Tag Archives: High Plains

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.

Community media presence still morphing

My concerns about the future of print journalism in the community I used to call “home” are mounting.

The Amarillo Globe-News just announced the hiring of a new “regional” distribution director. His name is David Morel. The Globe-News published a nice story today extolling his experience and all that kind of thing.

Then it quotes him expressing how he is “extremely grateful to be pat of the (Lubbock) Avalanche-Journal team. He spoke about his commitment to informing “the Lubbock community.”

I thought, “Hmm. No mention of Amarillo. What’s up with that?”

Upon reflection, I think I know. GateHouse media, the owners of the Globe-News and the Avalanche-Journal, seem to be moving toward some sort of media merger. The future of West Texas print journalism is going to be headquartered in Lubbock, it appears to me. The Globe-News, if it is going to exist in any form, is going to play second-fiddle to the A-J.

The recent hire of a regional director of commentary, who also is based in Lubbock, was enough of a signal of the future. Doug Hensley seems like a nice enough fellow, but I have yet to see an editorial posted in the G-N that even looks with a remotely critical eye at local issues, expressing local concerns, appealing directly to the local community.

The newspaper shrouds its editorial commentary in a more global context, talking about the joint concerns shared by folks on the High Plains and the South Plains. That’s when the paper decides to publish an editorial that speaks to anything that could be construed as being of local interest.

The papers have a regional publisher and a regional executive editor. Now they have a regional circulation director to go along with their regional director of commentary. Of the four regional execs, one of them — the executive editor — lives in Amarillo; the other three reside in Lubbock.

What does that tell you? It tells me where GateHouse is investing its resources in Lubbock. I now officially fear for the future of daily print journalism in the Texas Panhandle.

For those of us who invested time, energy and committed ourselves to the life of the community we loved, I believe this is a sad time.

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.

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.

Facing a topic quandary for this blog

A relocation might be approaching more quickly than my wife and I thought. More on that at a later date.

As we prepare to detach ourselves eventually from the Texas Panhandle and relocate to the Metroplex region of North Texas, I am facing a bit of a quandary: how to transition from commenting on local matters that pertain to the Panhandle to our new surroundings.

High Plains Blogger will retain its title even after we relocate. I have made that “command decision.” I like the name. I’m comfortable with it. The blog title does pay a sort of tribute to one of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood.

It comments heavily on national political matters. I also like commenting on local issues. Even though my wife and I departed the Golden Triangle more than two decades ago, I am even prone to offering a word or two about life in our former digs. along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Our time in the Panhandle, though, is more than double than what we spent in what I affectionately call The Swamp. Thus, I likely will continue to keep an eye on goings-on in Amarillo and the Panhandle even after we depart for points southeast of here.

I do intend to familiarize myself with issues unique to the area north of Dallas where we’ll end up. I cannot pretend to know all the nuances that go into every issue. Heck, I am quite willing to acknowledge that I don’t know all there is to know about everything that happens in a community I called home for more than 23 years.

But … my Panhandle knowledge base is a good bit more informed than it will be when we relocate to the Dallas ‘burbs.

Oh well. It might be that I’ll refocus my attention on matters relating to national politics, government, public policy and, oh yes, a bit of life experience thrown in from time to time.

Heaven knows the president is keeping my quiver full of arrows.

Quite sure ‘Dust Bowl’ won’t return

One of the things I learned about the Dust Bowl was it was manly caused by human fallibility and ignorance.

I also learned that the Dust Bowl was centered right here on the High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma.

As dry as it has been in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles since this past autumn, I will rely on the knowledge that we have learned how to prevent a recurrence of the hideous tragedy that befell the region in the 1930s.

Ken Burns’ fabulous documentary film, “The Dust Bowl,” which aired on PBS in 2015, reminded us that the event was the worst “manmade ecological disaster” in U.S. history. How did it occur?

Human beings settled on the High Plains and began plowing up natural grassland, turning it into cultivated farm land. Many farmers relied on rainfall to irrigate their crops; they were “dry land farmers.”

