JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Special on-the-road edition written between
rural western Kentucky and rural central Yucatán, Mexico

April 16, 2017

*****

FROM KENTUCKY TO THE YUCATAN
Last Monday morning, April 10th, rural western Kentucky was soft grass-green and experiencing that exact moment when trees still were winter-leafless but the Redbuds were at their peak while Dogwoods were just preparing to flower. On Owensboro's east side heading east toward Louisville a towering smokestack lifted coal-burning smoke into the morning's calmness. I guess that that's what back in Calhoun had contributed the bitter tang to the air that otherwise smelled of freshly mowed grass, mud and a hint of hedgerow plum blossoms. A sign in a window announced half-off chocolate Easter bunnies and all the town's Dollar Stores, very busy, that day, bore rainbow Easter-egg decals on their windows, and too many cars crammed a Burger King's parking lot.

That afternoon Louisville's skyline arose from sprawl like mushrooms from hidden mycelium, then the Greyhound bus station lobby's big-screen CNN news feed endlessly recycling images of a Chinese man forcefully dragged from the United Airlines seat he'd paid for alternating with gassed dead and dying children in Syria and aerial views of US warships steaming into waters off North Korea. At dusk a "Strawberry Moon," as one of the bus's enchanted passengers called it, rose above central Kentucky's round-topped hills with isolated little white farm houses at woods edges and along wandering narrow roads recalling lost ways of living and thinking and they gave way to spotlighted billboards selling hotel rooms and cheap fried chicken. Around midnight in Nashville's bus lobby everyone watched being dragged off, gassed and destroyered, again and again.

Dawn Tuesday central Arkansas trees newly leafed, Redbuds past their prime, Dogwoods splendid, flooded fields, a big field silvery water-white Cattle Egrets floating plastic bottles, then central Texas an old black lady comes aboard wide-eyed and laughing saying she'd never seen such a rain, in Bastrop cars that morning floating in the streets, but we'd missed the whole thing. That evening on the little transistor radio NPR Fresh Air does a piece in which demagoguery is defined. A demagogue scares people by telling them that things are worse than they are, says that only he can save them, and there's showmanship and scapegoats as he explains his own sins as necessary and to be overlooked because worrying about them would distract from the glory of what he's promising.

At 4AM Wednesday at Immigration in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, the friendly, unshaven official pockets my $30 fee for a visa and when I ask for a receipt, just like a while back on the Belize frontier, first says that I don't need one, then that he doesn't have one, and when I make a fuss and refuse to leave without one he shows me where the office is for handling the fees, and I get my new six-month visa. Without that receipt, next time I leave Mexico, I'd have to pay it again.

At dawn in a Transpais bus heading south along the Gulf of Mexico coast each reclining seat has its own computer screen with earphones. I pull up Chopin and a lady across the isle chooses The Little Prince movie, outside the windows vast acreages of Grain Sorghum/ Milo where I remember an unbroken vastness of Mesquite and how it used to heave in the wind, with Crested Caracaras endlessly aloft and on the lady's screen the Little Prince on his hippopotamus-size planet lies curled around that world's single rose-plant, protecting it from the night air, and the Chopin is "Spring Waltz," the horizon-to-horizon unbroken fields of Grain Sorghum a kind of monotonous humming summoning images of dragged-off/gassed/destroyered, and those destroyers' impeccable formation as they steamed toward North Korea as inevitably as the Western calendar brings us this time of year its half-off Easter bunnies in a million Dollar Stores next to irrepressible daily pilgrimages to Burger King.

At the Tampico bus station years ago I learned that if you walk a couple of blocks south to the hospital zone, along the sidewalk there's all kinds of taco and fruit stands, pungent smell of barbecue smoke and even a tortillaría with piles of soft, moist, hot, homey smelling tortillas stacked in kilo and half kilo piles, and this is when you can crack some of that Northern covered-in-plastic-wrap feeling, and I do that now, ceremoniously, sitting beneath a Coconut Palm, hallelujah. Now two days away from lush Kentucky's gorgeous spring, no news feeds looping here, and on tabloid front pages at street-side newsstands somehow yesterday's crop of local broken bodies and bloody faces seem innocent next to dragging-off/gassing/destroyering, and I sit flicking tostado crumbs to red-legged pigeons who bow and jump and peck and sometimes a male runs in circles around the female, who seems to be impressed.

Thursday in Veracruz city all day I kill time reading and writing these words, timing an overnight trip to Mérida so I don't arrive either too early or too late for connections to Valladolid and the ranch. If these words appear in the Newsletter at the usual time you'll know that I arrived at the ranch on Friday afternoon, then on Saturday morning biked to Ek Balam to recharge batteries, upload and download, and that I did so having decided that there's nothing about this Trump thing up North that gets better by discussing it. And that Trump isn't the thing itself, but rather one feature of a syndrome manifesting sometimes as dragging-off/gassing/destroyering.

*****

Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.