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  • David Fowler

Travelling Between Planets in Texas

Updated: Jul 14, 2023



In 1986 I journeyed every weekend from my regular job in Dallas down to a four-room rented shack on 400 acres, an hour away, in a part of Texas far beyond the suburbs where the world transformed into an archipelago of tiny, fading farm towns, maize fields and windblown prairie. City people sometimes say they want a little house out in the country, and I actually found one, for a hundred dollars a month. It was bleak, lonely and perfect.


In the day, the wind would build speed as the sun came up and not stop until evening, when rain might come in torrential blue sheets and wallops of thunder that smacked the house and rattled the old windows. There were no hills and few trees to impede the forces of nature.

At night the coyotes took over, circling the house with maniacal, blood-curdling screams. Then, as suddenly as their serenade had begun, silence. Just the sound of a night bird far away, and the southerly wind rustling the tall grasses. Always the wind.

I began to explore the unnamed dirt roads and farm tracks in my pickup truck, discovering Mesquite Cemetery, invisible from the road, tucked within a mesquite break. I walked the graves that dated back a hundred years, to the first settlers, finding a poignant section for infants and children where many headstones were dated 1917, the great Spanish flu epidemic. I imagined holding a child, being far from a doctor, helpless out here on the prairie, with nothing but wind and coyotes to distract you from what was coming.

I would jump sagging barbed-wire fences to explore abandoned, falling-down farmhouses, some with moth-eaten dresses and Sunday suits still hanging in closets and tables still set with dirty dishes, as if the ghostly owners might appear again expecting to dress up and sit down for supper. I was curious about these haunted houses, and began stopping at nearby farms and knocking on doors to find out the stories. I rummaged through the old McCall place, a leaning wood farmhouse with a child’s drawings etched on the walls like cave paintings, wasps buzzing and board floors begging to collapse on my next step and send me to the cellar. That’s how I met Watson Greenhill. I stopped at his house to inquire about the McCall place.

He was a big man in overalls, with a perfect shock of white hair and kindly blue eyes. We sat on his front porch. He told me he had lived in the McCall house at one time, so he knew the story.

“Old man McCall had farmed that place in the Depression. He went out back one night to the barn and sat down on some feed sacks and shot himself. Crop failure.”


I did not see that story coming.


Watson Greenhill gave me the news on his current house, shown in the picture. He and his wife had lived there for forty years.


“I’ve topped the roof twice and floored the porch a couple of times,” he said. He pointed out some low spots on the porch which he couldn't explain.

"Something wrong somewhere," he said.

He went inside and returned with a Siamese cantaloupe. Two perfectly formed melons grown together on the same stem.

"Squash will do that," he said, "but I never seen a cantaloupe do it, and I raised 'em all my days."

I was glad I had stopped, to witness the event.


I thanked him for his time, then moved on down the road, back to the shack I loved, the wind and coyotes, trying not to think of Sunday night, when I’d make the journey back to a distant planet an hour away. A strange world built of concrete and money. Dallas.


_________


David Fowler spent the summer of 1986 travelling across what was once the Blackland Prairie of Texas, taking pictures and collecting short interviews. Many of his photographs are held in the Center for American History at The University of Texas. He is now legally blind and lives in Jackson, MS.

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Jan 25
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Loved reading this piece in between a hectic work day.

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