Renewing The Pioneer Spirit

About 50 yards from my home in Elbow Canyon is an old abandoned telephone line.  Two wires on a 10- foot pole that leans almost to the ground.  The wires go up and over the hill back towards Fort Davis and over the ridge in the opposite direction to points west.  I like to think of the conversations these wires carried half a century or more ago, the news they brought––joyful and sad, the wonder and satisfaction of hearing a voice on the other end of a handset for the first time. The men who set the poles were almost certainly ranchers putting it together on their own, no phone company involved, literally bringing the future to their homes, tying the ranches, town and families together.  Creating community.

A few evenings ago our town displayed something very different from that spirit of community.  Rather than utilizing the opportunity at our Town Hall meeting to honestly and constructively discuss, analyze and learn from the many things that went right and the few things that went wrong during the Rock House Fire, we apparently chose instead to re-enact the familiar yet worn-out theater of “locals vs. newcomers”.

We should ask ourselves: How many years does a resident of Jeff Davis County have to call this place home to be seen as a legitimate member of the community?  At what point does their voice matter?  Five years? Ten years?  Fifty years? If so, perhaps we ought to make that number known to families thinking about putting down roots here.  Or maybe there isn’t a number but only some intricate web of family ties and acres owned that bestows the crown of legitimacy on a citizen, like feudal societies of the past.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I always thought our system of representative democracy was designed so all citizens could have a voice and that each voice mattered; that the decisions of our elected officials were supposed to be made in transparency for the public good and with the public’s involvement in the process, and that asking questions of our representatives is not only a right but a duty. You know: “Of the People, By the People, For the People.”

A common chorus in the above-referenced theater is “This isn’t Houston/Dallas/Austin/whatever.” I believe newcomers understand that, and I don’t believe people who move here want to see this place become like those places.  After all, they come here for a reason.  At the same time does that mean we should close the door on progress?  Sure, there’s a conversation to be had as to what progress means and how that should manifest, but by having that conversation we are then working together towards a common goal, not alienating our neighbors and perpetuating divisiveness in our community.

Honestly, look at our main street.  How many businesses have come and gone over the last decade or so, and are struggling to survive today; how many buildings are idle or underutilized?   How many of our kids have had to leave to find simple work, let alone careers?  Sure, times are tough, but we cannot be willfully blind to economic decline while trying to put the brakes on “change.”

One thing is certain: change is inevitable. It can either be for the better or for the worse.  We can’t stop change; we can only try to influence it in a positive direction.  As sad and tragic as the wildfires have been for our area they also brought us an extraordinary opportunity to renew and revitalize our area by articulating a vision of the future and working together to achieve it.

Regardless of where they settled, when our ancestors laid the first rock for a home’s foundation, drove the first fencepost, dug the first well, cleared the first road or built a rural phone line, they were all creating change––bringing “progress” to an area that benefited from their vision and hard work.  When we cling to the unattainable stance of “I like things the way they are,” we are, in truth, failing to honor the pioneer spirit and very real efforts of our forebears, who toiled and bled to make a better place for their children and their children’s children.  Isn’t that what we all want?  A place that’s better tomorrow than it was yesterday because of our efforts?

Our tomorrow can be a model of community with our feet firmly placed in the rich and proud past, our eyes looking forward and our hands working together today.

The only thing we lack is a renewed pioneer spirit for Jeff Davis County––an attitude that welcomes the energy and expertise of people who want to call this land home, who have come here to build their lives and a more vibrant community––like our ancestors did so many years ago. The people of our county––at this moment––have an incredible opportunity to renew the pioneer spirit that built this wonderful country and to share a common ground of respect.  Let’s start today.

It’s cold

Coldest day ever here at Elbow Canyon, at least the coldest since I’ve been here (10 years almost).  Pretty sure it’s a record; will have to check.  Real temp -2 this morning; wind chill -11.  The whole North side of the house has no water; I’m sure the pipe is frozen in the ground.  South side is okay.  Kind of struggling to heat the place; have the heaters and the wood stove going strong but it’s still in the low 60s inside the house.  Light snow falling and no sunshine so I’m having to run the generator for a while, and it was pretty hard to start.

There are many wonderful things about living up here and living off-grid (rest of Texas and much of the US is enjoying rolling blackouts for electricity) but we’re really not well suited for these kind of extreme temperatures.

Music has changed

Over the end credits on “Dexter” tonight (yes, I’m about a month behind) they played “I’m Your Vehicle” by Blood Sweat & Tears. I asked Anjela if she remember that song and she said it was a little before her time… I was listening to the horns on the TV speakers and was taken back to Jr. High listening to that album. Really loud on the “good stereo” in my parents’ living room. Where the analog notes would reverberate through your spine. The horns! That bari sax! A true wall of sound!

