Maybe it was the scenery, the desolation, the quiet, the random thunderstorms, the open blue skies or miles of twisted ranch fencing that captured my heart.
In July of 2015 my mom invited me to visit Texas with her. I couldn’t wait to go back there. Not just Texas, remote Texas. Marfa. One of the most enchanting places I’ve ever been. My mom used to live there a few years ago, while she worked a job in Presidio (southwest Texas near the Mexican border). I found the house she eventually rented in Marfa on Craigslist. It was tiny, and old, but clean. Even charming. I visited her several times, each time I fell more and more in love. Maybe it was the scenery, the desolation, the quiet, the random thunderstorms, the open blue skies or miles of twisted ranch fencing that captured my heart.
Our favorite thing to do when I visited was rock hunt. We would find the most beautiful rocks just resting at the bottom of crumbling cliffs. The heavy rains would liberate veins of gleaming crystals, once nestled safe in the mountains for thousands of years, now vulnerable and exposed.
I understand why my mom is a rock hoarder. Why she collects gnarled lumps of solidified volcanic magma, once alive and molten. Why she mailed me a giant piece of what turned out to be 100-year-old slag (I mean she was totally convinced it was an iron meteorite). Why she drove hundreds of miles to find caramel rocks (I have to admit its hard to resist rocks that look like a piece of caramel, with lumpy bubbles on top). Why she fills pretty glass dishes with all her glorious specimens. I am a hoarder of rocks too.
The people that live there want to be there, undiscovered. They have come for the beauty; raw, wild and healing.
When I’m home, thousands of miles away from our little Texas paradise, I can pick up a rock I’ve found and remember. For me there is something incredibly special about that place. One must adopt another form of life there. A life devoid of the superficial and the overachievers. Nobody cares what car you drive, or the clothes you wear. There are no towering skyscrapers, super malls, or corporate careers. It is the simple life. You could stand next to a billionaire in line for fried chicken at the only gas station in town and you wouldn’t know. He wouldn’t want you to know. The people that live there want to be there, undiscovered. They have come for the beauty; raw, wild and healing. My mom and I come for these reasons too. Again and again.
This particular trip was not much different than our others. At least so I thought. We flew into El Paso and drove 4 hours to Alpine, a small town west of Marfa. We were tired but talked the whole way. All 4 hours. I love that about my mom. We never run out of things to say. After arriving in Alpine we drove to our secret rock hunting spots near Marfa. Exhausted and delirious, we fulfilled our geological obsession until the sun set behind the mountains. Before heading to the hotel back in Alpine we stopped at the The Get Go, a quaint little hippie market, to stock up on food. Everything, I mean the two markets and a handful of restaurants, closes around 9pm. And the gas station runs out of chicken by 3pm. So it’s get your food early or starve. We made that mistake once.
Two ravenous girls in a hotel room. Never again.
The next morning my mom had an appointment at the Marfa County Clinic. We hit a few thrift shops before her appointment. To be honest I wasn’t thrilled about having to wait at the doctor’s for her, but I didn’t know it would revolutionize my life. We never really know these things big moments are coming.
There I sat in a stark white room, with immensely tall ceilings and textured plaster walls. The only color came from paintings by local artists. It was stunning in its simplicity. The nicest waiting room I’ve experienced. I read through 2 magazines (not thoroughly as well..you know how it goes). My mom and the doctor come out. She tells me that I’m going to get a blood test. Huh? Me? So I fill out some paperwork and go into the back room. The nurse draws my blood. It was thick and purplish black. My mom gasps. That can’t be normal. The doctor was kind to see me after all of his patents that day. My mom asked him if he would because she knew I had been suffering for so many years.
Slightly embarrassed, I told him all of my unexplained symptoms as I had done with so many doctors before him. I had to write them all down on the back of an envelope from my mom’s purse because I felt weird telling someone all that was wrong. Like I was complaining or a hypocondriac. But I was so used to fighting my own body I didn’t know what it was like to be normal. Maybe I was normal. Maybe I was a hypocondriac. I handed him my envelope and anxiously awaited for him to say I “I’m going to put you on hormone pills or Prozac and lets see how you feel.” That never happened. Instead he listened and assured me we would find out what was wrong. He was different than all of the other doctors I had seen before. I didn’t have to break down in tears, and demand tests instead of hoards of medication. He wrote me a script to have several thyroid and pituitary tests done. Actual tests! Finally we were getting somewhere.
