“And the winds against his face,
Were soft as the touch of a lover,
In a world of sky and stone;
Sometimes he was up there all alone,
But he was lonely—never”…
–Dave Stamey, ‘Dan Was a Packer’
Sometimes when prowling through the lower Big Bend, lyrics and lines of songs and poetry drift through my mind like the comings and goings of my own wanderlust.
Seldom are they complete in form, and on occasion will play in my head incessantly, like a worn and scratched phonograph record that repeats itself until the internal spring winds down, or someone resets the needle.
Today was one of those days, and the lyrics above were what came to me.
And for good reason.
I had started out near where Oak Creek crosses under Study Butte Road, saddling up and pointing my nose roughly southeast, heading for Ash Spring. Though the Chisos and surrounding regions had two good snows this past winter, rainfall had been scant to none. These springs are nature’s barometer as to the relative dryness of her arid reign.
Rock walls and unstable slides rose up on either side as I entered the canyon, and near endless piles of every kind of rock, stone and boulder littered the floor as I made my way forward.
It was not an easy route, and the dry holes where water once collected told a dismal story as to just how dry it really was. The lack of sign for wildlife coming to and from underlined this sad circumstance; while the far too seldom bee, wasp or fly searched futilely for the wisplike liquid gold.
For if insects could pray, their wings cried out for rain as plaintively as some of the Psalms of David in the Old Testament.
Knowing the actual head for the spring was still ahead, hidden among yet more heaping mounds of jumbled up rock, and that my last spot to exit out of the canyon was passing me by, I elected to climb out while the opportunity existed.
Up the steep slope and sunbaked slides I went, topping out and being welcomed by a desert breeze that cooled my sweat-soaked shirt and clothes. Picking out a likely spot, I dropped pack and gear for a nooning.
The seating wasn’t much, but the scenery made up for any shortcomings in whatever comfort most folks might clamor for. After having a quick meal, consulting my maps and filling my spirit in the surrounding scenery, I made ready to push on.
That is when I took this photo.
And that was when the lyrics to ‘Dan Was A Packer’ started playing in my head.
Ultimately that song would stick to my consciousness while swinging a loop from Ash Spring to Oak Spring, then in my return past Gano Spring and back to where I started that morning.
I saw the remnants of history and a hundred sights worth remembering, from Indian camps to cactus flowers, muley deer, birds of all sorts and the last rotting fenceposts for ranches including the G4, the Rooney and the Homer Wilson.
Even had one of those twelve inch rains, the kind where big drops promise much but deliver nigh nothing, falling to the parched ground at twelve inch intervals.
My shoulders ached, my feet hurt and my calves warned me of a possible rebellion in the form of charley horses.
But I kept going, mesmerized by all that was around me.
And the words to that same song continued to carry me along.
But maybe it wasn’t in my head after all.
It was in my heart…
Ben H. English
Author of ‘Yonderings’ (TCU Press)
‘Destiny’s Way’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
‘Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
‘The Uvalde Raider’ (Creative Texts Publishers)
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