How I came to read the July 1974 issue of National Geographic is lost to me. Perhaps it was in a barbershop chair. Perhaps it was in a dentist’s waiting room. How is not so important as the context of the time. July 7th I had arrived in Kansas City a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University. I was scrambling to rent an apartment and making preparations to report for work on the 15th as a newly hired Missouri State Parole Officer. A few weeks later I would meet a young lady named Christine. 3 years later we would be married. Our relationship has since flourished for more than 45 years, as has the dream sparked by an article in that issue of National Geographic; “Exploring England’s Canals”.

Nat Geo Canal Issue

The story described a vast network of canals in England dating back hundreds of years. These canals had fallen into ruin but were slowly being restored and repurposed for recreational exploration. The self-powered barges, known as “Narrow Boats”, were similarly being restored. Holds and bilges that once carried coal and commerce were being outfitted with galleys, berths, and heads. For the uninitiated that translates into kitchens, beds, and toilets. The photographs of the verdant English countryside, meandering waterways, and the intrepid navigators piloting these craft became images burned into the retina of my imagination. I have held preciously to my love of Christine, and I have held tenaciously to the dream of one day becoming one of those canal boat pilots.

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In 3 weeks at a dock in Middlewich England I will be handed the keys to the Salten-Fjord, a 61-foot-long 8-foot-wide diesel-powered canal boat. It will be entrusted to us for 3 weeks. We will be joined for the first half of the charter by our good friend and Camino companion from 2013, Kris Ashton. The second half of the charter will be shared with our “doppelganger” friends from the 2018 Camino, Tom Shillington and his wife Nanci Burns. It is our hope that over the course of 3 weeks we will traverse 200 miles of canals, navigating scores of locks, water viaducts, tunnels and drawbridges. Countless pubs and backwater dives will beckon, and I pray we will be up to the challenge.

It is my intention over the next week to post information about this upcoming “adventure”, so please “stay tuned”!
Peace Everyone. Pete

(Pictured below on the far side of the canal lies the Salten-Fjord)

 

The end of living and the end of life are not the same. This last week I enjoyed an afternoon with my father-in-law, Bill Nichols at a St. Patrick’s Day “Happy Hour” and music event hosted at his assisted living community. Bill is closing in on his 101st birthday. As one might expect, his abilities are a shadow of those he held as a younger man. For him and his fellow residents, physical beauty and vitality fled them years ago. However, beauty may yet be found within the eyes that reflect the youthfulness of their spirits.

Bill was animated, sang, clapped, enjoyed a glass of wine, shared embraces with the musician and staff, and of course wore a ridiculous Irish themed party hat.

I found his joy to be infectious. Actually, this one afternoon was not really exceptional. Bill’s days are filled with activities such as “Chair exercises”, Bingo, “Balloon Volleyball”, and group sing-a-longs, not to mention the social exchanges that occur with his fellow residents at meals and throughout the day. Bill’s days are a joy that serves as an analgesic to the ills of his advanced years.

Being around Bill has left me to reflect upon the contrast of my visits with my father during the final years of his life. Dad died in 2009, 87 years old. He had suffered the intensifying effects of Multiple Sclerosis for over 30 years yet in his final years his abilities and challenges were not very different than those imposed upon Bill Nichols by virtue of his advanced years. Dad’s last years were in a nursing home community. I could usually find my father alone within his darkened room, shades drawn, television off, a faint antiseptic odor in the air. My father’s view of life in his final years may best be summed up by his own words. I would open visits with him by asking, “How are you Dad?”, and he would invariably respond from his bed, “Just waiting…”. Sadly, there was never any question what he was “just waiting” for.

As Christine and I entered our 60’s we have been continuously bombarded with ads, solicitations, and messages encouraging us to prepare for the end of life. Have we secured our final resting places? Living Trusts? Explore the benefits of Insurance Annuities! Beneficiary Designations in place? What about Charitable Giving? There is little about continuing to live and much about the end of life.

