Tall Tales From The Big Sky

My girlfriends want me to meet a cowboy. Tonight I went to Wal-Mart, no cowboys, but there were guns. There are a lot of things I haven’t done yet. I have not even driven in Texas yet. Perhaps that is not something one would think a pedestrian like me would want to do. But I do. Even from this small, hemmed in enclave I’m in, a neighbourhood of about a dozen blocks and cul-de-sacs surrounded on all four sides by seven lane highways, I feel that itchy, open road feeling. I would love to go on a road trip.

The sky catches me here. Funny thing, my horoscope (those Free Will Horoscopes I recommend) advised me to “look at clouds.” As I walk around and around in circles on the ground, accompanied by my precious and precocious two year old granddaughter Colette, that is exactly what I am looking to. It is so phenomenally flat in this area that I find there is more sky than what’s in front of me, or what’s on the immediate horizon. The clouds are voluptuous, and loll about on each other. There are great dollops of whites and grey, there are lines and streaks and slashes against a fierce proud blue, and then there are sunsets. Nothing pastel here. These reds and golds scream at day’s end. And the birds. Don’t know their names but they celebrate the few low trees there are with a cacophony of possession. Loud, wild, abundant, melodious and surprising. It is the sky I’m looking to and I imagine what it would be like to hit the highway and head into it.

I have been very cynical about the Texans and their trucks. They drive everywhere. Before I got down here I said I’d make the news as some crazy Canadian seen walking in Texas. I do walk twice a day here. I have to or I’d go stir-crazy. If we get out by 9:30 I can usually last about an hour and a half before the heat makes me buzzy in the head. It is still hot just before dark but that’s the other time to go. This week the temperatures have been between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the front yards are concrete. You pay big to grow grass here. It’s not supposed to, it’s too friggin’ hot. But that’s what the Texans have done anyway, imposed themselves on a landscape that’s not really meant for living. Now I admit that reinforces the reason they drive. That unrelenting sun gives no respite. So I’ve seen at least six walkers like me since I’ve been here. The same six. When that number climbs to a dozen I’ll have to drop my cynicism that Texans won’t walk. I guess that’s called a movement.

I’m meeting the neighbours. I have taught Colette to say, “Hi, Neighbour!” A couple came out of their house and down their steps to say to me, “We’ve seen y’all walking, you aren’t from around here, are ya?” Today on our walk, a beautiful black woman with golden ringlets bounced off her porch and sang out, “Hey, Shuga!” to Colette who was already waving. Her name? Roslyn. The same name as my best friend back home. Touchstones. Her T-shirt said I’M BLESSED AND HIGHLY FAVORED. Thank you Roslyn, both of you.

A curious contradiction; all the people who pass by in their cars and trucks all wave at us, so there is that noticeable, Southern friendliness, but at the same time why the rampant aggressive paranoia? My friend Howard, who is a naughty, savvy man in his mid-eighties, when I told him I was coming down to Texas, gave me this definition of a Texan – someone who has already blown their brains out.

I have found the familiar. There is a little branch of the Midland library close by, the Centennial, in one of the strip malls. It is my goal to squeeze a library card out of them, even though I’m not a resident. Boyd the librarian looked a little goggled when I put in my requests. Texas also has that finest practice of transferring books from one branch to another. I know I was showing off a little, asking him to look things up for me, but I was very excited to be in that familiar home turf again, talking books and authors, and feel all those little doors in my head slamming open.

I worked at the Chapters Metrotown store in Burnaby when it first opened. There was one particular aisle that when I walked down it and turned right into the next one, I got a tingling sensation in my brain. It was like pheremones were released and I practically swooned. Every single time I walked that route I got turned on. I even experimented with it, and stepped in and out of its force field. It never let me down. Books for me do give off vibes, energy. It’s been a long, long love affair. When I was a kid, I carried in my wallet for years a piece of paper on which was written, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” Certain bits of poetry, “It is the time of the full moon and my blood feels like water. The sound of your name releases a flood of remembering.” Or Sherman Alexie, “There is no silence in blindness. In the dark and din I waited.” Words that have just stayed with me.

