This is the seventeenth installment in Peter’s “Bum Logic” series, about his investigation into our inadvertent complicity in climate change, continued from his last post, Odd and Presumably Dangerous.
Texas is big. If you can read English, you likely know that. Yet what you might not know is that Texas is not merely one contiguous desert oil field. I had been unawares of that and was more than a little surprised to see trees, lots of them, lining the road, as the bus I was in headed north on US Route 59. I was looking at the Pineywoods, a haven for Cryptozoology aficionados. According to Dana Goolsby of TexasEscapes.com, those woods boast not one, but two—yes two—mythic beasts:
Sightings of mysterious black panthers that scream like women in the pine jungles are not at all uncommon in the Pineywoods. Tales of the mysterious screaming beasts have been raising hairs on the back of East Texans’ necks for the better part of nearly two centuries… According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) black panthers do not exist. TPWD biologist Charlie Muller said it is more likely people are seeing a black hog, or perhaps an otter. Muller even told KLTV, “You’d have better luck finding Bigfoot.”
Which is precisely what many a zealous fortune seeker have been doing in those trees since the late 1960s, to no avail. Ever heard tell of the three-toed Fouke Monster?
When the bus pulled into the Livingstone Bus-cum-Gas Station I hadn’t seen any charismatic macro-fauna, let alone a measly nine-banded armadillo. Nevertheless I was cheerful, grateful for the relative luxury of solitary travel and the clarity it brings. I knew what I had, and I knew what I needed: a tarp or other functional roof-substitute. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew why and I had faith that I would soon make the acquaintance of individuals familiar with the lay of the land. That faith was actively scanning the horizon for physical affirmation, which I thought would be manifest in the appearance of a red station wagon, as a previous phone conversation had foretold. And lo, it was. Resting its pistons, suckling at the tit of a voluptuous Valero gas pump. By its left flank stood two unshaven males. They were intently watching the trickle of passengers de-bussing. They were looking for someone who might be looking for them. Me.
I approached them.
They exchanged inaudible words and awaited my arrival.
Blockade: noun, any obstruction of passage or progress.
“You guys from The Blockade?”
“Well thanks for picking me up.”
“Don’t mention it, thanks for coming.”
“Peter.” I extended my hand.
“Face.” The man named Face extended his hand.
Then we shook hands. I looked at the glasses on Face’s face. They were there.
When Face and I finished, which didn’t take long, just a down and up, I turned to the other stranger.
Then we shook hands. Again just a down and up.
Which made all of us officially acquaintances.
After that, Nick pulled the station wagon away from the pump. It didn’t cry. It didn’t snivel. A well-behaved vehicle. We all got in. It started to move.
“Where you coming from?” Face re-stoked our dialogue.
“Most recently, Chicago,” I responded. “Hey, do you guys know what the weather’s supposed to do?”
“Rain. Cold,” Nick said.
“Shit,” I mourned. My fantasy that sleeping sans shelter might be endurable died from exposure. “I need to buy a tarp or something, couldn’t fit a tent in my bag.”
Face looked at me, and paused. “If you want to save some dollars, I got a tent with room in it. You’re welcome to sleep there.”
“You sure man?” I offered him the opportunity to eat his prematurely birthed words. He declined and I accepted, once again reaffirmed in my belief that vocalization of vulnerability or discomfort is the most expeditious way to achieve sanctuary.
“Where we going?”
“Not too far, probably twenty-minute drive. The Blockade’s being hosted at the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation,” Nick said. “Pretty similar to a state park campground, small lake, fire pits, pavilion, building with bathrooms.”
“But there’s a ton of people,” Face interjected. “150?”
“We’re going to drive right over the easement. You’ll get to see the damn-dirty trench.”
I looked out the car window. I saw a brick ranch style home. It looked like it’d been built in the late 80s or early 90s. Not more than a hundred feet from its front door a fifty-foot wide corridor had been cleared of all foliage. It bisected our path and extended from horizon to horizon. I might have thought it an unusually girthed dirt road, were it not for the pipe that lay next to a hole in its middle. The Keystone XL. Face and Nick both made single finger gestures. I mimicked my tour guides’ behavior.
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.