A Walk in West Texas

Standing behind the counter in our store one recent day, I overheard one customer telling another how he'd defended the Permian Basin's beauty. He thought this was a fine place to live until, he explained, he went away on vacation, and as he was driving back and the landscape got flatter and flatter and seemed to lose its color, he decided that maybe this place wasn't pretty after all.

I disagreed, and said so. But a lot of beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes you just have to slow down to see it. So it was that on a warm winter day, my children and I decided to take a walk around our one-acre lot out in Midland County, to look for things to appreciate.

At this time of year there is not much green left, but there is a great deal of beauty to be found in the old seed pods that wait for the next strong West Texas wind to shake the seeds right out of them. We stood in front of a sharp-bladed yucca, this one just a small plant which held its flowers on a stem that rose higher than the heads of my children. The once milky-white flowers had dried to a crisp, almost black color and their shape and size reminded me of a tulip. When my son grabbed the stalk and shook it, it rattled, and my daughter grabbed another, and we were soon in the middle of a swirl of flat black seeds, as thick as a perverse snowfall.

There is another plant that rattles nicely in the winter, one that has many branches ending in vase-shaped vessels for seeds -- in the summer these were the necks of inconspicuous white dandelion-like flowers, but now the petals are long gone and when these plants are pushed by a breeze, they rattle with a lovely hollow sound, a natural wind chime.

In fact the ever-present wind out here makes beautiful music all the time, rustling through the heads of the wild grasses which are, I think, the glory of West Texas. When autumn comes to the grasses, fat after collecting the sparse rains, and the seed heads dry and turn all shades of buff and brown and rust, and the lowering winter sun slants down toward the horizon, it lights all those plumes up into a halo of fire, and the prairie that stretches to the wide horizon glows white and gold with a beauty that is unmatched anywhere.

We gathered up the grasses: huge plumes of tall-grass, curling heads of buffalo grass, and the airy stalks of side-oats gramma, and a fantastic collection of seed heads from flowers, some substantial, some lacy. Once back home, we would arrange these in a jar to show off our captured bit of West Texas beauty.

My children and I also went looking for animal tracks, and here in our own back yard we found the print of a big cat (I have seen bobcats) and quail. Over the years we have lived here we have seen a mother grey fox keeping an eye on playful kits; caught and released hornytoads, lizards, and jackrabbit babies; admired hummingbirds and exotic Central American birds, finches and roadrunners, and observed -- from a distance -- all manner of snakes. Sometimes I imagine folks passing by on the local Interstate Highway thinking how dead the area seems. All you see from I-20 is endless miles of tumbleweeds and mesquite bushes, oil wells and the occasional cotton field. But you only have to slow down to discover the richness of life here. Stop and admire the prairie dogs sometime: they will make you laugh.

Over all this arches a vast blue sky. No one could feel claustrophobic here. And at night the stars are, if not exactly big, then very very bright, just like in the song.

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1998 Linda Blanchard. All rights reserved worldwide. Date Added: April 25, 1998. Last Update: May 29, 2005.