Despite my standing as a credentialed Cheesehead, it’s worth noting that I’ve spent nearly half my adult life in Texas toiling at newspapers – specifically those in West Texas. I’ve lived in places where surrounding towns are branded Notrees, Plainview, Brownfield and Levelland –names no doubt inspired by the proliferation of flat, featureless landscapes that stretch across that vast windswept region.
But for the stifling summer heat, poisonous snakes and alligators, this part of the Lone Star State, to my mind, is more reminiscent of the Upper Midwest, where one sees cattle grazing in green fields, gentle rolling terrain, and dense woodlands dotted by lakes big and small All that’s missing are the cornfields and cheese factories.
I’ve got two weeks in Mineola under my belt, and already I’m starting to get a flavor for this place. Over the weekend, I bought organic beef jerky at the local farmers market while a musician in a cowboy hat serenaded the marketplace with soft ’70s rock. And I explored the Mineola Nature Preserve – a truly fascinating expanse of land. Miles of trails wind through woodlands, bridging streams and ponds rich in aquatic life. Wildlife observation posts are situated throughout, making the preserve an ideal place to view birds, reptiles and other creatures during a walk, run or bike ride. Near the preserve’s main entrance, I noticed a colorful garden maintained by the Wood County Master Gardeners, and I also observed what looks to be a challenging disc golf course.
I also ventured outside of town to the county seat of Quitman, over to the artsy enclave of Winnsboro, south to Lindale and on to bustling Tyler. Interesting places that tell me – if the alligators don’t get me first– there should be no shortage of things to do and see in these parts.
Another thing I’ve noticed here is that Texas Friendly is spoken liberally. I’ve always believed that West Texans are among the friendliest people in this great nation, but I’m starting to think that along with trees, East Texans might enjoy an edge in affability as well. Sales associates are quick with a “Can I help you, Sir?” even if you’re showing only the slightest hint of bewilderment while wandering the aisles in search of a curtain rod or a four-pronged dryer cord. People here will engage you in effortless conversation about any manner of topic, quality of peaches for instance, how to recognize fire ants, or whether Maria Muldauer ever had a hit bigger than Midnight at the Oasis. I might also have to add gift of gab to the East Texas side of the ledger.
This west meets east journey of mine is just beginning, but on balance I’m already starting to like the direction it’s headed.