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AFTERWORDI i What Lives in the Country BY BRAD TYER “Country” is a fine word and its always been one of my favorites, mostly because like all the best words it can mean so damn many things. Apply it to music and it can suggest a hundred different sounds, from the Carter Family to Patsy Cline to Willie Nelson to Whiskey Town toits not pretty, but it if only semantically, trueBrooks and Dunn. But apply the word to geographic landthe usage most of us probably became familiar with earliestand it spans still further spectrums. Country is the opposite of city, rural vs. urban, and in that sense it helps ‘reinforce its namesake, country music, as an animal distinct from more citified forms like rock and jazz and rap \(though blues greedily envelopes urban and where you go when you leave town for the weekend, maybe to the grandparents’ house, maybe to camp or fish or hunt or hikebut when we say we’re going to the country, precisely what kind of country are we talking about? There’s Appalachian-style country, spawner of bluegrass and mountain music. There’s the Texas Hill Country, home to Kerrville’s country-cousin folk festival. You’ve got Montana’s Big Sky country, home to whatever militiamen and ranchers listen to, and the generic green-grass-andshade-tree country of farming communities hosting barn dances all across this great…umm…country. Whatever “country” is, most of us, by demographic definition, don’t live there. For most of my life, most spent in Houston, I didn’t either, but by dint of recent circumstance, I do. The country I live in isn’t what you think of when you think of country it’s neither Appalachian nor hill nor big sky nor green-grass-and-shade-tree country. The country I live in is more what you think of when you think of desert. The Chihuahua Desert to be specific, where its northern branch reaches up out of Mexico into deepest west Texas near the Rio Grande convergence of the U.S. and Mexico. In fact it’s one of the particular joys of this particular A Music at a Terlingua wake country that, via a mere seventeen-mile drive, you can leave the country altogether. There’s no grass here, and little you’d call soiljust drought-dusted rock and sand and clay and limestone. And aside from the elevated alpine island of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, and a few willows and cottonwoods clinging to the banks of the Rio Grande, there are no trees, just prickly pear \(four varieties: white-spined, brown-spined, purocotillo, lecheguilla, agave, creosote bushes, cholla cactus, century plants, and mesquitewhich is technically a tree, but not much of one, though it’s handy if you’ve got a cord chopped by the time the bitter desert winter blows in. Shades of brown, not green, are the dominant colors, because aside from the Rio Dimitri Gerasimou Grandeitself a creamed coffee mud huewhich spends much of its course flowing at a distinctly un-grand one-to-two foot depth, water is defined by its absence. What we call a creek is a dusty low trough devoid of anything but alluvially washed rocks that might flash-flood for an hour or so if unseen rains are heavy to the north. As for local fauna, the interpretive guides at Big Bend can spend all day telling you about the wild and often microscopic diversity, but you’ll get a better summation of native living things from longtime locals: “If it doesn’t sting, stick, bite, or break your heart, it just doesn’t live out here.” And this country, like all kinds of country, has ties to a music that raises the specter of the landscape. It’s a country landscape within the porous borders of Texas \(a whole MARCH 28, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29