Old now is earth,
and none may count her days.
Earth may be fair,
and all men glad and wise.
Age after age, their tragic empires rise,
Built while they dream,
and in that dreaming weep . . .
—Old Hundred Twenty-Fourth
A white-haired pastor, a white church, a white field. The snow is falling, with the wind and the speed of the car creating the illusion of a blizzard on a spring day in Texas. Tomorrow will be Easter Sunday.
At first, we see only tiny, almost invisible snowflakes. Then, we turn off I-35, passing acres of pasture, mesquite trees, cacti, and the wildflowers that have flourished in the first wet spring in recent memory. We pass bright patches of reds and oranges, pinks and yellows, and the bright bluebonnets, especially striking against the deep green of the grass, then the stark whiteness of the accumulating snowfall. The brown and harsh ground has come to life again, and the flowers are pushing through the snow like the struggling arms of the survivors of some catastrophic shipwreck. Windmills dot the land along the fence lines, and longhorns trot through the snow and patches of grass. Will the cold snap kill the wildflowers?
We enter Somervell County. Ahead is Glen Rose and, looming to the northwest, the Comanche Peak nuclear power station—two reactors and a dome above the town and the rocky terrain. At the base of the Fossil Rim limestone formation are dinosaur tracks, traces of ancient creatures who roamed what was once the bottom of a shallow sea, a sea that retreated into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, leaving strange shapes in the rocks, ancient clams the locals call “deer hearts,” and squid-like ammonites among them. Their fossilized remains dot the bed of the Paluxy River.
Who were the first men to come here? I’ve read that it was a strange and obscure race of hunters in the Ice Age, contemporaries of the mammoth, giant sloth, and the ancient bison. Some say they hunted the Staked Plains before the Red Man came, disappearing along with the mammoth as the ice sheets retreated north and the land grew hot, dry, and uninviting. The ice was gone, but the red men who followed thrived. They called themselves the People or the Human Beings. Some of them became horsemen and made this land their own, an especially dangerous outland for the Spaniards, Mexicans, and the Americans who came after. The only “Indians” remaining are on the high-school sports teams, some of them on the six-man football squads of small-town Texas.
Glen Rose passes, and the snow seems to fall faster. Ahead is Stephenville; to the south, Hico, Hamilton, and Pottsville.
I’ve read somewhere that rural areas provide a disproportionate amount of the Iraq fighting force—and of the casualties. This is a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, as my father used to say—but how many haven’t been? At a café in Hico lined with pickup trucks and decked out in Lone Star flags, I see their faces. Their uniformed portraits hang on the paneled walls, their memory secured by bumper stickers: “Proud Parent of a U.S. Marine.” The only emotion I feel, however, is a lingering sadness. Hico and Glen Rose, Hamilton and Pottsville, Zephyr and Erath County desperately need these young people.
The blanket of cold doesn’t lift overnight, and Easter morning finds my son building a snowman in his grandparents’ yard. He secures his personal connection to the mound of white by placing a fork in its “hand”: Now, none can doubt that Matthew, who never misses an opportunity to heft a fork himself, is the snowman’s creator. But it’s Easter, and the snowman must fend for himself. We head for Pottsville and Trinity Lutheran Church.
The church in Pottsville is a white wooden structure, built by my wife’s grandfather. A state historical marker stands outside, commemorating the founding of the community. There’s a fair crowd for a small church, mostly old people, though sons and daughters and grandchildren help fill the pews—down from Dallas and Ft. Worth, up from Austin. The old men are still wearing their felt Stetsons in April; it’s too cold for the straw.
The pastor’s sermon is appropriately on the cycle of life and death, and our hope in the Resurrection we celebrate. The Epistle is from Corinthians; the Gospel, from Luke:
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre,
Bringing the spices, which they had prepared . . .
And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them,
Why seek ye the living among the dead? . . .
And they returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest . . .
Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
The altar is beautifully carved, Jesus reaching out to the congregation, calling us to Communion.
Afterward, the pastor is making his announcements, when the sun peeks through the arched windows of Trinity. You can feel the warmth and see the water dripping from the roof. The snow is melting. The sun, he says, like the bluebonnets showing outside, is reminding us that it is well into spring, even with snow.