Reflections from a slippery slope

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, January 19, 2013

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When my bride and I were newlyweds, we lived in Andrews – far West Texas, a stone’s throw from the end of the earth. The relentlessly flat terrain is covered with ocotillo, “shinoak” and creosote bushes, punched through with thousands of oil wells topped by big, rocking pumpjacks.

Bob Buckel

I had lived in West Texas all my life, and it held little fascination for me. But she had grown up in East Texas. Seeing that country through her fresh eyes opened mine to numerous unexplored delights, from Carlsbad Caverns to Big Bend.

We went with groups to a couple of attractions right there in Andrews County – a place called Shafter Lake, where at midnight on Halloween some sort of ghostly apparition was rumored to appear, and a well-maintained county park, where we ran into a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism who dressed, talked and sported about as if it were the Middle Ages.

I don’t remember much about the park, but I do remember the sword fights and the jousting tournament.

But our best outings were down toward the Big Bend area, where the topography and natural attractions got a lot more interesting.

We saw the Kermit Crater (also known as the Wink Sink, since it’s about midway between Kermit and Wink) and eyeballed a meteor crater near Odessa. Farther down, we stayed at Indian Lodge – a cool hotel built by the CCC during the Depression – and made it all the way to the Chisos Mountains, where we spent an incredibly cold night in a tent before hiking out the next morning through a herd of javelina.

We toured a vineyard and winery near Fort Stockton and crossed the Rio Grande at Boquillas del Carmen (passing up the burro ride). While a few teenage boys leaned against the wall twirling lariats, we ate lunch at the town’s only cafe (the menu, verbal: “Taco, burrito.” “Coke, beer.”) and then walked back across. It was lovely.

The most dramatic excursion was to the Monahans Sandhills, an isolated outcropping of dunes in the northern Chihuahuan desert. It was here that I decided to do something I’ve done only once: roll down a slope.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. We’d walked, slid, laughed, picnicked, taken pictures and had a great time. With the exuberance of a young husband still eager to impress his new wife, I got the idea to roll down from the top of a big dune. She was at the bottom and probably sounded a cautionary note, which I disregarded.

I’m reminded that many guys’ last words were, “Hey! Watch this!”

I lay down, tucked my arms close to my sides, and quickly became a rolling projectile. She said I was a blur. All I remember is that it felt like I was in a washing machine, on the spin-dry cycle.

When I finally stopped (after forever) I lay motionless for a long moment.

She thought I was dead.

I told her I was just trying not to fall off the face of the earth.

For years, politicians, preachers and others have thrown out the term “slippery slope” on a variety of subjects: gun control, gay marriage, spending, borrowing, raising taxes, cutting taxes, getting rid of nuclear weaons.

Usually the term is used in an alarmist way, to discourage people from doing whatever it is you don’t want them to do. The theory is that if you’re on a slippery slope, doing anything at all puts you in danger of doing too much, the whole thing gaining speed and momentum until it’s out of control.

I appreciate the kernel of truth in the “slippery slope” theory. I’ve seen little actions become avalanches. Believe me, it’s no fun to become a blur.

But “slippery slope” as an excuse for inaction, when action is desperately needed, is starting to wear me out.

It is possible to find a safe route down a slope – to switch back and forth, pick your way through the danger until you reach your goal. You can’t let slippery-slopers keep you from taking a chance, taking that first step. You can’t just stand, paralyzed, at the top, afraid to move.

Our country faces some slippery slopes right now. There’s a very real danger we could set some things in motion that we won’t be able to control, later on.

Great care is required, but not moving is not an option. It starts with a step.

Tuck and roll? Not a great idea.

Bob Buckel is the executive editor of the Wise County Messenger.

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