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|Saturday, 31 January 2004|
|written by Teresa|
We're flying through states now at a rate of knots; getting the merest glimpse into their true identities, snap shots on the way to Florida.
Oklahoma came and went in a handful of days but managed to make quite an impression for all that. In the flatness of the eastern plains the so-called Wichita Mountains are the remaining shadows of an ancient granite range, eroded into the gently rolling hills that today have been claimed as a National Wildlife Refuge. Modest rounded outcrops look down from the crests onto undulating grassland yellowed and rusted by the winter weather. Small lakes fill the hollows, surrounded by bare deciduous trees, last years leaves thick underfoot.
A short walk up through the craggy slopes of Little Baldy rewards us with our first armadillo sighting of the day. These creatures fill me with delight. The visual world is not their domain, the small eyes remaining virtually closed in the daytime light. The long snout moves independently, sniffing out tasty morsels to the right and left, the naked tip protruding beyond the plating, quivering in anticipation of the next snackette. The large ear lobes look surprisingly naked and exposed at the top of the head twitching in response to any noise that might represent a threat. As we gradually inch forward it is the snout that comes up to "taste" the air, but our scent is not enough to deter her from the business at hand, lunch. Her armour plated coat fits snugly around her neck, articulated across the centre of her back, her legs visible beneath the hem of the overcoat, the back ones a huge pair of excavating tools, ready to dig at a moments notice. She is generally unconcerned about us, stopping now and again to listen and sniff but by and large sensing that we mean no harm, allowing us to watch as she goes about her business. These moments are always special, giving us a little piece of treasure to take away in our hearts and our minds eye. We are invariably touched and inordinately pleased by such encounters.
We find the larger beasties out among the grassland later in the day. A small group of Bison hold us up as they cross the road around us, mostly uninterested save the matriarch who gives a long and penetrating stare as though we might need reminding who is boss here. The herd are split by gender at this time of year, single bulls wandering on their own, sometimes accompanied by young apprentices, learning the ropes. The elk on the other hand are obvious in their male dominated harem groups nibbling away at the dried grass, catching the last of the afternoon sun while not far away, Longhorn Cattle sit down on the job, blending in perfectly with the rust tinged vegetation.
As we continued east through the Native American State, the southern prairie gave way to the wooded hills and we stopped at Robbers Cave State Park, where the cloud drifted down into the treetops but then relented for one day in a reprieve that allowed us out on the trails and headed for the cave. Folklore has it that Jesse and Frank James used it as a hideout although closer reading of the park pamphlets and information boards somewhat undermines this myth. It transpires that a number of robberies were committed in the area and this combined with the fact that Belle Starr, "a known friend of criminals" lived close by, made people believe that the notorious brothers could have used the cave. So the story itself is somewhat transparent, and the cave turned out to be little more than a hole in the rock, although it was nestled in a deeply eroded outcrop that was fun to scramble through.
I can't claim to have a good sense of the state; small towns along the way blurred into an amalgamation, the landscape leaving the most lasting impressions with the clear feeling of being in a transitional place, moving from west to east.
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