IN THE HEART OF CRAWFORD ----(page
OUR LADY OF THE DITCH
Sheehan didn't just come out of nowhere, of course. She'd been involved in efforts
to get her concerns and the concerns of mothers of men and women who had died
in Iraq heard, in the past year. But when she got the notion to plant herself
in a ditch, she became a national figure.
is a ditch? It is rock and bramble and barbed wire. It is a barrier to keep some
things in and some things out. It is a trench to hunker down in when confronting
an enemy. It is a place to run your car off into when things go awry. It is a
place that catches runaway rainwater and controls its sudden torrents.
are mosquitoes in a ditch and chiggers in a ditch too, probably rattlesnakes if
you ask me. And as I say, plenty of water in wet season. This being dry season,
it's hot even though this ditch is backed up by a stand of trees.
Ditch is all that, and it's at a crossroads too, a strategic crossroads where
traffic bound for Bush's Crawford Ranch by car have to pass.
we all know what a crossroads is in southern lore. It's a place where hangings
take place. It's a place where a bluesman stands, guitar in hand, after having
sold his soul to the Devil in order to learn how to play the darn thing. It's
a place for critical decision-making
don't know if Gandhi ever parked himself in a ditch. I'm not sure Martin Luther
King did either. But it was Cindy Sheehan's stroke of genius to sit down in a
ditch at a crossroads, and wait for America - and George Bush - to come to her.
Deep in the heart of Crawford.
a sense, she had the courage to expose herself to danger in the middle of Conservative
George Bush country. She pulled the beard of the lion, and the lion refused to
come out of his den.
hero is someone who moves forward in the darkness, says George Seferis. Sometimes,
a hero is someone who sits down in a ditch.
I TAKE A WALK I GO FOR A SWIM
is dawn of the first day and I'm an early riser. I've slept overnight in the Peace
House and before going out to Camp Casey, I want to freshen up. Someone's told
me there's a nice Quarry to swim in - Tonkawa Park - just up the road about a
half mile, so I've decided to give that a go.
I head on out in the opposite direction from the middle of town, my back to the
huge ugly humming grain elevator at the railroad crossing, and the crossing going
clang clang clang.
the way I pass the tiny houses which occupy this side of Crawford - cottages,
mobile homes, small neatly kept yards. On the way a Chihuahua barks at me aggressively.
A car eases up behind me, slowing down. I'm with war protesters, this is redneck
country! Is this my easy rider moment?
is not. The driver is a Hispanic man, he lives in the next house round the corner.
He gives me a polite wave as he passes and turns into his driveway. He owns a
double wide trailer, the lawn is immaculate, there's children's play equipment.
The property's lined with flowering crepe myrtle, there's a peach tree weighed
down by its fruit. It is modest and well kept and I find it hard to imagine he's
a gung ho Bush fan.
mean his postage stamp property is in stark contrast to the many thousand acre
ranches outside of town, where the landed and the ruling class live with their
proud 'entrances' and I'm thinking on this side of the track these are THE people,
you won't see any kowtowing to the oligarchy here. I'm thinking Woody Guthrie,
who said 'the sign said private property, and on the other side, it didn't say
nothing." I'm thinking Middle Ages Europe, with serfs huddled outside the
castle walls. I'm thinking Frankenstein.
down the road I discover a cow flop in the middle of the road, freshly steaming.
Where are the cows? Down the road behind a barbed wire fence in a green field
of beat down grass, sweetly lowing. There are thistles, blue clumps of cactus,
and yellow sunflowers waiting which way to turn to greet the morning sun.
the way to the park I still hear the grain elevator from the entrance to the park,
but once inside it becomes quieter, a thicket of wild grapes blackening on the
vine, virginia creeper, small dark-leaved trees crowded shoulder to shoulder.
There's an RV camp, a Little League baseball field ("the Crawford Pirates").
There are riding stables. A pretty spot outside of a reasonably pretty western
the quarry? I'm about to turn around when I see it. It's not a quarry at all,
but a natural pool in a hollow carved out of bedrock by a small stream. Tonkawa
Falls. I double back, to a small pathway and a sign that says 'swim at your own
risk,' follow the rusted hurricane fencing and take the steps carved out of the
stone down to the waterside.
pool is cool and calm and still. Nothing seems to be in it but a single small
fish looking back up at me. So I slip in, paddle around quietly as I can for a
couple of minutes, and slip back out without a sound.
I walk back to the Peace House. The Chihuahua looks up at me with one eye open,
barks half-heartedly but does not get up. Once again the grain elevator is humming.
The railroad crossing is still clanging.
the drivers have grown impatient - they have begun going around the guardrails.
Hesitantly at first, then more boldly.
know there's no train coming.
NO TORNADOES TODAY
It is hot out here - hotter than the devil's
foot up a Baptist butt - and getting hotter by the minute, so I figure to take
a drive out into the country, see the sites a bit, and have breakfast.
all that his name is plastered all over this section of the country, George Bush
is nowhere to be seen. He's the invisible president, he flies in and out by helicopter.
There are some say they don't like him here, he's not really a Texan, he's not
really ranching out there in that spot he bought back in 1999 from a real rancher.
Some say he's afraid of horses.
there seems plenty of support for the man. Heck, the parkway out of Waco all the
way to MacGregor's named after him. There are Bush signs everywhere and even a
huge billboard of George and Laura welcoming people to Crawford - though not from
the end of town where the Peace House is located.
looking for MacGregor but not in much of a hurry as no one seems to be up yet
around the Peace House except for the inveterate sleepless like myself - all day
out in the hot Texas sun this time of year will do that to you. So I take some
of the back roads - like Fossil Rim Road, with its abandoned shed and its dead
end and its squashed armadillos. Val Verde Road with its mix of fields, some left
in stubble and others with freshly planted new corn, many of them in a shallow
sea of hovering dragonflies. Where the open ranch and planted fields give way
to stands of trees, the woods are a mix of feathery cottonwood dark scrub trees
with tight-fisted oak-like leaves, osage apple.
is beautiful country, the southern end of North America's Midwestern prairie with
all the richness that implies, tough and honest and continental. Being below the
frost line it can get mighty hot and now the fire ants have invaded from South
America there's a new pest to add to the old.
realize, slowing to a stop and taking a walk around, you can't
place in this world without smelling it and hearing it. Without hearing, in this
case, the creak of a water windmill against the big blue empty sky. Without smelling
the tall emerald blue and green grasses beyond the roadside baking in 100+ degree
I duck inside
a coffee shop in MacGregor. Here we have it now - this is all-Texas, the town's
got a Dairy Queen, stacks of deer blinds, plenty of beer to go. Inside are small
groups of well-scrubbed good old boys, rod and gun men, hair combed and wearing
tight clean bluejeans, they're gathered four or five to a table and everyone knows
everyone except me. The place is chock full of George 'W' memorabilia. At the
register under glass, they even have a letter from Bush on White House stationery,
and a big check under the glass - it's a Texas size check, blown up to quadruple
size - with his name scrawled in oversized childlike pen script, the bank and
account number removed. The check's made out for $32.63.
one says a word to me except the waitress, who has no choice.
eat my grits and eggs and Texas Toast, and watch the local weather channel. The
same images, over and over. Doppler Radar, nothing. 100 degrees all week. Dew
Point 10 percent. There's a tornado watch map for the entire region.
tornadoes anywhere in Texas today.
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