Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Texas Mission


Three of us set out early from Turtle Hill, descending off an eroded highland remnant on the western margins of the Great Eastern Plateau, crossing the Buffalo & Tennessee Rivers and a handful of creeks draining the verdant plains of west Tennessee before ramping up in Memphis onto the Hernando de Soto bridge, 109 feet above the Big Muddy onto Arkansas floodplains green with young soybeans. Arching over the heart of the Mississippi basin, the second biggest drainage in the world with tributaries in 32 states and two Canadian provinces, a watershed encompassing 40 percent of the contiguous United States. At a rest area in Prairie County, land which once served as the Western band of Cherokee Reservation (1812-1836), we break for sandwiches and pass the one-hitter amidst too many flies. By noon we are in motion over the Arkansas on the Little Rock bypass through the ancestral home of the Quapaw, climbing the foothills of the Ouachitas near active geothermal vents, unimpressed by the 'Brick Capital of the World', skirting the mouth of deep crystalline tubes and zipping by a presidential birthplace. Afternoon strings out over miles of unremarkable interstate, crossing the Red River Valley at the point where east flowing water changes direction and begins moving south, as RT's Rumor & Sigh helps us navigate through monotonous corridors of broadleaves.

Mystery wind, are you strong enough
To fight for your right when the time get's tough?
Plague and hunger and burning rain
Too many good men blown away by the mystery wind
The mystery wind

We are entering the former ranges of people known as Caddo, Wichita, Hasinai. Vast open spaces, the simplicity and order of newly planted fields disappear before the double border town of Texarkana, a feast of gas stations, motels, overpasses, restaurants, parking lots, commercial and highway signage, electrical transmission towers, hospitals, rental garages and acres of car lots. 105 air-conditioned miles into Texas, we leave the interstate for two-lane blacktop, eventually passing over the Sabine, unofficial dividing line between Jackson's Old South and the New Southwest of Austin and Houston. No longer in the massive watershed where we began the day, any rain falling in this vast region stretching from dead south to far west, from here to beyond the Rio Grande, drains a separate basin into the Gulf of Mexico. Everything south of the Red River Valley (the border of east TX & OK), from the Sabine (border of TX & LA) to the continental divide in western New Mexico, is the only section of the Great Plains which does not drain into the Mississippi. This marks the natural divide separating French Louisiana from land originally controlled by New Spain. In our general motion today, we are retracing (in reverse) a primary route of agricultural diffusion, from the gardens of northeastern Mexico, across the interior lowlands toward the Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys. Such a trek required a way across these same rivers, complicating the journey while providing rehydration, making an overland route through deserts possible. These seed-carrying trips began sometime around 7000 BCE.

Rainfall in this florid eastern corner of the basin is 3/4 of our average at home. Peaches and watermelons fill tables at roadside stands. Bronzed heads of millet, acres of stunted, browned corn stretch to the horizon. Bypassing Tyler, the Rose Capital of America, named after our 10th president, when a smaller Lone Star was annexed (1845), past the site of Camp Ford, largest Confederate P.O.W. facility west of the Mississippi, before spontaneously contemplating the eternal mystery of afternoon light on open water, crawling in traffic on the causeway over man-made Lake Palestine at day's end, surprised to see this much water anywhere in Texas.

The main employer in Palestine is the prison with almost 4000 workers, followed by Wal-mart with nearly half that number. In 2003, pieces of exploded space shuttle fell in nearby fields. East of town there is a quiet park, a terminal on the Texas State Railroad, now a tourist line. Prices start at $36.50. Originally laid by convicts in 1881, the track was to deliver firewood to a prison iron smelter. We don't have correct change for the campground fee envelope but then nobody comes to check. A persimmon tree, already full of green fruit grows nearby the tent. I read Time-Life's leathery volume, The Texans by light of the Coleman lantern long after dark.

Weeks passed. Sam's mother was distraught; family and neighbors scoured the woods. Eventually, Sam's older brothers, James and John, found him on Hiwassie. He was seated under a tree reading Alexander Pope's translation of the Iliad. Marking his place, he coolly informed them that he, "liked the wild liberty of the Red men better than the tyranny of his own brothers" -- and added that he preferred to read in peace.