My father’s life ended in his 87th year, but I believe that 30 years earlier he retired from living at the same time that he retired from work. Dad had been a college coach, Director of Athletics, and a teacher. He was highly regarded in those roles; they were his passions. When he retired a cavernous vacuum formed in his life. Dad never sought other interests that might have carry the joy of living into the years beyond his working life.
Another contrast: My mother will be 94 this year. She is as busy today as she was 40 years ago. She has her Bridge Club, Woman’s Club, Church activities and myriad other social and community engagements. I see in her eyes the same joie de vivre that I see in Bill Nichols.

There is a lesson in these observations: We have more influence and control over delaying the end of living than we have on the end of life. When age or infirmity deny us the pursuit of one passion, find another to replace it… Always have a next thing and Pursue Good Stuff!!!
Peace everyone. Pete

PS. Dad, my calendar just reminded me that tomorrow is your birthday and you would have turned 97. Although you have been gone 10 years it seems that I am still learning from you.

Our second day featured a bus tour of the city. It was packed with facts and figures, anecdotes and events… too much to express in this post. However, I will share a sequence that illuminated the ubiquitous above ground tombs that New Orleans has been known for.

The above ground cemeteries of the city are not due to a fear that the rising groundwaters will float the dearly departed back into the yards of their loved ones. Rather, New Orleans was once a Spanish possession and the burial practice of surface crypts reflects the practice of that Spanish heritage that carried forward through the French era and into modern times.

Furthermore, New Orleans is an island in a delta swamp, bordered by a huge (20×40 mile) inland sea (Lake Pontchartrain). Real estate is at a premium and the surface crypts present a certain (if macabre) economy in the burial arts. These family mausoleums are typically of modest dimension, most appearing to be less than 8 feet deep by 4 feet wide and 8 feet high. Nevertheless, the older ones “house” the remains of up to 30 family members! How…?

The freshly departed is interred in a casket and the tomb is sealed, not to be reopened for at least a year and a day. Should another family member pass during that period they are placed in a holding crypt to wait their place inline. After the requisite time has passed, the casket is removed and the (now desiccated) remains are unceremoniously dumped on the floor of the crypt. The “next in line” then takes the shelf in his/her coffin for the next year and a day. It works, and it is reminiscent of the ossuaries that we encountered years ago in Italy. One such monastery ossuary in Rome made designs with the bones of thousands of its dead monks. There was even a skeleton fashioned from the remains of many brethren that held a sign expressing in Italian and English, “What you are, I once was… What I am, you will become”. A chilling confrontation with the reality of Dust to Dust.

Early evening we adjourned for dinner to Muriel’s Restaurant located near Jackson Square. The restaurant dates to 2000, but the building within which it is housed is on the National Register of Historic Places, dating to the 18th Century. Muriel’s had ambiance!

We enjoyed well executed cocktails at the bar…

…and an excellent dinner. Christine savored smoked “double-cut” pork chops, and I a Drum filet.

If you have never seen a Drum, it is a butt-ugly bottom feeding river fish. At our waiter David’s urging I took the bait and ordered the Drum. It was as fine, delicate, and flakey a white fish filet as I have ever eaten. The dinner was finished with a decadent bourbon-pecan bread pudding and flowerless chocolate tort. Both were remarkable.

Ambiance, CHECK!… Cuisine, CHECK! The only thing left for consideration was the service.

There is an art to being a professional waiter. It requires a certain detachment that does not imply haughtiness. It is a “dance” in which the customer engages as the deserving recipient of the server’s dedicated respect. It would be comical to imagine the waiter acting and speaking in the same manner among friends and family.

We enjoy breaking that mold in a way that expresses our appreciation for their job well done. Occasionally the server will not step out of his/her “character”. It is understandable though disappointing. More often the server will relax the guard but not entirely. We appreciate that and we are grateful to have engaged with a highly trained professional. Then there is that rare server whose intuition is so finely tuned as to allow a deeper connection. Tonight that server was Liz. We bantered a bit with her as she opened the wine. There were incrementally relaxed comments back and forth in the course of dinner. Finally at one of Liz’s visits to our table Christine stated her appreciation for the expressive eye-contact that Liz practiced. “Thanks Mom!” was the reply Chris received. It absolutely made Christine’s day, our evening, and capped a 5 Star evening.

