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West Texas Treasure

I recently returned from a weekend getaway with a friend while we traveled New York to Boston by train. I enjoyed the company and the scenery. I live in West Texas and trees are not plentiful here. I really enjoy green scenery and trees when I have the opportunity to visit other parts of the country. And yet, there is mysterious lure to me about the remote ruggedness of West Texas. I have hiked in just about all the mountain ranges of West Texas, and absolutely love the experience. You may question whether Texas actually has any real mountains, and the answer is yes. Not as tall as the Rockies at 12,000 to 14,000 feet, but more in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 feet. Let me share with you my latest excursion.

I live in West Texas but seldom visit El Paso. It is 500 miles away. The Franklin Mountains are near the city, which I had never hiked, so I planned a journey to do just that. I drove for hours, and made decent time as much of the way had a speed limit of 80. I spent the night in a small town out in the middle of no where. A beautiful old, but clean and newly refurbished hotel. The next day I arrived El Paso, and hiked the Franklin Mountains. It may be right next to the city, but I felt like I was on Mars. On one trail I was tired, very thirsty, hot, not a bit of shade for miles, felt lost, and was miserable. But I loved it. I did not see one person of the trail I was on, and always love getting back to cool water and shade.

Franklin Mountains

I spent the night in downtown El Paso at the Camino Real, another nice restored hotel. The next morning I took in a a few museums, all within walking distance. That afternoon I caught the Amtrak train going east to Alpine, Texas, about a four hour journey. Yes there really is a place called Alpine in Texas. A small friendly town nestled among mountains and not far from Big Bend, Texas. I just sat there looking out the window enjoying the mountains of Mexico across the Rio Grande and the Texas mountains out the window on the other side of the train. Of course the mountains are in the distance. Everything in West Texas seems to be in the distance. I think most people on the train were bored, plugged into their entertainment devices, but not me. I find the scenery mesmerizing. A little bit of Jack, a little bit of Coke, the view, and I was happy as a lark. I guess I am a very simple person. I hiked about a mile to the hotel in Alpine after departing the train. The next morning I was lying in bed when I heard a train whistle. I looked out the window expecting to see a freight train, but was a bit unsettled to see it was my Amtrak ride back to El Paso. I quickly dressed, checked out and took hostage a kind couple in the parking lot who were about to depart the hotel. Most folks in West Texas are friendly. They dropped me at the train station with a very genuine Thank You from myself. I loved the ride back to El Paso.

Next I drove to the Davis Mountains where I camped the night. Before arriving at the park I had parked the car at a roadside pic nic table. I saw three cars in three hours, listening to the gentle breeze as I looked at the mountains. they seemed to stare back at me.  The following morning I scuba dived in a huge pool out in the desert of West Texas known as Balmorhea. It is spring feed, and although it is not Cozumel, I still enjoy the little fishes and the sensation of being weightless.

Balmorhea pool

It was a delightful trip. No stresses, just me, myself and I. And……..the rugged beauty of West Texas. Treasure to me.

Famous Squares

        A square seems straightforward, complete, and perfect.  No irregularity, equal on all sides, and foundational in mathematical, architectural, and geometry discussions.  It is almost as if you have to get your squares correct to build upon:  got to get your 90 degree angles, trigonometry and square roots correct.  However, these are not the squares I am going to mention briefly.  I want to touch on some well known squares.  And by the way I’m not talking about Hollywood Squares either.

       When I drive through small towns the courthouse often sits directly on the town square in many of them.  In larger cities the town square remains a hub of activity.  These squares serve as recognizable landmarks often reflecting a city’s cultural heritage and history.  For example, Red Square obviously makes one think of Moscow.  When I visited Red Square I realized it was not exactly a perfect square, but close enough.  I have never visited Tiananmen Square in China so I’m not sure about its squareness.  I do know when I visited Times Square in New York City it was anything but square.  Each of these are easily associated with their respective cities conjuring up images in our minds when we hear them mentioned on the news or in conversation. 

Red Square:  The Kremlin

Times Square:  Neon flashing lights

Tiananmen Square:  The Imperial Palace.

Tiananmen Square in China

Red Square Moscow

New York Times Square

I choose to include these national icons on the board game of TreasureTrove as players travel the world in search of fabled wealth.  The following situation card gives a player the option of which of these famous landmarks to visit.      

 

Factoids:

Times Square was known for many years as Longacre Square.  Renamed Times Square in 1904 when the New York Times moved it’s headquaters there.  Times Square is the number one tourist site in the world visited by over 35 million people each year. 

Tinanamen Square is the largest open urban square in the world.  It was named after the “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” which sits directly north and seperates Tiananmen square from the Forbidden City.  Also one of the busiest tourist sites in the world.

