Saturday, August 6, 2011

Piss and Vinegar

Just in case you haven't heard, Texas is on fire. Every morning the meteorologists update the number of back-to-back triple digit temps we've had in a row. Currently I believe we're in the 50's. As in 50 + days that it's been 100 degrees or more. Day after day after day. The drought also continues to be of central concern for all the obvious reasons. For months this was compared to the drought of " '56" or of " '58," I can't remember which. I just know this rivaled what stood for decades as the most devastating drought on record. I heard the other day that we've now far surpassed the record. Everyone handles the weather uniquely. For me it's been a quiet resolve to just put the head down and carry on. After all, despite all the things we have accomplished in the 21st century, we can't change the weather. (Ok well, we CAN, which is likely why it's been so damn hot - but I'll try to keep my personal opinions regarding climate change out of things. For now).
(Don't try this at home, kids)

A few weeks ago Jer rented that monster, Bertha II, which he subsequently fell in love with and talked about wistfully for days after she was returned. As I mentioned before, she successfully bulldozed what needed clearing and smoothed what was impassable. In the process of all this dirt turning, a new bounty of Indian tools emerged from the ground, as I suspected they would since hundreds already cover the property. The largest tools: bone crushers, hide scrapers, diggers, and spear points, seem regurgitated from the ground everywhere. I trip on them each time I take a walk. At first it was fascinating and then they became so ubiquitous that I stopped paying attention. Yea, yea, yea. There were Indians here. They made tools and did stuff. Big deal.

But two things happened recently that suddenly made me take notice again: 1) We started seriously clearing for the build; and 2) I read a (fantastic) book about the Comanche nation (Empire of the Summer Moon). The tools, the culture, the original settlers that undoubtedly also tried to clear this land once? It's a big deal.

So I've been thinking a lot about people that make their minds up about things, hold tight and do what they've set out to accomplish. During the early-mid 1800's thousands of Americans spilled across the northeastern Texas border in wagons filled with paltry resources, staked a claim, and clawed out an existence. The Spanish and Mexicans came before this. This was more than felling trees, building cabins, and planting corn. This was also stepping directly onto soil swarming with Native Americans who's culture centered on war, territory, and pride. I think a lot now about this collision of forces that literally occurred on dirt where we've planted the four corners of our house. Different people all together but still filled with the same unbridled tenacity that makes you dig your heels in. Remnants of these folks are everywhere. The young forest on our front 5 acres indicates someone was here before and cleared the ancient woods some time ago to make way for..something. Crops? Cattle? The tools that litter the ground are evidence that the Tonkawa walked every inch, carved heavy, rough tools for food preparation, and then dropped the stone scrapers before moving along. Their nomadic lifestyle didn't allow for packing heavy. And in the midst of all this were the Comanches that would swoop in from the west, terrorizing the settlers and the Tonkawa, flexing their culture's war-based muscles, and re-asserting themselves as the true rulers of Texas. Again and again. In an old cemetery across our road sits a crooked headstone with the words scratched onto its face, "Killed by Indians."

In those days, people out here were filled with enough piss and vinegar to survive off this land, whether Native, Mexican, or American. They didn't have Bertha II or Bambi, the chainsaw, or gasoline to run any contraption. There was no AC to shelter them from the infernal summer. What happened in a drought like this without city water to fill a cup?

It's a bad time to break ground. I cringe for the electric company staff who are scheduled to set our poles and run the lines next week. During Jer's epic week of clearing, I worried about heatstroke every afternoon when I knew he was piling logs and pushing dirt under the sun. Not that we'd ever be driven to conquer land in brutal territory, but I've noticed how distinctly we fall in a category when it comes to tenacity. Despite the weather, despite any level of certainty about what exactly we're doing out there, we're moving forward. Our reasons are vastly different from those of the original settlers and Indians, I'm sure. But on some level, it's the same primal desire to stake a claim and live off the land of our piss-and-vinegar forebears. I've made piles of the Indian tools under various trees throughout the property. Some I'll keep but most I'll scatter again onto the dirt as a burial - or memorial. This land isn't really ours, it's just a place we've borrowed.


Brett said...

Nice! Ironically I read an Indian proverb the other day that reads almost identically to your last words, "We did not inherit this land, we borrowed it from our children."

No Name Farm/Ranch said...

I love that!