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TEXAS only the armadillos are the same

By Christopher SwanStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 6, 1980



On the road in Texas

A chill lay on the land, giving no hint of the oppressive heat of the coming day. The grass smelled like newly washed corn. Two big old pheasants picked around on the front lawn. Across the pasture, a fine mist shimmered on the surface of the lake. And the car windows covered with dew.

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It was dawn on an East Texas farm.

All around streched the great "piney woods," tall trees covering the ground like coarse fur: a region of cool forest stillness, interrupted in clearings by intense searing heat. It is in just such a clearing that later in the day -- a 50-mile drive and a long hike through the woods away -- we found John Henry Niederhofer, a tall man in overalls, with limpid blue eyes and sun-browned skin, wearing a nail apron and a peaked cap, and complaining about the invasion of his rustic world. A big black-and-gold butterfly goes by, and Mr. Niederhofer's wife, a short, intelligent woman with thick calluses on her hands, is chopping wood in the sun-scorched clearing on their land. But he hardly notices woman or insect.

"I'm about to declare war on these hippies," he drawls, chomping determinedly on a nail. "We had one down here the other day, broke into my camp trailer and fished in my lake. Sheriff came up and arrested him for criminal trespass. He spent one night in jail, and then they set him loose. I think they were too easy with him."

Mr. Niederhofer, who watches the local papers for instances intrusions into local life, is also upset that the town fathers are "fixin" to condemn that ole nigra woman's place and take it away from her." Not upset because of any great passions for civil rights causes, but because he's sick and tired of what he sees as the land-grabbing, chamber-of-commerce mentality that is running the landscape here.

Standing on the edge of this clearing, so clearly demarking the forest stillness on one hand and the raw, over- turned earth on the other, Mr. Niedorhofer is also cutting edge of a culture in transition.

Texas -- with its glass and silver skylines, wide-open economy, promise of a leisurely life style, and some of the most gorgeous geography you ever saw -- is undergoing a physical and social transformation as it vies with other Sunbelt states to become the new, permanent residence of the American Dream.

here are signs that at least some Texans, like Mr. Niederhofer, think the ensuing influx of Northerners into their backyard is doing more harm than good. Witness the bumper stickers chiding interlopers to "Bring us your money -- you stay home"; and those that read, "Drive 90 m.p.h., -- freeze a Yankee." And there are also complaints that "Dallas is being run by outsiders," that the Texas life style is being destroyed by a combination of greed, ignorance, and a lust for land.

But many more think that this life is what you make of it, that the place is big enough and tough enough to absorb anything.

I went in search of the Texas life style, and the effect that mass migrations from the North might be having here, in a journey of 1,800 miles around the state by car. I might as well have gone in search of America, for all the incredible richness and diversity of the place, its undulating, spectacular land , and the endless variety of its people.

The Edwards Plateau, where I concentrated most of my traveling, is in the heart of Texas, running almost as far west as the Pecos, up to just beyong Fort Worth in the north, and down east and south to Austin and San Antonio. This massive geological uplift (it covers almost 86,000 square miles) is, I am told, like a giant plaster-of-Paris block that has been etched deeply by the source waters of the Colorado, Brazos, and Nueces rivers, into distinct regions, such as the Texas hill country.