understood to be the extraordinary thing it is. “For who among us is the caretaker of the day?” he asked in his first book. “Who, I ask, can still enjoy a day without putting it to some use?” About one afternoon in El Paso’s Upper Valley, he writes, “All is as it should be. The earth is like an eternal Buddha: stilled, cross-legged, smiling.” But ordinary being, in Bode, is grim when grim it is. As he writes to himself and us in Commonplace Mysteries, he loves life, but “the shadow-thought” is right there, too, “the knowledge that nothing ever lasts.” In Bode’s writing there is also a recurring streak of self-depreciation. He is harder on himself than any critic is on him. He wrote into his journal, probably in the late fifties: “I scrape small sure words off my brainfragments. Nothing. big seems to be going on within me….I have no real intelligence; my mind is merely attentive to the findings of my body.” In the sixties he wrote: “Underneath my bland exterior I am anarchic.” And “Sometimes,” Bode added, “it seems that I just can’t stand the weight of so much long living.” In Commonplace Mysteries he wrote of “my personal Four Horsemen Death, Divorce, Duty, and Despair.” He has a hard time living in his head, he has not developed all the protective modes that bowlers and joggers and fishermen and hunters have in one form or another, he is alone in the world looking, and although he gives a lot of attention to the cosmos, he has not heard back from it, he has no word from “the universe, unfathomable, unapproachable.” John Graves has written, “The flat fact is that it is our privilege to have someone like Elroy Bode around, with his sharp eye and ear…and his lasting love affair with lan guage and the things it can be made to do.” Willie Morris, too, so judges, having said: “I count Bode’s Sketchbooks among the distinguished writing of our day,” characterized by “an imagination of profound civility and sensibility, and a prose that is unfalteringly clean and incisive. I hope Texas knows who it has in Elroy Bode.” Bode’s work should last a long time. Many of his written sketches from life are classics of that form, and “Anais: A Story” at once stands by itself and invites comparison with the best short stories in English. If, a nuclear war or .a millenium from now, people are still around and want to know what it was like to be a man alone, thinking, wondering, and rueing while living close to the earth in the hill country and west Texas in the United States in the second half of the Twentieth Century, they will be able to turn to Elroy Bode’s body of work, now seven books in a row, as we may turn to Cicero or Montaigne. I hope that Bode finds the strength to use well his next 20 years. Losing the Future BY GEOFF RIPS COMING TO TERMS: The German Hill Country of Texas Photographs by Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin Essay by Lawrence Goodwyn Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 1991 152 pages, $34.50 66 MERICA IS LONELY,” Lawrence Goodwyn told a gathering of the Texas Populist Alliance in 1990. Goodwyn, a former Texas Observer editor and historian of popular movements who makes his living as a Duke University professor, was not at the time describing the arid, rocky, unforgiving landscape of the Texas Hill Country, where wooden shacks foresaken decades ago lean precariously waiting for the warm brush of a human breath to knock them over. He was talking about the weeks of nights Americans spend absent hope watching what is deemed democratic politics played out on their television sets. He was talking about a schoolteacher husband and wife losing sleep trying to find a way to send their children to decent colleges. He was talking about a family-owned business watching its health insurance premiums double each year for the past five, forcing that family and business to go without insurance or to close up shop altogether. He was talking about a single, working mother desperate for affordable, decent child-care; about a family in South Austin living in a car, Geoff Rips is a former Observer editor. doing homework in a park, sending their children into school from a backseat; about the African-American college graduate who knocked on a number of doors only to settle for a manual labor job, like his father had, considering himself lucky in the end to find that. He was talking about the powerlessness to do anything about it. He was talking about the no way up and out. He was talking about the atomization of American life, the absence of mediating institutions, the loss of community and any collective understanding or will. Then this same Larry Goodwyn teamed up with Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin, Houston’s two-person photography collective, to take what could have been an exercise in frontier nostalgia and make it into an object lesson for our times: how the frontier ethos of selfreliance and rugged individualism was at one time secondary to the community ethic in the survival and endurance of the Germans of the Texas Hill Country. The text and photos in this volume conduct a lively conversation in which each pushes the other to a more rigorous understanding than either alone could provide. So the conversation begins, in archival photographs, in the stern faces of the first Germans to enter the Hill Country and in the hard political, physical and social realities confronting them there. Their immigration began in the 1840s and included farmers and artisans, freethinking intellectuals, communitarians and revolutionaries, eventually comprising the largest European immigrant group to settle in Texas. As Goodwyn describes it, Germans fleeing troubles in Europe came to farm the semi-arid Hill Country because they were led there by land speculators and promoters of questionable scruples. The founders of the Texas Republic had designs on the parts of the region controlled by Native Americans. German immigration in the 1840s became the unwitting mechanism for expansion into the Hill Country home of the Comanche. Henry Francis Fischer and Burchard Muellerfamily names still prominent in Central Texasreceived a 3 million acre land grant from the Republic of Texas on the condition that 6,000 residents would be settled on the land within two or three years. To achieve this, they sold the deed to a little over half the land to Prince Carl von Solms-Braunfels. While a small portion of this grant was semi-arid Hill Country land along the upper Llano River, the vast majority was West Texas desert. Solms-Braunfels agreed to the deal without ever seeing the land he’d purchased for $11,000. In 1844, the first Germans contracting for the land arrived, having been drawn by promotions of Solms-Braunfels and his partners in the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants, called The Adelsverein, and by the general advertising throughout Europe produced by American steamship lines and railroads. They would provide a barrier between the Comanches to the west and the Anglo towns and fertile farming communities to the east. Rather than the fertile soil and thriving community they. were promised, the Germans found a tiny village way-station, New Braunfels, at the foot of the rugged Hill Country. Between 1844 and 1846, thousands died from disease and deprivation. Solms-Braunfels returned to Germany. In 1846, a group of settlers ventured west into a valley still 80 miles short of the land grant they had contracted for. They laid out a THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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