A Tale from the Texas Outback 

It was a dark and stormy night. Hm. Nah, that's a little too corny. Besides, that statement's not true anyway. It was actually a gorgeous spring day when I loaded our ten-year-old Explorer with camping equipment, my son, a cooler full of water, and my fat little dog . We then headed West to the desert country between Big Bend National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains for a breath of fresh air that one can breathe without coughing. One tire blowout (we didn't flip over or anything), one wrong turn (forgot to take the loop or some street in Del Rio and almost ended up in Mexico; oops), six hundred hot miles, and eleven dusty hours later we reached our destination. We pitched the tent and got settled with still enough daylight left to swim in the spring and enjoy the brilliant sunset, which was made even more spectacular by the lightning from thunderstorms on the horizon. Then the stars came out one by one, hundred by hundreds, and million by millions. Perfect.


The wind blew . The loose sides of the tent flapped along with it. The wind slowed. The tent flapped without it. Weird. Very weird. Much too weird. Trying to suppress thoughts of the Blair Witch Project, I grabbed a large flashlight, turned it on and saw the silhouette of a strange, toothy head. Flashlight in hand, I noisily left the tent (hoping I didn't have to clobber any huge, vicious animals to make them run away), and tried to make myself look and sound ever so much larger than life. Luckily, the javelina was gone by the time I got there (I think that's what it was), so I stumbled back to the inside of the tent, griped at the dog for not barking and protecting us, and crawled back into my sleeping bag, which was placed on the tent floor instead of the cot because I just couldn't figure out how to put the silly thing together. Oh well. Can't have everything. There have been many people much wimpier than I am who have slept on the ground in West Texas and lived to tell about it, so, anyway...The stars were lovely. Perfect.


And so was the sunrise the next day. By some happy accident the tent door faced east, so I yawned and stretched, put on my sweatshirt and glasses, got out of bed, and fired up the campstove. It gave me very little grief, so soon we had coffee and breakfast along with plenty of time to eat it. Wonderful. This was the life.

However, sometimes one must leave idyllic surroundings to take care of business, so we cleaned up and headed to the ranger station to see if anyone could direct us to a tire shop. I had removed my sweatshirt by this time (geez it was getting hot), so the ranger was able to notice my anti-taas t-shirt and made a comment.'Oh, you don't like that taas stuff either?"

"No, it's awful."


"Yeah, my (female relative) is a teacher in Amarillo, and it's just about all they do in school nowadays..."


And so we gabbed about the testing craziness for a while. Seems like you just can't get away from it anywhere, if you have school-age kids. Nope. 


But then it was time to drive to Pecos and get a tire, two new tires really. No sense in taking a chance on having a blowout up in the mountains, not to mention the six hundred mile drive home a few days down the road. So away we went. We finished our errand in no time at all, not that time seems to matter as much out in West Texas. In fact we still had plenty of time to go to the McDonald Observatory, swim, admire the scenery and enjoy not having to hurry for any reason. Another glorious sunset after another fine day. There weren't even any rocks under my sleeping bag. Ah, comfort.


Another chilly morning accompanied by another glorious sunrise. Another pot of coffee made with the spring water that goes to several local towns. Very nice. We swam again after the sun warmed us up enough and went back to the mountains when it got too hot. It was another great day.


It was dinnertime and the sun was going down. There was yet another spectacular lightning display on the horizon. But soon I realized that the thunderstorm was coming closer, and before we knew it a gust of wind came howling through the campground. Tents rolled away like tumbleweeds, and objects flew off picnic tables. The sky had an eerie greenish cast. Although my son and I were both calm, it was clear that we had a problem and needed to move. The dog wasn't calm at all. 

“Son, help me put this stuff in the truck.We need to go to the bathhouse.”


“But Mom, I’m not finished with my pork chop!”


“Put your plate in the truck and help me. We have to move it, NOW.”


So off we drove to the sturdy bathhouse by the pool and waited. Lightning was all around, but eventually the wind slowed enough to indicate that we wouldn’t have to make a run from the Explorer to the relative safety of the building. We drove back to our campsite, where our tent still stood, giving me hope that we might be able to sleep in it when the storm was completely gone. A run through the rain. No such luck. The tent was open and torn, everything was soaked. I grabbed the suitcase, which luckily kept a few articles of clothing dry so we could at least stay warm. Back to the truck. Something hit the roof. What was that? Again, something hit the roof. Hail?

Here it came. Lots of icy marbles came hurtling through the air, so many we could hardly see. Back to the bathhouse, where I parked under a tree hoping to minimize hail damage to the Explorer. The poor terrified dog shivered, while my son moved as far away from the windows as possible. The noise was awful, but I couldn’t dive to the floorboard like I wanted to. Had to watch, just in case that terrible wind came again, just in case we had to run through the hailstorm to take shelter. My son tried to assess the gravity of the situation.




“Yes, Son?”


“Should we pray?”


“I have been for the last twenty minutes. You don’t have to make a big pretentious show for god to hear you.”


“I know.”


The hail started to pile on the ground and showed no sign of letting up.




“Yes, Sweetheart?” 


“What would you rather be doing now, this, or taking a TAAS test?”


“I think I would rather be taking a TAAS test!”


I laughed, he grinned, the dog began to settle down, and the hail let up after falling for about thirty minutes. We walked into the dark bathhouse (the electricity was knocked out), used the restroom (boy did we ever have to go), chattered with some other people who had taken shelter there, and watched the bats flying around (it was kind of creepy, but kind of cool too). We then drove back to our campsite and slept as comfortably as we could (or couldn’t) . The lightning continued all night long, but it wasn’t as ominous any more. The rain stopped. We cleaned up in the morning and were able to make a comfortable bed in the back of the Explorer that night, which was nice because we had to drive home the next day, sans tent, a swimsuit , and a vinyl tablecloth. I found out later that three funnel clouds were spotted over the nearby towns of Balmorhea and Saragosa. None of them touched down, so we (that being my son, my dog, the local residents, and yours truly) were all fortunate, if tentless. It could have been bad. Really bad. But it wasn=t, so we drove home, bought a new tent, and are now living happily ever after.

The end.


No. It isn’t the end. A new school year has begun, and the testing craziness continues not only in Amarillo but all over Texas. And not only in Texas but all over the country. And to top it off our children have to cope with additional pressures because of recent world events. Is this the right thing to do to them? The winds of school reform continue to blow the wrong way, but if enough of us resist high-stakes educational monstrosities...

Carol M. Holst Parents United to Reform TAAS Testingkceh@airmail.net

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