Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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fading roses and faded photos of Montana

We hit the road late this morning to spend the day in Fort Worth. Forth Worth is only about forty minutes from us on the highway, roughly the same travel time as my office, and yet Fort Worth is somehow a "different" place than where we live. It's a charming city of half a million people which seems more "settled" and down to earth than Dallas does in a lot of ways. Its economy is less boom and bust than ours, which makes it quite different culturally in some ways. It has been said that the American West begins someplace on the roadway between Dallas and Fort Worth, and perhaps the expression is apt. Dallas seems to always look to London or continental Europe for inspiration, while Fort Worth is its own western town, much more apt to look to the grand prairie or to the southwestern desert for things to imitate. It's easy to overstate the distinction, because one at home in Dallas is of course also at home in Fort Worth, but they are curiously different places.

We ate at a chain Cajun restaurant called Razoo's in the Sundance Square area, which served a competent gumbo (we somehow resisted the fried alligator tail), and then we headed over to the Botanical Garden. The Fort Worth Botanical Garden is, simply stated, a wonderful place. Its grounds are pleasant, rarely crowded, and it is amazing what they can get to grow in our mildly forbidding north Texas climate. Today was a "real" Fall day, overcast, quite chilly and quite windy. In other words, it was a perfect day to see a public garden--the colors "pop" in the darker light, and the crowds were not bad at all. I had two throwaway cameras I had gotten at a dollar store at 2 for 5 dollars, so I walked about snapping colorful flowers, birds and feeders and fish in a marine aquarium hastily, almost at random, little moments that I will develop and place on postcards and mail out to folks on postcardx or nervousness or other mail art folks that I know. The colors were stunning--in particular, a huge path of yarrow flowers in a sea of tall pampas grass was great, and the roses in the last gasps of autumn 'second wind' were quite interesting.
An orchid show in the pavilion was good viewing; for some reason, they had euphorbia among the orchids for sale. I had to restrain myself from buying a pot of euphorbia. I am always weak at the knees at well-kept cactus and euphorbia. I guess I love green things that I know will grown for me. Never mind that at our home lately, it is my wife who has been taking care of the mamillaria and crown of thorns in our front window plant stand. I know that theoretically I could be doing it, and that's enough for me.
I am in the mood to start a new terrarium, having recovered from my failed "three weeks and then they died" pansy experiment of late winter. This time I will plant "proper" terrarium foliage plants, and be positively Wardian in my tropical plant casing. The orchid show was nice, although I must admit that Santa Barbara orchid farms set a high mental bar for me when viewing a Texas orchid show.

We then headed over to the National Cowgirl Museum, which has just opened this year. It is a marvel. I had expected far too much soppy rodeo romanticism about "little ladies of the west", but instead on offer was a solid museum which contrasted the west as it was lived with the west in media, to the benefit of understanding both. The high point was a travelling exhibition of work of Evelyn Cameron. Ms. Cameron was an Englishwoman who moved to Montana with her ornithologist husband in the late 19th Century. Their plan for prosperity--raising polo ponies on the plains--crashed. But in addition to farming, she helped support them by taking incredible photos of everything about her. The photos are stark, beautiful, and evocative. One literally wishes one could live in that treeless, hard-scrabble eastern Montana terrain, just because she paints its ghost with a steady eye and a capable shutter. Imagine growing up in "society", and then moving to an entirely different country to spend 34 years as the local photographer for a pioneer people in a difficult land. One can see the harshness of the life in every face, and yet, as Ms. Cameron portrays them, these are clearly people who lived with a pride and grace. I have never had much longing to visit Montana, but now I rather wish I could. Lately, for some reason, the plains and buttes country fascinates me. I suppose because it lacks many of the things in nature I love the most--trees, easy winters, and wetlands. Now, as these states lose population because our industrialized society makes people question whether they can any longer live in such desolate places, I want to go and see places where people lived hard and lived well. I am not much for "pioneer romanticism" or "noble savage" thinking. But I think a great deal of people who try really hard to build something worth keeping. Evelyn Cameron clearly was one of those, and kudos to her biographer, Donna Lucey, for bringing her story back to life. Of course, although in cases like Ms. Cameron, when the open spaces gave way during her life to small farms, one can really "see" the passing of an era. But we all see the passing of our own eras. Perhaps the key genius we need is to learn to document it as we go.

The museum did have some of the obligatory "rodeo filmstrips" and western movie and music homages that one would expect, but overall, I was struck by how many of the folks honored in the museum worked for education, for documenting the passing of the prairie, and for a way built on adjusting to the terrain rather than merely defeating it.
I think a just critique is that the museum rarely uttered a discouraging word, and even if the museum allowed that the skies got cloudy, we didn't hear enough about what happened to those for whom things were cloudy all day. Still, the entire enterprise was a small, succinct, colorful and well done tribute, handled with care not triteness, and we were both entirely pleased. Now I have to go to, though, to see if that Lucey book on Cameron has made it to the "used" bins yet.

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