For the better part of three years, Houston lived with the Cherokees -- "wandering," as he later wrote, "along the banks of streams, side by side with some Indian maiden, sheltered by the deep woods ... running wild, sleeping on the ground, chasing game, living in the forests, making love and reading Homer's Iliad."

-the boyhood of Sam Houston
as told in The Texans


Waking early I circumambulate the loop of asphalt surrounding the grassy island where the tent sits, bone mala in hand, magically close to a lotus pond opening to sun's rays. Dark skies to the southwest offset a rainbow. A shiny green pick-up dark with park employees rolls in as we head out. Trees now noticeably shorter, exposing low rolling hills as we cross a half-dozen rivers, all of them flowing southeast. Near Mexia we ford the Navasota, upstream of where the intrepid La Salle was murdered by his associates (1687). Rain falling so heavy vision is reduced to staccato white lines and glowing red bindus of tail lights floating in a grey fog. Return to Interstate at Waco, small town transformed into big commercial city by the construction of a suspension bridge over the Brazos (1870). The same architect went on to build the Brooklyn Bridge the following year. Named after a Wichita tribe who once lived and farmed here, it is the birthplace of a superior soft-drink known as Dr. Pepper (1885). It is also a name widely associated with state terrorism (1995). Rain continues to fall heavy as we pass through Temple, "Wildflower Capital of Texas", famed for its medical centers and boasting more physicians per capita than anywhere in the country.

Clouds ease up as we approach Austin, another concentration of skycrapers to the south. Scissor-tailed flycatchers and hawks perch on roadside wires on the outskirts of "The Live Music Capital of the World", as homeless people with shopping carts take shelter under an overpass. Skies clear as we enter San Antonio in the humid blaze of mid-day, eyes stinging with salt from perspiration in the blinding heat, we set up tent under a leguminous tree at Mission Trails Campground and head for showers, lunch, and wifi internet before driving to the San Antonio Museum of Art, open free to the public on Tuesday afternoons. Onward to the section of pre-Columbian America to gaze at a great collection of artifacts in earthenware, ceramic, basalt, obsidian, gold, lapis, turquoise, mother-of-pearl, many of the items over a thousand years old. In other rooms we contemplate the Virgin of Guadelupe, St. Theresa of Lisieux, St. Andrew, a north-Indian Yogini, Amitabha, a golden Urgyen Lingpa with phurba and dorje, a small golden stupa, two paintings by Diego Rivera, one portraying a communist celebration in Red Square, and an elaborate sand mandala under thick plastic which I did not photograph in honor of the Tibetan monks who agreed not to destroy it for the sake of a western museum exhibit.

On the way home we stopped at Wal-Mart to buy reading glasses that were not actually lost. I amused my companions by refusing to remove the large plastic price tag which covered most of my forehead being certain we would find the lost pair and be able to return these. Back at Mission Trails, gusting winds have taken down a large branch but the tent is not damaged. Rainfall in this part of Texas is 2/3 of the average in middle Tennessee, the humidity focusing sunbeams like a lens. We retreat to the day room for wifi and showers, a Matrix sequel on the tube. Night falls, and I concede defeat, using a Swiss-army knife to remove the plastic tag from the glasses moments before Tenkar hands me my old ones discovered in her purse after all.

The book opens and I disappear into the realm of Moses and Stephen Austin, Sam Houston, Fannin, Deaf Smith, Santa Anna, Crockett, Travis, Bowie, and of course, the Alamo. The tent is bathed in the amber glow of nearby streetlights - all night long. The soft buzz of a cooling unit on a nearby house isn't loud enough to disturb sleep. A miniature dog in a nearby yard attempts to let us know this is his territory but his bark sounds like an asthmatic sneeze and he soon retires to a cooler spot to sleep.

