever do in the Western and Northern parts of this great big state. It may turn out that the Big Bend and Panhandle Plains are just more than we want to tackle unless we are already planning on passing through.
Life in the U.S. 100 or 150 years ago was difficult and formative. There have been settlers in this area for as long and longer than there were in Wisconsin. But the nature of the early challenges were vastly different — among them heat rather than cold; drought rather than than snow. The fact that the challenges they faced were so different has to have had an impact on the way people thought — and the way people think even today.
Another factor in understanding Texas is the difference of ethnic settlements. The resident populations in the two states are hugely different and that means the traditions they brought with them were different, their values, their biases (we all have them).
A person could probably spend a lifetime getting to know one state; I have no illusions that I’ll ever be more than a Temporary Texan, and probably an ill-informed one at that. But I surely intend to have fun getting to know this place. Have a great day, stop by tomorrow and say hi! I’ll be here waiting to chat.