As I wound around a bend on a dry West Texas highway that once was the Overland Road for wagon trains, I spotted an eclectic mix of old cars and trucks scattered in a valley. Like the dry bones of dead animals or old wagon trains, I love to photograph old rusted cars at rest on the open plains. It’s a photographic fetish of mine, along with photographing mannequins.
At first glance most people would mistake this place for a junkyard and expect it to be guarded by a mean dog. But the whimsical feel of the house with the shamrock on the door and the hippie looking school bus made me feel confident in knocking on the door.
An old man limped out to calmly greet me. He was as weathered as the old warped boards of the house. But his blue eyes were kind. I said that the cars in his yard were amazing and that I’d like to photograph them. He said, “That depends on how you look at them”.
He continued that some people mistake his place for a junkyard. They don’t realize that it’s actually a place where friends of the family have been storing their vehicles over the past several decades. As he reminded me – “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”.
He pointed to many of the dozens of dead cars in the yard and told me stories in intimate detail about the people who brought these cars. Â I became more fascinated by him than the cars.
I stood under the broiling mid day Texas sun talking with him, too mesmerized to move. I got one Hell of a sunburn. But it was worth all the sun damage for the rich conversation I had with this true sage of the sagebrush.
This sage spoke of the Internet and the insanity of people living their lives online much like how a Christian would talk about porn. Of course, he was right. But how many people now days can afford the luxury of not using the Internet and actually communicating face to face with everyone?
He also spoke of the importance of having roots and knowing the place you live intimately. He said that his grandfather bought the homestead in 1908 from the widow of a dead black buffalo soldier who had been sent to nearby Fort Davis to fight the Indians and protect the settlers moving West on the Overland Road. This soldier died in 1901 and was buried on the property. The old sage said he intended to be buried right next to this dead buffalo soldier.
The Sage had never been married and seamed to fear it like the plague (see video below for his views on marriage). But he did say he had 50 some children ranging in age from age 4 to 64. In his quiet thoughtful way this man had made a rich life for himself and those he befriended. His desolate junkyard was a kingdom of riches to him and his friends.
The Sage looked like the Irish poet and playwright George Bernard Shaw. And after speaking with him I discovered he was just as eloquent and literary as him as well. Of course the best of our conversations occurred when my camera off. But the below video clips will give you a taste.
[playlist id=7 width=570 height=490]
After we talked he showed me an old model T truck that he was remaking into a whimsical vehicle that, when completed, would be more gazebo than truck.
I laughed when he ended our conversation with, “Young man, I’ve enjoyed our chat. But I have to get back to work. But stop by again and stay longer next time.” After all, wasn’t it suppose to be the young man who was suppose to be too busy to listen to the old man talk?
I handed him my card knowing that he would never go online to view this story. When I invited him to call my cell, he smiled and said that he didn’t call anyone and that people stopped by when they needed to talk.
When I asked for his name, he handed me a card that read “My Card” on one side. On the back it read, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you. But it will amuse the rest of us.”
I’m glad I didn’t get his name. A name would have only detracted from my newfound belief that he was a spiritual wizard/avatar residing in the body of an old white bearded man.
He wished me well in my journeys and said he hoped that I would find what I’m looking for. Though the Sage had road tripped across North America and Mexico endlessly in his youth, he found his place where he began. It was the same place where he built dams in the creek as a child to form swimming holes. It was the same place where he played and would some day be buried next to the dead buffalo soldier.
I hope when I’m his timeless age, some time and place down the road, I’ll be rooted in my own place with 50 children of choice and a knowing kind twinkle in my eye.