Tag Archives: Gulf Coast

Nature’s awesome power on display … even after it passes

TOPEKA, Kan. — We got here — finally!

As we proceed southward toward The House in Collin County, we have seen evidence of the awesome power that Mother Nature can deliver to we mere human beings.

The Missouri River runs adjacent to Interstate 29 through Iowa and into Nebraska. We saw a flashing electronic sign that told us that I-29 would be closed; a detour awaited.

So, we exited the freeway and proceeded east along Interstate 680. We had to drive about 16 miles out of our way toward our next stop here in Topeka. We turned south and then west along Interstate 80.

This leg of the journey was extended about 40 minutes.

What caused it? The Missouri River flooded. We didn’t see what it had done to the right-of-way. All we know river caused the state highway department to shut down the major thoroughfare.

But we damn sure did see the river. It is quite high at this moment. In places it is just a foot or two from spilling over its bank and onto the highway. We saw street signs below the Interstate that poked only a foot or two above the water. We noticed buildings half-submerged under the Missouri’s tides.

Yep, it’s an awesome sight.

Grand Forks, N.D., had just gone through what apparently occurred downstream. We watched crews seek to siphon water from ditches into retention ponds.

There’s water. Then there’s too much water. We saw evidence of what happens when you have too much of it.

Yes, our friends along the Gulf Coast are experiencing this very thing at this moment. Our hearts go out them. They are in our prayers.

Now that we’ve seen how far widespread nature’s wrath has become, we send our prayers to those we saw from a distance as we zipped along to our next destination.

Having trouble letting go

I must admit to a peculiar circumstance that I will not define as a “problem.”

It is an unwillingness to let go of affairs occurring in the city where my wife and I used to live. I refer to Amarillo, Texas, way up yonder in the Texas Panhandle, on the Caprock … in a place I used to “affectionately” refer to as the Texas Tundra.

We moved away a little more than a year ago, yet I am continuing to devote a bit of High Plains Blogger’s posts to events that occur in the Texas Panhandle’s unofficial “capital” city.

You know what? I am going to keep both eyes and both ears attuned to what’s happening there. Why? The city is undergoing a significant change of personality, if not character. I want to watchdog it. I want to keep my channels of communication open to the community my wife and I called home for 23 years.

The truth is my wife and I lived in Amarillo longer than have lived in any community during our nearly 48 years of married life together. We were married in Portland, Ore., but moved to Beaumont 13 years later; we stayed on the Gulf Coast for not quite 11 years before heading northwest to the other end of this vast state.

I enjoyed some modest success during all those years as a working man. Retirement arrived in 2012. We stayed in our home until late 2017. We moved into our recreational vehicle, then sold our house in March 2018. Our granddaughter’s birth in 2013 and our desire to be near her as she grows up lured us to the Metroplex … but you know about that already.

But Amarillo retains a peculiar hold on my interests.

I am delighted with the progress of the city’s downtown redevelopment. The city’s baseball fans are turning out in droves to watch the Sod Poodles play AA minor-league hardball. Texas Tech University is marching full speed toward opening a school of veterinary medicine at Tech’s Health Sciences Center campus at the western edge of Amarillo. The Texas highway department is going to begin work soon on an extension of Loop 335 along Helium Road. Interstates 40 and 27 are under extensive construction.

I want to keep up with the progress that’s occurring in Amarillo.

I also intend to stay alert to problems that might arise along the way.

So, I intend to declare my intention to devote a good bit of this blog for the foreseeable future on matters affecting a fascinating — albeit at times infuriating — community.

Although we no longer call Amarillo our “home,” the community is not far from my heart.

Wow! That’s all one can say about that storm

This picture came from the Washington Post’s website, which leads me to believe it’s the real thing. It’s no Photoshop product, or the result of some other photographic trickery.

It is a picture of what occurred over Dallas, Texas, yesterday. The storm produced high wind, heavy rain and it knocked over a construction crane in the city’s downtown district.

They call this phenomenon a “microburst.” It was deadly, indeed. One person died when the crane crashed into a building, cutting the structure virtually in two.

I got an inquiry from a friend downstate who asked if had experienced any of that mayhem. I told her “no,” and noted that we got a bit of rain and a little bit of wind in Princeton, which is about 40 or so miles north of Dallas.