Seated Dog
earthenware with tar pigment, Vera Cruz, 550-950 ce
San Antonio Museum of Art


We are primed. The alarm proved unnecessary as predicted; I am awake before the beeper. The route has already been laid out, the mission is on schedule as we head west on Military Drive, cross the San Antonio River through one continuous ten-mile gauntlet of strip malls, broken only by the Center for the Study of Infectious Diseases, to an entrance of Lackland Air Force Base. Soldier at the gate explains which papers must always be ready. The ladies thought he bordered on rude; his manner struck me as forthright & practical. We are steered toward an orientation in a big auditorium. A short video shows various aspects of basic training. The veteran airman presenting gets big applause announcing that our kids have finally gotten out of the house and are now receiving a regular paycheck. As if that was our concern, but this apparently strikes a big chord with most of these folks. Ksana was already on his own. The majority around me seem happy that their kid has launched a career. Whatever; I am realizing that we have been dragged over the barricades into the camp of 'military families.' As a friend in Chicago would later say, I was now confronting the bardo of what you thought you already knew, a whole new world of emotion.

After a long delay at a shady picnic table consuming more amazing Lone Star history, we joined with families from all 50 states lining both sides of the troop-walk as the flights approached, separate male and female units in gym clothes running in tight formations, each group chanting a marching limerick at volume in an identifying t-shirt, led by a flag-bearer with the group number on the banner. We scan for Flight 322 and realize they are approaching in predictably good order. 'Welcome to the house of pain!' Somewhere in this display of vital energy and bobbing shaved heads is our boy; he warned us that it would be hard to pick him out. We finally spot Ksana; brow furrowed, head wet with perspiration. Named after a Sanskrit word meaning 'mind-moment' which helped me make sense of an early series of acid trips, Ksana is our youngest son. The flights disappear as quickly as they appeared out of the wavering mirages to the northwest.

After more delays, allowing the cadets a shower, they are marched by in their blue formal uniforms for the main ceremony. The introductory speech contained the phrase, the greatest air power in the history of the world (no doubt) blasting out from the loudspeaker, followed by martial music both canned and live before a recitation of the Air Force pledge and distribution of graduate coins. Finally, we were invited to approach our 'airman', a process akin to the reunion of Emperor penguins and their chicks. All troops remain at attention unless someone 'claims' them. Not everyone has someone. After initial hugs and kisses, Ksana is wary of exhibiting too much intimacy. He has been warned by his FC that it looks 'unprofessional'. No holding hands, no skipping along or being silly, no walking on grass, cross streets only at cross-walks, little blue cap on when outdoors, seam perfectly aligned with the nose, and don't touch your face, always be ready to salute a superior officer, regular attention to trim-line, meaning the edges of your shirt- button line and fly must be well-aligned. We learn about the garters which hold the tails of his shirt to the top of his socks and he complains that the metal clips dig into his leg. Staying hydrated is a constant concern for everyone in this heat and failure to take personal responsibility and to avoid sunburn, beyond ill effects, merits disciplinary action. Off to the on-base mini-mall for Starbucks, more talk and some fast food. Ksana has very little memory of the first few days on base due to rather extreme stress. He has no hesitation in telling us that he now feels a bit foolish having joined, that its not quite like he thought it would be and that if he knew then what he knows now, he would be somewhere else. Having said that, it seems like the worst of it was over and that since the only way out was a dishonorable discharge, he was going to make the best of it. We are relieved to hear that trainers can't get physical or even curse at recruits. Crossing the street to Flight Photos building where formal pictures are ready, a new kid dressed in camo calls our boy sir and invites him to move to the front. We wait in a cool mezzanine under a building soon observing a flight marched into our shade for squaring off maneuvers around brick columns or something. They are halted and reprimanded for going too fast. A soldier up front is confronted in an exchange that ends with, "Do you think you can handle that?" barked about four inches from his nose. Later, at a picnic table in long afternoon big-sky western Texas sunbeams, we snack and talk further, presenting the graduate with a groovy little digital camera, ostensibly for graduation; it is just a good tool to have. Naturally, we take a few pictures.

After saying goodbye, it was not easy to find a way off base as most of the gates are closed. Eventually we arrive back at Mission Trails campground. I shoot the sun setting over the interstate through a cyclone fence and discover a fig tree in the surrounding neighborhood, before taking refuge in the air-conditioned room. A line from the Yes song We Agree sticks in my head;

If we are one, then we are refugees,
we are the prisoners of our own design;

If we are one, seen through the eyes of a child,
we will perpetuate this song of love.