And then I thought how different our interaction with music is today. Digitized. Shrunk into little ear pods that cannot possibly reproduce sound properly. I realized I don’t even have a good stereo in my house any more. Me! The guy with 10 feet of vinyl and a few hundred CDs, not to mention about 15,000 songs on my hard drive. That’s just not right. Gonna have to fix that. I still have the gear, just no good speakers any more.

We used to sit down and listen to music. Now music is either a soundtrack to our daily lives (if we are lucky) or an event we participate in at great expense (a concert). Or if we’re lucky an experience where you get to be in the same room with one or more talented musicians and hear them make good, handmade music on fine instruments in a good setting.

That’s what we like to do with the Border Blasters. It’s what we do best, really.   

Cenizo Journal

Last month I spent an embarrassingly long time talking about myself with Jim Glendenning who was writing his portrait article for the Cenizo Journal; the spiritual successor to the wonderful Desert Candle quarterly arts magazine for the Trans-Pecos. I picked up the issue and read the little blurb about me.

It’s strange to read about yourself. Even stranger to see an hour conversation about your life history distilled into a few paragraphs in print – sort of like reading your own obituary written by someone who doesn’t know you real well. Jim did a fine job, don’t misunderstand, but it’s just a little odd, y’know.

And I want to clarify one thing that isn’t completely correct in the article: I did not launch the Harvest Moon & Tunes Festival here in FD. Yes, I suppose it was mostly my idea and I worked really hard on producing the music part of it, but there were so many people who actually took the “Hey, this would be a great place for a small music festival” idea and made it a reality. Lanna Duncan produced basically everything besides the music part, and I’ll get into trouble if I try to mention others because I’ll forget somebody. It’s time for something like that in Fort Davis again. I’ll produce the music again if we can get enough backing to make it viable.

The Social Network

Just saw The Social Network. Not only is it a well-crafted film but it is a snapshot of our American culture today. Where riches are made overnight on an “Idea” (and in this case someone else’s idea!) – not by years of hard work, or actually making something you can touch, see or hear. Zuckerberg’s character comes across as pathetic, lonely, no social skills, impressionable by the “cool guys” and quite probably amoral, perhaps bordering sociopathic. If there is a human villain in the movie it is Sean Parker’s character, who is yesterday’s news trying very hard to remain relevant and sees an opportunity. But the true villain is greed. Greed for power, status and money of course.

It’s a brilliant social commentary and you don’t have to be a computer nerd to get it.

Like I’ve said before we have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. If there were another open-source place that did it right it would leave Facebook in the dust. With Facebook you are not the customer, you are the product and don’t ever forget it.

That trickling down you feel…

Even George HW Bush knew that tax cuts for the rich was the worst possible return on economic growth. He called it “Voodoo Economics”. It destroyed our economy in the 80s and, golly geewhilikers, did the same thing in the 2000s. And yet the Republicans are convincing Americans that unless the richest 2% of citizens get to keep the Bush giveaway of our economy then we are in for disaster. Uh, I got news for you: We are in a disaster and you guys caused it.

It’s a robbery, plain and simple. They are robbing you to give to their campaign donors. Keep repeating that until it sinks in. These robbers have engineered the biggest shift of wealth from the middle class to the top 1% in a century. It is recreating the conditions that led to the first Great Depression.


When the rich are taxed our economy grows because they would rather put their earnings back into growing and expanding businesses than pay it in taxes. All economists know this. Don’t let the Richie Rich Party sell you on the myth that someday you will be in the top 1% of income earners. You won’t be, I won’t be, not if we let them push the middle class down.

That trickling down you feel is the GOP pissing on you.

Sharon & Kelly

Goddammit, we’ve lost two friends in the last week.  I just heard that Sharon Faulkner, friend and local paramedic, was killed in a air ambulance airplane crash last night.  Our hearts go out to Jerry, Casey, Seth and all her family.   Last week Kelly Fenstermaker lost her long battle with cancer. Kelly was my next door neighbor before we moved to the ranch and a co-volunteer at Marfa Public Radio.

Both of these were treasures of human beings.  They both touched humanity in their own ways.  Sharon literally made people right, helped them through the hardest traumas.  Kelly was a window to life and the land and people.

When my daughter told me of Sharon’s passing today she texted, “ok, well now i feel the need to tell you how much i love you and i’m incredibly thankful to have you in my life.”

Whether it’s by text, by phone, by a handwritten letter, or looking them in the eye, it’s never too late to tell those who matter to you, even those with whom you are just friends, that you care.

It’s Sunday.  If your mom is still around give her a call.

Last night in Elbow Canyon

At some point I’ll get the galleries the way I like them. I’m going to try and upload new photos regularly – good, bad, mediocre – just new photos.

Sitting outside last night while Anjela upstairs reading Aiden to sleep. Tossing the ball for Birdie, enjoying a breeze, looking at the big clouds on the horizon, and these little guys over the ridge turning orange, then magenta, then grey.