I have heard it said about Texas weather — whether it’s on the Gulf Coast or in the Panhandle, where we have lived during our 35 years in Texas — that “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes …” I also have heard it said of the Panhandle that “You can experience all the seasons of the year in just a matter of minutes.”

Let it also be said of North Texas, where we now call home, that meteorological violence can erupt just on the other side of our neighborhood.

Storms such as the one that roared Sunday over downtown Dallas can produce magnificent images … but they aren’t to be trifled with.

Wow!

We humans are such pipsqueaks

The story that is playing out in the Midwest is one that we see and hear about constantly.

Human beings seek to employ all their technological skill, know-how and expertise to corral Mother Nature.

So, what happens when levees burst? What happens when Mother Nature tells us in a voice so powerful that we cannot comprehend it? We experience tragedy, misery, mayhem. Many of us scratch our heads and wonder: How did this happen and what can we do to prevent it?

Look, I have no answer to any of that. I don’t farm the land. I don’t raise livestock. I do not seek ways to keep my land dry or to avoid the kind of flooding pictured in the photo attached to this blog post.

I simply am left to marvel at humankind’s continued effort to subdue forces that we cannot control, no matter how smart or knowledgeable we think we are.

Sure, we can count some successes in that effort. They built a seawall along Galveston Island in response to a 1900 hurricane that destroyed the growing town along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The seawall has essentially done its job.

Yet we hear about other attempts that fail. In recent years we have watched the Missouri River spill over levees in the Dakotas, destroying thousands of acres of agricultural production land. Then as now, it was the result of our meager effort to control the flow of a mighty river.

The lesson here? The river is going to go where the Almighty intended for it to go, no matter what we do to prevent it.

It’s just good to keep our human power in its proper perspective.

Time of My Life, Part 26: They kept me humble

I operated under a number of principles during more than 30 years in daily print journalism. I always sought to be fair; accuracy was critical.

I also never took myself more seriously than I took my craft.

The readers of the newspapers where I worked all served as great equalizers. I started my newspaper reporting career full time in 1977 at the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier; I gravitated in 1984 to the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and then in 1995 I moved on to the Amarillo Globe-News.

All along the way I contended with readers who shared a common quality. They generally lived in the communities we covered. Thus, they had skin in the game; they had vested interests in their cities and towns.

So if I wrote something with which they disagreed and they took the time to call me to discuss their disagreements I tended to take them seriously.

I tried to learn something about the communities where I worked. Readers often were great teachers. They would scold me. They would chide me. They mostly were respectful when they disagreed with whatever I wrote, how I reported a story or offered an opinion on an issue the newspaper had covered on its news pages.

I always sought to return the respect when they called.

To be sure, not everyone fit that description. More than few of them over all those years were visibly, viscerally angry when they called to complain. I tried to maintain a civil tongue when responding to them. I’ll be candid, though, in admitting that at times my temper flared.

I usually didn’t mind someone challenging the facts I would present in a news story, or in an editorial, or in a column. I did mind individuals who would challenge my motives, or ascribe nefarious intent where none existed.

And every once in a great while I would a reader challenge my patriotism and even my religious faith. That’s where I drew the line.

However, over the span of time I pursued the craft I loved from the moment I began studying it in college I sought to maintain a level of perspective. I took my job seriously. I always sought to remember that all human beings are flawed.

It kept me humble.

Time of My Life, Part 24: Some fights are worth having

My career in print journalism, while providing me with unforgettable experiences and much joy, also provided some angst, heartburn and at times a touch of dread.

Now and again I would encounter situations that compelled me to look more deeply into the affairs of public officials I respected. Such was the case about 30 years ago while I worked as editorial page editor for the Beaumont Enterprise in the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

I went to work one morning and while reading that day’s edition I came across a story about a Jefferson County Commissioners Court meeting. Near the end of the story, we reported that “In other business,” commissioners approved a contract involving the opening of a café in the courthouse that would be run by a state district judge, Larry Gist.

It caught my eye. I took it up with my boss, the executive editor, and inquired about looking further into that matter. It didn’t seem appropriate for a state official to be operating a private business inside a county courthouse.

I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of what I learned.

