Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Hyborian excursion

Roundabout 2002 I discovered some old pulp paperback copies of Conan stories in a used bookstore in Maryland, while out there working on the SOHO spacecraft at NASA Goddard.  Over the years I read more of those Conan tales, and reveled in the re-publication of the original tales over the next several years during the rest of my time back east and back in Kansas in grad school.  At some point I came across the fact that there was not only the opportunity to visit Robert E. Howard’s old home in Cross Plains, TX, but that once each year folks gather there for the Robert E. Howard Days event that celebrates the author and his works.  It seemed like year after year I was either in school, in Antarctica, or in aggressive job hunting mode and could never make the trek to attend REH Days.

That changed in 2014.  With a launch schedule delay at work the week before, I grabbed the galloping charger that is destiny by the reins and took a couple days off work to journey to Cross Plains. 

The first stop was the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, though.  Here I took in a traveling exhibit called Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology.  They had a good number of real relics, as well as a bunch of original props and costumes from the Indy films.  And, yes, that included the cross of Coronado, where it belongs…in a museum.

In Cross Plains I got to see the fabled Howard house, where REH did a lot of his writing.  It was rewarding to see this very familiar and un-exotic home, which had been the site of the generation of such imaginative tales.

That front porch was the site of a reading of some of REH’s poetry on the Friday night of the festivities.  I contributed an impromptu rendition of “Attila Rides No More”.

A lot of the panel discussions about a variety of topics germane to the man and his works were held in the excellent Cross Plains Public Library.  Strangely enough, they had a main landing gear tire from a Space Shuttle flight long past.

There was also a morning tour around some of the outlying areas near Cross Plains.  This included a stop at a ranch where some top-class longhorn cattle are raised.  They were mostly really shy this day, but one very pregnant cow was convinced to come up close to the fence by a bucket of treats.

All in all, it was a very pleasant excursion.  Getting to chat with other folks that were often times far more knowledgeable and passionate about REH and his works was really interesting.  If you have not read any Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, El Borak, or any of the host of other characters created by Howard then you are really missing out.  If you are skeptical of his writing, then at least take a look at the author himself.  His tragically brief life is another story worth discovering, and a visit to his grave in Brownwood will be all the more poignant.

"Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet."
~Robert E. Howard

In the backyard

A longer while back I took in a couple sites in the more immediate area here in Houston. 

Up north a bit, at the site of the last (and very brief) battle of the Texas Revolution, is the San Jacinto Monument.  This edifice is a bit taller than the Washington Monument in D.C., and has a commanding view of the Houston area.  One can get a feel for how utterly planar this coastal area is, which makes Kansas seem positively undulating. 

From the observation deck near the top, the Battleship Texas on the Houston Ship Channel is easily espied.  The heavily industrialized areas in Pasadena and other surrounding satellites of Houston proper make for a sobering scene.  I imagine if one could take in the view at night they’d be even more reminded of the future Los Angeles in “Blade Runner”.

Just a few miles down the road from my pad is the not-so-urban jungle at Armand Bayou Nature Center.  There is an old farm site and a fair number of critters to take a look at on display or flying/trundling/slithering around the place.  A highlight was finally seeing living armadillos bustling about the undergrowth, not just crushed and broken on the side of the road.  Thankfully, the mosquitoes were few and far between during my visit, since it had been dry for a few weeks at that point.  That would most definitely NOT be the case now.

Most of my time is still spent at work.  Training is coming along well, and I just keep trying to cram as much new knowledge and skill between my ears as possible.  It will still be a while before I am put in the hot seat for simulations, and even longer for real operations, but it feels rewarding to finally be putting things together and be able to contribute to the team.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
~Henry David Thoreau