This Letter 99f, 8th November; Last Letter 99e;
Friday, October 1, 1999, Meeting New Friends at Palo Duro
There is a little overlap in the storey line between the beginning of this letter and the end of the last one, just in case you are paying attention to the dates and events. There appears to have been more than sufficient effort spent in celebrating the Wine Moon and feasts of Bacchus and Dionysus.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is sometimes called the "Grand Canyon of Texas" where a rich history spans more than 600,000 years from when the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River first carved its way through the Texas Panhandle. Humans have been in the canyon for about the last 12,000 years and the State Park was opened in 1934. The CCC built most of the buildings still in use. Palo Duro is one of those parks that depend heavily on volunteers to function.
Each of the campgrounds has a host and other volunteers staff the Visitor
Center, Educational Programmes, Front Gate, and Maintenance. Tonight there
was a get-acquainted potluck at River Crossing 1.
Saturday, October 9, 1999, Juniper Is Not Just For Gin Anymore
There was a gnashing and crashing, in the wood to my right, as I biked past the litter-barrel-300-feet-ahead sign; it sounded as if there was a bear in the prickly pears. I U-turned in the two lane no passing section of park road 5 alternate and U-turned again, trying to focus on the sound and wondering if this would turn into a chance to call something in on my Park Host radio. Then a Smokey Bear hat rose up between the juniper and mesquite trees and underneath it appeared mirrored sunglasses, a yellow frontpack, and plaited hair. Not Smokey after all.
Eve is a biologist who is collecting juniper berries in order to extract their DNA. --Juniper has been growing in the canyon for 12,000 years, she said. I need ten berries from each of ten trees, red and white--there's two species of juniper here--to see if they are hybridizing.
So, ahh, do you have some berries from 12,000 years ago to compare them
--We have juniper DNA from pollen in packrat middens from 12,000 years ago.
I had a packrat in my bus, I said. It had got as far as building a nest but was only just starting the midden. Do you get paid for crawling around in the brambles and briers and climbing juniper trees in a Smokey The Bear hat? And is that why you're wearing dark sunglasses? --I'll get paid when I get my PHD, she said.
Meanwhile, back at The Cat Drag'd Inn I'm getting started on
my Christmas Project. The best I can reckon this should be the 25th
year I have made 100 stuff sacks for presents. I can find 19 of them in
the archives but I also remember being at an equipment making weekend at
Pinkham Notch Camp in 1974 and watching an instructor explain and demonstrate
how he could sew up a square bottomed stuff sack faster than he could wrap
a present with paper and tape. I thought it was a great idea; certainly
cut down on the shopping and the choices. Over the years I see them hanging
on doorknobs, filled with marbles or rocks or pencils. I've gone through
using them as wrappings for nothings to wrapping them in paper bags simply
to keep the year's colour a mystery as long as possible.
Sunday, October 10, 1999, Looking For some Offbeat Entertainment?
This is the end of International Week in Amarillo. Each year the combined
efforts of a diverse group of individuals, agencies, and businesses, portray
a different country in theatre, cinema, restaurant, school. This year the
country was Australia and the focus at Stage
Right was Dreamtime, about the origins, philosophy, and way of the
Australian Aboriginal Peoples. Students drawn from several Amarillo middle
and high schools produced the well-done original production. Stage Right
also does a Summer Shakespeare Festival. The theatre's primary goal is
to promote the growth and diversity of Arts in Amarillo by offering quality
entertainment that is off the mainstream.
Tuesday, October 12, 1999, Columbus Discovers Himself in The Americas
Finally there is something I would call a !flower! in my window box. It looks suspiciously like a not so dandy lion but does not have the foliage of one. Not a marigold either; a flat yellow button in a sea of green.
And my spider plant, Jane, not the one that leapt out of her pot back
in Yellowstone, is putting out two shoots of baby plants! They seem to
have snuck out over night somewhen in the past week. Its been two years
since Jane had babies; I'm so excited. I'll have to get another pot ready
Sunrise is as late as eight of the clock here on the far west edge of the Central Time zone; instead of candle light dinner I have candle light breky.
No hot springs in this canyon but there are lots of thick mud baths that get warm enough in the mid-day sun. Bath Brush Cactus make a fine back scratcher in lieu of a friend with long finger nails but you have to be quick about it, get the mud washed off, else if you soak too long the cactus take root in the mud between your toes and in other cracks and crevices.
Each day I work a little with the shovel or the mower and then go for
a long walk to pick up the tourist trash in the dry bed of a small canyon
river, take a nap on a sunny rock, or ride my bike, barefoot of course,
on a sandy trail lined with prickly pear and yucca. I can feel it in my
bones that this holiday is almost over. What's next?
