The Iron Dark of the World

“By early evening all the sky to the north had darkened and the spare terrain they trod had turned a neuter gray as far as the eye could see. They grouped in the road at the top of a rise and looked back. The storm front towered above them and the wind was cool on their sweating faces. They slumped bleary-eyed in their saddles and looked at one another. Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place in the iron dark of the world.”
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

There was a bit of a breeze today. This scene was repeated all over some parts of the city.

tree_house

Here’s the same house, before the storm, from Google Street View. Look how tall that tree is.

My son Nick was at our house today and asked me to drive him home as quickly as possible so he could make it to an afternoon baseball game. The sun was shining when we left my house but when I dropped him off some big, fat raindrops were falling. As I drove north through East Dallas the rain began to thicken and then the wind started to blow. I watched the thermometer in my car drop twenty degrees in a couple minutes. This is not a good sign, especially when driving in the big city, especially in my tiny car. I began to look for shelter and pulled into a parking lot. The wind was from the North so I parked on the South side of a sturdy building. Then all hell broke loose.

I was watching the trees across the street tossing in the wind and then the rain (and a little hail) thickened until I couldn’t see past my hood. The wind had to be blowing seventy miles per hour and my car was rocked even though I was in a sheltered position. It took almost an hour before I felt I could drive home. Looking at the traffic maps on my phone, every road was red.

It took me an hour and a half to go the ten miles home. Trees were down across the road as were power lines. None of the traffic lights were functional and every intersection was a long wait and then a game of automotive chicken as everyone jockeyed to be the next one to cross. I had to get home, change, and then go out to work – we had a good bit of storm damage there.

If you don’t live in the central part of the country you can’t imagine the sudden onslaught and terrifying power of a spring thunderstorm. What’s crazy is an hour later the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky… the air cool and clean, scrubbed by the violent passage of water and wind.

 

This tragedy struck not too far from where I waited out the storm.

 

 

 

Pearl

“Somewhere along the line, the pearl would be handed to me.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

DART, Mockingbird Station, Dallas, Texas

Mockingbird station is where the DART Red and Blue (and sometimes Orange) lines converge and plunge – first into a deep canyon – and then into a subterranean tunnel on their voyage to downtown. It is weird that Dallas – the most automobile of cities – actually has a subway.

The reason for the subway is not so weird, though. North of Mockingbird the Red line follows the old abandoned Katy Railroad (full name – Missouri Kansas Texas) line. But south of Mockingbird the train tracks ran too close to Highland Park, where all the rich people live. They did not want the great unwashed riding the iron rails so close to their mansions so they exerted pressure to force everybody underground.

In the end, it was OK, though. The rest of the rail line was paved over to form the Katy Trail – which now is one of the gems of the city. Its presence raised property values along its length – making those rich folks richer.

A Gift You Can Make To Posterity

“The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.”
George Orwell

Crape Myrtles (or Crepe Myrtles) are one of the few blessings during the toxic summer North Texas Heat. Those beautiful blossoms of a plethora of bright colors are the only thing that looks like it is alive during those months. Those trees (or shrubs) are everywhere in Dallas and everybody loves them. In addition to the blooms, they have these beautiful branches – sinuous and almost animal – like. I have photographed and blogged about them before.

So why the hell do people do this?:

Topped Crape Myrtle, Dallas, Texas

You see this all over the city in the winter months. People chop the tops off their Crape Myrtles. It ruins them. They grow back with a cloud of ugly little branches sprouting out from the cut ends.

Someone that knows much better than I, Neil Sperry, the guru of North Texas plants writes:

 

Please! Stop Topping Crape Myrtles

I love crape myrtles. No flowering shrub that we grow rewards us so completely, yet requires so little care and attention. Then why must this barbaric chopping persist?

THIS IS JUST NOT ACCEPTABLE!

I have spent an entire career in Texas horticulture trying to get people to STOP TOPPING CRAPE MYTLES! I’ve seen progress in DFW, where many of us have been preaching this gospel. But in the rest of Texas and across the South, and still even in the Metroplex where I live, people are doing it.

I’m going to ramp up my rant. My previous 45 years of trying to be polite haven’t gotten the job done. THIS IS INSANE. There is simply no call for what many of you now call “crape murder.”

I have listened to seemingly every excuse in the world for this barbarism, from “My plant is too tall for the space that I have for it” to “It makes my plant flower better.” It’s all just so much hooey, and I hope you’ll forgive me if my eyes glaze over and my smile seems frozen. I’m thinking about something else. I am no longer tuned in to you.

Whacking the plants back like this does not change their genetics. They’re still going to try to grow just as tall. Topping won’t stop that. All topping will do is leave the plants looking gnarled and ugly. If you have a crape myrtle that’s too big for its spot, either move it – or remove it entirely. Don’t put it and yourself through the misery of topping your crape myrtle each year.

 

I wonder why people do this and why it bothers me so much. I think the root cause behind both is the concept of Control. What more gratifying Control Of Nature act could there be than beheading your bushes? It must give some people a big rush to be able to cut back and restrict the growth of something so beautiful, innocent, and alive. And I have come, over my decades, to detest Control… especially blind, hurtful, and damaging Control.

