A life in the anonymity of street shadows is preferred to the glaring public eye. Yet it’s no problem, flourishing in our Sun’s living blaze, our white-yellow star, without whose rays our veins would dry and souls wither. The winter solstice marks the returning of the light, brings a different experience of shadow night and cold dark.
The kids in our Plains Youth InterACTION Program discover that our ‘hood is much larger than they thought … restless cottonwood tree, Trinity River (never deep except in flood – unleashing wild prairie ancestry), purple winecup flowers and big bluestem bunchgrass, the Fort Worth Prairie Park creek and its snorting deer, crazy armadillos, and two survivor bison (they of such a traumatized race, whose patience we humans have yet to deserve), the ocean, Jupiter, Venus, even their own bloodstreams, worries, passions, and hopes. All connected.
What transpires when a conflicted teenager nearing adulthood walks miles through the post-industrial night of a city not his, needing to talk? He’s a thousand miles from his Texas home, but can figure his position by Jupiter in the southern sky. He tries to fathom how the mighty river at his side was once the only highway in the great land’s wilderness, how it once served (silent and liquid) the Underground Railroad, that its Appalachian mountain banks were once not steel and street but chorus frogs, heated forest, glinting animal eyes… heart beats. Finally resting on a park bench, own eyes flashing, black skin shining, suddenly it seems he might shake off some justified old demons for real. At least for now.
Today, I live on the East Side, by the Trinity, the central bloodstream of Fort Worth. Each night or day, I come into close personal contact with the living flesh who inhabit our river – turtle, egret, garfish, shad, heron, duck, bass, catfish, beaver.
Careless humans on the low-water dam waste lives wantonly, casting nets to snag dozens of living starlight, shiner minnows winking out on concrete. Many are simply left, their silver bodies stiff-twisted like melted toy soldiers. Open mouths. Glazed faces. No reflection of the blinking universe. I slide them back into the river and yes, our river is alive, its strong-moving black surface a reflection not only of the universe above but of the setback city lights of ours.
There’s a very large night-fishing gentleman with a seemingly inflamed neck who seethes at my sudden approach. His look reminds me of the dogs that through the years have leapt out at my bike from some shadow, hungering to rip my body apart. One night he left a young two-foot long alligator gar to die on the dam. “He might bite me,” the 250-pound man sneered to my demand of why. The fish lay on his belly in a stain of water like a legless dog, glowering at me. I picked him up; his rough-skinned body snapped twice in my hands before I calmed him gently enough – and took him down into the river, where he shot free.
The oddest (and most unnerving) thing occurred recently. An older new friend, who knows the outgoing first lady and president, gave a copy of my book Ghetto Plainsman to Mrs. Bush. Previously, I could never have conceived of such a thing, never conceived of a greater distance. I mean, I even vehemently protested the first President Bush. But suddenly the wife of the current president, whom I’ve associated with so much war, power, and environmental ruin, was, if even for a moment, holding my paperbound face in her hands, looking directly into my soul. Before flying to D.C., my friend asked me to sign it. I panicked, and prayed. Remembering Mrs. Bush’s surprising new project “First Bloom,” which seeks to connect children and nature, I finally began to write.
Dear Mrs. Bush,
In the late afternoon, when I look at the Sun, our white-hot yellow star blazing in the bluest of skies over our remnant Texas prairies, I get a new sense of space and time.
And again I realize how potent, powerful, and fragile this tiny blue-green Earth is …
And how blessed by God we are, and how awesome our duty is.
Thank you for caring about the Prairie Earth, and our children’s health and future.
To my even greater surprise, she wrote me back.
Jarid Manos is CEO of Great Plains Restoration Council. His first book, Ghetto Plainsman, is available locally at Spiral Diner, Unity Church of Fort Worth, and The Dock Bookshop, or online at Amazon.com and Target.com.