Thursday, May 3, 2018

El Paso Redux

I never imagined when my family left El Paso, Texas, in 1970, that it would take me almost 50 years to return for a visit, but it did.

I was an Army brat, and my father's last posting was Fort Bliss, in El Paso, a gritty city in extreme west Texas. Since then, I've been very near to El Paso, but never quite made it there.


This time, I'm back in the Trans-Pecos region as the guest of a friend, Val, who has recently purchased a home here. It was her suggestion that I fly into El Paso and visit my old haunts and so I did. Great idea. I'm eternally grateful to her. We enjoy birding and hiking together when we get the chance.

She and I visited my elementary school -- Terrace Hills Elementary (now Middle) School -- which is just a few blocks from both of the houses in which we lived. What a headrush.


My friend loves this kind of stuff so I couldn't find a better partner for this lark of a mission. Here at Terrace Hills Elementary, my 5th-grade science teacher, whose brother worked at the Houston Space Center, had us all avidly following the Apollo space program news. Here I took Spanish and with my friends played with my Trolls.



Here I learned how to carefully open a newly published book so that it would not be damaged.


I'm certain these vintage tables were used by my friends and me.



I'm in the blue dress sewn by my mother, front and center, sporting pretty much the same hairstyle I wear to this day, although in those days it was called a "pixie." I adored this teacher, Miss Buck, who was from Amarillo. Each day, she read to her third-grade class a chapter of Charlotte's Web. We took field trips to the planetarium which I greatly enjoyed. Mid-way through the year, she married and honeymooned in Acapulco, which we thought sounded so romantic.

1968 is big in the news these days, given that it was a pivotal year in the nation's history and it is the fiftieth anniversary. This convergence made it extra fun to be in the place where I spent that year, roaming around with my siblings and pals in the nearby Chihuahuan desert, playing "Red Rover" in our front yard.


We went to the first house in which my family settled, on Mercedes. Memories of Trick or Treating in the neighborhood flooded back to me. It was in this house that I watched the Apollo news on our small black & white TV as well as the horrifying bulletins from Vietnam. We would often visit El Paso's twin city, Juarez, Mexico, back in the day when it was easy to cross the border. My father would pay a local boy a nickel to watch our Ford station wagon while we strolled the streets and visited the glass factory. Once, President Johnson flew into El Paso and my older brother and his Boy Scout troop got to go to see him.



My older sister was so chic. Wonder where my older brother was? Maybe off with the Boy Scouts.


As part of this lark, Val and I found the 7-Eleven a few blocks away, to which we kids would walk back and forth to buy Icies. Often we would snag on goat head stickers that poked through our thin flip-flops. Once some naughty kid in my class put one on the teacher's chair. I'm bringing home a goat head for my mother, which will tickle her greatly, to show off to her neighbors.



Harcourt Drive was the house in which we lived the longest while in El Paso. When our landlord told us that he had sold the Mercedes house, my parents went off in the evenings to look for another. When they came home with the news that Harcourt it would be I was jubilant, as my best friend, Debbie, lived just a few doors down. On this visit, I knocked on her door and inquired, but her parents had moved away, just a couple of years ago.


Here I was in ballet and we Crook kids were all in Scouts. My father also managed the Fort Bliss movie theater, a terrific gig from our perspective as we got to go to lots of 'em, loaded up on popcorn and soda.



This snow on Thanksgiving in 1968 or 1969 was big news.



Whenever we were out of school and not camping in the New Mexico mountains, we roamed freely in the desert. I routinely kept a horned toad in a cigar box in my bedroom. Roadrunners periodically scooted across our lawn.

Here we watched the first moon landing and read Life Magazine and spent long summer days at the swimming pool. Here I listened to "Hey Jude" and "Crimson and Clover," over and over. Here we watched "Gunsmoke," "Mission Impossible," "Laugh-In," "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," and "Gilligan's Island."

The Harcourt house had changed so much that I struggled to find it (that's another story in itself). Lots of superstructure has been added to the front of the house. When we lived there, we had two beagles, Lady and Duchess. Val has a beagle so we recreated the scene. I could hear an ice cream truck in the Mercedes neighborhood and, boy, did that music take me back.


On my last day in Texas, I toured a lovely Catholic church and we did some more birding along the Rio Grande.









A portion of the border wall, Juarez in the distance.



At Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, we saw this burrowing owl. He eventually flew from this perch and bobbed up and down in his "Howdy Owl" mode.


Our final stop was Chamizal National Memorial, a NPS site that commemorates the friendship of Mexico and the U.S. and a peaceful border resolution. President Johnson was here in 1967 to seal this deal. I concluded that this would have been the day when my older brother got to see Johnson.


El Paso Gracias A Dios (El Paso Thanksgiving, 1993)


El Paso was my father's last posting, and, when he retired, we went home to Slope County, North Dakota, to my grandparents' farm & ranch, and, other than a brief time in Nashville for graduate school, North Dakota is where I've lived.

Yesterday, from my airplane window, I looked down on Juarez and my last view of the Franklin Mountains, and I read several issues of my New Yorker magazines. This story about canoeing the Rio Grande had special resonance for me.

As the final leg of my journey ended, it was so good to look down at the Missouri River and the green hills of Burleigh County, my heart filled with new and happy memories of West Texas adventures. My husband and daughter wrapped me in their arms and took me home, where the work of the garden awaits.

"Our plans never turn out as tasty as reality." Ram Dass

Birding Summary:

New lifer birds last two days: Mexican duck (subspecies of Mallard)

Total new lifers in Texas: 14 (No Colimas or Montezuma quails, but great birding nonetheless)

Total birds on this adventure: 112  This might be a record for me! 

Mexican Duck (Mallard)
Blue-winged Teal
Scaled Quail
Gambel’s Quail
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Common Black-Hawk
Gray Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Virginia Rail
Sora
American Coot
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Wilson’s Snipe
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Greater Roadrunner (Paisano)
Great Horned Owl
Elf Owl
Burrowing Owl
Common Nighthawk
Common Poorwill
White-throated Swift
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Least Flycatcher
Say’s Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Cassin’s Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Bell’s Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Western Scrub-Jay
Mexican Jay
Chihuahuan Raven
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-crested Titmouse
Verdin
Bushtit
Canyon Wren
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Cactus Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Curve-billed Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Lucy’s Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (both Magnolia and Myrtle)
Townsend’s Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Canyon Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Lark Bunting
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Pyrrhuloxia
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak (lots!)
Lazuli Bunting
Varied Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Brewer’s Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock’s Oriole
Scott’s Oriole
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Red-breasted nuthatch



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