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I decided to go to Texas for a few weeks to commune with nature and talk to some Texans. So I headed for Southwest (SW) Texas, Big Bend National Park, and a few Texas State Parks to camp, hike, and fish a little. Let me start by saying that SW Texans are really nice people, at least to old white guys on the road, even one from near Washington DC, their epicenter of evil. Although I only rarely scratched below the surface and never told anyone that I don’t believe in either god or guns, there was an ease of interchange in Southwest Texas that surprised me a bit – folks really do say “howdy,” smile, and make eye contact.

But contradictions abound that suggest that a good scratch below the surface could make everyone uncomfortable. Mexicans and Latinos (legal status unknown) are everywhere within about 100 miles of the border. In SW Texas, the border is everywhere, as well. If you think that building a fence along the Texas border with Mexico is a good and practical idea, you probably own stock in a security company or are a Texan or both. In much of Big Bend, even though you know the river is the border, half the time you can’t tell where Mexico is, and it isn’t hard to find folks wading, swimming, or crossing the river on horseback, none of whom look like Border Patrol guys.

Securing the border is an impossible “dream” made impossible by the Rio Grande River which is long, shallow, twisting, and surrounded by real mountains and real desert. The Border Patrol has a few annoying highway checkpoints and lots of trucks running around the countryside, but it sure seems like they are the real keeper of the big secret – no one can secure this border. As someone who hardly cares about securing the border, sitting in my campsite looking at the majesty of the Mexican mountains, it was easy for me to smile. This situation is also good for consumers of contraband tequila and other stuff.

Guns and alcohol presented another interesting set of contradictions in Texas with laws and local ordinances all over the map, although there seems to be some trending away from prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday and toward open carry laws for handguns. I expected to see guns everywhere, but saw them almost nowhere. I expected to be able to find booze whenever I wanted it and wasn’t disappointed.

Other than my time in Big Bend National Park, I was mostly hanging out in Texas State Parks. In the Texas State Parks, it is against the law to publicly display or consume alcohol of any kind. I tried to find out what this meant for hanging around one's campsite with a heavy thirst for Jack Daniels, but never was able to get a clear answer. Best I could tell no one will bother you if you are drinking your Jack from a Coke can and headed to some point just short of hurling inebriation. This turned out to be similar to the law regarding handguns in the State Parks – you can carry licensed concealed firearms in the parks, but open carry somehow isn’t permitted. If you want both booze and your handgun at the same time, your best bet appears to be sitting in your truck drinking your Jack from a Coke can while fondling your gun.

On the road, roadrunners run and trailer park housing seems all the rage, particularly in the small towns that dot the landscape with boarded up convenience stores of yesteryear and maybe a small Mexican restaurant the only signs of commerce. Much of the land is desert crisscrossed with gullies, creeks, draws and other completely dry “waterways” with high water markers to five feet at the roadside, along with ominous road signs warning of raging torrents to come. In Alpine, Texas, I found a newspaper vending machine with a newspaper from 2013 still available for purchase. With all of this and much more, there was an almost eerie quality of waiting for something to happen that permeated the countryside.

As for wildlife, birds and wildflowers were big items I encountered on my journey. Southwest Texas is apparently home to all sorts of birds that are really hard to find elsewhere. Part of this seems to be due to the climate and part of it is due to the presence of rivers, deserts and mountains in close proximity and along migratory routes. I encountered many a birder laden with viewing and photo equipment in search of birds to add to their “life list.” Now I will tell you that I probably like birds more than most folks in the general population, but I have never lost it over a bird sighting nor sat for hours on end with huge binoculars and ultimo lens camera at the ready, listening for the call of the Colima warbler, a rare Big Bend bird. But birders do sit for hours doing this, even to the exclusion of drinking Jack in a Coke can.

Wildflower folks are only slightly less passionate, but for some reason it is a lot easier to see them not only drinking Jack in a Coke can, but fondling their concealed handguns as well. Their passion is driving the countryside in awe and then stopping suddenly in dangerous spots along the road so they can take pictures. Since I hadn’t spotted any known rare birds, I felt compelled to join this latter tradition.

All of this is by way of saying that I had a wonderful time in SW Texas. Part of the reason for this is surely the friendly folks and beautiful open spaces. But, I must admit, part of it was the complete absence of newspapers with current news and even NPR for much of the way. However, I was able to find out that Obama ensured that Iran will get nuclear weapons and Israel will be obliterated, that cops seriously need to avoid doing their work in public, and that a dizzying array of conservative megastars is on the path to saving America and regaining its exceptional place in the world order.

Now that I have the Texas sojourn out of my system, I will try to figure out how it can be that I go away for a few weeks and the nation falls apart.

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