Judge Gist had prepared a bid to operate the courthouse café with a friend and business partner of his. He communicated with the county auditor, a young man named Jerry Ware, about his interest in running the café. He used what he told me later was “facsimile” county stationery, meaning he paid for the letterhead that would go atop the documents he was submitting for the auditor to consider.

But he signed the documents, “Larry Gist, judge.”

Here is where it got real sticky. Ware was appointed to his office as auditor by the district judges. So he considered a bid by one of his employers, one of the individuals to whom he answered. State law, interestingly, does not require a county to accept the lowest bid on projects such as this; it gives the county discretion to determine the “best bid” offered.

So, Ware — who works for Larry Gist (among other judges) — selected Gist’s bid to operate the café on the ground floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

That seemed strange. I thought it smacked of conflict of interest. I talked with Judge Gist, asked him about the stationery and quizzed him about whether he put any undue pressure on the county auditor to look favorably on his bid. I talked to Jerry Ware, and asked him whether he might have been influenced by the facsimile letterhead and the signature that contained the word “judge” alongside the name of the individual who was bidding on the courthouse business.

We published an editorial that questioned whether the county was adhering to all the proper ethical standards by allowing the judge to bid on a project to be housed inside a courthouse where he worked and whether the auditor was applying objective standards to all the bidders who had sought the contract.

Quite obviously, Judge Gist and Jerry Ware were unhappy with the newspaper and with me. Ware hated my guts for the rest of his life. He died of cancer not too many years later.

As for Gist, I learned through other channels that he sought to sue me and the paper for libel. The only sticking point for Gist in his pursuit of a legal challenge was that nothing we published was untrue. As you might know, truth is the first and last line of defense in any libel lawsuit.

Judge Gist and I endured a frosty relationship for the rest of my time on the Gulf Coast. I am happy to say, though, that it thawed over time. I had occasion to talk to Judge Gist on another matter once I made the move from Beaumont to the Texas Panhandle.

I don’t know the status of the courthouse café. That was then. The here and now allows me to look back on that episode with just a touch of relief that it never got past the threat of a lawsuit.

You want big sky? Try this

AMARILLO, Texas — We came back to the Texas Panhandle — and got a look at this!

Let me be clear: I have talked already on this blog about how God gave the Panhandle the kind of sky that makes jaws drop. It is the Almighty’s payback for declining to give the region towering mountains and tall trees.

But I don’t care that you’ve heard it already. It bears repeating.

The sunrises and the sunsets are two of the reasons we enjoyed living here. They reminded us frequently that natural splendor isn’t contained in snowcapped peaks or endless miles of virgin forest.

Indeed, we moved to Texas in 1984 from a part of the country — the Pacific Northwest — that contains plenty of both tall mountains and tall timber.

We settled initially in the Golden Triangle along the Gulf Coast, where we were treated by thunderstorms that roared incessantly.

We ventured to the Top of Texas nearly 11 years later. Sure, we had our share of thunder and lightning. We learned early about Palo Duro and Caprock canyons. We discovered how you can lose sight of your location on that flat terrain called the Caprock when you ventured into the floors of those chasms.

That sky, though . . .

It ignited again tonight with the sunset that took my breath away. As a matter of fact, at the very moment I snapped this picture the voice on the radio made specific mention of that “gorgeous Texas Panhandle sunset.”

So, there it is. I’ve said it again. Who knows? There might be more to say the next time the day ends in such spectacular fashion.

Fear not, others will step up

The news of the death this week of Wales Madden Jr. in Amarillo hit me hard, as it hit others who knew him equally hard.

As sad as I am at this good man’s passing, I find myself resisting the urge to wonder: How will the community replace him? How does any community full of giant men and women replace those who pass from this good Earth?

Well, I have what I hope is an acceptable answer.

I don’t know how a community replaces someone of Wales Madden’s immense stature. I only know that Amarillo, Texas, will move forward.

Amarillo is like any community in this great country of ours. It comprises roughly 200,000 residents. It has a long and storied tradition of embodying the pioneer spirit. Trail blazers settled on what was seen as a desolate landscape in the 19th century. They built a thriving community of farmers and ranchers that has grown into the unofficial “capital” of the High Plains region that includes parts of four states.

