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Leaving the place better than we found it
Seeing with my eyes closed
Thomas Jefferson on gun control
How to lie convincingly
Our hardy heartland
Breaking the cycle
How to catch the sun's comings and goings
Thoughts from the inside
Leveraging the internet to build our walls
Twitters from the past
And the invincibility of youth
Without ego projection
Yet another gift of the road
The charming side of obstinance
The creative part of photography
A movie critic looks in the mirror
We are not alone
As part of the system
Defecting from the rear guard
The end of Kumbaya
The wanderer's poet
Running out of dirt
Striking a balance
The Bay of Fundy, where the sea breathes
How to photograph them with anything, even your cellphone
A simple question we get every day
We may be failing to fail
And why no one should hesitate to examine them
Becoming a hero in one's own life story
A writing assignment
A new discovery of something old
Finding new eyes to see old landscapes
Hick humor
Toys for photographing wild places
Experiencing life with God
A radical thought about our radicals
Redemption with style
Hidden heroes among us
Resetting our parallel processor
You're on this page.
A lesson from the road
The bullet dodged
A soul sparkles
Isolation in style
Painless ways to lose your virginity : 11/12/15
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A village with heart

West Texas has few dots on its map, so a general store proclaiming a freezer meant I had to stop for ice cream. Turned out the store also had WiFi, so we became fast friends, which is how Texans like it. In all my travels, I have yet to meet a Texan I didn't like.

So it was that Debbie told me the story of Lajitas.

Across the Rio Grande is the Mexican village of Paso Lajitas. Every weekend for generations, Mexican farmers would cross the rickety bridge to bring fresh produce to their Lajitas stands of lashed mesquite poles. In the evenings, gringos would make their way across the bridge to fiestas. Both villages had friends and relatives on the other side.

U.S. Customs ended these ancient customs after 9/11. The terrorist attack required all international border crossings to be monitored by Customs agents. With barely a hundred people on both sides of the river, the budget wasn't there for Lajitas.

Somber faces on both sides watched their friendship bridge destroyed. Although the local sheriff protested that he couldn't remember a single cross-border problem, he was told that he was to arrest any newly illegal aliens and fine any Americans $5000 for a crossing. Passports or not, there was no authorized crossing for hundreds of miles.

Lifelong friends were reduced to shouting across a river or texting. An annual goodwill fiesta was scheduled as a kind of protest during winter when the Rio Grande drops to a sleepy few yards wide. This fiesta includes a battle of the bands that pits mariachis on one side against banjos and rockers on the other. At the end, a human chain forms from both sides, holding one another, wading waist deep, until they meet in the middle. Embracing would be illegal, but holding hands across the great contrived divide is allowed.

Not content to leave alone the absurdity of politics, the folks of Lajitas hatched a plan. They ran a goat called Henry Clay in their mayoral election. Although just a ceremonial position, Henry won. Every year, the few citizens of Lajitas present their thoughts on our political leaders by re-electing Henry against the few humans who dare to run.

The townspeople built a pen for Henry next to the general store, and Debbie introduces him to visiting dignitaries like me so Henry can demonstrate his fondness for beer. In all his terms in office, Henry has yet to say anything stupid.

The charm and affability of Lajitas was to revisit me personally in a way I didn't suspect when I set out on my next adventure. I threw in with two recent college graduates, Karl and Steve, who planned to kayak down the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena Canyon. They were expert whitewater kayakers and were gracious enough to put up with what I could do. The put-in was Lajitas.

As the pictures attest, the scenery was majestic, culminating in 1500 ft (500 m) tall cliffs towering above water as narrow as 50 ft (17 m). Over the next several days, we would not see or meet another human until we arrived near the haul-out.

Lots of exploits, which is why we do adventures, but the saddest happened the second day. The river was low so the rapids were safe, shallow affairs. I unleashed both of my dogs so they could swim free if we overturned. Perhaps because of the roar of the water or the rocks bonking the kayak, Rocket, to honor his namesake, shot off the bow and flew over to a nearby bank.

Once in a while, Rocket gets spooked like a horse, and just runs until he gets tired. I pulled over and took off after him, expecting to find him panting under a bush.

The day wore on, and Karl & Steve joined in the search. I thought of the coyotes, snakes, peccaries, and even cougars that would appreciate a snack dog. My "Rocket" cries grew louder and more frantic.

As the sun drifted lower, I almost stepped on a rattlesnake, and the three of us had to agree that if Rocket didn't want to be found, or was no longer to be found, that further searching was pointless. I whispered good-bye to my travelling buddy. Karl & Steve gave me some space to grieve as we paddled away. That night, I gazed into our campfire imagining Rocket watching us from his hiding place, drifting away and leaving him alone to the wilderness.

Days later, back in Lajitas to pick up cars, I made the rounds asking if anyone had seen Rocket. We all agreed that his odds were slim, particularly since he had jumped to the Mexican side of the river and would need to swim across the Rio Grande to get back. I drove off, hoping Rocket was learning Spanish and guarding chickens.

Debbie, however, did not give up so easily. She put up the standard "Lost Dog" notice in front of her general store, and stayed ever ready to alert any kayakers.

So it was that Debbie called me hundreds of miles later to announce that a certain small wetback had defied U.S. Customs and strolled into her store. Rocket was famished but uninjured. No one could guess how a city dog had pulled it off, but he slept that night fed and warm. I turned the RV around and started driving.

The next morning, I learned that Debbie had fallen for Rocket and he for her. She had lost an old dog months ago, and it became clear to both of us that Rocket would have a better home with her. Besides a heart as big as Texas, Debbie had a fine fenced garden, and all of West Texas as a back yard. With his predisposition to get spooked and run, we decided that Rocket returning to a moving target like the RV was asking for his demise.

I sometimes remember Rocket curled up in the sleeping bag with me, but I know he's now loved and happily wandering with the Mayor of Lajitas.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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A committee of roots

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Rio Grande

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Rio Grande at low flow

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Road runner on the hunt for Wile E. Coyote

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Clay Henry, Major of Lajitas, gives a speech

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Terlingua artist community's
pirate ship and submarine

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West Texas is just a strange place

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Ghost town of the mercury miners

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Karl, Steve, and I start down the Rio Grande

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One turtle to another

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Entering Santa Elena Canyon

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Swallows nests above us

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Karl took this shot of me

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1500-ft tall by 50-ft wide

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Emerging from the canyon on the third day
Karl took the shot

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Chisos Mountains at dusk
in Big Bend National Park

For more pictures of Texas, click here.

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