Tuesday, October 19, 1999, The Not Yet Full Moon Howl
Last night for the first time since I've been here there were coyotes
howling, maybe at the moon but it was only half-full. Maybe they are only
half-fast coyotes? I have seen their foot prints a lot in the mud; now
I've heard them. They sounded close so I turned on the headlights and everything
became quiet. Then this morning they were howling again just at dawn and
I thought I would like to see one, they sounded so close. When I went out
to stretch and smell the morning one walked across the camp about a hundred
feet away. It was big and grey, more wolf like than coyote. Maybe it was
Wednesday, October 27, 1999, Attack of The Raccoons
And I thought I had problems with the pack rat back in Kaniksu!
There is coon spoor in the dried mud of the streambeds and a few days ago
a raccoon was caught in one of the dumpsters of the east of me--apparently
someone had left the heavy lid open--but last night there was a full scale
assault on The Cat Drag'd Inn. I was trying to figure out how to
snip that pumpkin out of a catalogue of clipart and get it pasted in here
when the first wave hit the bus. Jane, the spider plant wriggled from the
impact and I thought at first there had been an earthquake. As the spider
swaying settled I took a look around and listened carefully. Cautious whispering
and scratching came from someplace but all the radios were off or quiet.
Several other of the plants who live here were still out at the picnic
table (two new ones are not yet fully potty trained) so I turned on all
the yard lights and went out to check. There is some sort of ground squirrel
burrowing around out there, maybe he is at them, I thought, but when I
stepped out there were two big fat raccoons setting back on their hind
legs trying to finger out the latch on the wine cellar bellybox hatch.
Perhaps they were after the aromatic apples in there and not the wine,
or maybe they'd been watching from under the juniper bush when I put in
the prickly pear jam and my fresh batch of pickled cucumbers. I grabbed
the cane kept handily by the front door and hissed and pointed threateningly.
They were not easily impressed and eyed me hungrily; but I was bristling,
whether from the cold or the excitement who can say, and advanced. The
coons gave way, retreating under the juniper, and I proceeded to paint
a hex mark on the hatch and demarcate my territory in the manner to which
such furry four-legs are accustomed.
There is a really strange thing growing here. Well, there are lots of
strange things growing here but most of them I can find in a flower book
or my venerable copy of American Wildlife Illustrated. This "plant"
seems more mineral than vegetable. They are hollow, frangible, seem to
grow in clusters, in the fields but not in the woods, but not everywhere
like the stickers and grass. They look like a little tree made of petrified
worms. I've watched them for hours but nothing happens then. Does this
thing have a name? Are they really growing or are they built?
Monday, November 8, 1999, Walking In The Hills West of Austin
My time at Palo Duro ended with a fine dinner at The Cat Drag'd Inn. New friends shared my table and I thought about old friends far away and if I would come round this way again. I gave Ross a paper sack containing his birthday present and told him he could open it on his birthday but that the present inside was itself the wrapping of his Christmas present and he was obliged to wait until Christmas to open that. So now he is the only one among you who knows this year's colour. But he knows not the significance of that knowledge.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is always looking for campsite hosts and other volunteers. If you are looking for a fine place to park for a month, do a little work, have a lot of fun, write Glenn Campbell or find your way to the park through the WWWeb.
Now I'm in the hills west of Austin. The drive here was uneventful except for the number of deer lying about along the back roads of the Texas Hill Country. One might almost get the impression they cannot wait for hunting season to commence and are running out onto the road to greet the hunters.
Yesterday I went to the Texas Book Festival at the State Capitol. Itís the first time I've ever sat and listened to authors talking about their own works: how they research themes and ideas, how they develop characters, why a particular subject and style. I attended a discussion on the nature of evil. Why does evil fascinate us so? Aside from that the state capitol was a fascinating place to walk around. Impressive that it was so clean and so much of a park like atmosphere.
Out here in the hills there has been so much construction since I was last visiting these friends. As I saw in Denver back the other side of Summer, entire new neighborhoods have sprung up and become settled, complete with shopping centers and traffic lights. Where once I could walk for hours in the woods there are now new houses and stores in every direction. Growth is everywhere.
Tomorrow my direction will be westering. Time to look for a winter
roost. There are several new work opportunities on the horizon and The
Cat Drag'd Inn is due for some major house cleaning.
A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE, k1oIq
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Copyright © 2003, A.J.Oxton, The Cat Drag'd Inn , 03813-0144.