The evening star hangs like a liquid ball of fire trembling above the canon’s rim in the amethyst summer sky. As the night deepens, it descends and goes on down and out of sight. The amphitheater lights fade into darkness. Far up on the rim of the high canyon wall at the rear a single trumpet sounds a call-The first two phrases of the old cowboy song, “Oh, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie”.
A halo of light comes on up there revealing a Texas Ranger seated on his horse with a lifted trumpet to his lips. The call is repeated, then the light dims down on him and his horse somewhat. The rattle of a drum begins as if under the very feet of the horse and comes down the canyon wall toward the audience in a growing avalanche of sound, building with the timpani until the whole amphitheater is enveloped in a thundering turmoil of musical tempest.
The tumult deluges the audience for a moment, then like a great ocean wave begins receding, passing backward and up the canyon side and diminishing as it goes, finally to merge itself into the ranger’s trumpet call again as the light brightens there. This time the call concludes with the last two phrases of the above song, with one repetition only. After an instant of pause, the light dies out from the ranger and his horse.
The above passage comes from the actual script of the musical drama TEXAS. What thoughts must have been running through Paul Greens mind as he contemplated the letter sent by Margaret Harper inviting him here. She had read the article about him in the July 1960 edition of the Readers’s Digest. After an evening shared with her husband Ples, and Margaret and William Moore, professors at WTAMU, they sent the note to invite Green to come to see what he thought about writing a play for Palo Duro Canyon.
Green responded quickly with excitement and to inform them of his expenses, but also asked if they could send him information about the area so he could begin to gather ideas of the struggles and joys of the panhandle settlers.
Of all the plans made from that day forward I am sure the hardest had to be with that first step. The Harpers and the Moores knew not only the Greek philosophers, and Shakespeare but George M. Cohan. They also knew and had read Loula Grace Erdman and J. Evetts Hayley as well as all the other local authors from here to Dallas. Phebe Warner and Laura Hamner, founders of the Panhandle Professional Writers, one of the oldest continuous writing groups in the nation, were established writers in their own right, and probably found their way into the mix.
How do you choose? How do you fathom? How can you condense buffalos, American Indians, faith, cattlemen, farmers, merchants, families, and everyone in between in one package? What do you think will be important in the thoughts of a man a thousand miles away as he begins to form the basis of the heritage and civilization of the panhandle of Texas? What will tell the true story of the ancient understanding of man versus man, man versus nature and man versus himself?
Paul Green was a Pulitzer Prize winning author with several shrine dramas under his belt. “The Common Glory” and, “The Lost Colony,” were just two of the many sagas he had helped bring to the stage. What was important to him as he began to form a picture in his mind of the canyons, the people, and the wind, the ever draining wind?
So many times as I sit down at my computer I am totally overwhelmed with what faces me. I am not afraid of the blank screen. I am petrified of the billions of words that will fill it up. There are so many stories and plots, people and struggles that share white space. How can I tame them down, and share their memories with the respect they truly deserve without getting mired in the rhetoric sure to follow.
There is no magic formula, no book on writing, no critique group that can cure this dilemma. The only relief is to write and read, and read and write again, and again, and then again, always tightening, cutting, adding, and deleting until the words make sense. And this is why we write.
I am sure Paul Green was faced with this insurmountable task when he received the package from Canyon Texas. He knew to fulfill his mission he had to do justice to the characters found within the pages of the mountain of materials from the post office. When he visited Palo Duro Canyon they say he jumped from rock to rock, always with pen in hand, to hear where the echo sounded the best off the canyon walls to complete his manuscript. I am sure he stopped to listen and to see if he could hear the sound of a thundering herd of buffalos, or the yip of a coyote, or the screech of an owl, or a whisper of the wings of a hawk or a field lark, or a mockingbird. No doubt he witnessed the majesty of our sunrises and sunsets painted by The Master himself.
Every year when I am sitting in the audience of the Pioneer Amphitheater and follow the music and hear the overture signaling the opening scene I am reminded of the words condensed and written in the actual script by Paul Greens own hand…”The rattle of a drum begins as if under the very feet of the horse and comes down the canyon wall toward the audience in a growing avalanche of sound, building with the timpani until the whole amphitheater is enveloped in a thundering turmoil of musical tempest.”
If only my words could talk like that!