They endured hardship the likes of which few communities have ever experienced. The Dust Bowl? The misery of that terrible time in the 1930s was centered in the High Plains. Many of them fled. Many others stayed. They powered through it. They rebuilt their shattered lives. That’s how communities learn to thrive past their hardship and sadness.

Other communities with which I have some familiarity also have suffered grievous loss. Civic giants pass from the scene and somehow other emerge to take their place.

Before I moved to Amarillo, I lived and worked for nearly 11 years in Beaumont, Texas, another wonderful community along the Gulf Coast. It, too, is full of dedicated citizens who are the direct descendants of those who built that oil and petrochemical refining community into what it has become. Men and women pass from the scene and others step up, they fill the breach.

Amarillo is going to gather Saturday at the church where Wales Madden worshiped with his beloved wife, the late Abby Madden. Folks will hug each other, talk about Wales and Abby, remembering their philanthropy, their love for each other and for the community. They’ll remember Wales’ passion for climbing all those “14ers” — the peaks that exceeded 14,000 feet — in Colorado and California.

They need not worry for an instant whether anyone will emerge to replace the great man.

Great communities find a way to keep moving forward even as they bid farewell to those who helped build them.

There’s something to this ‘Texas friendly’ thing

I concluded not long after moving to Texas in 1984 that Texans, by nature, are a most hospitable bunch.

It’s not a trait unique to Texans. However, it is a quality I didn’t grow up with in my native Oregon.

My wife and I just returned from a walk through our Fairview neighborhood and, so help me, I lost count of the number of times I waved at and/or said “good morning” to total strangers.

Almost everyone we usually encounter either greets us initially or returns a greeting from either of us, usually with a smile.

Why is this so remarkable? I want to mention it in the context of what we keep hearing about our government leaders and how angry they are at each other and how that anger is being projected toward their “bosses,” the voters — such as you and me.

I don’t find that to be the case as I go about my day.

I am generally a social animal. I like people. I like being around them. I enjoy the give-and-take with strangers. I like talking to people and getting to know them just a bit beyond the surface level — although I know enough not to get too personal with my inquiries.

Maybe it’s the nosiness in me. I was a reporter/editorial writer/editor for a lot of years and that particular personality trait served me well as I cultivated sources during my career.

When we moved to Texas back in the spring of 1984 I was taken aback almost immediately by the friendliness of the folks who live along the Gulf Coast, in the Golden Triangle, where my family and I called home for nearly 11 years.

Then my wife and I uprooted ourselves in early 1995 and ventured a good bit up yonder to the Panhandle. We encountered the same sort of openness and friendliness as we greeted strangers.

What’s interesting, too, about West Texas is the way motorists wave at each other while traveling along lengthy stretches of highway. One can drive several (dozen) miles at times without seeing another motorist; when one approaches from the opposite direction, the driver is likely to toss you a wave … or he or she might lift an index finger off the steering wheel as you whiz by.

I guess that’s what those signs at the border mean when they welcome visitors to “Drive Friendly, the Texas Way.”

One doesn’t get that kind of greeting in the Metroplex, where such right-of-way desolation doesn’t exist, if you get my drift.

And so … about the time you get dismayed at the negative tone you hear on the news each day emanating from the halls of power, I have a solution for my fellow Texans.

Get out of the house and take a walk through the neighborhood.

Seeking no credit for this heat

When we moved to Beaumont, Texas from Oregon in the spring of 1984, I would jokingly take credit when it rained for more than a couple of days in a row.

I would give a nod to the same thought when we moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in early 1995. When we would travel from Amarillo to, oh, damn well anywhere in the States, we’d take credit for whenever the wind would blow hard.

However …

There ain’t no way I’m going to tolerate any references to our former places of residence if someone wants to comment on this damn heat.

We’re setting heat records in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The temp hit 109 today. A record. It did so on Friday, too. There might be another record in jeopardy on Sunday and again on Monday.

The heat is an annual event in this part of the world. I’ve known that for many years.

It ain’t the same heat that blankets the Texas Panhandle. This one lingers well into the night, unlike on the Caprock, where it dissipates (more or less) when the sun sets, owing to the 3,650-foot elevation on the High Plains.

This heat requires us to get reacquainted with humidity.

The good news? It won’t last forever. I’m already looking forward to autumn.