Saturday, April 01, 2006

Charred Homeland

To the right is a photo of the fires that swept through the Texas Panhandle last month.

I was born there and lived there until I was 12. I still have plenty of family there, but I haven't visited that part of the state in about 6 years. I miss it on occasion. Sadly, I don't anticipate returning there anytime in the near future. Despite nostalgia, the pull I feel to visit isn't strong enough for me to make a deliberate effort to go. But last month's fires had me nervous. Not just for the safety of cousins and aunts and uncles I have there, but just because I felt like my old plains were under attack.

That geography, I believe has shaped a lot of my personality. I'm mostly calm, have been known to be tempremental, and I'm easily affected by those around me. I'm pretty easy going and will do my best to be open. I love the wind and I love my elbow room and wish everyone could have elbow room, too. (That's the saddest part of East Coast living to me: tons of kids growing up w/o backyards.)

When the Dixie Chicks sing "Wide Open Spaces," I know exactly what they mean. Even the hymn, "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" hearkens to me the same sentiment of the land of the aforementioned song: "room to make big mistakes." Though a big sissy when it comes to tornadoes - and frankly anyone who's grown up in the plains of America repects the weather - I miss the gusty wind, and I always liked the plains because at least you could see what was coming and where to seek shelter. Which may also explain why in my adulthood I've become more clausterphobic. We live in a huge metro area. We vacation in large metro areas and we visit our families in large metro areas. I enjoy all of that very much, but I admit, at least once a year I feel like clawing the clothes off my body and just running through land unpocked by buildings or mountains. People are often fond of waxing sentimental about the sea in literature and in song. I like the ocean fine. The lapping of the water, etc, but for me, I'm the same way about the Panhandle plains and the desert Southwest of New Mexico and Texas. I must go back to the Plains again/ to the lonely Plains and sky/ And all I ask is good kite and a breeze to guide her by.

My father sent me a narrative account of one of the ranchers in Perryton during the week of the blazes. Incidentally, it was written by the author of the Hank the Cowdog books, a series I enjoyed as a kid. The same Texas wind that I so often long for, that as a child I'd catch in my skirts and dresses out on the playground until I felt like I was a landsail, became a weapon against the people of the Panhandle. It's heartbreaking. But again, when you live there you have a love-hate relationship with the weather. People on the opposite coasts of our country like to roll their eyes at those who live in "fly-over country" because of their religious ferver. And I join the sentiment often. However, I also totally understand the deeper religiosity of people in mid-America. When your livelihood and the economy of your community depends on the weather and the health of crops or livestock, how can you not believe you live by the whim and mercy of God? Why should we roll our eyes?

March is typically the beginning of severe weather season in the Texas Panhandle. "In like a lion and out like a lamb," is pretty accurate on the high plains - except for the "out like a lamb" bit. That usually comes in June. Winter was exceptionally hot and dry there this year. (Especially hot. Amarillo should NEVER be 70+ degrees in January.) For the sake of the folks still coping with their losses and with the prospect of the traditionally dry summer, I think I'll follow the advice of the West Texas mantra: "pray for rain."

No comments: