walking amongst the cattle
After a rough night of insomnia + 3.5 hours sleep, followed by a recognition ceremony of nephew K’s 8th grade class and a quick run to the bank with paycheck in hand, I finally headed off for my scheduled outing at 1:30pm. My company for this day trip was Flat Stanley, who had just recently returned from an exciting adventure in Washington, D.C. that included a flight with my cousin in his F-15. While I knew I couldn’t top that, I was determined to show F.S. some of the sites of Dallas that even I, a lifetime resident of the area, knew nothing of until just this year. We took the DART train all the way through the city until we were just a block away from our first destination…
In the heart of downtown is this single city block containing life-size bronze sculptures depicting a longhorn cattle drive like the very ones that once came through this area of Texas. I had seen a few photos before but had no idea the depth of this installation. The line of cattle stretches from the top of a hill, down a rocky trail and right up to the sidewalk of Young Street. Presiding over the steer are three weathered cowboys on horseback, each positioned strategically to keep the wayward creatures in line. There is a stream that runs through the scene, and a section of the cattle are shown crossing the water, while the leads are looking ahead at the city before them. It is truly an awesome spectacle, and each animal has its own personality. Walking between the statues was a joyful experience, but I learned the hard way that you don’t watch your feet while moving among them; their horns are everywhere! I was also captivated by their size, having never been so close to a real longhorn in my life. The top of my head just barely reached the snout of most of the steer! I have more respect now than ever for the men and women who work with these majestic animals. And I am still in awe of the talent of the artist, Robert Summers.
click below to view cattle drive up close
As you reach the top of the hill past the cattle you come right into the oldest cemetery in Dallas, where most of the grave markers depict civil war dates. I’m not usually interested in walking through old cemeteries but I was utterly fascinated on this day. Many of the deceased were public figures, but there were also plaques commemorating war heroes and even a large Confederate memorial. This, in fact, was a complete surprise to me, as I had never heard of it before. And while walking among the gravestones and reading the names and accomplishments from the Mexican War and the Confederate States and the Republic of Texas, I was vividly reminded how very young is my country and this home state of mine. It’s so easy to forget until you see it in print and consider the countries around the world whose memorials date back to triple digits. But even so, I thoroughly enjoyed imagining the lives of the people who are now remembered as Dallas pioneers.
click below to view the photos
Following a much-needed lunch and cooling off period at Subway, F.S. and I headed another block over to Union Station. I wanted to stop here because it’s a landmark Dallas location and we were already in the area, but I have to say, it’s nothing more than a beautiful building. Though it’s still a working train station, most of the activity is found behind the building at the DART and Trinity Railway platform. And that is truly a shame since the interior is still quite beautiful. I wonder if perhaps there is activity during the earlier hours of the workday and maybe I was just too late to see it. It still has an ambience that, when bustling with people, could evoke days gone by.
click photos for larger view
From Union Station it’s just a couple of blocks down Houston Street to Dealey Plaza, and though I had just toured that area in March, I was excited to return for a few missed photo ops and to pick up the one souvenir I wished I’d purchased on that day. This area of Dallas is so beautiful with its historic architecture and revitalized streets. And at 5pm it’s a bustling sight. Very rarely do I feel the same sense of “city” in Dallas that I feel when in Chicago, but at this particular location and at this particular time of day I got a small sense of that feeling. And I loved every moment! Reaching the plaza was a thrill, as well, when I arrived at the peristyles and saw that the reflecting pools had been filled for the warm season. This small detail really does make the area much more beautiful and commemorative. One can’t help but stop for a moment and take in the entire scene, and I was thankful to get a second chance at this particular photo.
Moving across the street I headed to the grassy knoll and the location were Mr. Zapruder filmed his infamous home video. From this location you can see the white “X” that is painted on the street to mark the exact location of President Kennedy’s assassination. Before I could shoot any photos, however, I was approached by one of the men who work the area selling commemorative newspapers. He recognized Flat Stanley in my hand and offered to place him in the road on the “X”, then proceeded to set up photo after photo for me to take. He even managed to put me in one of them! Though I had spent most of the day in my own little world and interacted with only a couple of people, I was grateful for the help and thankful for the distraction from my tunnel vision. And I found that the photos were some of the best all day. I usually think of these street corner salesmen as a nuisance, but on this day I discovered a real appreciation for the people who are trying to make a small living at this historic site.
click below to view the photos
Flat Stanley and I were just about ready to call it a day so we headed to our final stop at the Sixth Floor Museum Store for the one souvenir I wished I’d purchased on my first trip: a squashed penny imprinted with JFK’s image. As cheesy as it is, it seemed to make perfect sense to have this one small token as a remembrance of my museum tour. At 76 cents, I just couldn’t beat the price, and it’s small enough to include on a scrapbook page, which makes it perfect. With this last little token in hand, my visit to Dealey Plaza was complete, so F.S. and I headed to the platform to await our train.