So there it is, I drive home from work or ride my bicycle through the suburban streets and am presented with these decapitated shrubbery, these beheaded bushes, these topped trees. It isn’t fun. The winter is bad… maybe the worst… or maybe it isn’t – the spring is horrible as the maimed, damaged, and deformed remains send out their shoots, trying to get back to normal – though they never will. The scars of their maiming are there forever in their distorted forms.

So, you ask me, then how do I trim my Crape Myrtles? Just remove any excess or damaged branches as a whole. That enables them to keep their attractive shape…. Like this:

Properly Trimmed Crape Myrtle, Dallas, Texas

Almost Swear He’s Being Followed, Or Watched Anyway

But something’s different… something’s … been changed … don’t mean to bitch, folks, but, well for instance he could almost swear he’s being followed, or watched anyway. Some of the tails are pretty slick, but others he can spot, all right. Xmas shopping yesterday at that Woolworth’s, he caught a certain pair of beady eyes in the toy section, past a heap of balsa-wood fighter planes and little-kid-size En-fields. A hint of constancy to what shows up in the rearview mirror of his Humber, no color or model he can pin down but something always present inside the tiny frame, has led him to start checking out other cars when he goes off on a morning’s work.

—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Downtown Dallas, Texas

 

Lower Pantograph

“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.”
― Nikola Tesla

Signs at one end (downtown) of the Dallas Streetcar

 

I am always looking for “found poetry” – especially on posted signs – these are messages that make sense to the person putting them up – and maybe to the intended viewer – but are utter, strange nonsense (poetry) to the average passer by.

Waiting for the streetcar, I saw the sign “Lower Pantograph Before Departing Stop.Poetry.

It isn’t hard to figure that one out, though. To me, a pantograph is a simple mechanical device consisting of linked rods used to enlarge drawings by hand.

Pantograph Animation

But it has an alternate meaning (at least one). It’s the device on the top of a streetcar used to connect to the overhead wires.

Transport Pantograph

But what does “lower pantograph” mean?

Well, the Dallas Streetcar has one unique property. One mile of its journey is across the Houston Viaduct, which has a historical designation. That means they could not install poles and overhead wires along that stretch of track. The streetcar uses internal batteries for that stretch, charging them with overhead wires the rest of the journey. Therefore, the “Lower Pantograph Before Leaving Stop” and “End Of Wire” warning signs to remind the operator that the vehicle was about have to go on battery power.

I still think it’s poetry.

View from the high point of the Jefferson Viaduct Cycletrack, Trinity River, Dallas, Texas.
The closest bridge is the Houston Viaduct, where the Dallas Streetcar runs. I took this photo in 2012, the whole area looks different now – I’ll have to ride my bike down there the next sunny day and take an updated shot.

A Streetcar Named Slothrop

Displaced Person’s Song

If you see a train this evening,
Far away, against the sky,
Lie down in your woolen blanket,
Sleep and let the train go by.

Trains have called us, every midnight,
From a thousand miles away,
Trains that pass through empty cities,
Trains that have no place to stay.

No one drives the locomotive,
No one tends the staring light,
Trains have never needed riders,
Trains belong to bitter night.

Railway stations stand deserted,
Rights-of-way lie clear and cold,
What we left them, trains inherit,
Trains go on, and we grow old.

Let them cry like cheated lovers,
Let their cries find only wind,
Trains are meant for night and ruin,
And we are meant for song and sin.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Dallas Streetcar

 

I enjoyed the initial meeting of the group that was to read Gravity’s Rainbow. My only problem was the distance. The drive, on a Wednesday evening, from my work, across town, fighting traffic all the way and back – was no fun at all. It made me doubt my commitment. Plus, one of my goals for the year was to reduce my (for me) already low driving mileage. A there-and-back-again trip across town every week would add to (maybe double) my driving.

But after thinking about it and then a good consultation of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit website I realized that I could leave from the LBJ/Central DART train station near my work, ride downtown on the Red line, and then after walking a couple short blocks, ride the new Dallas Streetcar across the Trinity River Bottoms to Bishop Arts – only a couple more blocks to my destination – The Wild Detectives.

So that’s what I did – I filled my book bag with my tabbed copy of Gravity’s Rainbow and my copy of Zak Smith’s Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow (for reference and grins) and headed for the station.

LBJ Central DART Train Station, looking at my book while waiting for the train.

The ride was enjoyable – or at least better than fighting the million other cars that are going somewhere at the same time as I was. Something about sitting in a train, relaxed, looking out the window at the miles of cars sitting still, on freeway and cross streets, all the white lights lines up on the left and the red ones on the right.

Woodall Rogers Expressway, Dallas, Texas

The streetcar is pretty cool. It crosses the river where there are no overhead power lines, so it is the first streetcar to rely on batteries to bridge an unelectrified stretch.

The trip isn’t fast – it took an hour each way… mostly spent waiting on a train or streetcar. The walks at each end or between stations weren’t bad at all, though.

Oh, and the discussion was enjoyable and cool. And someone brought banana bread.