Red Square sits next to the Kremlin, the official residence of the President of Russia.  It is considered the center of Moscow and all of Russia.  The square’s name has no connection to the red associated with communism or the red buildings.  Was known as Trinity Square for many years, named after Trinity Cathederal, the predecessor of St. Basil’s cathederal presently on Red Square.  The Russian word “kransny,” meaning beautiful is thought to have been the origins of the contemporary “red.” 

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Civil War Doctors

       

1863 American flag

          History has always been interesting to me.  Military history for most of my life has been my favorite.  World War II has drawn my most reading but I often find the Civil War inviting me.  My interest in history started at a young age with my brothers and I playing with toy guns, knives and hats.  We also had a bunch of toy soldiers.

            My oldest brother had a set of Indians and Cowboys.  My next oldest had some WWII soldiers, as did my younger brother.  I had a Civil War set.  I played with toy soldiers countless hours.  I still have my Civil War soldiers.

            I grew up in Texas and attended family reunions in the Hill Country of central Texas.  Many years ago when I was a kid I heard my aunts debating the color of a uniform in the attic of a house back East in West Virginia.  My great, great grandfather had come to Texas in a covered wagon right after the Civil War.  Since he had come from West Virginia there was some debate as to whether or not he was a Yankee or a Rebel as they talked.  “That uniform was blue,” one would say while another replied, “no it was grey.”  I didn’t give it much thought.  That was in the early 1960’s. 

            One of the women I work with is into genealogy.  She has been so for a many years.  The old fashion way; visiting distant relatives she had never met, visiting gravesites, locating documents of birht and death, etc.  With the internet and a number of websites dedicated to genealogy it has become much easier to gain knowledge of one’s ancestors.  I asked her one day if she could find out about my great, great grandfather.  I was surprised with the amount of information she was able to retrieve.  She informed me he had graduated from medical school in 1861 in New York City and she noted he was at Gettysburg.  That piqued my interest.  I assumed he served with the Union but was not totally sure.  She added his younger brother served in the Confederacy and died of disease in southern Virginia at the young age of 17.

            I had heard of families being divided but living out in Texas I just assumed that was for families located back East.  Wow, brother against brother in different uniforms.  It seems fairly easy now to assume one was wrong to have worn the gray uniform but it would have presented a dilemma for me, especially in western Virginia where so much harsh fighting took place during the war.  Even if you did not own slaves, or were actually opposed to slavery, what would you do if an invading army destroyed your crops, burned your homestead and perhaps threatened your wife and family.  If an intruder breaks into my home today and threatens my family, I would defend them.  The law allows me to do so.  General Sherman rationalized his burning of Georgia saying, “war is hell.”  Can you imagine what the North would have done to the South if General Lee had allowed his soldiers to burn parts of Pennsylvania.  They were not even allowed to steal shoes which they desperately needed.  Of course men were drafted into service, but would an individual have been evil to have actually worn the grey uniform if he were trying to defend his land, his home, his family.  Those are some very hard choices I am thankful to have never been challenged with.

            In 2010, my daughter did some genealogy research for a school project.  She checked into both sides of my family.  I had told her about my great, great grandfather on my mom’s side of the family.  Other than him, I told her I knew little of my heritage.  She verified all that had been told concerning the two brothers.  “Do you think the doctor was in the blue uniform?” I asked her.  “Yes,” she replied, “he is listed as one of the speakers at a pro union rally in New York City in 1861 condemning the rebellion.”  That sounds pretty convincing to me he indeed was a Unionist as were many people from the western part of Virginia.  The little town my family comes from is located on the eastern fringes of what is now West Virginia which became a state in 1861.  I’m not sure why the younger brother went with the South, but remember, he was very young and probably impressionable.  Union troops had invaded that area many times and towards the end of war had burned most of the land to prevent Lee’s forces from having food.  He died at the very end of the war.  Maybe he felt he was just protecting his home.  Maybe he was forced to serve in the Confederacy.  We will never know for sure.

            I told my daughter how men who participate in Civil War reenactments have to prove their heritage.  “I guess I can do that now,” I told her.  “Be odd having a Texan at one of those reenactments back East wearing a Union surgeon’s uniform,” I added.  “That’s not all to the story,” she replied.  “What do you mean?” I asked. 

            “Your dad’s mother’s side of the family came from South Carolina to Georgia and eventually to East Texas.  During the Civil War you had a great, great grandfather who was a doctor in the Confederacy serving in the Carolinas.  They had different last names but they had the same first and middle names, Benjamin Franklin………….and Benjamin Franklin……..  “So, I suppose you could wear either the blue or grey uniform, which ever you wanted,” she added. 

             I still haven’t decided.  I fly the Stars and Stripes in front of my house on certain days of the year.  I still get tears in my eyes at the singing of the national anthem.  I have never owned, much less flown the Confederate flag.              

            I think all of us have some interesting stories from our heritage worth exploring.  A wealth of stories, perhaps.  To each of us our past presented to us by our ancestors offers a  treasure-trove of life experiences.