The Road to 65, Mile 88: Visits

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February 24, 2015, Prescott- This afternoon, I went to a longtime friend’s house, which is in a heavy road construction zone, for a two hour visit.  She’s been deathly ill, for some time now, and only prayers, oil blend supplements (to help with pain) and a listening ear can be offered by yours truly.  After parking down the hill from her home, and negotiating the mud, above-ground sewer pipes and trenches, I brought in a small gift and heard her recollections of childhood and early adulthood.

She and her loving husband have each had a remarkable and productive life.  Her knowledge of antiques has helped preserve a great deal of the heritage central Arizona, and she has contributed much to the Baha’i community here, over more than 40 years. The tradition of elegance that emanates from this little house, on a venerable street in Prescott, will not easily fade.

Visits, especially to the seriously ill, are a key component of any community worthy of the name.  Perhaps the worst fate anyone can suffer is to be forgotten.  So, as often as we each can, the members of this little community call on one another, and keep a close watch on the ones who can’t get out.

This is actually quite a step forward for yours truly, having been happily in a bubble when I was in my twenties.  It’s probably the finest habit imparted to me by my late wife, and she would have been fit to be tied, had I reverted to hermitage.

The Road to 65, Mile 87: Choices

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February 23, 2015, Prescott- When I was deep in mourning, and on the road, one of my closest friends reminded me that everything one does, regardless of circumstances, is the consequence of choice. I got a call, this morning, at 5:47, from one of the districts for which I work.  I was not quite able to wrap my head around getting it together, and opted for a bit more sleep.  On days like this, I am well aware of the consequence, both immediate and down the road.  So have I learned to not blame others for much of anything.

Ann Landers once said, “No one can take advantage of you, without your permission”.  How true, and how often disconcerting. One must have clear boundaries.  The people we let into our lives are going to have expectations and are going to pursue agendas, which may or may not be in keeping with our own goals and plans.  It is up to each of us, whether to play a particular game, or opt out.

Without making conscious choices, a life gets bogged down and the person living it, dependent, bitter and often self-harming.  I have known many, besides myself, who defer decisions, based on excuses and the notion that “Conditions aren’t quite right”. Conditions will never be just so!

The other “tool” that the takers of this world employ, all too well, is guilt.  I have learned to sleep very well at night, doing what I can for the dispossessed and others in need, without going so far as to put myself among their number, through reckless spending at the loud insistence of guilt-mongers.

There is simply no substitute for taking responsibility for one’s own actions and beliefs.

The Road to 65, Mile 86: Heirlooms

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February 22, 2015, Prescott- My paternal grandmother would have turned 116 today, a rather sobering thought.  Her cooking, for a family of thirteen, depended almost entirely on organically-grown fruits, vegetables and animals.  After World War II, as my father and his siblings grew up and the nest became empty, my widowed Nana went to the market and bought the freshest foods she could, paying little mind to the processed and packaged foods that were increasingly on the shelves and in the freezers.  She liked the unsalted flat crackers that came in a long box, but everything else had to be frais.

We’ve slid a long ways downhill since those days.  I encountered a lot of unhealthy offerings, in my recent travel across  Texas and the Gulf Region.  There were also several glimmers of hope, in the small artisan and organic cafes of the Panama City area, in New Orleans and in the West Texas desert.  Heirloom seeds and the Ark of Taste represent sincere, concerted efforts to turn these glimmers of hope into a shining sun, with respect to diet.

The most recent issue of National Geographic Magazine makes note of the controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms, including it as one of the “War on Science” concerns, on its cover.  Inside, the actual article barely mentions GMO’s, saying only that “We are asked to eat” them, and “There is no evidence that they are harmful”.  This last conclusion may be true, with regard to some people, much as it’s true that not everyone dies after smoking cigarettes for five or ten years.  Longitudinally, though, no one knows.  Does that mean we should shuck it all, and make such foods our staples?  In my opinion, no.

This evening, I helped serve a dinner, comprised of Ark of Taste food items, including Navajo Churro Lamb, wheat berries, chilipati and okra.  There are over 100 items, worldwide, which have qualified for Ark of Taste.  The Ark is an international effort to preserve foods and beverages whose ingredients have become endangered.  It is a culinary version of the International Seed Bank, Longyearbyen, Norway.  The Ark exists mainly through the efforts of growers, ranchers and culinary workers, in the areas of production.  Its list of ingredients is growing, through a careful evaluation process, that emphasizes strict organic farming and animal husbandry.