Ksana (22) BMT graduation ceremony, Lackland AFB, TX
freaking out his parents by becoming an airman first class


Another morning to rise early and drive directly to the Air Force Base. The presence of four other bases in the area has led to the title 'Military City, USA' but for the most part, this town feels like the northernmost Mexican outpost, the point of mutual overreach for two ambitious peoples, which is what it originally was. A group of Spanish explorers and missionaries arrived in the area in 1691. Within 25 years, they began building mission-plantations known as presidios to attract and convert native Americans. For over a century it was the capital of the Spanish, then Mexican state of Tejas. Now occupying nearly 10,000 acres on the southwest margin of the city, Lackland is home to the 37th Training Wing, largest in the USAF. A community of 45,000 live here at any given time. Known as The Gateway to the Air Force, fifty classes a year are processed (86,000 troops), so there is a constant flow of friends and families from all 50 states coming to San Antonio for graduation ceremonies. Visualize Niagaras of cash flowing out of government coffers directly into base accounts and lesser cascades emerging directly out of civilian wallets into the sprawl of motels, restaurants and Wal-marts lining the southern margins of the city. The presence of this base alone contributes about $2 billion annually to the local economy.

This morning we are directed to Bong Ave., to stand at the edge of a wide open parade ground surrounded by full-scale models of retired aircraft. Fans blow a watery mist under canopies shading aluminum stands. Soldiers in camouflage picket the perimeter. Flights are marched around in formation with a great display of flags and martial fervor. The maneuvers are pleasing to watch but remind me of Lincoln's frustration with General McClellan. I admire their discipline until once again we are allowed to approach. This time I managed to find my son by spotting an unfortunate tattoo inscribed on his left forearm. Ksana introduces Tyree who designed the 322nd Training Squad's fierce eagle t-shirts. Their motto, Second to None, plays on their number.

Invited to take a quick look at their sleeping quarters we witness floors shine, chrome sparkle, beds perfectly align, not a wrinkle in a blanket, drawers immaculate. We are called into the presence of the flight commander. Ksana, like many of the boys here, had passed around pictures of his family. Some airmen, (including Ksana,) wondered if someone like me would even show up for the occasion. A few expressed interest in meeting me and introduced themselves. I think the FC wanted to get a look at us as well.

Allowed off-base for the first time in eight weeks, we are soon downtown, passing the tall steel orange sculpture known as the Torch of Friendship, an acknowledgment of the bi-cultural nature of the place. After we park, an intoxicated little woman asks for money to buy something to drink. Tenkar hands her a dollar and within a block or two of searing midday heat we stand before the Alamo Memorial. 183 names of those who perished are carved into the marble as well as full 3-d likenesses of gentleman Travis, a vital Crockett in laced moccasin boots and on the opposite side, Bowie who seems to have had his nose replaced. No wonder; he was the one with orders from General Sam Houston to abandon the fort, remove its guns, and blow down the walls, "as it will be impossible to keep up the station with volunteers." He was accompanied by over thirty men to help him remove the artillery. Instead, the 40 year old alcoholic Bowie chose to help strengthen and defend the place where he and everyone else would die. The Alamo was an unnecessary slaughter of men with more courage than brains. Rather than a shrine of liberty it is an example of macho foolishness. 183 men were attempting to defend a perimeter of a quarter mile, three acres of ground that was never intended to be a fort, against an onslaught of thousands of Mexican troops; a suicidal quest for glory. Worth reflecting on but hardly admirable.

We enter the main room of the monument, a cool open vault which used to be a church but was quickly converted to a powder magazine and sleeping quarters before the siege. This is a real break from the heat and glare outside. Everyone is pretty quiet and reverential as we wait in a long line as if there is something to see. After about five minutes, we arrive at some old wooden doors on the far end of the room and to cut to it, there wasn't all that much to see there. A nicely embroidered hippie-style vest owned by Crockett was a highlight. To hear the story well-told is the real mind-blow. This is the place where it happened over 13 days in the spring of 1836, but all that remains is some evidence of 18th c. Spanish architecture. The mission plaza and surrounding fields have become central downtown real estate.

