Brewster County Facts: Largest county in the Texas, larger than Connecticut and Delaware combined. Longest mail route in the country with fewest stops, over 300 miles. The longest school bus route in the country, at least 120 miles round trip each day. Some of the children get up as early as 3 am to be driven many miles to the first pick-up point.
One morning we awoke to 28 degrees. This, we are told, is about as cold as it gets here. All were amazed that we slept in our tent. We were offered space inside, but refused. We will be colder crossing the continental divide, if the winter keeps going the way it is starting. We just snuggle a little tighter, keep each other warm.
One day we rode to Alpine with WT on his weekly beer run for the store. The color was still early morning warm and the landscape was spectacular. We just can’t get enough of looking. We saw a herd of about 50 pronghorns a few miles from the ranch, more than in all of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.
We discovered WT likes big band music as well as we do (he was in the Pacific in World War II and in Korea) and we played his tapes the 70 some miles each way. Claire dazzled him with her knowledge of big band leaders and players. We laughed and talked all the way. Two fringe travelers and an old cowboy — who would have thought.
After we loaded the beer and ran some other errands, had lunch at a great Mexican place, perhaps the best so far, he took us to the house they own in Alpine. There he showed us the room where their daughter’s things have been stored in boxes since she died last summer. I’m not sure why he shares the things with us that he does, but we do feel honored by it. He is a strong and sweet man who has known much pain, and at 69 is facing failing health. Cowboys don’t cry, but like all of us, they need to talk about the things that hurt.
We will miss WT, Earl and Sandra and Stillwell Ranch. Sometimes trouble can come just at the right place and the right time.
Our last at the Stillwell Ranch, we walked a mile or so into the Chihuahuan desert before the moon came up, to experience the darkness and the silence. The silence was nearly complete except for a slight hum of some insects; even they were subdued. While absorbing the spectacular clarity of the stars, we saw a huge fireball descend, slowly it seemed, toward the eastern mountains, before extinguishing.
The coyotes were quiet, waiting for the moon. We lay on the cooling desert rocks under starlight, and listened. We spoke seldom, and then quietly, as if in a cathedral during prayers.
Which is exactly where we were.