Slow Food Prescott, of which I am a member, puts on this dinner every January or February.  Other Slow Food groups, in several communities around the world, offer a similar meal.  I believe educating oneself on the Ark of Taste is another step in overcoming the mindset of false convenience, in one’s daily diet.

The Road to 65, Mile 85: Auctions

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February 21, 2015, Phoenix-

I headed down here, this morning, to assist in the set-up for a major fund-raising auction at the Phoenix Baha’i Center, which was our primary spiritual gathering place from 2001-2011.  It’s been renovated, in a big way, from the rather woeful state into which it was falling, during the time of Penny’s own physical decline.  Still, it was a special place and we made do with what was available, in terms of facilities.

Now, there is a shine to the building, and a sense of new purpose.  The auction will help repay some of the costs associated with the renovation:  Ceramic tile flooring, larger and handicapped-accessible restrooms and the library moved to its own building.

Auctions are labour-intensive, energy-intensive.  I admire the record-keeping skills and cross-coordination that went into today’s planning session.  Two hours after we started hauling stuff in and setting up chairs and tables, every single item had a number, specific spot and minimum bid recorded, on the tag and in the Master Ledger, which is in pen and ink.  It is also put in digital copy, for posterity.

My hosts and I went back to their apartment for a vegetarian lunch, short siesta and a round-the-table resolution of various social ills.  At four o’clock, it was showtime, and we went back to the Center, for the intense bidding and good-natured haggling that accompanies a free-wheeling auction.  It appears a tidy sum was raised- maybe not a Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Barrett-Jackson level, but an encouraging amount.  Besides, we had a fabulous table of Persian cuisine, to accent the evening.  Anyone who has never tried the exquisite noodle dish, known as Ash Resteh, would do well to put it on the bucket list.

The Road to 65, Mile 84: Arcaneness

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February 20, 2015, Prescott-

There has come out of Phoenix, over the past several months, a concern with Common Core- the Federally-initiated set of loose education standards, which are intended to be tweaked to the needs of states and localities.  Because the Federal guidelines are so general, Common Core has appeared, to the average person, as a mishmash of convoluted lesson plans and circumlocution.

In most instances, Common Core has been fit to the state levels by panels of local educators.  The overriding concern, however, has been the mere fact that it is a byproduct of FEDERAL initiative.  There has been a fair amount of obfuscation and deliberate taking things out of context, so as to change education back to- “Heck, I don’t know.  Just make it something patriotic, adulatory of the Founding Fathers, pro-sports, useful for getting minimum-wage jobs, keeping the riff-raff in their place, and making Might the Master of Right.”

The only move the critics of Common Core have made thus far, here in the Grand Canyon State, is to institute a mandatory Civics Test, for those wanting to graduate high school.  That’s fair enough.  People who master Civics are less likely to be bamboozled.  All the same, there is nothing in Common Core that forbids or discourages mastery of Civics, or of any other subject.  We had a few years ago, in the Dysart Unified School District, in Surprise, AZ, west of Phoenix, something called Core Learning.  There were, in the social studies classes in which I taught, off and on, specific units on which it was felt everyone should focus:  The War for Independence, Slavery, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression.  I filled in the gaps, though it was discouraged by the administrators.  Several students, though, were more than glad to examine the Industrial Revolution, Gilded Age, the Spanish-American War and the Dust Bowl.

My point is that Common Core is a basic framework, not United Nations mandated indoctrination.  There are frivolous, off-center lesson plans being advanced in its name, but these have occurred in the names of any of its predecessors, from “A Nation At Risk” to “The First Days of School”, as well as “No Child Left Behind”.  Arcaneness is a peculiarly American aspect of education, more reflective of our freedom of expression, than of any Globo-stomp, Monolithic control of what kids learn.

I had these thoughts as I supervised groups of middle school students, who were working on learning somewhat arcane computer design applications, during the course of today.

The Road to 65, Mile 83: Purging

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February 19, 2015, Prescott- 

The calls resumed even before I reached the El Paso city limits.  Neediness knows few boundaries, in its self-perceived desperation.  I bought some assurance of being left alone, so as to continue my drive in concentration and in peace.