Day 2 is in the books. New Orleans Day 3 will dawn in a few hours. Sadly, Christine will be flying back to KC on Saturday to be with her Father and the grands. I will slowly wind my way back home over the following 10 days. It just won’t be the same without her.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Please enjoy a few images from today:

Most days of our lives present a relatively narrow range of experiences. The most memorable may be those that expand that spectrum and allow us to appreciate a fuller range of the human condition. Today was such a day.

Morning sprang with the chill of near freezing temperatures in a lush Louisiana State Park. In less than 3 hours we were entering the environs of “The Big Easy”… New Orleans. As we approached our destination we beheld hundreds of tents pitched beneath the overpasses of I-10. These were not recreational campers, but those whose circumstances have reduced them to the struggle of seeking food, warmth, and the next day of life. We passed them and turned right into our “campground”, The French Quarter RV Resort.

The “Resort” is located in gated environs, protected by an 8 foot concrete wall that is topped by inconspicuous razor-wire. It looks like a Soviet era gulag from the outside, but within it is an elegant $100 dollar per night RV park that is only 2 blocks from the French Quarter and 4 blocks from Bourbon Street. Passing through the gate I felt like Dorothy did as she awoke to the technicolor experience of OZ.

The Resort provides a swimming pool, hot tub, rec-hall, fitness room, plus the usual amenities of bathrooms, showers, and laundry. Full hookups are a given. Most of the “campers” are in large “sun blocker” motor coaches that cost more than the average home. We count ourselves among the few micro-campers. We are not envious… au contraire, we pity them the burden of their mass.

After making “camp”, we walked 10 minutes to Alice’s Wonderland, here known as Bourbon Street.

Sex and Alcohol are the prominent neon lit themes that adorn the antebellum buildings and illuminate the street. The effect is intoxicating, even for the sober pedestrian.

Liberally mixed among the tourists are those whose hands are reaching out for spare change. There is sadness to be found in some, and larceny in the intentions of others… not easy for the uninitiated to discern.

We were approached by a friendly 50ish woman who represented that she was seeking donations for “Meals for Wheels”. Christine donated and we then received the gifts of a Hare Krishna Cookbook and Bhagavad-Gita. It was not the “Meals on Wheels” that we assumed she represented. Were her intentions honorable? We will never really know… I choose to presume the best of intentions until proven otherwise. I believe that she holds as firmly to the dedication of Diety as any Christian, Jew, or Muslim. Had I the presence of mind I would have liked to have engaged her in a serious discussion.

A few days ago we walked the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast. I happened to look down upon an ocean clam and suddenly wondered at the chasm of intellect that separated it from me. How could it ever fathom my intentions as a superior being. If the Universe is the creation of an omniscient and omnipotent Being, how much greater is the separation of it’s intellect from mine. Is it not presumptive for humans to claim to know the mind of that Being, and yet as a species we have been driven to do so for nearly a hundred thousand of years (human and Neanderthal ritual burial has been documented for that long). It seems to me that The Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon, and the Bhagavad-Gita, among others, are human expressions of an inadequate effort to understand the Infinite.

Back to Earth… We enjoyed some music and the 2 for 1 beer specials that abound up and down Bourbon Street.

The spectacle allows one to turn a blind eye to the well worn establishments, street hawkers, and less than sanitary bathrooms.

Hunger drove us to first find Chicory coffee and Beignets at Cafe du Monde, a New Orleans tradition since the mid-19th Century.

We then adjourned to the very upscale Restaurant GW Fins. Less than a block from the helter-skelter of Bourbon Street we found the calm opulence of white linen table cloths, a well ordered bar, and a dignified professional staff.

This was another expansion of the spectrum of the day’s experiences. Christine, a “slightly dirty” Martini, me a Rye Manhattan (served up, but in a rocks glass). We then settled into a review of the last 41 years.

Dinner followed. Christine, a succulent Filet Mignon, and me a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth Halibut-Scallop combination. As spectacular as the meal was it was overshadowed by the attentive staff. We were graced with the exceptional services of Rod, Benjamin, and Moose.

