Creative Nonfiction: West Texas Mountain Retreat
Kay Rippy lives in Dallas and has been writing for years. She currently works as a technical writer for a Japanese Air Conditioning company but her heart belongs in creative writing!
Rippy also love to paint & scuba dive, have a husband, 2 cats and a dog.
West Texas Mountain Retreat
Driving from Dallas to Midland is uneventful and easy. All good highway across a very barren stretch of land, it can be achieved in less than six hours. I did see a herd of Brahma cattle (pretty with their smoky gray coat and impressive hump), a coyote run across the highway, and a peculiar billboard featuring a smiling elderly man. A 3K reward was offered for information on the missing Loy Wilson. When I stopped for gas in Clyde, a white-haired, tall, wiry man about 75 was holding the door open for a lady coming out of the food mart. As I entered the store I hesitated, thinking he might not want to hold the door all day. He turned to me, without making eye contact, and said “Well, GIT ON IN THERE.” West Texans have their own brand of etiquette.
At the Midland airport I hooked up with Julian’s girlfriend Jan, who had flown in from DFW. We drove her rental car the additional three hours to Fort Davis where Julian’s house sits atop a mountain. You have to get past Pecos, about 90 minutes from the airport, to begin to glimpse scenery you wouldn’t expect in west Texas.
Arriving the Ft. Davis mountain resort is a bit like reaching the end of the earth or – more likely – the beginning. The terrain up to his house is so rough we parked the rental car at the (closed) country store where Jules picked us up with his SUV. In these here parts the SUV is necessary instead of hogging city highways. (Okay, maybe if I had kids I’d have one in town too!) A regular car cannot traverse the rocky dirt road up to his house.
The serenity is miraculous. There is no man-made noise and given a windless day, no noise whatsoever. Visible from his porch is a smattering of maybe half-dozen houses nestled in the mountain range (part of the Rockies) so far away as to resemble pieces of a monopoly game.
Julian did a lot of the work himself building the house in 1987. The walls are Englewood spruce and aspen, the ceilings cathedral, and the wood burning stove a perfect touch. He’s a clean freak and it’s uncluttered. This is nature the way I love it. Step outside and you are in a mountain wilderness that feels like humans have yet to invade. Step back inside and you have all the amenities we can’t help but love – big screen satellite TV, computers, stereo, a modern kitchen, and nice bathrooms for soaking in a hot tub. The porch extends along the entire length of the house and around each end in a hard angled horseshoe. Floor to ceiling windows extend from one end of the house to the other and permit a perennial view of God’s grandeur. Slip out the sliding door at night and you are inundated with a big sky of stars, with Venus and the big dipper always in sharp view. A full moon bloomed over the mountain peaks, so vivid and tangible you’re sure you can touch it with a little effort.
Ahhh! To retreat here from the mad world of Dallas is a real big slice of heaven. City stress recesses and your dormant free spirit soars. Julian prepared a delicious dinner of steak, broccoli with homemade hollandaise sauce, sautéed carrots and red peppers, and hot biscuits. We stuffed ourselves and relaxed with hot peach tea, and let the evening slip away in mellow coexistence and camaraderie.
The next morning at 6:30AM I was ready to hike but the sun takes a while to peek over the mountains. I went down the road marveling over the eerily still silence when I heard a rustling noise. I was delighted to see a big Mule Deer looking quizzically at me, her huge ears turning this way and that like radar. I baby-talked her for a moment and she froze as I enjoyed imagining she liked me. I tried to get closer and she turned her back and hopped away like a gigantic cotton-tailed rabbit. I was surprised at myself realizing I had not previously observed deer enough to have witnessed the big wild bunny hops they take in retreat. Julian told me later that the fear has been bred out of these deer as hunting in area was prohibited 32 years ago. They are of course still deer, and true to a timid nature. How could a human kill one?!
