I’ve moved around a lot in my life.  After a couple of years in a new place learning the basics, I get the urge to explore around, to fill in what seem like blank spaces lacking history, lacking interest.  That’s what I’m up to in Texas right now.  It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You go off to a place and find lots of pieces: literature from the Chamber of Commerce, historic markers (lots and lots of these in Texas), churches, restaurants, banks and houses, chance conversations with people, but they don’t add up to a picture or a story.  That’s the trick. To put the pieces together to make a story.

This kind of exploration nicely fits with my project of understanding appropriation, whether cultural or of land, or the rejection of other people’s food.  I grew up on land that had been settled for at least four thousand years, probably longer. Those thousands of years had not been without incident, far from it. The overwhelming sense I had as a child, though, was that history weighed heavily, that it was hard to see what I could do that had not been done many, many times before.

Texas is the opposite. Although the area around the two small towns of San Saba and Lampasas that I went to a couple of weeks ago had long been places of passage or of habitation for Native Americans, the Spanish had scarcely got that far north, and the Europeans did not arrive in any numbers until the 1870s.  Then they were really remote. The hundred miles north from Austin that took me just a couple of hours and that with stops along the way took 12 whole days in an ox cart in the 1870s and 80s.

Somehow, though, settlers arrived, from other American states such as Alabama, and from Europe, presumably via the port of Galveston 300 miles away down on the coast. What they had to do was to make their history from scratch.

The land they found was not easy.  Little of this was on the rich black earth that forms a north-south band through central Texas. It was on limestone or hard metamorphic rock, so the soil was thin. Much of it was covered with scrubby juniper trees.  Most of the rivers dried up in the summer unless there was a gully washer when the soil was stripped off and flash floods tore down trees and ruined such tracks as there were.

This was rough hard country and people did what they could to survive.  Fighting and raiding went on between Indians and settlers, between big settlers and small farmers, as well as lynchings of those who were not thought to belong there.

Now the towns, particularly San Saba, which proclaims itself Pecan Capital of the World, showing signs of the gentrification that is going on in many small Texas towns. That’s another story though.

So what a day trip it was. I put together these pictures to remind me of it, as it passed from amusing to surprising, from searing to heart warming with each turn in the road. Of course, if you are Texan you will just smile at my naivety.

Edit.  A lovely surprise this morning when I woke to find three comments from the artists who painted the murals in Lampasas. Not only do I appreciate their generosity in writing but I’m impressed by the contribution they are making to their town. Here’s the web site for Vision Lampasas.

Actually, in many of the small towns I visit I’m running into volunteers staffing the museums, organizing events, running libraries etc., thus continuing the more than century-long efforts to make these towns richly interesting places to live.



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