Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Louisianan in West Texas



The leaden skies obscure the sun and hint at rain, although none is falling. We are the only travelers on this road that stretches endlessly behind and before us. Its presence is all that keeps us from imagining ourselves to be the first visitors to this barren land.

The terrain on both sides of the road is uninterrupted by any evidence of human existence. There are no buildings, no power lines, no fences, no billboards, no cell phone towers.

There is no visible animal life - no cattle, no horses, no sheep nor goats. Not a solitary bird graces the overcast sky. Maybe that’s just as well; there’s not a single tree in sight where a bird might rest his weary wings a safe distance from the ground. There are miniature trees with feathery foliage and round shrubs that are more substantial than the airy, stunted trees. Small pencil-like cacti form weird shapes in the sandy earth.

All is silent. Surely there are times when at least the wind gives voice to this land, but today even the wind is silent. The only sound we hear is the hum of our truck.

In our semi-tropical homeland the black, rich, delta soil produces tall, lush sugar cane. Sleepy bayous, overhung by drooping willows and ancient oaks, wind their way through verdant fields. And the wind playing through the sugar cane sounds like the rustling of taffeta skirts in some grand ballroom.

When the autumn harvest begins, the roads are littered with pieces of cane that fall from overloaded trucks. If the fields are wet, the trucks track mud onto the roads. Sometimes, if the weather is dry, the cut cane is laid in rows in the fields and set on fire to burn the leaves off before taking the sugar-laden stalks to the mill.

The stacks at the sugar mills emit white, billowy smoke while long lines of trucks wait to unload their sweet cargo. The drivers stand around their trucks, laughing and talking while they wait for the mill to accept the earth’s gifts. When the trucks unload, they will return to the generous fields for more leafy cane.

The harvesting process goes on until Christmas. In fact, for me this process has become a part of Christmas. I cannot look at a working sugar mill or see the primitive beauty of a cane fire at night and not feel the excitement of Christmas.

This west Texas desert is the antithesis of green, fertile Louisiana. And yet it attracts. There is something in me that wants to strike out on foot and explore the beauty of this silent, brooding land.

I want to stride the length of that distant, cold mesa and explore its amazing flat surface. I want to view this asphalt ribbon from the mesa’s purple plateau. I’d like to settle on the back of some trusty old horse and ride up that canyon. Maybe those diminutive trees conceal an old river bed - some long gone fountain of living water.

This land forbids and invites at the same time. Its dry, barrenness seems to say, “Keep your distance. Do you see any living thing? Don’t think that you can survive here.” But its mysterious beauty beckons, saying, “Come. Tread this sandy earth. There is life here; you must find it. There is solitude here; you must savor it. There is wisdom here; you must seek it.” Now I understand why the prophets of old sought God in the wilderness.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Your words are so inviting; I want to be your traveling companion on this mysterious trek.