WE HAVE SEEN THE LIGHTS:
THE MARFA GHOST LIGHTS PHENOMENON
If you've heard of Marfa, you've probably heard of the Marfa Lights, which are sometimes called the Marfa Ghost Lights.
If you haven't heard of Marfa, let me fill you in on the basics. Named after a maid in a Dostoyevsky novel, it's a speck of a cow town in the middle of the sweep of Far West Texas, part of an area the Spanish called the Tierra Despoblada, and, later, somewhat frighteningly, the Apachería. Even today with the railroad and the highway, and the recently internationally famous art scene, not many people live in Marfa. But it seems almost everyone who does has seen and has a shiver-worthy story about the Marfa Lights.
When I first visited Marfa in the late 1990s, I made an arrow for the Marfa Lights viewing area, a pullout on the highway between Marfa and the neighboring town of Alpine. About 9 miles out of Marfa, it was just a parking area with, as I recall, a couple of sun-bleached picnic tables. There was an RV parked to one the side and standing on top of one of the picnic tables, a burly man in shorts and a T-shirt, his knees bent like a quarterback about to grab the football. There was no one else there.
It was still light out, though the sky had paled and beyond the expanse of Mitchell Flat, the mountains to the south, the Chinatis, loomed a dusky purple. I don't recall that man turning to look at me, but he must have heard my car pull up behind him, for as I opened the door, he pointed toward the mountains and began to shout: "OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. OH …. MY… GOD!"
As I set my shoe on the dirt, I saw that it was surrounded by a scattering of something silvery: quarters. I have found many a penny on the sidewalk, and few dimes over the years, but this was several dollars worth of quarters. I gathered them up.
"OH MY GOD!" The man was bellowing. "OH MY GOD!!!" I would have thought him barking mad except that, I too saw the lights and they were unlike anything I had ever seen. [...CONTINUE READING]
> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.
> Listen to the podcast
> Read the transcript of this podcast
> View Mitchell Flat from the Marfa Lights viewing station (No lights, alas)
"Marfa Mondays" continues... The latest podcast in the 24 podcast series is #20, an interview with Raymond Caballero about Mexican Revolutionary General Pascual Orozco and Far West Texas. (Number 21, on the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts is in-progress, and the topics for 22, 23 and 24 have been assigned to Sanderson, María of Agreda, and then, to conclude, back to Marfa.) Listen in any time to all the posted podcasts, plus, on this blog, the super crunchy Q & A with Paul Cool on his superb history of the El Paso Salt War, Salt Warriors. You can also find a batch of my reviews of books on Texas, the border, and Mexico here.
P.S. I'm teaching the one day only Literary Travel Writing workshop at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland on Saturday April 16, 2016.