The Playa Begins to Stir

When last we left the playa lake I’ve been watching and sort of quasi documenting for just over a year, it was dormant. Two and a half inches of snow had disappeared into the knee-high bunchgrasses surrounding the main basin, and the longer reeds and sedges of the inner basin absorbed all the moisture that might fall. A coyote had sniffed around the school during class hours, drawn by the shelter of the wind, and by the smaller mammals that also sought out protection and heat. Otherwise the world lay still, quiet, sleeping. But slowly, in fits and starts, green returned to the land. Continue reading

Broad History of a Flat Place

I’ve been on the road a great deal recently, traveling with friends or going to a regional history meeting. I’m following old routes, some of the time: rivers, chains of rainwater lakes, little swales in the landscape that catch water and gradually lead to canyons, then to the eastern low plains. Other routes belong to machines rather than ancient men, pathways laid in straight lines from city to city, diverting only to avoid the impossible, or to reach the occasional older market. No dramatic terrain meets the eye, no startling contrast other than that of sky and ground meeting somewhere far, far away. Continue reading

Waiting for the Storms

The Panhandle spent Tuesday waiting. Storms were coming. Everyone knew it, felt it, you could smell the water in the wind. But when would they come? How bad would they be?

Thick clouds kept the morning cold, with a strong south wind pumping even more moisture into the area. Then the wind swung, dropping the temperature. By ten AM, I could not see the pasture fence ten yards from my classroom window. And radar showed storms to the west, moving northeast at a brisk pace. The line seemed to be filling in to the south, and moving east, but when? And how strong? With the temperature in the upper 50s, tornadoes and large hail wouldn’t be a concern, but what hid in the thick, swirling grey fog and twilight-dark sky? Continue reading

Tuesday Tale

An excerpt from one of the North American Power stories, featuring Leigh Kendall, geologist and trouble-shooter.

Jake Nutter, the driller in charge of the John Marshall # 5, started pulling the bit as soon as he heard the sound and felt the vibration in the platform change, but he was too late. The heavy steel pipe dropped almost out of sight and all the available drilling mud vanished down the hole, pulled into a void that should not have been there. “Damn and blast it,” Jake swore. Once everything had slowed and the drill bit stopped, the roughnecks on the rig floor started pulling the pipe up enough to add additional sections, while the mud man worked to keep the critical fluid moving into the hole so it didn’t try and collapse. This was the fourth time in a week that something had gone wrong with this well, and although he wasn’t superstitious, Jake started to wonder.

He took a moment to climb down from the drilling platform. A hot summer Texas sun glared down on the crew and Jake pulled a clean-ish bandana out of his back pocket and wiped the sweat from under his hardhat. Typical August, and not as bad as some places he’d worked, Jake grimaced. I’ll go work in the Amazon before you get me back in Saudi he promised yet again. In Brazil you only had the environment working against you, not the environment and people too. The driller kicked a rock, making a puff of reddish dust as he walked over to where the geologist and the mud man were looking at the rig readings. “Not supposed to be a hole,” Jake stated.

Amos McKenna, the geologist, spread his hands in a “don’t look a me” gesture. “Here’s the seismograph, and here’s, well, something that’s not supposed to be there.”

“There’s nothing there.”

“Nothing’s not supposed to be there,” Amos growled. “We’re past the gippy layers and now that we’re under the Rodrick shale, we shouldn’t be hitting anything but sandstone until we reach the Lipscomb granite.” He pointed to the log from the John Marshall #4 mounted on the side of the trailer. Continue reading

Places of Meaning

Fr. Romanus and Miss Thalia were talking about great moments on school trips. Miss Thalia recounted taking a group of advanced students to England on a drama and literature trip, and visiting Poets’ Corner. Fr. Romanus reminisced about finally getting to see the island of Ithaca, and just how much the opportunity meant, and how powerful the moment was. Several of the teachers and staff have either taken school trips, traveled on their own, or have been assigned places outside the US at least once. I think Mr. Long-Slavic-Last-Name may hold the school record for “visiting places smart tourists don’t go,” while I hold the European duration record (cumulative). But the conversation started me thinking about places that made connections I’d never sensed before.

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“…For the Glory of the Skies…”

Note: I wrote this while I was still flying EMS, thus the odd tense changes and rough prose.

I haven’t flown with Steve on the med crew since I’d made captain. Like many of our nurses and EMTs, he works at a couple of other hospitals when he isn’t be-bopping about in our King Air, and our schedules missed each other. So when he flops into the right seat that early morning out of Denver, I don’t know what to expect. (Steve will say he didn’t “flop.” After being on the run since one in the morning, everyone flops, author included.)

Anyway, we depart Denver at five something, heading eastbound. The sturdy turboprop slides into the clouds at twelve thousand feet, and stays in them. And stays. Puzzled, I look for stars and try to figure out how the layer has gotten so thick in the ninety minutes since we’ve landed. Then I see the morning star and catch myself. The paling sky blends into the clouds so well that it masks the horizon we’d crossed fifteen hundred feet after entering the deck. As the plane chugs up to nineteen thousand feet, we can see dying thunderheads silhouetted purple against the northern skyline. “How high are they?” Steve asks. Continue reading

The Buzz-heard Round the World

So, Friday morning, the sun was rising, the grackles were gracking, other birds chirped, a few joggers thudded past, and four very large birds settled into the neighbor’s ornamental plum-tree. Very large birds. Dark, large birds. One of the four lumbered off before I could get a quick photo.

Probably not what the neighbor wanted to see as he opened the blinds and started on the first cup of coffee.

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