Medicine Mound

When traveling west through North Texas on 287 you come to a spot between Vernon and Childress where the monotony of the flat plain to the south is broken by a subtle yet startling rise of land.  Four lone mounds, miles and miles away, stand watch over the surrounding terrain and the wanderings of the Pease River.  If the land was a huge earthen throw-rug, it would only take a gentle flip of a giant’s wrist to shake out the four lumps and make it nice and smooth again.

The largest, Medicine Mound, only rises 350 feet above the plain but the sheer lack of any competition for attention makes it appear much taller.  Perhaps the stature of the mounds is also boosted by their magical, spiritual properties.  These were ceremonial sites of the Comanche Indians, with the tallest reputed to be home of a Great Spirit.  Young men ventured there for their vision quests, medicine men for medicinal herbs.  The mounds offered fresh spring water and critical views of the surrounding territory, making it nigh impossible for enemies to approach with any kind of surprise, at least in daylight.

Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped from her settler family in 1836 by a Comanche raiding party a bit south of this part of Texas.  Raised from the age of ten as a Comanche, she assimilated totally into her new tribal life.  She married a chieftain and bore three children, one of whom, Quanah, became the last chief of the Comanches.  Recaptured near the Pease River in 1860, Miss Parker was returned to her white family where she remained, grieving the loss of her Indian life and family, until her dying day.

As for Quanah, he bravely fought encroaching settlers and US Government forces until too many defeats and the loss of hunting territory and the Indians’ primary source of sustenance, the buffalo, led him to surrender and move to reservation land in 1875.  The US Government named him chief over all Comanches (traditionally, there was no such thing as a single Comanche chief, as each band had its own).  He took his mother’s surname, becoming Quanah Parker, and went on to become a wealthy rancher and investor.  He dealt with many rich, powerful white men–befriending and hunting with Theodore Roosevelt, among others–while leading his people in the assimilation process.  I wonder if his Mother’s spirit wept.

The mounds themselves are inaccessible today, sitting on private property.  That seems sad to me, like so much of the American Indian story.  On the other hand, perhaps it offers good protection from careless, hungry, modern visitors.  It is as if the sacred mounds are protected on a reservation of their own.

And as I continue my drive through drought-ridden North Texas (crossing “Wanderers Creek”–so dry that dust from lost wanderers’ bones can be seen crackling and rising from the parched creek bed), I am brought back to the reality of today’s world.  The landscape is now dotted with perpetual-motion, rust-colored machines pumping black gold from beneath the crust.  Refineries dot the distance, hard to hide in this flat landscape.

After Amarillo, I catch a breath of fresh air.  The drought here hasn’t been as harsh or as lengthy.  Fields are green.  Then I see them…  hundreds–no, as I keep going, 10, 20, 30 miles–thousands of windmills seemingly randomly placed, their three-pointed, shiny stars dancing in perpetual-motion with the delightful breeze.  At one point, they are lined up perfectly, so that if you catch their angle just right, you see only one upright stem, with a dozen spinning blades atop, doing their best imitation of a sea urchin on a treadmill.

They bring laughter back to my heart.  And remind me that the Great Spirit, whomever or whatever that may be for you, or for me, is not confined to any one place, any one people, but resides deep in each of our hearts.

(This post’s photo was taken at Copper Breaks State Park campground, which offers a distant view of Medicine Mound.  The picnic tables for each campsite are protected from sun and rain by the teepee-shaped structures you see in the picture.  A very special thank you to tipping me off to this great spot goes to Carol and John, my new Texas friends made at Bonham Lake State Park!)

Lone Star

It’s official.  I am now a member of the Lone Star State.  How cool is that!  Despite my misfortune in  picking the heat of the Summer to come down here and establish residency, I really like this place.  (You know it is hot when, after a nice, refreshing, cool shower, you break into a sweat just drying off.)  Dealing with reps in the County Courthouse, Tax Office, and Motor Vehicles Department went beyond smoothly.  It was actually a pleasant experience.  People here seem to start from a premise of being nice, unless they have reason otherwise.

Before even arriving in Texas, I had a magical introduction to my new home state via a book recommended by my dear friend and Texas native, Greg.  “Goodbye to a River,” written by John Graves and published in 1960, recounts one man’s personal memories and the cultural memories of countless others handed down largely through oral tradition.  The book’s premise is exceedingly simple:  travel by canoe down a North Texas river soon to be dammed–which would drastically alter the surrounding landscape and literally drown some of the places where these memories took root–and recount personal stories mingled with tales from the surrounding land.  It gives a priceless accounting of some of the struggles of that land, including those between settlers and indians, and is an archetypical example of the significance of the spoken and written word and the power of personal stories in shaping who and what comes after.  As Greg astutely pointed out, the book reads like a blog from 1960.

Speaking of powerful stories, I have met many lovely people at the Escapees Campground, including a number of ladies who give me great solace, encouragement, and confidence that, although I am traveling solo, I am far from alone:

  • Marsha, who left a nice, secure government job to become a full-time RV’er 17 years ago.  She is her nephew’s heroine (and a great hugger).  He must think she is the coolest thing since the iPad.  He helps her keep up with such technological trends, partly so that he can keep track of his beloved Auntie!
  • Hazel, who left Kentucky after the death of her husband to see what was “around the next corner and beyond the next hill… and kept on going.”  Sometimes solo, sometimes with a friend, she saw everything from Alaska to Mexico, California to Maine over the course of 27 years.  At 91 years old, Hazel is now a participant of the Escapees CARE program that assists members who need to come off the road for medical reasons (see previous post).
  • Dottie, who after she lost her husband, downsized from their huge Class A diesel pusher to a tiny (in comparison) Class B van and continued to travel on her own.  She is part of the original group of Escapees that helped to build the organization, the campgrounds, and the CARE center, and currently volunteers much of her time at Habitat for Humanity.
  • Dena, like me, refers to her “previous lifetimes,” which in her case includes seven children and careers ranging from nursing to trucking.  She has been solo’ing in her RV for 15 years, 127,000 miles, and counting.
  • Judi (another great hugger!) who has been full-timing since 1985, but RV’ing much longer than that.  A lengthy career as a long-haul truck driver did nothing to dampen her love for the open road as she moved seamlessly from trucking to full-time RV’ing, currently with her spouse, both of whom devote many hours volunteering at the CARE center.

May the light from these strong, independent, beautiful women–and countless like them–shine forever through their  stories, shared through family and friends, giving confidence, inspiration, and perspective to those who follow their trail as well as to those who forge their own.

(Photograph complements of my brother, Ross, a lover of kayaking and nature photography.)