It’s Texas. It’s July. It’s Hot…(not the good kind of hot, either!)

(from the 2006 FirstMorning newsletter)

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It’s July in Texas. The heat is like a horsehair blanket laid across the land- it has its own disabling and dense weight; it slows us down to a ragged crawl as we make our way through it, when we must. It even itches like a blanket; the heat penetrates our skin, our eyes, our hair. We feel like we are in the first stages of the ancient Chinese torture “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” We are slowly cooking, like slices of beef turning into jerky, drying up from the outside, inward.

The grass turns crisp- the color of fried pork rinds. The leaves of trees and even weeds, droop in derisive mockery of our own sagging shoulders and squinting, downcast eyes. It’s too hot under this immovable blanket even to breathe without the heat clawing its way down our throats and into our chests. The only sounds against the stillness outside are the cicadas, high in the treetops, hotly buzzing their reproductive siren songs. Even they, though, despite their newly uncurled wings and their few days of freedom to fly before dying, stay strangely still on their tiny branch landscapes, unwilling to move any more than they must to to effect their own perpetuating instincts.

Each year at this time, I ask myself why, how..why for God’s sake, how in God’s name.. did people dismount from their horses, their wagons, their stage coaches or railroad cars and, setting down their bags, say to themselves, “Let’s live here”? Perhaps when the artificially cooled air of air conditioning was not a possible-to-consider option; perhaps because the horses themselves were too exhausted to take a single step more; perhaps because they had heard about and believed the stories of deep, undisturbed topsoil covered by springtime’s flowers; perhaps those were among the reasons they stopped here to plant and establish homes.

Perhaps.

Or maybe they were just absolutely, flat-out nuts.

clip_image004I must admit there is- despite the obliterating, withering, relentless nature of Texas in July- there is a certain shared community charm to this place which metamorphosizes from a Garden of Eden every April into a summer hell. The heat holds all of us in its grip; it respects nothing about our bank accounts, skin color, age, status, politics, or our need to breathe. The climate has a universal, non-discriminatory grasp on us. None of us is able to stand up oak-like to it; we are all pansies against its onslaught.

The heat slows us down. To walk fast through this heat is to increase the abrasive friction of hot oxygen against flesh. Walking slowly allows a perfect balance to be achieved between the production of sweat and the evaporation of same, thus allowing one to stay alive. Moving slowly also makes it possible to perceive, so slightly, the tiny breezes that waft our way, however intermittently, however weakly. Summertime, and the living is all in sloooooow motion. Lest we die.

I remember when I lived in Ohio. Every summer, some local Youngstown reporter would, on one of the many slow summer news days, crack an egg on the sidewalk so we could watch it fry in the day’s “bristling” 85° heat. It never did. Here in Texas, in July, I could fry that same egg on my head. I made the mistake of leaning against a metal flagpole yesterday and branded myself.

I know some preachers would use this description of the heat to crank the discussion up a notch or two and begin warning about the fiery bowels of eternal hell. Let them. It’s too hot to think about hell right now. There is already something worse than July in Texas to think about, anyway:

August.

Texas Youth Livestock Auction

This could be called “Yet Another Reason I Love Texas.”

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The local livestock auction for young people of this county is being held today. The winners in the various categories (swine, beef, and goats) get to auction their animals off to local banks, car dealerships, oil drilling companies, and other companies which bid BIG for the winning animals.

Now livestock auctions are being held somewhere in America every day of the week. And, yes, I know (and even agree with) some of the criticism of the livestock and meat-packing industry. But this auction has a whole different flavor (pun intended) than many of those other ones. This auction is one of those places where the spotlights and attention are young people doing well. And, while there is a difficult reality to be faced by these young men and women as they say “good-bye” to their animals, they are also learning about relationships in life, and being an integral part of a community that is vital to this area.

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These animals have been raised for meat production since they were calves, kids, and piglets. They have been tended to daily by their young owners, and handled often so that they would “show” well when their time in the ring finally came. The animals are as clean and spiffy as their owners.

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You’ll note that there’s not a lot of jubilation evident in these faces of these youngsters, despite the fact that they are walking away with a whole lot more money than they spent on the raising of their animals. They’ve experienced that it is possible- impossible not to- love an animal. But they are also learning about the purpose and hard work involved in raising their livestock. The ones who continue in ranching will never lose that tension between the care of their animals and the purpose of their being raised in the first place. Some of the gentlest, kindest people I know are ranchers who discovered that dilemma early on, and continue to face it daily.

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Another thing I love about this Youth Auction is that the organizers realize that people really do like to eat other foods besides meat! So the opportunity exists for cookies, cakes, and pies to be a part of the judging and auctioning process, too. This little boy just sold a $750 cake to a local bank!

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These are the kids who ride horses, have dogs and cats, grow up understanding and respecting the land, and who get to spend part of each day hoping for rain or shading their eyes against a sunset. They will never eat a hamburg in blissful ignorance of where it came from or be able to tolerate the intentional abuse of any animal.

Or any other person. Just watch them as they grow up and you’ll see what I mean. The lessons you see being learned in these pictures don’t end today. They are part of lives now and those lessons will will benefit all of us.

The Virgin Mary Comes To Town!

Oh, happy day! The BVM has landed here, right here on the West Texas prairie, and here she is!

She left her mark this time in the scar of an old native pecan tree. You can see in the picture that the south fork of that tree split away from the trunk, and it was there that the BVM either immediately inscribed herself or was revealed to the world after being embedded within the tree for at least the past five or six decades.

I personally had a hard time seeing her at first, so I’m really just going on the word of those who have the God-given (?) power to see the Virgin in those many odd places she chooses to appear. Me? In my quest to see anything anthropomorphic in the tree, I could only vaguely see Bishop Sheen, as he would sweep from the doorway to the blackboard in his priestly cassock on his Sunday afternoon television show in the 1950s. But then, I kept looking and (what do I know?) I thought I could see Sister Kenny raising money to fight polio like she was also doing in the 1950s.

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Then I made the mistake of continuing to look, wanting desperately to join the throngs (see them?) who’ve made a sacred grotto of the tree. I was able to see a virtual parade of personages, including but not limited to: Joan Baez, Soupy Sales, my Aunt Emma, Jimi Hendrix, and a substitute teacher in the fifth grade whose name I forget.

So there went another potential Epiphany, right out the always open window of my imagination!

Channel 5 out of Fort Worth and Telemundo out of Dallas have already given the tree their pandering-to-the-masses Seal of Approval by televising live reports on the perceived phenomena. Sorry I can’t lend much credibility to their fine reporting, but I’m kind of a stick-in-mud when it comes to sightings of the Divine. I get stuck on little stuff like wildflowers and ants, and dogs licking my face even when I’m feeling like crap. Those things tell me much more about God than the scar of a tree.

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And, for the record,here’s Sister Kenny and Bishop Sheen:

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