Unfolding the Map
Now in the Lone Star State, William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) drives Ghost Dancing into a state that has many interesting facets, not the least of which is a pride as big as all of Texas. Mount Enterprise and Carthage are right at the beginning. Click the thumbnail of the map at right, and you'll see where they line up along the trip.
"The true West differs from the East in one great, pervasive, influential and awesome way: space. The vast openness changes the roads, towns, houses, farms, crops, machinery, politics, economics, and, naturally, ways of thinking. How could it do otherwise?....
"....The long horizon gave a sense of flatness, but in truth, it was only a compression through distance of broad-topped hills....
"The towns: Carthage, Mount Enterprise..."
Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 1
Carthage and Mount Enterprise, Texas
The magnificence of the sky over Texas is truly startling if you've never experienced it. It may seem that Texans overblow things when one listens to how "the stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas." In fact, if one listens, it might seem that everything in Texas is overblown. How can people think so much of a particular place?
The sky itself is the first indication that there may be something more to Texas. It is not that the sky isn't brilliant and encompassing in other places. I imagine that if you are standing in the flat farmland of North Dakota, the effect might be similar. In these areas of Texas, the sky bends up and over one like a huge dome. In the day, it seems to stretch on forever. One can feel extremely lonely if one is in the middle of nowhere in Texas, or one can feel extremely connected to the universe. It is not difficult to feel both things at the same time. There are endless possibilities over the horizon, where more emptiness is just waiting for someone to come along and make something of it.
At night, the stars do burn bright. How could they not in a state that has so many people, and yet so many open spaces that one can easily find places where ground light from the state's major cities does not interfere with one's enjoyment of the cosmos in its vast infiniteness?
If one takes LHM's contention that there is a boundary between the West and East in the United States, and that Texas stands on the West side of that boundary, then one will notice a change crossing into Texas. The towns are more spread out, because they are not bound by geography or landscape. Roads travel straight to the horizon, because they are not limited to the confining contours of an overabundance of hills. People have the mindset that the land is a limitless resource to be exploited, not a limiting feature. I'm not saying that all of Texas is like this - certainly the western side of Texas becomes desert and mountainous. But for better or worse, if one sees Texas from this angle, it is easy to see, in part, why Texas has become what it is.
For better or worse, Texas exceptionalism grows out of these very features. Many Texans are convinced that their state is different, and better. It was built on the backs of independent and enterprising pioneers who came to the state to ranch, to grow, and later to drill and prospect. Those who do well in Texas are those who do well for themselves. Having lived in California and in the Midwest by the time I got to Texas, I could relate to both those who lived and breathed this ideal and those who criticized it. After all, I grew up in a town made up of the same types of people, who felt that where they lived was exeptional. But, also being a person who identified with those who had neither the means nor the resources to do well for themselves, I could relate to those who lamented the lack of social services and good public transportation. Despite my misgivings (and I will admit that I moved to Texas with the conviction that I would hate it) I came to be fascinated by the state and literally shed tears when I moved away from San Antonio.
Having lived all over the country now, I'm not sure that I can bring myself to say that Texas is better. But I'm not a native Texan. I still get angry especially when I hear some of the things that come out of Texas politics. Those are feelings and beliefs, but not the essence of the state. I gently chide my fellow liberal friends who think that Texas (along with the rest of the South) should be allowed to leave the United States.
When I think of Texas, I think of people who in many ways are generous and kind, who have created some of the most moving music I have ever heard (see the link to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame below), and who do live in a great state full of surprising cultural and geographical diversity. I think of a state that encompasses one of the most wonderful places I have ever been, Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. I think of swimming with friends in the beautiful downtown retreat of Barton Springs, whose waters are maintained at a constant temperature that cools you down on a hot Texas day, or swimming with my wife in Balmorhea in a hole that draws recreational swimmers and people learning how to scuba dive. I think of drinking a Shiner Bock made by Czech immigrants between San Antonio and Houston, in the German town of Fredericksburg and watching an African-American couple shop next to a Hispanic family not too far geographically from where the architect of the Great Society, Lyndon B. Johnson, was born and raised.
Lyle Lovett sang an anthem that manages to encompass both Texas exceptionalism and its welcoming attitude in the same breath. The song says "that's right, you're not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway." When I lived there, I felt that there was a space for me.
If you want to know more about Carthage and Mount Enterprise
Carthage, Texas Official Home Page
Panola Watchman (newspaper)
Texas Country Music Hall of Fame
Texas Escapes: Carthage
Texas Escapes: Mount Enterprise
Texas State Historical Association: Carthage
Texas State Historical Association: Mount Enterprise
Wikipedia: Mount Enterprise
Wikipedia: Texas Country Music Hall of Fame
Next up: Nacogdoches, Texas