It is common for a patron to ask directions to the restroom, but entirely uncommon for the waiter (Benjamin) to then take the arm of the lady (Christine) and accompany her to that destination much as one would be ushered in a wedding. Totally endearing!

We count today memorable and leave tomorrow for consideration on another day.

Peace Everyone. Pete

151 years ago financier Edmund Mcllhenny suffered the loss of his fortune and prospects having been a resident of Louisiana and a southern sympathizer during the Civil War. He had gifted his rare collection of the complete works of William Shakespeare to a Union officer rather than see the volumes lost to the looting Union troops. The collection was later returned to the Mcllhenny family and is now a treasure in their Tabasco Museum.

While eating lunch he asked for some pepper sauce to liven up the otherwise bland fare. The proprietor demurred saying that peppers were out of season, but that he would pay dearly to have some. McIlhenny was thus inspired!

Experimenting, he hit upon a process (not unlike making sauerkraut) of mashing select chili peppers, brining and aging the mash in white oak barrels (for up to 3 years), then extracting and bottling the pungent red elixir. Tabasco sauce was thus born.

It has been exclusively produced on Avery Island ever since. The company exports world wide and prints its labels in 22 different languages.

Control of the company has remained in the hands of the Mcllhenny/Avery family since its inception. Many of the executives have been known for their valor in the service of the United States Armed Forces, most notable being John Avery Mcllhenny who (literally) served next to Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider in the Spanish American War battle of San Juan Hill.

Others were notable adventurers such as “Ned” Avery Mcllhenny who was an Arctic explorer and naturalist.

We toured the Tabasco factory today.

It is entirely contained on Avery Island, named after Mcllhenny’s father-in-law, Judge Daniel Avery. It is a small circular island about 2.5 miles in diameter that was formed upon an ancient salt dome.

The factory is remarkably small and understated when one considers the market strength of Tabasco products.

On this day alone over a quarter million bottles of Tabasco sauce were filled for shipment to Japan.

Many of the Tabasco employee families have multi-generational ties to the company, some living on the island in company furnished housing. One employee lived in the same company house for 89 of his 91 years!

Most of us are familiar with “Original” Tabasco Sauce, it’s label design essentially unchanged for at least 135 years. Today I was treated to samples of a dizzying array of other Tabasco “tastes”, including Tabasco Scorpion Sauce. Christine could tell it had heat by the sweat rolling down my brow. There was even Tabasco Ice Cream!

I have always been a fan of Tabasco, and those who remember me from my tie wearing lawyer days will recall that I had quite a collection of their neckwear.

The last 2 nights we have been camped in Louisiana’s Palmetto Island State Park. It is perhaps one of the finest State Parks that we have encountered in our camping tour of 49 states. Spacious campsites, full utility hook-ups, WiFi throughout the campground, spotless bath facilities, and a free laundry!

We are only 15 minutes from Abbeville, 40 minutes from Avery Island, and 120 miles from New Orleans, our destination for tomorrow.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Local temps are predicted to plunge to near freezing tonight. People in these parts are a bit frazzled by the cold-snap, but we are feeling pretty fortunate since Kansas City will be below zero, and where my Mom lives near Chicago will hit over 20 below zero… with a -60 degree windchill! Stay warm everyone!

It has been a few days since I last “signed on”. We have enjoyed 4 wonderful days with long time friends, Hal and Jane Gilchrist on South Padre Island.

The days and evenings were full of island fun, which is a mix of good food, good drink, elegant entertainment and just plain hanging out. Our travels are typically low stress, and SPI just made it even more so.

On one excursion with Hal and Jane we drove to see the new SpaceX launch facility which is only a few miles by water from their condo, but about 45 minutes by car. The prior evening had seen the island and surrounding area buffeted by strong winds that gusted upward to 60mph. As we approached SpaceX I caught a news flash that the gale force winds had torn the top off of the “Hopper” Rocket.

We were among the first to see the rocket, half standing and half on the ground looking like a silver skinned beached whale. A perimeter guard approached our car as I was taking pictures. His presence politely “announced” that our presence was not welcome. I asked when the rocket would be repaired, to which he replied, “I’m not at liberty to discuss that Sir!” (Translation: “I don’t know because that’s information above my pay grade”)

The “Hopper” is a scale model of the rocket that SpaceX envisions someday transporting a large contingent of colonists to Mars.