The other familiar was the big box bookstore. We went to Barnes & Noble last Saturday night. It could have been Chapters in Canada, the usual family outings and singles cruising the bookstore, and the look and the layout is the same. Someone came up to me and asked if I worked there. I said no but I was still able to help her find a book. It was different going there as a civilian. I’ve worked at three different Chapters in the Lower Mainland. Three years at the Metrotown location, two years Robson Street, and one year in Langley. At Metrotown I’d find french fries in the books like bookmarks, compliments of McDonalds next door. It is none of my business now, the books tossed into corners, the people in Starbucks with armloads of magazines, licking their fingers as they flip through the pages.

There was a huge Christian section but much to my delight, a copy of an Osho in New Age. I had a hard time leaving behind an illustrated copy of “Life of Pi.” A Croatian artist, and a larger more beautiful copy of such a keeper book. When Pi, in the book, decides to compile a list of what he’s got in the lifeboat, to take stock, I felt a gratitude for Yann Martel that will never end. “…..1 signalling mirror, 1 pack of filter-tipped Chinese cigarettes, 1 large bar of dark chocolate, 1 survival manual, 1 compass, 1 notebook with 98 lined pages, 1 boy with a complete set of light clothing but for one lost shoe, 1 spotted hyena, 1 Bengal tiger, 1 lifeboat, 1 ocean, 1 God.” Thank you, thank you, Yann Martel.

I had picked his first novel “Self” out of the Bargain section at Metrotown years ago and made everyone in the Book Club read it. They hated it. I loved it. Yes, it was an imperfect, bizarre, convoluted book. But. But. There was a passage in the opening pages where the imagery was so wonderful, so fantastical that I knew that this guy had it. Well, his novel was panned by all and Yann got very depressed and went to India. You know what I’m getting at. If he hadn’t written “Self” and if it hadn’t been booed, then he wouldn’t have left town. And out of India he would not have written “Life of Pi,” a brilliant and original book that won the Booker Prize. Ha!

About this blog’s title, that was just to lure you in. I’m still small here. I’ve got a month. One more month.

Getting back to the lonely experience of being a walker in Midland, Texas, I say lonely to describe it, even though I am not lonely, because it is a solitary experience, one that is not understood or shared by Texans. I am reminded of the opening scene in Larry McMurtry’s book “Duane’s Depressed,” which is the third book of a trilogy. First there is “The Last Picture Show” and then “Texasville.” It follows Karla and Duane and their family and friends through the boom and bust oil days and is set in a small town in Texas.

Duane has just driven home from his office out in the oil field and parked in the garage at his ranch. He sits in the truck and just sits, can’t get out. He realizes he is really sick of it, sick of the same old thing. Driving the same road to his office, then back seeing the same sights, park in the garage, go into the house and everyone’s insane. He loves his family but they’re all nuts. He thinks that he is spending his whole life sitting in his truck, driving from one place to another. He goes into the kitchen and puts his keys in a coffee cup at the back of a kitchen cupboard. No one has noticed him yet and he walks out, through the garage, past his truck, and continues walking down the driveway and then onto the open road.

Well, he doesn’t get more than a few miles before pickups are pulling over, and concerned friends and neighbours are trying to cajole him into their trucks. The news spreads like…..wild fire. Back at the ranch the phone rings and someone from town tells Karla that Duane was spotted walking down the road. Karla quizzes her about any more information, anything more that anyone might know, and comes to only one conclusion. She slams down the phone and says incredulously, “Duane wants a divorce!”

I have a great reverence for writer Larry McMurtry. It seems we share the same fascination with walking under this big sky. In his Lonesome Dove series there is a Kickapoo tracker called Famous Shoes. Famous Shoes walked everywhere, or ran. He was faster than any cowboy on a horse. If you looked down and then up, he’d already be on the horizon. Famous Shoes could, he could find water in the desert. Pulling out a map of Texas I see the place names and the distance that this Lone Star State encompasses and I am awed.

Words…touchstones…poetry. Oh, West Texas. Wichita Falls, Sweet Water, Odessa and Wink. Kermit, Tarzan and Abilene. Big Spring and Tahoka and Ransom Canyon. Shallow Water, Amarillo, Ropesville and Necessity. And who lives in Loving, Texas?

I’m dreaming.

Good Life

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