Sunday, December 7, 2014

From One Cross to Another

For Thanksgiving this year, I went down to the town of Orange, Texas, where my Cousin lives and spent the weekend with her and her husband.  A little about travelling in the state of Texas... It is possible to go anywhere from anywhere, but not without avoiding the toll roads.  The astute driver will first consult many maps, go over all the backroads, and finally come up with great shortcuts that are free to drive on.  Thus Texas, who has put most of their revenue building for roads into these Toll Highways, will never make as much as they think because people will find a way around it.  The only option the state has is to basically make all highways into Toll Highways, which means that no one will ever go anywhere unless it's on Gravel roads.  I made it down to Orange from Dallas in 5 hours, 30 minutes.

My cousin's house had recently been burned to the ground by fire, and has now been rebuilt.  A marvelous abode, much like the house my friend A., has, with the raised ceiling and a den above the living room, much like a balcony over a sanctuary in a church. Getting out of my car in front of their house, I could smell the cool air blowing off the Gulf of Mexico, filled with a sweet odor, something

that I've only smelled once before in Jacksonville.  The area is more like Louisiana than Texas, the part east of Houston, which harbors the cities of Orange, Beaumont, and Port Arthur.  Connecting them are bridges of immense size, true monuments of human ingenuity, that allow barges to travel beneath them from the Sabine Lake to the Intercoastal Waterway to the Gulf.

The people of these towns brought with them the cultures of their homelands, combining with Texan, Mexican, and American customs to make a truly unique area.  You could travel to Nederland, and see the giant windmill signifying the Dutch ancestry of the citizens, or go eat in Chinese Restaurants with a decided Cajun flair.  We went to the  Stark Museum and saw the paintings of the Taos, Arizona artists collected by the Stark Family and shown in amazing galleries.  I liked the landscapes, as well as the pottery made by women of Newcomb College (part of Tulane's college for women at the time of the Civil War), with their rich blue colors and designs.  In the same area are architectural wonders restored by the Stark family. To quote Wikipedia: The First Presbyterian Church on Green Avenue uniquely captures the classic Greek Revival architecture. Completed in 1912, it was the first air-conditioned public building west of the Mississippi River and its dome is the only opalescent glass dome in the United States.  

I left on a Sunday, and a strong cold front was due to sweep through in a couple of days.  That, of course, meant that the winds would be out of the southeast, and it would bring warm air out of Mexico.  It was in the 70's, and I decided to see the Gulf of Mexico in all its glory.  I took 124 south from the small town of Winnie to High Island, and there it meets what used to be Highway 87, prior to the street being destroyed by Hurricane Ike.  The highway, right next to the beach, was never rebuilt.  Driving up over a hill, I suddenly see the Gulf of Mexico spread out upon the horizon, and it was an amazing sight.  We live on such a magnificent planet, something so unlike any other planet in the area, and there are times we have to step back and realize what we have here, how gorgeous it is, and how we can add to the beauty, and not take away from it. 

I parked in front of a huge wooden Cross, standing on the beach in memory of those affected by the tragedy.  I decided to leave my work keys in the car, and so I took apart my keychain, left my car keys in the car, and promptly locked it.  Of course, I realized my mistake, and after several seconds of berating myself, I realized that I had left the windows of my car down a little, so maybe it was possible to stick my hand (which didn't work, that hurt) or something else down into the door to unlock it.  I went down the beach looking for trash that had washed up that just might help me.  I found, after a time, the back part of a broken fishing rod (someone was having loads of luck that day), and thought it just might do it.  I returned to the car and, after a little maneuvering, managed to unlock my car.  

So, back to the beach, to the cross, to the stereo sound of waves crashing upon themselves, and upon the shoreline.  To the waterbirds that take flight, long wings and necks  like feathered dinosaurs, flying up and over the water and then back down shore where my walking wouldn't bother them.  To the shells that washed up on shore after so many years of being houses for mollusks, only to become a pathway for fishermen to bring their trucks, their poles, and drive down what was left of the highway to places where they might catch a fish or two.  Yes, back to the beach, and even though the water was cold (I took my shoes off and let the water crash into my toes), it was an amazing place to be.  

On the other side of the beach were giant horses, or that's what they seemed to be, just standing in grassy swampland, waiting to be activated again for the search of oil.  They stand solitary out there, and it reminded me of the all knowing cow that Robert Penn Warren wrote of in All the King's Men, the cow that you pass as you go west, on the train, the one that looks up at you as it's chewing its cud, and you wonder how many people it has seen and how many people have seen it, really seen it, not just passed by without a single thought.  How many fishermen have passed by these oil rigs, not paying any attention to them?  In thousands of years, when the highway and the crosses and the houses and the fishermen have all been blown away by time and wind and wave, the iron horses will stand, and future people will come and stand in front of them and wonder what these great machines saw, and who made them?

A mile east from one cross is another, one that used to be the carrier of telephone wires and cable wires, the voices of countless humans travelling down the beach.  Now, however, a bird perched on it, and next to it, a sign, signifying the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge.  Having walked a mile, from one cross to another, I decided to head back, for I had many miles to go before I got home.  I will, when the time comes, return to the Gulf, and bask in the sunshine and the sound of the water hitting the shore, and see the solitary iron horses, and the crosses and the fishermen.  I loved it.  

It was then time to drive back to Dallas, avoiding the Toll Roads, and, it being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, to stand the heavy traffic on the interstates with all the other people driving back from wherever to their homes to work the next day.  And my car died on me once, and I waited 15 minutes for it to cool down, rest, and then it started back up (it does that when I take road trips, and it'll do it again, I expect, but I can adapt, for now).  I was glad to get back home, to continue this journey.  If you ever get the chance, do head down to the small towns along the Gulf of Mexico.  You'll be glad you did. 

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