15 February 2010
The Big Bend region of Texas consists of the expansive Big Bend National Park – one of the largest in the country – and a few small towns: Terlingua, Study Butte, and Lajitas. Including the entire area of Brewster County, with the cities of Alpine and Marathon about an hour away north of Big Bend, the area is just over 6,000 square miles with a little over 9,000 people – that’s about one and a half persons per square mile. And about 5,000 of those people live in Alpine, so the further you get into the Big Bend area towards the U.S.-Mexico border, the more remote it gets.
Living such long distances from their neighbors and friends – when they get together, it’s a meaningful occasion. There are campfires instead of televisions, there is music playing instead of video game playing, and as one of my new Big Bend friends put it, “when you get sick out here, people check in on you and bring you soup” because they know you can’t just run down to the corner pharmacy.
I just can’t get Big Bend out of my head – it gives me the kind of lovesick feeling I’d get when I was a teenager and couldn’t stop thinking about a particular boy. I’ve been on the internet and at the library, researching the history of Big Bend, looking up photographs, trying to picture myself old and white haired living on a giant plot of land with a greenhouse to grow my vegetables, goats and cows for milk and meat, and an off-grid adobe cabin running solar power for heat and light and a rain-catchment system for water.
At first, I didn’t completely understand the love that Big Bend residents had for their land and for their way of life. I didn’t understand why they felt so sad when they left and were always so anxious to return. I didn’t understand how they could go days without a shower, how they dealt with the never-ending dust on all clothes and belongings, how they could survive the cold and hot temperatures without central heat and cooling, how they could be so brave to use the outdoor potty (necessarily placed far enough away from the main shelter for sanitary reasons) in the middle of the night with coyotes and javelinas running wild.
We don’t own the earth, much in the way we don’t own the people we love. The only way the earth – and true love – will survive is if we don’t clutter it or restrain it for our own comfort, but rather, let it unfold as it naturally should.
Visit my Flickr page to see recent photos from West Texas.