They plowed up hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, which Mother Nature put there to act as protection against wind erosion. The grass held the soil together, preventing it from blowing away in the stiff wind that howls frequently across the High Plains.

Well, then something drastic happened. It stopped raining. The region became gripped by a killer drought. Then the wind blew as it always does. What happened next has become the stuff of legend throughout the High Plains.

The dirt blew in sinister, black clouds across the vast landscape. People breathed in the dirt. They contracted “dust pneumonia.” Many of them died; the most vulnerable were the very old and the very young; obviously, the very sickly also fell victim. Many others who didn’t die vacated their farms and ranches.

Other survivors, though, stayed and powered through the misery.

The nation learned a lot from that terrible time. One of the lessons dealt with tilling the land. Farmers started by letting the grass grow back where Mother Nature intended for it to grow. They improved their tilling techniques to minimize wind erosion.

The rain would return eventually. The High Plains would rebuild. The dust settled.

We’re now gripped by another drought. The U.S. and Texas departments of agriculture consider the region to be in “severe drought” mode.

Here’s a glimmer of hope: No one really believes we are going to experience a chapter-and-verse repeat of what occurred on the High Plains more than eight decades ago. The region’s ignorance about Mother Nature’s way has long gone.

However, we’ve got those damn fires with which we must contend.

Looking more like Dust Bowl

Happy Trails, Part 85

I’ve heard it hundreds of times in my life from friends: Autumn is their favorite season of the year.

You won’t hear that from me. We are now entering my favorite season. Spring portends a season of hope. Of renewal. We are coming out of the type of darkness that winter has blanketed over us.

It’s a season of change. This year particularly brings immense change for my wife and me.

Winter in the Texas Panhandle has been a challenge, to be sure. It’s been the driest winter we’ve ever experienced here. We’ve been through 22 winters on the High Plains and none of them has been as tinder dry as the one we’ve just endured.

From what I hear the dryness is expected to continue for the foreseeable future as well. But the coming warmth is going to awaken the dormant grass and assorted flora around here.

This post, though, isn’t really about coming out of the barren and dry winter. It’s about the change that we have initiated.

A big move awaits. It likely will occur soon. We have sold our house. We have moved completely into our recreational vehicle. The roof over our heads is perched on four wheels, which we tow behind a muscular pickup.

Our destination is somewhere in North Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex,, near our granddaughter. We have no definite plan lined out just yet, but one is coming into a little sharper focus as we ponder the next big step in our life together.

We won’t sever our ties to Amarillo. We intend to remain highly mobile, even after we resettle in North Texas. We intend to be frequent visitors to the city we’ve called home for 23-plus years.

The spring of 2018 will be unlike any season we’ve ever experienced. Of that I am absolutely certain, although the winter of 1996 was a beaut as well. We took possession of the house we had built in southwest Amarillo the day after the Winter Solstice and had a delightful Christmas opening boxes and rediscovering possessions we had stored away for nearly two years.

That was then. The next season of big change is at hand. It’s my favorite time of the year.

Decision made on name of blog

I have made a command decision I want to share with you.

Some time back I mused out loud on this blog that I might change its name when we relocated to North Texas. The name “High Plains Blogger” has served two purposes. One was to salute our location on the High Plains of Texas; the other was to salute one of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood, who starred in “High Plains Drifter” a few decades ago.

Well, our move is fast approaching and I’ve decided — drum roll! — to keep the name of this blog.

We intend to remain semi-mobile even after we relocate to North Texas. We have family matters to consider that will bring us back to Amarillo periodically. Thus, I won’t sever my ties to this city we’ve called “home” for 23 years.

I doubt I’ll be able to continue to comment with as much regularity on local matters as I’ve been able to do. My local-content musings have diminished considerably since I quit my daily print journalism job at the Amarillo Globe-News on Aug. 31, 2012.

I’ve remained somewhat connected through various media about goings-on in Amarillo and the Panhandle, enabling me to offer commentary on issues as they’ve presented themselves.

I won’t be disconnected completely even after we depart for points southeast of the Panhandle. The blog, though, is likely to concentrate more on state, national and international issues — along with the occasional stories about our beloved puppy, Toby, and musings about the retired life with which my wife and I have become quite comfortable.

