I am driving into the heart of Texas — hot, parched, and ragged, but still a heart of the geographical sort — with my husband. Fortunately, we both like road trips and are from the same part of the world (i.e., West Texas); otherwise, this trip could be problematic.
How could I ever explain this country to a stranger? How could I ever explain my ridiculous love of it, my amusement by it? I don’t get it, myself, so there’s no way I could explain it.
But anyway, we drive north toward Buffalo Gap, which is a little south of Abilene. Outside Austin, the land flattens and the trees and vegetation grow more sparse. You might call it deeply unattractive if you hadn’t spent most of your life here.
Fine. Go ahead. Call it unattractive. We don’t. How could we? The West Texas topography we come from — stark, flat, mesquite-studded — makes this landscape look lush and rolling by comparison. Our eyes have developed differently from an outsider’s; the world will always look different to us. So, we understand the native appreciation of subtleties in the landscape that have led a cemetery we pass to be named “Mountain View” and a nearby church to be called “Hillside Baptist.” (Were the Anglos who settled this harsh, unforgiving territory hard-eyed realists or blithely tenacious optimists? I’ve never quite decided. But intermarriage has always been frequent between these two groups, which may explain a lot.)
You see, growing up in this landscape changes you forever. You see a gentle upward curve in the landscape? I see a hill — or maybe, if I squint my eyes, a mountain. Yes, a mountain! You see a flat-topped anomaly on the horizon (called mesas in these parts)? I see a gorgeous site for my dream house. You see a scrubby little bush on the cracked, dry earth and I see the beauteous place I want to build a treehouse. (Never mind the fact that the only time I climbed a tree, I got stuck and couldn’t get down. As I recall, the branch was several hundred feet in the air; given the size of trees in my neighborhood, though, I’d guess I was a good five feet in the air. But never mind. Dreams of the treehouse variety die hard.)
My husband and I stop for the night. We eat a perfect steak at a legendary restaurant. The next morning, we return to the car and head to West Texas. He drives. I navigate. Unfortunately, we have very different views of what my duties are. He thinks I should be scrambling around on my iPhone like some kind of high-tech fiend — or a simple handmaiden of the driver like, say, that obnoxious little twit, Siri. Well, too bad. I am busily writing down notes for my blog and am not in one of those whatever you want, sahib moments.
The driver gets grumpier and grumpier, since he’s evidently taken a wrong turn. So he starts looking at his iPhone while going a billion miles per hour. This is very dangerous, I explain to him at the top of my lungs.
He pulls off the road, sulkily, and begins punching directions into his damned iPhone. I pick up a map from the floor — an actual paper map, which I trust more — and tell him we need to retrace our steps. He ignores me, frantically pressing more buttons.
This is what is wrong with 21st-century life, I am thinking. Too much technology! Too little human communication! I decide not to reveal my philosophical conclusions just now.
We’re going the wrong way, the driver says. We need to go back where we came from.
I blame the lack of signage for our problems, I say.
That’s the second thing I blame, Mr. High-Tech says.
We pass a car with a soapy message on the back window: Till Death Do We Part.
I object to its use of “we.” He insists it could be correct if you interpret the message in a certain way: We Will Be Together Until Death. I say it should be: Till Grammar Do We Part. He says I am being too rigid.
Around us, the landscape stretches on forever, flat and desolate and brown.
We don’t need an iPhone or a map. We are clearly headed to West Texas. Oh, yeah. We are going home, even if we don’t live there any longer.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about West Texas