Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of April 20th - April 26th,  2001

The Lights of El Paso

Columns Archive

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   The rolling Texas earthscape had stretched like an endless sea for the past ten hours. West Texas, where we were so far out in the country that not only weren't there any NPR stations under the dual digits of the FM radio spectrum, but there weren't any stations at that end of the dial. Not even the faint radio static of some distant DJ laboring to make an appearance. No phone signal, nothing! It was eerie. Around Austin, an island of liberal thought in a vast conservative sea, there had been cascades of flowers which brought life to the highways. Blue Bonnets, the state flower, mixed together with alternative swaths of red and yellow companions leaving a colorful Ladybird Johnson legacy woven about the capital. The further west from Austin we drove, however, the more somber the landscape had become; dry and hard. It didn't look as though the rains had loved this land in a long, long time. The hills did offer some fascinating contours, as though currents from some ancient sea had smoothly molded their shapes along an ocean floor. I-10 cut through these soft lines like a sharp knife through a warm, French loaf; their gentle curves sliced by some thoughtless civil engineer superimposing his linear logic on the landscape in the name of progress.

The Lone Star State

The Lone Star State

   Hours later, as Sunset kissed the tops of the western hills, it offered a stark contrast between black and bright. Forced to look directly into a shrinking golden orb, the God of light and life finally surrendered to the dark charms of the Earth's moist, mountainous folds, willingly giving up its ghost to the sweet sleep of bliss. Still the landscape rolled on as night descended, until the triumph of silence and darkness was complete.

   After a while, from out of the void, a haze of a distant light, or lights, appeared on the horizon. A few more then emerged off to the left. Slowly they began to spread as we drew closer. Suddenly, the phone broke the silence, and emitted a happy chirp as it picked up a signal, only to lose it again after another minute. A few minutes later, it chirped again, and this time held its focus. Another search across the radio bands revealed the satisfaction of classical music in the lower octaves. There was civilization out there, emerging from the darkness.

  But the most impressive sight was the way I-10 rode in on a slight rise overlooking El Paso, now extending from horizon to horizon as the highway snaked its way into the heart of the city. Below was a valley of lights, weaving their web together across the land, while above them stood Orion, walking taller in the heavens than he does in more northern latitudes, and looking down over them all, with his celestial fires above, and their terrestrial response below. Our sword carrying hero was locked in his eternal struggle with the Bull of Heaven, although Jupiter and Saturn had entered the fray, with the former poised to thrust itself between the great horns of the divine bovine, while the ringed planet nestled close to the cluster marking the neck. What was immediately evident to this Star Man was the choreography between Heaven and Earth, as each of the souls below danced in tune to this hidden higher wisdom. A weave of luminous mythology woven from above on an unsuspecting city below. How many would glimpse up on this warm evening to see the fires of the sky, but still not see the light?

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