Big Bend IV - Or, A Little Banjo Music by Josh Trudell

When we walked into the Starlight Theater in Terlingua after our rafting trip, I thought they’d play both kinds of music there – country AND western.

Then the cowboy-hat wearing guitarslinger behind the mic started playing Cole Porter songs. The stuffed goat with a Lone Star in its jaws seemed unimpressed.

Terlingua is one of the more interesting small towns I’ve ever visited. As it was described by one person, it’s where the hippies from Austin came after life started getting too intense there.

Bikers, tourists, river guides and others hung out on the porch connecting the Starlight with the Terlingua General Store, a small town scene if I’ve ever seen one. Strangers five minutes ago, we chewed the fat with another transplanted New Englander who was attracted by my New Hampshire t-shirt.

After a steak, we sat on the porch for a bit as the sun started to set behind us, lighting the Chisos Mountains in golden tones. A pickup band of banjo pickers brought back the country sound, with classic Willie and Waylon tunes.

Terlingua was originally a mining town, and the ghost-filled remains of ruined stone huts sit in front of the general store, covering the slope down to the graveyard.

The scattered piles of stones glowed in the evening light, the yellow and orange rocks keeping their warm hue. Fresh wood and plastic toys showed that a few huts are still being used, even with roofs held down by tires and rope to keep them from blowing away.

Rubble sprawled across the ground, spraying in worn and weathered lumps. Walls yawned from fatigue, getting a little closer to joining those on the earth. The rocks leaned downhill, as if all they wanted was to roll off the hillside and down into the cinnebar mines.

The wear of desert wind and weather is visible on every surface. Some of the older graves are as featureless as if they had endured decades of New England winters, but here they’ve been wiped clean by the sand. Splintered and shattered crosses lean defiantly – others lie broken, their post lost. In the fading light, it’s a mournful vision.

And yet…the banjo notes float across these tombs, calling the workers to come up from the mines and out from their huts, calling the children to laugh and run and play, calling us to dance, to love, to live.

Next up: Climbing the peaks