The ladies offered to return to the car to fetch some food while us men looked at Bowie knives and a well-executed model of the battle. While ogling at these incredibly huge blades, an older man turned to my son and said, "I want to thank you for your service. If you wasn't for guys like you, well, we wouldn't be here." Wandering out through a quiet garden to a shaded bench to wait for the ladies, sitting there amongst luxuriant tropical foliage, we talked a little and expressed our love for each other in a few words, as what is forever beyond expression surged, the emotion of the moment washing over me like a warm salty wave and we both teared up. I instinctively donned sunglasses. He said he wasn't allowed to wear any and we laughed.

Moments later everyone was eating spiced rice neatly wrapped in pickled grape leaves. Leila discovered them in a little Arab food store near the base where two dudes sat smoking a large hookah on nice rugs while surfing the net. Turned out that one of the men knew Leila and her Palestinian father from a similar establishment frequented in Michigan years ago. Leaving the monument, we wander over toward the striped awnings and full length windows of Haagen Das, where we take a table in line of fire from the 'Palisade;' Crockett's position with his Tennessee boys, a 75 foot gap between the church and low barracks which was considered the most vulnerable part of the fort. Four four-pounders occupied the rampart. The manager of the ice cream store, a chubby Hispanic man, approached our table to congratulate Ksana and sang the praises of a 26 year career in the Air Force. There were a few others as well; people who would never look twice at me are approaching my son to offer thanks and congratulations.

We descend away from the center of town into a valley behind the buildings and enter the River Walk. After a flood in 1921 killed 50 people, plans were made to divert the river into a storm sewer to facilitate the waters exit from town. An architect named Hugman had another plan and the city council bought the idea. Heat index and noise level go down a few degrees as we descend below street level to meander along paths lined with indigenous plants, exotic botanicals, palm trees, and giant hemlocks growing side by side on the manicured banks of the San Antonio River as it winds along a natural horseshoe at the foot of the Alamo, through the backyards of downtown businesses for miles. The walk is the best idea to hit San Antonio since ice and is constantly being expanded. Bars, restaurants and Venice style tour boats are the main businesses in the world below. Sometimes, water flows on both sides of the path as new tributes appear in waterfalls from sluices in a hidden canal, bubbling over rocks, through fountains and terraced gardens before passing under the walkway and into the river. Cities across the world could learn something here about making use of natural systems to create attractive environments, softening the human experience while enhancing the aesthetics of urban environments.

Back up on the street, we cruise the strip past Tussaud's Wax and Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museums until we find 39 cent sodas at 34 degrees. Shopkeeper is a dark, heavy-set young man of Mexican descent who has lived here all his life. He inquires about the weather in Tennessee and I tell him that it is not too much different on some days but that we usually get a break at night. I learn that San Antonio is the seventh biggest city in the country yet has the highest crime rate in the nation. Another young man, lithe and white, approaches with an offer to check out a time-share unit, urging us to just sit through the rap for a quick $50. We drive north of town for some Indian cuisine and mango lassies while a Bollywood comedy runs on a wall-mounted flat screen near our table. We have the entire restaurant to ourselves.

The Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies provides a soundtrack on the rebound and Ksana said he remembered hearing these songs when he was a baby. The journey back to the base was tinged with anxiety that our Airman would be late to check in as we again had trouble finding an open gate and poor Ksana had no clue about where to enter as he had not been allowed out until today. The demand for functionality, while inconvenient to the individual is great for organization. A strict refusal to tolerate excuses without consequences actually sounds somewhat refreshing. Dropping off our investment in world peace with two minutes to spare, we escape out the Truemper Street gate, back into civilian airspace. Leila checks into a motel reserved through previous online arrangement, a brightly painted establishment owned and operated by a family from Bombay. We make good use of the pool and I wonder about a lone German Shepherd who sits in a vacant lot across the street. Is he waiting for someone? Back at the campground, brushing teeth before bed, Tenkar points out a large tarantula who occupies a hole near the water faucet.