She reappeared again to my delight. Then I saw her again. Then I realized there was a whole herd of them. Five doe and a fawn all checking me out with intelligent, curious gazes. When I trudged back up the hill (huffing and puffing at 6,000 feet altitude) the whole pack was right across from Julian’s house on a small ridge. I relished the possibility that they were as interested in me as I was with them.
On my second hike of that day, it had become so warm I took off my t-shirt for a while. These hikes are very private! When it’s 60 degrees and sunny in desolate west Texas, it feels like 80 so, for the dead of winter the weather couldn’t have been lovelier.
I returned to the house and while Jan & Julian ran a couple of errands, I sat on the porch to start reading “The Power of Now” which is an amazing spiritual learning experience. Oprah touted it as her number one spiritual book on a recent episode when she gave the audience a collection of her favorite things. The philosophy is both ancient and modern concerning raised awareness through freedom from traps of the conditioned (society, past experience, future fears) human mind. It contains teachings from both Jesus and the Buddha but he has no alignment with any particular religion which he considers yet another contrivance of human mental conjuring. Enlightenment and peace come from finding the true essence of Collective Being which is obscured by repetitive mental chatter. Perfect mountaintop reading. The weather had cooled so I donned flannel jacket, gloves and fuzzy muffler befitting mountain ambiance. Nearby Marfa always records the lowest temperature in Texas, while Presidio just 60 miles away always records the highest.
I read and wrote in the brilliant sunlight till they returned. What perfect solitude it is to absorb nature’s beauty with the comforting knowledge that soon company will arrive. I paused to listen to the silence and, unbeckoned, had a wave of serenity pass into me, then a buzzing of the eternal unification of all existence. I truly felt I had transcended ordinary life, glimpsing the great unknown, and finding it to be as loving and caressing as the great prophets tell us.
By that time, I had conjured up a cross-country fantasy trip during which I could formulate a book on a single woman’s spiritual journey through the still remaining majesty of the American west. Julian and I discussed if I should take a gun (I don’t think so) and he showed me his $600 Glock 36, which looked like a comic book toy (to me). It’s a black box, light as a feather, and more interesting than I would have imagined. Pretty bullets too, all neatly packed away; none of it has ever been used or the gun even loaded.
Saturday afternoon we worked up an appetite with some very lively conversation. Julian (sometimes known as The Big Cat or The Boss) and I both tend to be fiery and zealous discussing ideas with enjoyment of the stimulation. I checked with Jan if we were driving her crazy or perhaps she would like to wedge in a comment! I am intensely curious and Julian is extremely knowledgeable so I ask a lot of questions and he supplies a wealth of information. The result is two people with a boatload of fervor. Julian makes for the perfect mountain man: ruler of his domain, able to fix anything, and living totally self-sufficiently. He’s a big guy, full of fun and exuberance, and he possesses a mind that never stops clicking.
Eventually, as the sun slipped down the mountains and the full moon again gleamed in the sky (his porch faces east), we all started cooking. Well, all I did was snip some green beans while Julian grilled pork chops, sautéed a vegetable medley of broccoli, carrots, fresh garlic and peppers, and caramelized onions. I think of pigs as suitable for pets so I seldom eat pork, but I hadn’t had a pork chop in ages and couldn’t resist. By the time we sat down to eat, anything would have tasted great so the added fact that it was indeed great put us in culinary bliss. Later we watched an appropriate film titled “Dancer, Texas” which was filmed in Ft. Davis four years ago. It’s a wonderful coming of age story about four boys graduating high school in a town so small (town name “Dancer” is fictitious) that the whole graduating class consisted of five in a town population of eighty-one. The plot centers around the pact the four friends had made to leave for Las Angeles two days after commencement. The actual population of Fort Davis is approximately one thousand.
Sunday morning brought another pre-breakfast hike for me, and then fresh juice from the Juice Man, scrambled eggs and bacon. Jan and I had to eat without Jules as he is a resident EMT volunteer and got a call for an emergency. As it turned out, it was only a sprained ankle (another call not long ago involved a crashed van transporting prisoners which was a grisly triage indeed) but still required the hour drive each way to the hospital in Alpine which is where Julian grew up on a ranch.
