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01 July 2010 @ 09:34 pm
The Cactus Flower  

I was pretty close to my type of heaven. I was driving along the vacant road early in the morning on May 18th of this year at about 5 to 10 miles per hour looking for wildlife, birds and wildflowers. When I was a kid, I got to do that with my dad, when he was driving over the ranches checking on everything. To really see what is beside the road, maybe behind a bush, you have to drive very slowly to have time to stop without having to back up. My daughter, Karen Duban, is with me and we are in Big Bend National Park. We are on the road to Castolon on the western side of the park. It is about twenty three miles from the main park road down to the Castolon which is on the Rio Grande River.

On our left are the majestic bluffs and peaks of the western wall of the Chisos Mountains. Way off down to the south are the dim purple colored mountains in Old Mexico. The road winds around following the low points among the hills, slopes and ravines in this desert country. We have the windows down to hear the birds doing their early morning singing.

We are looking for prickly pear cactus that is flowering to photograph. Slowly we drive along in the breathtaking scenery. We can see for miles in every direction. The sky above is a crystal clear blue. I can’t help but think that we are looking at the same scenery that countless Comanche Indian warriors looked at on their annual raiding trips down into Old Mexico. The road we are driving slowly along follows their old trail.

For countless generations, each year, in late summer, the young boys and men in the Comanche bands roaming the high plains of what is now southern Kansas, western Oklahoma, eastern Colorado and New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle would start making plans to go south to raid in Old Mexico to kill people, take their scalps, steal their horses and to capture their children. It was their chance to get rich and to be famous. They could return with many horses and captives. With their stolen horses for trade, they could then buy girls for wives and the captive children could be sold as slaves.

The Comanche boys had been training for this great adventure since they could walk as a baby. They had become perhaps the best horsemen the world has ever known. What they could do on a horse is hard to believe. In Scott Zesch’s book, The Captured, he tells the story of a German boy, named Herman Lehmann, captured by the Comanche Indians and trained by them to be a warrior and was later returned to his family. Later in his life he would entertain rodeo audiences in the Texas Hill country in the 1920’s. What he would do to demonstrate what the Comanche warriors could do was to jump on his grey horse at a rodeo, riding without a saddle or a bridle, chase a calf and get it running as fast as it could by shooting arrows at its hind hooves, then when the calf and his horse were running as fast as they could go, he would kill the calf with an arrow, jump off of his horse, rip the calf open with his knife and cut out the liver and eat it raw in front of the stunned and very quite crowd.

By the time those Comanche warriors got to where Karen and I were driving slowly down the road, they had traveled for two months and were now within a days ride from Mexico. They had traveled the six or seven hundred miles from up on the high plains living off the land.

Suddenly Karen said “Look Daddy, there is a cactus bush full of flower blooms!” waking me from my daydreaming of watching a band of Comanche warriors riding down the trail beside our SUV.

Brought back to reality, I get out with Karen and we take photographs of the beautiful flowers nestled in among the jungle of thorns. I looked them up in my new Texas wildflower reference book, and it says they are Engelmann’s Prickly Pear flowers.

I have lived most of my life near prickly pear cactus plants and I have seen countless flowers on them, but I never really looked closely at them until I wanted to paint them. In studying them up close, I am simply humbled by their beauty. I hope that I can portray in this watercolor painting that beauty for you to enjoy also.