Carl Sandburg has a poem about the wind that includes these lines, “who can ever forget listening to the wind go by, counting its money and throwing it away?” Our pilgrimage to here has brought us to the panhandle of Texas, and I now understand these lines in new ways.
Here in the panhandle of Texas, the wind blows constantly this time of year. It scoops up “its money” – dried leaves, tassels of grass, tumbleweeds, the occasional baseball cap around the campground, and then, just as quickly, throws it away.
There is a saying that we heard from some of the Amarillo residents over breakfast at church on Sunday. It goes like this, “the wind blows so much in the panhandle that the only thing to stop it are the barbed wire fences, and most of them have blown over”. I am beginning to understand this.
Our first Amarillo field trip was to a “must see” place, the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon. The day we hiked it the wind was hot and dry and offered little relief in the over-90 degree weather. The Canyon has been carved over the millennia by the Prairie Dog Town fork of the Red River and slices through the flat land to a depth of about 800 feet. It’s about 20 miles wide and 120 miles long. Georgia O’Keeffe, who once lived in Amarillo said, “It (Palo Duro) is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color”. And I would add, that for 150 years, this cauldron was also filled with a history of bloody confrontations between the Natives, the settlers from the East, and the U.S. Army, with no good outcomes for any of them. Hiking in the canyon that day, one could feel the hot breath of memory carried in the wind, a heat that no amount of water could quench.
I am thinking of the wind’s currency of the people who have blown into our lives during this respite in Amarillo. The driver of the tow truck blew in from the east and drove 60 miles late on Thursday to rescue us. At our first meeting there alongside US 40, he had little to say as he put his 5’4” frame and about 220 lbs. of heft to work hooking up T2 to the Jerr-Dan truck. I noticed his shaved head, the tattoo on his neck, and how silent he was. When we got to the yard, we watched him skillfully back in T2 and drop it precisely where he wanted it. He unhooked and left. No words. By the morning, when he returned he knew he would be towing us again to our campground and now he opened up a bit more, talking about his job and his wife. I wondered if she had inspired the tattoo or was it a pre-existing form of body art? He dropped the gift of personal connection into our windswept laps.
There is a wonderful nature preserve here in Amarillo called Wildcat Bluff and the day we hiked there the air temperature was cool when we left the campground, though that would change by afternoon. One of the other sayings about the panhandle is, “you know you’re in the panhandle when you need your car heater in the morning and your air conditioner in the afternoon”. Along the Windmill Trail, the wind got the tumbleweeds to bounce, like huge rubber balls, across the trail. Mesquite leaves, shaken lose on dried branches, swirled in tiny tornadoes until the wind dropped them. It cooled our skin and cleared our minds. The winds here will do that.
We went to sleep that night in T2, feeling the winds buffering the aluminum cocoon in which we are now living, more aware of the power and the velocity and the sound of the wind than when we lived cushioned in our home in Keene. There, we were occasionally aware of the wind, here in Amarillo we are always aware of the wind.
And the wind invites us, as Sandburg writes, to always consider what can be thrown away. It’s our daily question on this pilgrimage.
Peter and Liz are on a pilgrimage to here across the U.S. in their Airstream.