from Antelope Hills
One Can See the Panhandle
and an Uncertain Road Ahead.
August 30, 2002
Driving into the Panhandle at midday on Wednesday, I was surprised by an inner sparkle of awareness: My journey had fully and finally begun. It was one of those moments of private realization that mark another crossroads on the ultimate journey to the other side.
Eight days on the road should have already convinced me I was truly the traveller, but it hadn't. The holding power of Cricket Song, which is the family name of my Arkansas home and center of love and security, kept me looking back.
Mine is not an idle or easy journey, which I state without lament or self-pity. I don't plan to return for a long, long while. By bitter necessity I've left the one place where solace and comfort reign. A prospector with a grubstake of intellectual capital of uncertain value, I depart my third-world Arkansas to seek opportunity elsewhere. I carry a season or two of supplies and objectives to the open road — and a blueprint for permanent relocation.
For a week I had pushed ahead on the momentum of preparation, the stubbornness of commitment, the adrenalin of piloting a touring machine, and other dogged acts of Will that prevented my turning back. Then on Wednesday, just minutes after driving through the intersection of U.S. 283 and Oklahoma 3 (a pit stop known locally as Log Cabin Corner), I knew that my trail would end at some yet-revealed destination on the far-away face of the Zephyr — and not back in Arkansas.
Family History, Prairie Folklore.
Saturday evening through Wednesday morning, August 24 through 28, I stayed at Mrs. Wanda Purcell's Cheyenne Inn on the highway between Elk City and the edge of No Man's Land. A child of the Great Depression, Mrs. Wanda was a gracious hostess, sharing stories of family history and prairie folklore. I sat in the lobby each morning in the early light, sipping coffee, preparing for the day's interviews and tours, and listening to her delightful stories.
(Mrs. Purcell was thoughtful enough to wash a load of laundry for me at her own expense and place it neatly folded in my room — an act of kindness for which I am grateful. Her observations will appear in their rightful order in one of the features I am preparing for publication on corndancer.com in September.)
My purpose at Cheyenne was to explore the Black Kettle National Grassland, and learn about the plants, animals, and people of the prairie. I succeeded thanks to the openness and hospitality of the rangers, conservationists, town elders and private citizens I met there.
Here at my rustic retreat by Hackberry Bend on the Beaver Dunes, I work on the grasslands dispatch, and reflect on how I've come to this far-away place.
The east wind blows steady and gentle today, just as it has every day since the weekend past. Sometimes it gusts stoutly enough to topple an old windmill, or shake loose a few dry branches from the locust, osage orange, and elm that stand in rebellion against the naturally treeless grasslands.
Change in the Wind.
Rancher Terry Watson of Cheyenne, who annually runs a thousand or more head of #1 and #2 Okies to market in Dodge City, told me that the prolonged east wind is unusual. The winds should be blowing from the south, the southwest, the northwest. Perhaps the break of pattern connotes an early autumn and the end of a three-year drought. Monday night's hard rain, the result of a clash of winds high in the heavens, bathed the parched earth 'round Cheyenne with three-quarters to an inch of glorious water. The grasses grew several inches in just hours. The farmers, attuned to nature's cycles and signals, realized that the time for planting winter wheat is well nigh upon them.
Conversation with the plainspoken, analytical Mr. Watson riled up the radical region of my intellect, which isn't so difficult to rile in the Age of Dissolution. Listening to yet another man's frank exposition of the dismal acts of local, state, and federal government, I fired-up with indignation, but in the powerless way of the smallholder, the craftsman, and the shopkeeper.
USA is a government of mature and entrenched corruption, whose political leadership is officially blind to the gang rape inflicted by corporate raiders from insurance and banking interests upon the citizenry of the realm. Relentless and crooked, the arrogant ones in power stack the deck of days squarely against individualism, small enterprise, and honest labor. The capitalist beast is gone wild with greed and dishonesty.
"A man wants to work the land in an honest way," Mr. Watson said. "He wants to build and improve. When his time is done, he wants to leave the land in better condition than when he came to it. That's the natural way."
An unnatural government of banker friendly loan and relief programs, bogus insurance plans, ivory tower improvement schemes, and back-breaking taxation won't allow the smallholder to prosper. The just reward of local ownership and hard labor is stolen as booty for the rollers of big cigars in Washington, Oklahoma City, and million-acre corporate ranches on a dwindling prairie.
Me and trusty ole El Camino followed Terry Watson's Ford pick-up out of Cheyenne on Wednesday morn, headed due north at a right fast speed. After four days encamped at the way station, I was glad to be driving again — and honored to be invited to tour Mr. Watson's ranch, to tap once again his wealth of local knowledge about the critters and flora of the prairie, to visit the secluded Antelope Hills and see the highland view they provide of Snaky Bend on the Canadian River. I could forget about the government, its burdensome taxation and its boondoggles, the sorry state of its bureaucracy, and the fascist mentality that waits in ambush. I could forget because I'm free to do so. I did.