To paraphrase Santayana, if we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, we should excel in learning. So I study the history and can't help but remember the Alamo. More inspiring though, was Sam Houston, who with all his faults, turned out to be a much wiser and more capable warrior.

youngest of four sons at 22 years old


A black Labrador, a little bigger than our Nala comes to the tent door as soon as I am up in the early light. Opening the tent zipper to greet him, I must grab his collar as he tries to enter. Through trees in a nearby backyard, the traffic lights change on Military Drive. We shower and hit the road, narrowly missing an accident and passing another that had just happened in the morning rush before picking up Ksana at the base mini-mall. We consider a trip to see the other old missions but the heat is intimidating and we opt to spend the day at the motel.

To give them some time alone, I surfed for a hours in the air-conditioned office where unlike at home, there was access to high-speed internet. The Hispanic woman who worked the morning desk was more than willing to recount the rugged outlines of her life, raising children in Ohio as a single mom before moving to San Antonio. She has never visited Mexico. Her electric bills during the summer are over $200 a month, another $50 for city water, and she is often behind on rent because she only gets minimum wage. I also met her son, a friendly mechanic who stopped by long enough to tell me his father got a dishonorable discharge from the military before the divorce.

The afternoon desk was manned by an old Air Force vet, his long, yellowing-white hair falling out from under a well-worn Red Sox cap. Upon seeing him, I quipped, "Boston? You're a hell of a long way from home to be wearing that, aren't you?" He stares, asks where we are from and when I say New York to incite, he turns and asks, "Who let these people in here?" We got on well. Born in Northhampton, he dubs it the gay capital of Massachussets but I had to wonder if he'd ever been to Provincetown. I soon came to find out that he was stationed at the same base in Thailand as my older brother back in the late 1960's.

"So how did he like his time over there?" he asked. I told him about the fighter jets that would buzz the runway after successful bombing runs, coming in fifty feet over the tarmac upside down before rocketing up straight and spiraling back down. Boston responded to this, saying that he was present the day pilots had shot down three MIG's and in celebration, officers gave out their ID cards so that ordinary airmen could get into the officers club. The only other thing I could remember that brother told me was that he spent most of his days drunk in whore houses. A few years back I was dealing incense and he got a whiff of one variety that reminded him of the kind they used to burn overseas. I renamed it Bangkok Brothel in his honor.

"Aha; so he was an American railman," the old Airman quipped. "That's what we'd call that sort of assignment."

"How so?"

"He stayed busying laying Thais. An American railman, yah, that was quite an operation..."

Ksana, Leila and Tenkar drove off to eat lunch while I declined and busied myself at the keyboard. A Twitter pal from Northern California aware that I was having a rather intense week dedicated Chet Atkins' Tennessee Stud to me and as I listened, a world of feelings washed over me again. My people soon returned, and we retired to the room where the television was running Sarah Palin's swan song. Soon we were all asleep on the big bed. This was boy's first nap in two months, and he rested with his fiancee in one arm and his mom in the other. Mind-moment would not go into the pool but after dropping him at his quarters that evening, the three of us returned to spend twilight in the water. The German Shepherd was still there alone, wandering in a wide field by the car wash. Darkness fell, the pool lights came on and I got back online in the main lobby as the wifi was not accessible from the room. The ladies stayed in the water. The television weatherman announced 96 degrees at 10:30 at night, and I wondered if this was the norm when he added, "This is ridiculous..." I stayed online talking with friends and family till long after midnight in spite of knowing we were going to hit the road in the morning. We stop at a Valero gas station to fill up on the way back to campground. It is a San Antonio based business but being unfamiliar with the Spanish name contributed to illusions about avoiding multi-nationals and improving the lot of Mexicans somewhere. Valero is actually the largest refiner in North America and is taken from the original name of the Alamo Mission, San Antonio de Valero, meaning Saint Anthony of the Bullet Mold, a translation that I agree, is highly suspect.

