A Curious Case: The Woodmen and the Women

talimenaoverlook Ouachita National Forest,  viewed from the Talimena Scenic Byway

Less formally known as Talimena Drive, the Scenic Byway uncurls along the ridgeline of Winding Stair and Rich mountains. Passing through southeastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, its fifty-mile length includes the highest points to be found between the Appalachians and the Rockies; the wooded valleys of the Ouachita National Forest, rolling away to the south and to the north, belie the complex and ultimately hopeful history of an area obsessed with its trees.

I would have missed Talimena Drive had it not been for a friend’s suggestion that I take the more circuitous, though ultimately more interesting, route through the mountains while on my way to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Quite apart from stunning vistas and emerging fall color, the more leisurely drive also would allow for a visit to the Muse Cemetery: an opportunity to confirm that my own muse hadn’t been interred while my back was turned.

The Come-and-Take-It Duck

Dissolving into the late afternoon heat, a sweet stench of rotting fruit thickened the air, rendering it palpable as withered petals fading and dropping from the passiflora.  Torpid among the vines, bees buzzed erratically, seemingly ambivalent about their task. Like the bees, I’d come to work, but I suspected none of us would be disappointed when darkness brought labor to an end.

After days of rain, alleyways between the rows of melons, tomatoes, and eggplant remained soggy: rich in puddles, and riddled with crawdad chimneys. Though good for still-ripening figs, water was bringing an end to the abundant tomato crop. Soggy as the ground, their skins splitting, fruit fell to the ground or fell to pieces at the first hint of a touch. Finding still-firm tomatoes required concentration, and the development of a rhythm: search, test, pluck, bucket. (more…)

The Ghosts of Camels Past: From Winsome to Weird

Doug Baum & Gobi check out El Paso’s “Tumbleweed Times”

I suspect Mary Shirkey would have enjoyed meeting Doug Baum, founder of the Texas Camel Corps. Clearly, she would have enjoyed meeting Doug’s sidekick, Gobi: especially if they met during the camel’s seasonal shedding, when Gobi’s fine, undercoat hair could be collected.

Mrs. Shirkey seems to have had entrepreneurial tendencies, combined with a decent amount of chutzpah. In a letter written to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis from San Antonio on August 12, 1856, Henry Wayne, the U.S. Army Major charged with overseeing Davis’s Great Camel Experiment, described the results of his encounter with Mrs. Shirkey as the camels traveled from Indianola to Camp Verde.

Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 8:59 pm  Comments (72)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Ghosts of Camels Past: From Tunisia to Texas

At the entrance to Old Camp Verde

North of Bandera Pass, the Texas hills soften, then flatten and spread into ranch land, orchards, and towns. Where the former Great Western Cattle Trail intersects Verde Creek Road, a turn to the east brings you to the parking lot of the Camp Verde General Store and Post Office: an establishment with a century and a half of history, an abundance of modern wares, and a significant commitment to retailing.

But if you turn west, away from the store, choosing instead to follow the narrow, two-lane road along the cypress-lined banks of Verde Creek itself, you’ll come to the ruins of the general store’s namesake: the original Camp Verde. Established in 1855 as headquarters for Jefferson Davis’s so-called “Great Camel Experiment,” the camp had a short but memorable run as the U.S. Army’s only North American caravansary.

Published in: on June 6, 2015 at 8:16 pm  Comments (92)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Ghosts of Camels Past – Part I

The Camp Verde Store ~ Then

Like donning a pair of well-worn boots, easing into rural Texas elicits sighs of pleasure. Scuffed in places, streaked with mud, even a bit run-down about the edges, the place is comfortable — often more functional than stylish, but not given to pinching the soul.

Over time, you discover that slipping into country life requires little more than a willingness to slow down. After leaving efficient but nerve-wracking interstate highways behind, I met the world’s most dependably satisfying burger in tiny Center Point, served up under a sign that read, “This is not Houston. This is not Dallas. We don’t do fast. We do good. Your choice.”  

It’s still the world’s best burger, and I still make the choice to stop every time I’m in the neighborhood. Then, hunger sated, I turn south and west, passing the fire-ravaged hay barn that lives only in memory; the determined Norfolk pine; the chickens and guineas ranging along the edge of River Road. Where frayed and fraying ropes hang like pendulous vines from swamp-worthy cypress, young boys swing out across the water, shrieking with delighted fear. (more…)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 13,783 other followers