Jan and I ate, drank coffee, indulged in girl talk, and took a hike. The wind kicked up and I was reminded of why she rated a name in the song about Myriah. You can hear it approach from far in the distance or suddenly from nowhere. Jan and I looked for heart-shaped rocks which she collects. She is a very girlish just-turned 49 years with long legs and shiny, thick, blonde, long, naturally curly hair. (Can I do that many adjectives in a row?) She modeled in her twenties, and has retained that long and lean figure (even after three kids). She and Julian both graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and met anew at their 30th reunion over a year ago. Jan teaches art and does wonderful paintings of her own such as a mountain view from his porch, and a recreation of one of Frida’s paintings. She and Julian mesh so well as to be reassuring that in this epoch of too many failed and strained relationships: people can still find their soul mate. Jan is genuine, kind and creative…plus funny and smart to boot! I feel privileged to have her as a friend. They are cute in this gushy mushy phase. Very affectionate and cuddly!
After yet another great dinner, (broiled salmon this time) I did some serious stargazing. The moon was very low and brilliantly golden — still full but had not yet risen so high as to diffuse starlight. The unpolluted, unfettered night sky was stuffed with stars. I watched transfixed for a time, bundled in the “stargazing for two” blanket Jan gave Julian, and noticed a peculiar thing – a star that was fluttering about like a dragonfly. It moved to the left, then up, then down. I thought this was surely an optical illusion. But no, it kept moving quite dramatically. No, my friends and neighbors, it was NOT a plane, train or flying saucer. This was a star, I had seen it for a time before I noticed it move. I stuck my head in the door to ask Julian and he said it must be atmospheric changes. Jan came out to look, and we agreed that we had never seen anything like it before. These were not subtle movements. Who knows?! Maybe some intelligent (or incomprehensible) “force” got something going on out there. Hey, is it that much more unfathomable than cloning humans?
The night faded into football and Golden Globe awards. Next morning the predicted temperature was 71, but the wind was fierce so I didn’t go out for hiking. I finally realized (well, Jules had to tell me) why the sun seemed to come up so late. It wasn’t because of the mountains, but because he is so close to the Mountain Time zone. We had a delicious hot cereal (millet!) and worked up to leaving. As Jan and I were departing, I got a few pictures of the quaint town of Ft. Davis. This is truly rustic! I bet Durango, Colorado (I saw it in 1979) would now look like Dallas in comparison! We passed again by the Fort Davis actual FORT of yore which is now a historical attraction. Julian once suggested to Jan that if she spent the summer there she could spend some time working at the Fort. When she inquired “doing what?” he told her he saw a woman churning butter there (for the tourist trade). We had a good giggle over that one.
On the way to Pecos, there was a tumbleweed invasion. Humongous tumbleweed banned together and decided now and again to cross the highway. This went on for about a 30 minute passage. They are very picturesque but some of them gave us pause! Then we went through a five-minute dust storm. It was literally blinding but, as usual, there were no other humans, let alone cars, anywhere around, so we persevered.
The time flew with Jan and me eagerly exchanging life stories and laughs, and the three-hour drive to Midland was over quickly. She let me out at the front of the airport and I walked the big 15 yards or so to the “long term economy parking” and paid my $14.50 for three nights parking after waiting in line at the toll booth for…not another soul.
I stopped again in Clyde for gas, relief, a bag of trail mix, water, a few jotted notes, and a six-disc CD changer. Then more smooth sailing, all the way until I reached Weatherford where traffic was suddenly dicey and concentration was required (welcome to the metroplex). Almost to downtown Dallas a horrendous traffic jam was upon me, so I slipped off an exit like a few other escapees, and easily found West Commerce which took me right to I35.
Now I am back to concrete, metal, noise and traffic as I dream of my next escape.