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Big Bend as a State of Mind

The Big Bend area assails every sensibility to which we have become accustomed in our insulated lives.

Terlingua Ghost Town

If you require the normal and the mundane, this area will make you uncomfortable. I was ill prepared while thinking I was ultimately cool and unaffected. Just doesn’t work that way down here. Big Bend is in your face; all the time. Life is by the drop and hard won. The people reflect that; products of the environment. I see it as we drive through town; the weathered faces and the dusty trucks.  Lean figures in Wranglers and worn boots.  Basic survival is never far below the surface of everything that matters.  Conversation trends toward the basics;  rain in an arid environment, the condition of the gravel roads that outnumber hard pavement 5 to 1.

It is hard to put a finger on why people even live down here to start with.

John at Stillwell

John at Stillwell's Store. A 9mm on the hip and a clasp knife in his pocket. Part of everyday life in the Big Bend

I could write a book about the people we have met and they all have a different story. The road they took to Big Bend is always different, The reason they stay is always the same.  Living close, always on the edge, lends a definite vitality to the life.   Everyone depends on the tourist trade to the parks that is completely seasonal.  From June until September, the heat drives everyone but the Locals far away.  They eke out a living until the winter visitors return.   The winter visitors provide them the means to survive another year and live the way they have chosen. Work does not define them as has become the social norm,  the Big Bend does.  That one thing is what puts them diametrically opposite to 99% of the U.S. population. Very little here aligns itself with what most of us encounter in everyday life. We were up in the Chisos Basin which approaches 7000 ft and they have a log in the Visitor’s Center that records the mountain lion and bear sightings in the area. I gave it a cursory glance and was amazed to see the sightings are almost an every day occurrence. We met with a Realtor today which is a not a real challenging endeavor — or so I

Deep in the Christmas Mountains

thought. One of the properties was 6 miles down a two lane track that took an hour to traverse. People live back there – totally off the grid. Power is from solar panels or wind generators; water comes from roof runoff captured in huge tanks.  The waitress at the restaurant says she stays here because of the serenity.  I had to ponder that for quite awhile.    I am beginning to understand it just a skooshy little bit.   The physical environment is breathtaking.  The night skies present a canopy of stars the likes of which I have never seen.   I don’t have the words to describe it properly and the pictures fail miserably.

I wrote this a few days ago:

“The great concepts of oneness and of majestic order seem always to be born in the desert.” (John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley)

I did not know fully what I wrote.  I am just beginning  to gain the understanding.   It is the mountains,  the desert, the people, the insulating remoteness  that distills into an essence more addicting than any drug.

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2 comments to Big Bend as a State of Mind

  • Joel

    Interesting narrative. Keep up the good work.

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  • Joel

    BTW, my uncle Bernie was a biology professor at Defiance College in northern Ohio (he’s emeritus now). He used to take a bunch of his students to Big Bend for an ecology field trip every year. Lots of backpacking and wilderness camping. My brother Mike (who works for the US Park Service now) went with him one year. Sounded like a great way to discover what you’re made of, as well as an interesting part of the world.

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