It conjures up memories of the spaceships on the Flash Gordon programs that I watched zoom across my black and white television screen in the 1950’s.

I have to believe the similarity is intentional as Elon Musk is first and foremost a promotional genius.

The “Hopper” is designed to ascend to 16,000 feet and then vertically land at the SpaceX facility in California, demonstrating and perfecting the skills necessary for the Mars expeditions.

Our visit with the Gilchrists at an end, we traveled northeast along the Texas Gulf Coast. We enjoyed 2 nights on the shores of Texana Lake near Edna Texas. The park is in alligator country, but we didn’t see any on our 5 mile hike through the swampland located within the park.

Today brought us another 2 hours up the coast, nearing Galveston. Our leisurely drive was rewarded with the treat of camping on the hard-pack sands of the Brazoria County Free Beach. No electricity, no bathhouse, no showers, no drinking water… but priceless ambiance and the never ending sound of surf right outside the door of our camper. Did I say “priceless”?… yes, literally and figuratively since camping here is FREE!

Setting up camp was a breeze as all we had to do was park along the dune that parallels the surf. Christine and I set off on a long walk down the beach and were attracted to the site of large multi-colored kites flying in the distance.

Continuing on we found that they were aloft at the site of the town of Surfside’s annual chili cook-off competition. There was free music, free beer, and a lot of really good (free!) chili! Free seems to be the theme of the day.

Tomorrow we continue up the coast on old Texas Route 87, crossing the mouth of Galveston Bay by the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry. Of course, it’s free. We expect to make camp near Port Arthur, a stone’s throw from the Louisiana State line. Our destination for January 30th to February 2nd is “The Big Easy”, aka New Orleans.

Peace Everyone! Pete

We spent the last two nights camped in Seminole Canyon State Park, another excellent Texas facility.

The Park is situated along the rim of Seminole Canyon in the Seminole Canyon Archeological District.

The Canyon is known for its wealth of artifacts and cave art left by a very early indigenous people.

Little is known about them except that they were nomadic hunter gatherers who traveled in small bands.

They hunted using the atlatl and spear. They made creative use of the canyon cliffs by stampeding the now extinct species of bison over the edge and then harvesting the kill below.

The understory of the cliffs provided shelter and a place to prepare food in dugout pits. There were ritual burials, and magnificent cave paintings that have been carbon-dated to before 4,000 BCE.

Modern tribal Indians do not claim a connected heritage to these very early inhabitants.

At the entrance to the Visitors Center is The Maker of Peace, a 17-foot bronze statue created by Texas artist Bill Worrell in 1994.

Errata: we are on our way to South Padre Island (SPI) where we have reserved a campsite for 4 nights commencing Sunday. We will be hanging out with dear friends and former neighbors Hal and Jane Gilchrist. We will watch the Chief’s pursue their bid for the Super Bowl, dine, reminisce, and perhaps sip a wee dram or three of Eagle Rare Whiskey. The Gulf is offering us sunny skies and daytime temps in the 70’s.

From SPI we will make our way to New Orleans where we will camp 3 nights within walking distance of the French Quarter. Christine will then fly back to Kansas City while I solo on for another 10-14 days. Her 100 year old Father is doing reasonably well, but there are concerns sufficient for her to make an early exit from this journey.

It is likely that I won’t be posting during our stay on SPI. Where I go and what I do after New Orleans will be largely determined by whim and weather.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. While hiking in Davis Mountains State Park I encountered a delightful couple, Jim and Wilma. They are retirees who are traveling full time with their RV. On the trail we talked of travel and enjoying life as health allows, one day at a time.

I chanced to run into Jim and Wilma again on our first day at Seminole Canyon. They promised to stop by our campsite for a longer visit the following day. They never appeared, but I wasn’t concerned as plans do change…

Early this morning as I walked back to our trailer from my shower I saw Jim. He was breaking camp and there was an obvious sense of urgency in his actions. I greeted him and saw that there were tears in the eyes of the big retired trucker. He explained that Wilma suffered a sudden medical crisis the previous day and underwent emergency surgery. She is recovering in ICU and Jim expressed tenuous optimism for her.

