Something I learned from Felix, more by way of example than by argument, is that studying local history can turn up something at least mildly interesting about even the most humdrum places . I can still remember a book he was reading in undergraduate days about a backwoods skirmish grandiloquently dubbed the "Slicker War" which took place in the backwoods of Missouri near his ancestral home. Being definitely unenchanted with west Texas so far, I decided to give the strategy a try; I'm reading through a recent book called El Llano Estacado: Exploration and Imagination on the High Plains of Texas and New Mexico, 1536-1860 by one John Miller Morris. In the part I'm currently reading Morris surveys the scholarly debate over the route of Coronado's expedition through the Llano. His own view is that it passed through the southern part of our present-day Hale County and encamped at Running Water Draw somewhere near Plainview. One account written by a member of the expedition describes a West Texas hailstorm in which "great rocks the size of bowls fell from the sky," dinging up their armor and terrifying the horses. I also get some pleasure empathizing with the conquistadors who were amazed or dismayed at the flat, empty horizons: as Coronado describes it, "I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I travelled over them for more than 300 leagues . . . with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea . . . . there was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by."
On Sunday, to kill time before a church potluck that evening, I went to the Lubbock P.L. for the first time and read about half of Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. It's an exciting read, chock full of the same paranoiac and religious obsessions that I enjoyed in Radio Free Albemuth. Gnosticism rears its head again; in this one a group of involuntary offworld colonists develop a religion around a ritualized, communal consumption of a hallucinogen called "Can-D" which allows them to experience life back on earth. A doctrinal debate rages among them as to whether or not the ritual is merely subjective or if it in fact mysteriously translates the communicants back to earth. Interestingly, the main character, on his flight out to the Lunar colony, meets a young orthodox Christian who wants to proselytize the colonists; for her the Eucharist is preferable to Can-D. This character is portrayed attractively enough that it makes me believe Dick felt the tug towards traditional Christianity (one of his other novels is about an Episcopalian bishop, after all) but didn't quite yield. Since the book isn't available anywhere around here, I'll have to go back to Lubbock P.L. this weekend to finish it.