I realize that I do not want a constant presence in my life that sucks that life out of me.  I do not want someone in my business, constantly.  I do not want to be tethered, or bled financially, drop by drop.  My involvement in dealing with the dispossessed can’t be of such a form as to make me one of them.  We all have a part to play in ending homelessness, but the solution can’t be piecemeal and it can’t be of such pressure tactics on individuals like me, as to breed resentment.

I feel tense, and a bit angry, at having to fend off constant requests for money- which I have to make last, a long time, ( thus my propensity for eating sparingly,for keeping my energy costs low, and, when traveling, for staying in cheap motels in winter, and campgrounds in warmer weather).  Housing people in my apartment is forbidden by my landlord, and I am obedient to the terms of my lease.

On the other hand, when those who claim to be serving veterans and other homeless people adopt a piecemeal, almost capricious approach to service, enticing groups of men to their shelter and then staying closed in cold weather, they leave the people with no choice but to find abandoned homes, sleep in the forest, or in storage units, of all things.  Utah offers small houses to their homeless, taking people off the streets and storefronts.

Thankfully, the local Interfaith Council has a meeting on this subject next month.  I will encourage as many of the people who approach me for what I don’t have to give, to show up, presentably, at this meeting and at Prescott City Council meetings, and speak respectfully and as eloquently as possible, on what the current non-system of dealing with this issue is doing to the entire community.

We cannot continue,as a society, to think that putting people on buses out of town or merely thinking they will dry up and float away, will purge the issue from our midst.  Quite the contrary, the numbers of dispossessed will only grow, as long as the issue is ignored.  I know this, because I housed as many as ten people, over a three year period, when we lived in Phoenix.

The Road to 65, Mile 82 ( and the Twilight of Mile 81): Big Bend’s Outskirts

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February 17- 18, 2015, Marfa-

Big Bend National Park is way off the course I set for myself, upon leaving San Antonio, yesterday afternoon.  I drove from Lackland AFB to Del Rio, almost without stopping.  Uvalde is a nice town, which I visited in 2012, and may again, some day.  Del Rio looks worth a few days, but at that point in time, it was rush hour and, even in that small town, things were a bit too congested for my frame of mind.  So, onward it was, with a twenty-minute break overlooking the serenity of Amistad Reservoir, just past Comstock.  I get the sense that one could meander for a dog’s age, along this section of Rio Grande/Rio Bravo- clear to Langtry, or down to Devils Lake, going the other direction.

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When I got to the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Pecos, there was enough light left for a couple of keepsakes.

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It was not so, when I pulled into Langtry, the home of the infamous Roy Bean.  Everything was shut tight, and ghost towns aren’t much fun in the dark, so the place remains on my to-do list, for sometime between now and the Great Beyond.

I ended Tuesday in the small, “not much here” town of Sanderson, with its five motels, three restaurants (lunch and dinner, and closed at 8) and a sizable Stripes gas station, whose chimichanga and burrito were my 8:45 PM supper.  I was grateful for the hospitality at Budget Inn, which offered a tray of snack foods, “just in case they’re all closed”, and a light India-style breakfast of sweet chai, crunchy puffed rice and a biscuit, this morning.

The road west, out of Sanderson, heads across the Chihuahua Desert, towards three unique and artsy towns:  Marathon, Alpine and Marfa.

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The foothills of the Chisos Mountains loom to the south.

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Marathon (MA-ra-thun) is the most traditionally Western of the three, though Alpine has the Cowboy Poets Festival (Feb. 26-28) and Marfa has the supernatural aura.

I stopped in Marathon for a sausage biscuit and coffee at Johnny B’s, and a look-see next door, at the Gage Hotel.  The welcome at Johnny’s was a hearty “Howdy Do” and about five cups of coffee, in a twenty-minute stool sit.

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The Gage is a solid, old-fashioned business hotel, with a satisfied group of return clients, from what I saw this morning.

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Alpine, on this Wednesday morning, was all business.  Sul Ross State College is the largest institution and employer in town.  Lawrence Sullivan Ross was another of those larger-than-life Lone Star figures, associated with the Republic of Texas, the Confederate Army and Texas’ full-blown recovery from Reconstruction.  Sul was governor of Texas for two terms, refused a third, and took on the establishment of Texas A & M University.  After he passed, in 1898, the Legislature named the University of the Big Bend, in his honour.