I had a definite plan for my time downtown, and as soon as I first arrived, I set out determinedly to begin my mission. I hadn’t walked even one block when I encountered a young man sitting on a bench in what looked like painter’s clothes. I continued walking but he called to me and asked if I knew where City Hall was located. Although I couldn’t help him, as I was taking my first step away I thought of the Strangers project and realized I should ask if I could photograph him. I chickened out but was inspired nonetheless.
An hour later, as I was leaving the cattle drive, a small woman called to me from where she was sitting on a large rock in the shade. Her question was simple — “What are these statues?” — but it sparked a 20-minute conversation in which I explained what cattle drives are and where beef comes from (a first for me!), and during which I learned that the woman was originally from Somalia but had been in the U.S. for 14 years and was now a citizen. Our conversation took many turns, a lot of which stemmed from her disappointment in people and in the lack of assistance for immigrants, as well as many bitter statements about life. And yet, in the midst of all these heartaches that she freely shared, she made the statement that she knows God is fair: “He gives the shade to some people in the morning and to other people in the evening.” I was emboldened in those minutes, asking if I could pray with her (she declined) and later asking if I could take her picture (not her face, she said; she was afraid it would end up on the news). The experience was so new for me, and something I would have never dreamed of doing two years ago. But these days I’m looking for opportunities to step outside my comfort zone and to engage the people I meet. I have no doubt that speaking with this woman was a Divine appointment, and even as I walked away from her I spoke a prayer for her and her life. And I thanked God for moving me in ways I would not choose for myself.
Those moments with the woman sharpened my senses for the remainder of the day. I walked a little further and found a “J” on the ground, as if it had been placed there just for my benefit. As I doubled back to head out for Union Station, I ran into a group on a Segway tour and just had to get a photo. (Thankfully, they were happy to oblige.) A couple more blocks down the street and I wandered into a green space in the heart of downtown Dallas! Lubbens Plaza is a small sculpture park built in honor of the Lubbens family, who ran Dallas’s premiere newspaper for 100+ years, and in honor of all the employees who have served the paper over the years. For me, it was an oasis at a time when heat and hunger were threatening to derail my plans. Everything I saw throughout the day seemed meant just for me. The art, the architecture, the people were all full of beauty and purpose, and I wanted to capture all of it to take out on days when inspiration is lacking. On this particular day, I also became keenly aware that my world is a lot more vivid than I’ve ever stopped to notice.
click photos for larger view
REALIZATIONS AND LESSONS LEARNED
As is always the case with a planned activity, there were a few small mishaps and unplanned moments that have now taught me to be better prepared. They’ve also pushed me a little bit closer to personal and creative goals. I think it is these things that I’ll cherish the most from this particular Unplugged day, and it is these that I’ll try to remember when the next outing comes along.
- There are not always shops or restaurants on every corner. Plan to bring water, food and cool cloths!
- I don’t mind being sweaty when I’m feeling inspired and have a purpose in mind.
- With a clear purpose and goals for the day, I didn’t think too much about how I appeared to others. A group of young people on their way to a comic convention reminded me that self-expression is a very valuable thing. Their individuality and costumes helped me realize that I need to focus on what I love and do it all the way without worrying what someone else may think of it. It’s time to let go of pride and old behaviors.
- Interestingly, when I stopped worrying about how I looked on the outside, every single photo taken of me was a keeper!
- I realized that art is everywhere!
- And most importantly, just because the camera batteries charge for 12 hours does not mean you won’t need backup. Oh, how close I came to disaster!
I’m not sure what’s next on my list of Unplugged activities, but this day is definitely one to measure all others by. If the other items on my list are half as much fun, this year is going to be monumental!