Those retirement segments hopefully will include some travel tales as we embark on journeys across this continent of ours.

High Plains Blogger has developed an identity. I like being associated with it.

Now, I could change my mind and come up with a new name. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading and sharing. I am having the time of my life.

Enjoying a front-row seat of progress

Our new “home” across the way from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and the Bell Helicopter aircraft assembly plant has given me a front-row seat to an amazing display of engineering and economic progress.

My wife and I have been living at an RV park within spittin’ distance of AMA and Bell. From our living room we are able to watch jets fly in and out of the airport while also witnessing test flights of a state-of-the-art combat aircraft that is put together right here on the High Plains.

I refer, of course, to the V-22 Osprey, the notable tilt-rotor aircraft that’s seen plenty of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years. The Marine Corps has been using the bird to ferry troops and supplies on and off battlefields in both countries for, oh, about the past decade.

The Osprey hasn’t been without controversy. Many of us recall the terrible crash in Arizona that killed nearly 20 Marines on a test flight.

The Osprey, though, has been re-engineered since that crash. It has been improved. It has been modified to some degree. Today, from what I have heard, it has performed its mission well. The aircraft gives American fighting personnel quicker entrance and exit from the battlefield.

Amarillo used an interesting — and occasionally mocked — economic tool to lure Bell/Textron to the High Plains in the late 1990s. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation offered a lot of money that it collects from sales tax revenue to Bell/Textron, which ended up receiving about $45 million in various inducements, including tax abatements and free land next to AMA.

Bell returned to Amarillo, where it once repaired and maintained Huey helicopters during the Vietnam War.

AEDC hit a home run when it lured Bell/Textron to the region. We have seen it grow over the years, expanding its mission.

I think of all this on occasion as I watch the Osprey take off and land. I recall the ridicule we heard from the Fort Worth area that lost the Bell operation, thanks to Amarillo’s aggressive and creative marketing campaign.

I also look with some pride at what this community has been able to accomplish for its local economic health as well as contributing to the nation’s vaunted military establishment.

I spoke once with a Marine pilot who was stationed in Amarillo to test-fly the Osprey earlier in its development. He mentioned to me how this aircraft was so hard to learn to fly, but once he got the hang of it, the Osprey has turned out to be a lot of fun to fly.

On occasion I think of that Marine as I watch the Osprey glide through its paces above us, and I wonder how much fun they’re having overhead.

Happy Trails, Part 73

The question comes to me almost weekly.

I’ll run into longtime friends or acquaintances and they inevitably ask: How do you like retirement?

My answer is usually the same: If I were doing any better I’d be twins.

One former colleague who now lives in Houston asked me that very question about a year ago. I gave him the answer. His response? “I’ve never met a retired person who doesn’t love being retired.”

There you have it. My friend has said I fit the mold of your standard, run-of-the-mill retired guy.

What my friend also understands is that my journey toward retired contentment — and, yes, the joy it brings — didn’t start out that way. My retirement journey began unhappily. I wasn’t yet ready to call it quits when I did. I resigned my last newspaper job — at the Amarillo Globe-News — in a fit of emotional pain.

The truth is that it didn’t take me long to realize that my former employer actually did me a favor. I sent myself out to pasture. The pain that I felt on my last day of employment dissipated quickly.

I’ve known many people over the years who have gone through circumstances quite similar to what I encountered. They had been reorganized out of jobs, too.

Here is what I rediscovered about myself. I am a highly adaptable creature. I discovered by adaptability when my family and I moved from Oregon to Texas in the spring of 1984 and exposed ourselves to a serious culture shock. We adapted. My wife and I went through another form of culture shock when we moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in January 1995. We adapted to that change yet again.

My wife and I are going to embark on one more big challenge as we prepare to relocate once more, from the High Plains to North Texas.

My adaptability skills will come into play once again.

The only part of my new life that won’t change — ever! — is a return to the working world. I’ve done my time there.

Retirement really is so very good.