San Antonio


Woke with the certainties of the day's journey in mind, quickly took down the tent, guzzled some cold soymilk and rolled out of campground before sun was high. Today is the Fourth of July and the officer at the gate informs us that today is a holiday and that the base is closed. Tenkar starts to respond, then realizes he is kidding. You have got to love these guys. Finished reading The Texans in the car on base while waiting to pick up our charge. Small contingents of soldiers drill in the field before us, others carry banners back and forth on a nearby path. Tiny young women in camouflage wear surgical gloves to pick up litter. When Ksana arrived, we drove straight to Leila's motel shared coffee and goodbyes before we left the young lovers. In less than 48 hours he will transfer to a base near Wichita Falls to begin aerospace medical training.

Over the past few days, I have become enamored by the songs on Magnification by Yes (2001) and as our chariot merged with the traffic flowing north, it played for the fourth time in half as many days, lyrics standing out more than ever in light of current changes and the stripped-down sound provided by the absence of a working right speaker. This trip has unexpectedly opened up a whole new aspect of mind and feelings to consciousness. Staunch anti-war hippie forced to recalibrate views in support of son and realizing a measure of non-duality with our warrior class. Could not help but notice the camraderie, monk-like discipline and good heart observed by these kids. Some critics point to my obsession with the Civil War and how in spite of my pacifism, while home-schooling I taught the kids to appreciate the bravery and self-sacrifice of those who work for the benefit of others, regardless of the imperfections of their means.Personal experience oriented my inner compass to live and work as far from the mainstream as possible. This is how a kid from Queens ends living in a nameless hollow by a little creek in the mountains of Tennessee. Mind-moment is doing everything he can to immerse himself in the wider channel. We would all love to change the world.

For the next hour, the little red machine pushes on under long rows of beautiful cumulus mounds stretching into the northwest like unbaked loaves of bread, taking a quick left into the gridded heart of Austin. It is 11 AM and by prior arrangement, we are going to meet Phil (@qjohn on Twitter) at the Hideaway Coffee Shop on Congress Avenue, just down the street from the State Capitol. The steel columns and arches upholding the dome on that attractive building were forged 160 miles to the northeast by prisoners at the Palestine foundry (1888). Phil drives a late model yellow cab. We share iced coffees, enjoy some small talk about our trip, our paths through life, current events and the Tweet community before he directs us back to the interstate.

Hours of road later we are on Rte. 31, moving northeast through Navarro County, where the first commercially significant oil source in the state was discovered (1923). Outside Tyler we stop at a quiet monument situated under a lone tree, dedicated to people who died in an Indian massacre in 1838. Names of survivors are also included on the stone. Night falls as we enter the low hills and taller trees of Arkansas. By ten we are parked in the darkest corner of that same rest area in Prairie County, once home to the early migration of Cherokees into eastern Arkansas. We share some food before adjusting the seats for sleep but swarms of mosquitoes demand we keep the windows shut and the heat is oppressive . We toss and groan for two hours, turning on and off the AC every twenty minutes until about 1 AM when grace descends in the form of light rain cooling the air and allowing us to drift off until about 4:30. After scaring a young man attempting to bathe in the rest room - its alright -- I strapped in behind the wheel and drove until shortly after sunrise when we stopped for coffee and Tenkar took over. A missed exit led us south of town, crossing 112 feet above the Mississippi on the older Memphis-Arkansas Memorial Bridge and through downtown, across a barricaded Beale St. before regaining I-40. We passed through early enough to avoid the normal police roadside profiling and shakedown so common in east Memphis and soon exited at Jackson, riding 412 back into the dark green corridors of mid-state and home. Clouds and cool weather seemed to follow us through rural Tennessee as we listened to Ray Davies, Other People's Lives.

It's the bravest move they'll ever make, but they have to make the break
That's the risk that they take, so don't hesitate, then so unexpectedly-
It might hit you on a sunny afternoon
Without a warning there's a thought,
It just comes over you

-Lonesome Train
(Ray Davies)

Possibly the largest single Indian depredation in East Texas, took place on October 5, 1838, in northwestern Cherokee County. The eighteen victims were members of an extended family who had immigrated to Texas from Talladega County, Alabama, the year before.

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