Our thoughts are with Wilma and Jim. I am haunted by this reminder that life can take unexpected turns at any moment. Don’t put off until tomorrow the things you may find you are then no longer able to do…

Over a span of 48 hours I have had 2 vastly different experiences that were courtesy of both The Great and The Forgotten.

In 1938 a collaboration between the University of Texas and the University of Chicago established the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Texas.

Named after its benefactor, William J. McDonald, who donated $800,000.00, the Observatory quickly became a preeminent research facility. The 82” Otto Struve Telescope was dedicated on May 5, 1939, and at that time was the second largest telescope in the world. The 107” Harlan J. Smith Telescope became operational in 1968 and at that time tanked as the third largest in the world. It now ranks 41st.

The Harlan telescope weighs 160 tons and is housed under a 220 ton dome. Both the scope and dome rotate to track celestial objects, remarkably power by only half horsepower motors. The most recent addition to the large telescopes at McDonald is the 390” Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), dedicated in late 1997.

It is composed of 91 separate 1 meter hexagonal mirrors. It currently ranks as the second largest optical telescope in the world and was constructed at the bargain basement price of 40 million dollars by using common construction materials available on the open market.

The Observatory is located atop 6,780 foot high Mount Locke and is in a prime “Dark Sky” region with little rain and predominantly clear skies. The Observatory includes dozens of smaller telescopes. We enjoyed both a daytime tour with solar observations and a nighttime “Star-Party” with observations of the moon, star clusters, and a the Orion Nebula.

The Observatory, its largest telescopes, and other noteworthy parts of the facility display the names of The Famous who have expanded our understanding of the cosmos. Perhaps among The Forgotten are the thousands of workers and technicians who built the facility and keep it running each day. The current on-site housing for the staff makes the Observatory the second largest “town” in Davis County.

Between 1933 and 1942 over 3 million economically destitute unmarried men between 17 and 28 years old enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was a huge government funded public works/relief program that was born of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Nearly 90 years after its inception the hand of the CCC can be seen in forests and parks across America.

Construction of Davis Mountains State Park was begun by the CCC in 1933. The workers constructed roads, trails, pavilions, and the magnificent adobe Indian Lodge and restaurant which remain in operation today.

I hiked the trails and abandoned roads that These Forgotten built with their grit, sinews, and sweat.

There were no Famous among them to warrant the naming of these artifacts that remain, yet on this day I was the direct beneficiary of their efforts. I have no one person to whom I can direct my gratitude for a day well spent, so I give my thanks to The Forgotten.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. I have often heard the rhetorical question, “Why isn’t there a CCC today?”, followed by the questioner’s own answer that is a criticism of “the Younger Generation”. Here is my thought: The CCC was first and foremost a government funded relief program. There was little thought given to profit or benefit other than for the unemployed workers. The current political climate does not favor public relief or social welfare. Additionally, the workers were driven to enlist in the CCC (and WPA) out of their own economic necessity.

If circumstances were to repeat (and I pray that they don’t), I have every reason to believe that “the Younger Generation” would roll up its sleeves just like “the Greatest Generation” did.

We had stopped to gas-up, a frequent occurrence on the road. I stood at one side of pump #4 and a very large man, football player large, was filling his 4Runner up on the other side of the pump. I would soon learn he had played a year of college ball when he said, “There are better ways to pursue an education… that stuff hurts!”. In the breezy 40 temps he stood unaffected in shorts and sandals. “I’m a Florida beach bum at heart.” he would explain.