The buildings were indistinguishable from the desert floor. It’s like they had risen from it and were now crumbling back into it.
The next day it was time to adventure. We loaded up my mom’s truck (yes my mom has a truck and works in construction. We will get to that in another post:) Her truck bed was filled with tall hunting boots, shovels, sunscreen, rakes, buckets, and hot yellow construction vests. Can’t forget the ice chest of food…the most important of all supplies. We started from Alpine and took the Texas 118 to Terlingua, an old mining town an hour south of Alpine. Terlingua is a fascinating place. There is so much storied history there. We stopped at what is left of an old mining village and cemetery. The cemetery was quiet and serene, with views of mountains and desert for as far as the eye could see. I would want to be buried there. Close by were the remnants of the mining village where workers in the mid 1800s dug for cinnabar. The buildings were indistinguishable from the desert floor. It’s like they had risen from it and were now crumbling back into it. The ceilings had all vanished. Only the windows, doorways and a few walls remained standing. They call it a “ghost town” but I felt at peace there.
On our way onto Big Bend National Park we saw some gleaming, glittery rocks underneath the Terlingua town sign. I bolted out of the car and began to pick them up. It so happens that some people saw us and were curious as to what we were doing. We confessed to our rock-hunting sins and made some new friends….that happened to own a restaurant…and we were starving (like that’s a surprise). My mom and I shared homemade nachos with 3 kinds of homemade salsa and sour cream. Delicious. The most interesting part was our server and the old man at the bar. Our server had traveled all over the world. He struck me as a wondering soul trying to outrun his past. But he finally found his home in Terlingua. Working at this restaurant and the other locals (maybe a dozen or so people) made him truly happy.
I loved hearing him talk about the crazy bon fire parties they had out there where anything could happen. He was the kind of person that had stories. And the kind of person that makes life interesting.
Satiated, we could finally make our way to Big Bend Ranch State Park. We took the 170 through winding mountain passes. One might think that the desert landscape is monotonous, but I have never seen so many various shades of brown. The never ending mountains had textures and patterns enhanced by the sleepy sun’s shadows. My mom and I talk about weird things. Like if we drove off the road, which would be rather easy, no one would ever know. Who would see your car thousands of feet down in the canyon? We saw maybe less than 10 cars in our 2 hour journey on the 170. So we could rule out anyone seeing anything. We also talked about how beautiful and under appreciated this part of the country was. But maybe it is better that way.
We arrived in Presido, the town where my mom used to work. The sun was low on the horizon by now. As a photographer this is the dream light. We came across the most exquisite dilapidated building if there could be such a thing. On the side of it were rusted metal cans.
When I stepped out of the car to take the photo I noticed something. Or lack there of. Presidio is eerily silent. It is both comforting and unnerving. I feel like there should be more noise or something should happen any second. Perhaps it is because I’m used to a bustling city. Surrounded by traffic, people, and the hum of busy life. On the way back to Alpine, my mom talked about her drive to work from Marfa to Presidio. How she looked forward to it everyday. There would be a random thunderstorms and wild cactus blooms. Everyday would bring a different sunrise and sunset. She said the 1.5 hour drive felt like nothing. She would pull over sometimes to take photos of the mangled fences, raging storm clouds off in the horizon or the stunning bloom of the Ocotea cactus. At first I didn’t really appreciate her photos. But after I visited her for the first time I understood how magical remote Texas was. It stole my heart and saved my life.
A few weeks after visiting my tests came back. I thought for sure it was my thyroid or even my pituitary that was giving me so much trouble. Funny how things work. The blood test that the doctor had done in his office was the answer I had been waiting for. I had a severe B vitamin deficiency, specifically B9 and B12. He routinely tests his patients for methyl-tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene variations and mine came back positive. I had a homozygous variation in the MTHFR C677T gene. This meant I have two abnormal copies of the gene, which reduces my ability to process B vitamins to about 10%-20% (more in another post).
That fateful trip to Marfa taught me many lessons. Prayers do get answered and by the most unlikely people. Small town doctors are more likely to listen to their patients, and are sometimes more progressive than flashy big city doctors. I learned that Marfa was truly healing for me. The scenery. The people. The adventures. I’ve been all over the world and this place I can call home.