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January 19th, 2003

A night at the soap opera

Today I slept in a bit, to get over the effects of travel. "Sleeping in" for me is not very late, as I am a morning person by inclination. But I still took it pretty easy today. My wife was running some errands, so I headed over to the Collin County Central Museum, a little "county museum" in the old post office building in McKinney. This was one of those "nice rooms full of heirloom stuff" exhibits which really benefitted from good textual accompaniment.

Collin County was only settled by Anglos in 1842, and was initially notable mainly for being a stopping point for the Shawnee Trail and later the Preston Trail, over which the massive cattle drives north took place. Later, it was one one of the few Texas counties to vote against secession at the onset of the Civil War. Nonetheless, of the 10,000 residents of Collin County at that time, some 1500 went off to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and many never came home. Collin County had one bona fide hero at the war's outbreak, General McCullough. Just as the first muster of men was preparing to set out from McKinney, General McCullough's body was brought into town, as he had already fallen victim to war at the Battle of Pea Ridge.

The Civil War west of the Mississippi featured battles and issues which were largely footnotes and sideroads insofar as the ultimate outcome of the war was concerned. Yet a number of the sad stories of war nonetheless arose. A number of folks apparently hid out to stave off being forced to join the Confederate army, and became "bushwhackers", living off their neighbors through misdeeds including robbery and murder. In an odd twist of history, the locals called in Quantrill, the officer whose Quantrill's Raiders later depredations against a civilian population caused their unit's name live in renegade bushwhacking infamy to this day. The resulting violence and hangings as Quantrill "cracked down" on the bushwhackers created feuds and enmity that apparently damaged the relations among Collin County neighbors for decades. One of Quantrill's raiders, Jim Reed, married Belle Starr in 1866. Ms. Starr has been described in some accounts as a "bandit queen" and in others as a fairly typical dance hall type. Jim Reed himself proved to be a murderer and a robber, and died in 1874. Frank James, brother of Jesse James, did some time in the local jail, as did one of the "Bonnie and Clyde" gang.

In the 1870s, the railroad came to Collin County, ending the "cattle drive" days, and fixing its place as an agricultural center. Now the southern half of the county constitutes Dallas' northernmost set of suburbs, while the northern half is farm and graze land. It's hard to imagine the Civil War or desperados among the tract homes now. Times may not change that much, though--local boy Charles "Tex" Watson was one of the last inmates of the old Collin County jail, when he was captured after taking part in the Manson Family murders.

Fortunately, the museum was more than just crimes and war.
They had quilts from the 19th Century, and samples of printing machinery, doctor's tools and other things of use. My tastes ran a bit more Cretaceous than what was on offer, though, so I headed to the Heard Natural Science Center, where I renewed our family membership. They had lots of marine creature fossils there, from ammonites to mosasaurs. They had live exhibits of rat snakes, our local non-poisonous "pretends he's a rattler to try to scare you away" snake. The Heard's main attraction, though, is its hiking trails, which run through nice stands of creekside woodland. I saw a robin, a woodpecker, and various sparrow-like birds. One tree looked like it had been shot with a high powered machine gun; a sign explained it had instead been attended to by a yellow bellied sapsucker bird. I saw the 250 year old Burr Oak, and many holly trees in full and luscious berry. Lots of Austin chalk limestone outcroppings were hereabouts, in which I could hunt for fossils. I loved the brief walk I took there, and promised myself I will hike in those woods often. We had previously let our annual membership lapse on the theory that the trails were not extensive enough, but I missed the woodlands, which are not in long supply in our area. In February they are to have a bats exhibit, and I would join many groups to see more bat content.

Tonight we went to San Miguel restaurant in McKinney with our friends Donna and Scott. Donna had made us a wonderful needlework which contains the "family crest" which we adopted as our own based on an idea of my sister's. Our "family crest" is a single pineapple on a field of anything. My surname, with the pineapple needled in on top, now stands forth proudly on our wall, an objet de art du chivalre (or however else one is to mangle this phrase to make it sound French). I felt myself far too chatty and mildly too gossipy, but I do not believe I will die of the social failings I exhibited.

Tomorrow I must go to the hair care place, ask for the number 4 shears, and ask them to cut my hair into neat subatomic particles. Then I hope to complete a nervousness project, mail off another project, and do more reading. I am really enjoying Sarah Orne Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs. I have never read much Jewett before--what a wonderful story teller.

I hope tomorrow is warm as today--I need more walks, and good weather certainly helps.

schools of fish

"Writing is expressing perception about the way things are irrespective of whether or not you've seen things concretely be that way"--David Mamet

"The Way to God is through a broken heart"--billboard in front of the First Baptist Church of Lucas, Texas

I picked up a throwaway camera at the dollar store and then set about my brief Sunday chore--a haircut to ready me for next week's business travel. Today the woman at the haircut place used the number 3 setting attachment to the electric shears she used to shave my head; next time I'll scale down to setting number 2, for even shorter hair.

After my haircut, I went to CiCi's Pizza, the inexpensive buffet place, to have lunch. While I was eating slices of cheese pizza, I was reading a passage from Sarah Orne Jewett that went: "He preached next Sabbath as usual, somethin' high soundin' about the creation, and I couldn't help thinkin' he might never get no further; he seemed to know no remedies, but he had a great use of words". While I was in that passage of the book, the commercial radio station in the background began playing the old Joy Division classic, "Love Will Tear Us Apart", and I paused during the lyrical passage: "Do you cry out in your sleep/All my failings exposed?/Get a taste in my mouth/As desperation takes hold/Is it something so good/Just can't function no more?", as the contrast between the 19th Century Maine novella passage about a woman who exiled herself on an island after her lover left, and the 1979 bit of Ian Curtis desperation somehow made worked a sort of "nice gestalt" effect that was entirely pleasing. I got an old 10,000 Maniacs cassette at the Goodwill, because it had "Anthem for Doomed Youth" on it, and any song that is titled after a Wilfrid Owen poem is fine by me.

I went to Bethany Lakes Park, our local small ponds walking park,
where dozens and dozens of seagulls hovered just above one pond, hoping to catch bread being passed out by a passerby. I took pictures of the gulls, and watched matched pairs of mallards swim away. In the shallows draining the ponds, I saw a skitterish school of sunfish, apparently avoiding the duck, geese and gull action. After a bit more walk, I drove on out Bethany into the countryside, passing Lake Lavon. The weather was around 60 degrees, and the warm winter scenery was just glorious. I was surprised to see insects on the wing--just a few days' warmth is like a false spring, setting loose a new generation of flying things.

I picked up my nephew a gift card for a video game for his tenth birthday, but I could not find a one dollar cactus at the grocery or discount hardware stores. I had hoped to present him with cactus to commemorate the time when, while he, his brother, and his cousin were hiking with me at Dinosaur Valley State Park,
I led them astray off the trail, where he, then aged about 7, managed to knock his ankle up against a small cactus.

I listened to "Selected Shorts" on the radio, which played a short story about a man coming to grips with his mother, and another about a man coming to grips with an older brother. In stories, everyone is always coming to grips. In life, we often grip little so firmly, other than perhaps which things to shop for in the dollar store and which things to buy at Goodwill.