The downtown is dignified by three distinct churches:

Here is First Christian Church.

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Down yonder, with the dome, is First Baptist.

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Lastly, we find First Methodist,holding down the east side of town.

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With all God’s children thus covered, here are a few shots of the commercial side of Alpine.

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This edifice offers services for the disabled and abused, with handicrafts programs and a small store for the sale of the products.

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I had intentions of taking lunch in Marfa, at the Thunderbird Cafe, which is also a culinary training facility, so I left Alpine and crossed the northern edge of the Chisos.

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Marfa’s downtown features El Paisano Hotel, and Presidio County Courthouse.  Marfa has an active arts scene, partly inspired by the eerie “Marfa Lights”.  It being broad daylight, I set that thought aside.  I will be back in this area, for a Big Bend- Fort Davis fortnight, sometime between April and November of 2016.  In the meantime, here’s Marfa.

El Paisano Hotel was founded by Trost and Trost, in 1930. It served as James Dean’s stomping ground, during the making of the film, “Giant”, in 1955.

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Even though Alpine holds the Cowboy Poets Gathering, Marfa gives it a good boost. Out here, neighbours are neighbourly.

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Presidio County Courthouse’s dome may be seen fifty miles out, on a clear day, or so the tale goes.

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First Christian Church is content to be seen from the edge of its own street.

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Downtown Marfa has several fine old Art-Deco buildings, along its main drag.

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The Thunderbird is a restored business hotel, and has the town’s most dependable lunch spot, the culinary institute.  It is unsigned, but for a small rectangle saying “Lunch”.

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The institute is across the street from the above hotel sign.  The entry is one block south, behind this creative wall of native stone.

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The courtyard was filled with appreciative locals, with whom I enjoyed lovely deli items and nouvelle-Mexican cuisine.  The pulled pork reuben was a marvel, and definitely worthy of both the time it took to prepare and the $ 11. 00 price.

Yes, I will definitely be back this way.  Home was calling though, so I did the rest of the way, to Van Horn, through El Paso, Las Cruces, Deming and Lordsburg, in short order- which meant four hours.  Dinner was at another gem- La Casita, in Thatcher, AZ.

SAM_4429  I felt at home, sitting at the counter as the booths and tables were full.  The take-out trade was also fast and furious.  La Casita’s food is that good.  I was touched that the owner gave each of his waitresses a break, with fried ice cream as a treat.  I filed that item in my head, in case I get back here during a lunch hour.

The rest of my jaunt homeward took three hours, so by 11:30, the quixotic and chaotic were done, for another few weeks, at least.

The Road to 65, Mile 81, Part 4: Espada Apart

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February 17, 2015, San Antonio-

One must want to visit Mission San Francisco de la Espada, much as one must want to visit Death Valley, Key West or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I’m overstating, of course, but Espada is well out of the way of even its nearest neighbour, among the San Antonio Missions:  San Juan Capistrano.  To get to  Espada, I drove past the southward extension of San Antonio Riverwalk, to the Espada Aqueduct, which waters the southernmost of San Antonio’s mission communities.  From the Aqueduct, it is about three miles further to the Mission.  The drive is worth every inch.  I stopped briefly at Espada Dam and Acequia Park, near the southern end of Riverwalk.  Several bicyclists and runners were enjoying the area, as were Canadian geese and these serene ducks.

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The Aqueduct, however, was totally deserted and silent.

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I arrived at the Mission about fifteen minutes later.  A family was just concluding a funeral service, in the community building, so I kept a quiet profile and focused on the western sector of the grounds.  The people seemed surprised to see a Gringo, but there are signs warning “Leave no valuables in your car.  Break-ins have occurred.”  This group seemed to me to be quite otherwise engaged, though I keep my car locked, electronically, anywhere I am.

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I was immediately struck by the solitary nature of the church and by the fact that the mission has an active school, which has in fact been its distinguishing feature.  It has been Espada which has provided the lion’s share of education and training for the Coahuiltecans of southern San Antonio.

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There are ruins of the small presidio, south of the church.  Espada was not on the main route of the marauding tribes, so fewer soldiers were needed.  The ranch which sustained the mission was another 20 or so “leagues” to the south, making it less attractive a target, still.

