"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"In the Panhandle..."

"It's coming," the neighbor said, as we talked about the mild weather today, sunny, a little breezy, whisps of clouds in and out.

We both had heard the forecasts...rain, then maybe sleet and some snow, and mainly, cold, northwest winds.

"In the Panhandle, it's already... ."

The Oklahoma Panhandle, three counties in the former No Man's Land lopped off from the Texas Panhandle because of the Missouri Compromise--a panhandle that looks like a panhandle, one that's largely ignored by Oklahoma and especially the politicians.

I love that place, especially since I don't have to live there. County seats--Boise City in Cimarron County--closer to Denver and Santa Fe  than OKC; Guymon, in Texas County, biggest city in the Panhandle, home of a good former student, a growing Hispanic population and swine production area; Beaver, in Beaver County, where the North Canadian River is renamed the Beaver River. Other small towns--Kenton, at the tip, in Mountain Time zone, not far from the footprints of the Santa Fe Trail's Cimarron cutoff and the footprints of dinosaurs at Black Mesa, the state's highest point; Hooker--my favorite, where Sheila Blankenship bravely publishes the newspaper, The Hooker Advance; Goodwell, home of tiny Panhandle State University--with a rodeo team; and others, with little more that schools, like Keyes, and Forgan and Hardesty. My favorite, only a crossroads and a store, is Slapout. A friend once wrote a book, titled A Rancher from Slapout, and I have a photo, of the road sign, somewhere.

These are hardy people. They have to be to survive out here, and you have to love open spaces, which is why I like it. I recommend the book, The Worst Hard Time, which describes the Dustbowl that ravaged this area and the Great Plains 80 years ago. But with few people--less than one percent of the state's population--you can see a long way, and at night, the stars will blind you. It's not by accident that the Oklahoma Astronomy Club schedules trips out there, where you can see the Milky Way stretching across the sky without help.

It's a long way, 166 miles across the Panhandle from east to west, and only 34 north to south. At the tip, you can stand in three states--Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. South is Texas, and for most of the northern border is Kansas. It's served by one main highway, State Highway 3. If you don't speed, it'll take forever. If you do speed, the tickets can pile up. It's a statewide joke, denied but believed, that the Oklahoma Highway patrol sends misbehaving troopers there for punishment.

Oklahoma's Siberia?

It's feeling like that there now, as the first winter storm of the year sweeps down from the Rockies. We know that here in Edmond, 327 miles from Boise City, and I've put the firewood on the back porch.


  1. Great Panhandle shout-out!

    The thing about the Panhandle is the special breed of people who live there. They still embody "pioneer spirit" in their lifestyles, their celebrations, and the families. It was so remote. Made it a lonely place to homestead. Even now it's a country unto itself if you consider the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles together.

    The author Annie Proulx (Shipping News, Wyoming Stories) specializes in capturing the special feeling of unique places and people. She wrote a wonderful book called That Old Ace in the Hole about the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, it's stories, and people. Reading it was like hearing my mom and aunts tell stories around the kitchen table. And the Panhandle is a small world -- I read the acknowledgements to my Guymon-born and bred father and he knew personally at least half of the pages of people she thanked.

    For an even more telling read, seek out Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time about the Panhandle in the Dust Bowl. Wow.

    The thing is...no matter where I travel in the world, nothing fills me with emotion more than the drive home just past Woodward on the way to Guymon (and no, the emotion isn't dread, hee). Seeing the grass lands on miles and miles of rolling hills is one of most awe-inspiring sites in the world.

  2. The thing about the folks from the panhandle is that when they move somewhere else all they do is moon about going back. They love it there. I can respect that.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.