Most folks at the pumps seem to avoid human contact, preferring to focus on the task at hand and then be on their way. This big man had searching eyes, eyes that soaked up the details of his surroundings, seeking to know his environment and those who he shared it with. He drew eye contact like a magnet and once the attraction was established, “Hi, nice trailer… how does it pull with your SUV?”. My reply was barely past my lips as I found my hand engulfed by his firm, friendly, and warm handshake. “Marty, Marty Leake, I’m retired, a traveler and a writer”. (See: https://007pandas.com)

Thus it began. In the time that it took to fill up our cars I had learned he was single, had two sons, had enjoyed a long and successful career in law enforcement in Virginia, was college educated, was a compulsive traveler and blogger, was very well read… I learned more of this man in those few minutes than I know of some folks who have been coworkers and neighbors. I suspect that Marty’s take from his side of the gas pump mirrored mine. We capped our gas tanks and moved our vehicles to the parking area, continuing our fast friendship for another twenty minutes. We were looking at each other across the salad bar of life experiences, sampling from each other’s side but denied a full meal because the plates that time allowed were too small. A picture, exchanged contact information, invitations, “If you pass through Kansas City/Sanibel Island…”, a longer handshake, regret that travel called us in opposite directions, and the chance encounter ended.

Encounters such as this are unexpected treasures. I can plan my destinations, I can plan what we will see, but I can’t plan such a rewarding exchange between kindred souls.

This is the antithesis of the tribalism that divides us. We need more Marty Leakes in this world… we need to take the time to appreciate what we hold in common during the brief lifespans that mortality grants to each of us.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. We are camped in Davis Mountains State Park and are in a cell phone “dead zone”. Yesterday we spent the afternoon and evening at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. I look forward to sharing the experience and images in a future post. Also, the weather and continuing Federal shutdown that is effecting National Parks has caused us to change our plans. We will be heading further south in Texas.

We are on the road traveling about 260 miles to Fort Davis Texas and Davis Mountains State Park. Midway along the journey we passed through the town of Big Lake.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries cattle sustained the economy of this region. Cattle drives were the traffic jams of the times, but the spreading reach of the rail system all but extinguished that way of life. Bust!

Then came the oil boom of the 1920’s and 30’s. “Black Gold, Texas Tea…” to recall an old TV favorite. In 1923 the Santa Rita #1 well near Big Lake was the first well to tap the Great Permian Basin oil field. The “Basin” covers 75,000 square miles and is up to 25,000 feet deep. It is the remnant of a huge inland sea that is hundreds of millions of years old. Towns sprang up along with the oil derricks, bringing gangs of riggers, and the collateral economy of food, drink, entertainment, and vice to feed off their wages. Big Boom!

Another long established “boom” of the Great Permian Basin was the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer. So Great was the freshwater discharge into the area creeks that in 1938 a pavilion was built on Comanche Creek for an annual celebration of the Fort Stockton Water Carnival. At that one location the Aquifer released 65 million gallons of fresh water a day… as it had for time immemorial. However, by 1961 agricultural overuse caused the springs to dry. Bust!

Eventually, cheaper oil found elsewhere and overseas caused a retraction in the demand for this local crude and most of the oilfield workers moved on to more promising “pastures”. Bust!

Big Lake survived in a diminished form, its downtown a typical array of small locally owned establishments.

As we approached Big Lake a cloud of dust could be seen in the distance. We were soon to learn it was the result of hundreds of huge trucks entering and leaving the resurrected oil fields and expansive new wind farms. These trucks are the lifeblood feeding the newest boom economy. The center of Big Lake, its old “Main Street”, is like the vacant hole of a donut. The “dough” of that donut now provides the dough (as in money) for the community and is found surrounding Big Lake. Equipment, trucks, energy company offices, and temporary housing for the workers abound. Gasoline prices were 80 cents a gallon higher than just an hour’s drive to the east.

We wondered if the new generation of migrant oil workers came solo or with families. What hardships were they and their families enduring for the draw of a bigger paycheck. What hardships were the local residents and their families enduring in the shadow of the newest boom economy. How long until the boom next yields to bust. Is evidence of that bust to be found in the parking lots of the filling stations the “boom” serves?

Time will tell as it always does.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Our arrival at camp was too late for preparation of a proper meal. We drove a few miles to the town of Fort Davis and chanced upon the Limpia Hotel and Bistro. It was a wonderful find that capped off a wonderful day. BTW, our campground is out of reach of cell service so any silence on my part is imposed by circumstances beyond my control. Pete

I should add that there were some remarkable vistas provided unaided by human hands,