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The original church was in the center of the mission grounds.  It was destroyed by a kitchen fire in 1826.SAM_4346

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The chimes which gave the location its name still hang in front of the Convento.SAM_4354

The granary survived the fire of 1826, mainly because it was nearly empty after a rare Comanche raid that year.

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Other buildings were not so fortunate.SAM_4363

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The two southern archways differ, with one being wide enough for horse-drawn carts and the other for travelers on foot to enter, and be searched.

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This well-kept secret was a delicious finish to my long-desired visit to the southern missions of San Antonio.  It was getting late in the afternoon, however, so I bid this exciting city farewell, and headed west on U.S. 90.  The desolate beauty of west Texas was still ahead.

The Road to 65, Mile 81, Part 3: Capistrano in Texas

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February 17, 2015- San Antonio 

The justly famed Mission San Juan Capistrano, in southern California. has a Texas twin.  This Mission San Juan was established in 1731, on the east bank of the San Antonio River, using the remnants of a previous mission near present-day Lufkin,which fell on hard times and the deaf ears of the Nazonis people.

The Coahuiltecans were, on the other hand, more than glad to have Spanish assistance, owing to the severe drought.  The Spanish taught the people near Mission San Juan, how to build and use acequias and to domesticate cattle.  Some of the first longhorn ranches were near this mission.

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The principal acequia for this mission came from the Yanaguana, the Coahuiltecan name for the San Antonio River.  A short nature trail allows the visitor a semblance of what was available to the residents of that time.

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The water level was a bit higher then, than now.  The present water supply is low, and sullied with clay.

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Still, it allowed the populace to be fairly productive, botanically, as well as in animal husbandry.  A replica of the main garden still produces herbs and legumes.

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This is the site of the mission’s granary.

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There are preserved foundations of the small presidio and of the old church.  A campaign to enlarge the mission church ultimately failed, owing to scant manpower.

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A section of the old church remains in use as a friary.

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On the east side of the grounds, a post-colonial tufa house remains intact.

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San Juan is still an active mission community, with Coahuiltecan people comprising a large percentage of the neighbouring community.  The present-day church was last renovated in 2012.  Good thing I waited until now, to visit.

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This corner is a favourite outdoor gathering spot, for the parishioners, after Sunday Mass.

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Having learned of the extensive ranching and farming at three of the four southern missions, I headed for the place where the Coahuiltecans themselves were taught academics and trades:  Espada.

The Road to 65, Mile 81, Part 2: The Queen of San Antonio

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February 17, 2015- San Antonio  

Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, founded in 1720, is the largest of the San Antonio-area missions, and is known as “Queen of the Missions”.  It is about 2.8 miles south of Mission Concepcion, which I profiled in Part 1 of this series.

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I first visited this magnificent place in May, 2012, but at dusk.  Only the exterior was available for viewing, giving me the sense of San Jose’s enormity and the impetus for a return visit.

Here are some views of the mission’s interior, with the mission church and the soaring arches and beams of its surrounds, being especially impressive.  Perhaps nowhere else in North America is the combination of Roman and Moorish influences so pronounced, as it is here.

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In the former residential hall of the Coahuiltecan students, there is a scale model of the original mission.SAM_4259

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The garrison encircled the mission church, and the residences of the indigenous, as it did at Mission Concepcion.  The raids by Apache and Comanche warriors were aimed at the Spanish, but Coahuiltecans were seen as collaborators with the Europeans, and were equally targeted by the raiders.  The thick walls worked, in safeguarding the settlement.

Food production was a major focus of the mission, for reasons of transforming the hunter-gatherer ethos, previously followed by the Coahuiltecans, which ill-served them, in a time of increasing drought.  This waterworks and millhouse was a major asset for the populace.

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Herbs and grains were dried on outdoor raised racks.

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There were twelve outdoor beehive ovens, and at least one indoor fireplace, in each long room.

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With nearly 1,500 people living within these walls, order had to be strictly maintained by the garrison commander and Franciscan padre, working closely.

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I had an informative and enjoyable hour here at San Jose.  As I was leaving,  a large songbird I’d not seen before sat, contentedly and chirped a farewell.  It seemed not to care, too much, of my being in relative proximity.  This mission does get quite a few tour buses, though, so it’s not surprising.

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NEXT:  Texas’s Own Capistrano