Blown into Texas

16 November 2013, from Returning east

I enter Texas in its northern panhandle, near Lubbock. On cue, a horrible wind begins to roar at the state line. It is almost solid in its force, fearsome, angry, constant. At least the wind is blowing due east, and so am I. The housetruck becomes a minor object, apparently not much more mass than the tumbleweeds that merrily bounce down the highway. The sky is brown with dust, and I feel it in my mouth, dry and gritty. Pushed along by this gale, the fuel gauge barely moves, even across a hundred miles of dusty flats. I pull off to the shoulder for a quick sandwich and can hardly open the rear door of the truck, so heavy is the wind’s hand.

In Tahoka, I stop for fuel, as towns seem far and few between, and gas stations even fewer. The diesel pump is incredibly slow, and it takes 15 minutes to fill my tank. I wait, feel as if I’ve stepped back in time, out of our modern fast-moving digital age, patiently waiting for my Model T to gas up. Finally, the pump stops, then spits greasy diesel all over my truck frame. I hope I will not catch fire. I worry about this for a while, driving down the hot blacktop, until I eventually conclude that if I was going to blow up, it probably would have happened already.

The road is nearly empty. A few heavy-duty pickups zip by, well-used tools from the vast ranches. Most of the larger trucks are tankers sporting a Medusa’s nest of hoses jutting out from the tank. Vacuum trucks, says one sign — most likely for collecting the black gold from the thousands of seesawing oil wells that puncture the land in all directions. The earth grows a few things here: I see the white dots and brown stems of cotton, and some sunflowers, looking small and weak in the aggressive wind.

Finally, the gusts relents, leave me to continue onwards in relative peace. The dusty flats shift to rolling hills of short trees. The sun is angling low and warm, and it all looks like a Kodachrome slide: vivid golden sunset bounces off the rich violet hills, stained with their blood red soil.

Texas takes an hour off the clock as penance, as I head into the central timezone. The day’s fight with the wind and dust wears on me, and I abandon my thoughts of reaching the RV park I’ve researched that lies another two hours east. Instead, I notice tiny county roads spiking off this already-small highway, and instinctively follow one on which a small sign mumbles CEMETERY. The road — only a washboard track of red dust — leads me into a shallow canyon. A mile or so down, a flat spot calls to me, and I maneuver the housetruck into a fairly level position. Good timing: the sun is just lowering itself below the squat hills, and darkness is quickly coming.

As I make house for the night, I hear a ruffling in the brush, and see the back end of a startled cow scurrying up the slope. Scattered around the road are cow patties of various ages, some newly deposited; this is the open range.

The sun recedes, and takes with it both the red of the earth and the howl of the wind. The night crickets start a mild but regular chirring. Coyotes call and answer, their yelps echoing around the hills. Over the cottonwoods rises the moon, colored a dingy orange, nearly full.