Monthly Archives: November 2009

Round Pen at Sunset

Round Pen at Sunset, Photograph by J. Matthews

The round pen is an ages-old schoolroom for horses.  I have not trained my horses for a few weeks, but have let them out to graze and play.  Soon, two horses, Fanny the yearling and Shiney the colt, will have a lesson in the round pen.  Of gentle horsemen, see the link to Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer, that I have provided.  Not only does Monty train by “joining up” with the horse, but also has taught his method throughout the world to trainers, including professionals for the Queen of England’s stables.  When horses come to Flying Hat, Monty’s method of training is applied, haply and without violence.  We are all the better for it, man and horse.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Horses

Quail in the Texas Panhandle


Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph

In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail.  My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them.   My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.

I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground.  The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed.  It was only three blocks away.

I purchased  fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies.  I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country.  Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens.   A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile.  Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is  “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark.  The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy).  Tail short, dark.”

[Peterson, Roger Tory.  A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1969.  See pp. 86-91.]

The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service.  I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes  in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas.   At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”

Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed.   Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together.  It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.

One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood.  The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block.  Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?

I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely.  Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail.  The quail needed the space.

South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.

My life in the country began.

Leave a comment

Filed under Birds, Dogs, Recollections 1966-1990

Fog in Sims Valley

Grove and Fog, November 10, 2009, Flying Hat Horses, Texas
Photo by J. Matthews
Early Feeding in Fog, November 10, 2009, Flying Hat Horses, Texas
Photo by J. Matthews
November mornings in central West Texas bring surprises.  Yesterday, fog dropped down and obscured the distant hills and Cross Timbers Mountains from the back terrace of our ranch house.  We live in Sims Valley, about four miles south of Interstate 20, between Abilene and Fort Worth.  The road that goes into the grove in the photograph, “Early Feeding in Fog,” is one of several dirt roads used in the nineteenth century between Stephenville and Thurber, a coal mining town that supplied fuel for the railroads.  When a north wind blows, we can hear the locomotives whistling as they speed through Strawn, Mingus, and Gordon, three small villages north of Interstate 20.
The horses, Shiners Fannin Peppy and Stars Bars Moore, eat some alfalfa I have put in their tub.  This morning, November 11, the fog was so thick I could hear the horses nicker, but could not see them in the arena.  The fog lifted by 10:00 a.m.
[Annotation:  because I have the flu, I stayed home yesterday and today.  I put on my field jacket and hat to feed, quickly returning to the house to get the camera and take the photographs.  I am feeling better this evening and can probably go to work at half-speed tomorrow.  Besides, I need to see if the ducks are still quacking on the Baird Hill Pond, close to Abilene.  We have to get our priorities straight, don’t we?]

1 Comment

Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Horses

Flying Hats Over Gorman Falls, Texas

Photo Courtesy of Colorado Bend State Park

This is a narrative of how my ranchito in Texas is called, “The Flying Hat,” and of special places on earth that evoke attachment and meaning in an ineffable way, be it Gorman Falls or Estes Park or Truchas Peaks.

Gorman Falls is located in San Saba County, along the Colorado River, downstream from Bend, Texas, and above Lake Buchanan.  Since 1984, Gorman Falls has been managed, fortunately, by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. An artesian spring, ejecting about three-hundred gallons a minute, provide hand-cramping cold water for the falls.

When wading in the water, legs cramp from the cold.  Water cress grows naturally along the stream.

The spring is about one-quarter of a mile up from the falls.  The sound of the waterfall is loud, a low roar, back down by the cliffs, as you walk under a canopy of sycamores, cottonwoods, and pecan trees that give shade,  plunging the ambient temperature ten degrees or more.  The temperature change is so vivid, it is like opening the refrigerator in the house after working outside in the heat.  It is no wonder that the Comanche, the working cowboys of the Gorman and Lemons Ranches, planned their day to be close to the falls when toil eased at mid-day or stopped in the evening, so that the cool air and artesian water might ease their muscles or give good medicine to the tribe.

I know of these things, maybe not the Comanche camp, by listening to my grandmother who tended the chuck wagon for her husband who managed cattle for the ranches.  My grandmother, Effie, took me to the falls many times, always pointing out on the downhill slope to Gorman Falls, “That’s where we camped and set up the wagon, built a fire right there.”  And, I would look and see bleached rocks and junipers, a clearing in the trees, and, yes, the remnants of a fire, her fire, many layers below.  I thought of the cowboys who herded cattle, sitting down and eating beans, cornbread, and beef that my grandmother cooked.  She was not that tough of a woman, of a person, to fix grub on the ranches, but she did.  She followed my grandfather because she loved him and would cook for him and his pardners, as they tended cattle in the blazing hot, anvil-hard earth, Texas sun.  Gorman Falls, with its cool, artesian water, was Beulah land, paradise, relief beyond belief, for them, for me.

I have camped many times under the sycamores at Gorman Falls, but the time I remember the most was in 1951, when my grandmother, Effie; my stepfather, J. W. Hollingshead; and my mother, Gywn, drove to the falls for a picnic.  I was nine-years-old.  My step-father, J.W., had an old gray, felt hat that was soiled and very, very ugly.  My grandmother had teased him for months to get a new hat and throw his old hat away.  As the four of us chatted under the shade of the trees and cool air along the stream, my grandmother proposed to my stepfather that if he would throw his old hat over the waterfall cliffs, she would throw her bonnet over the falls after his hat.  But, J. W. throws first.  It was an ugly hat.

Smiling so broadly, my stepfather walked to the edge of the falls and threw his hat over the cliff, the wind and mists of the water catching it, holding it, and then settling onto the trees below, never to be seen again.  And, with that, my grandmother, grinning and chuckling softly, walked to the edge of the falls, unpinned the hat from her hair, and threw her hat, a yellow, broad-brimmed hat trimmed in wide black ribbons, into the air and it, too, settled with the mists of the falls onto the trees below.  The hats flew, suspended, they flew.

We all laughed and I, to myself, admired my grandmother for creating an event that took us beyond our scarce resources as a family, the jobs under good, but insensitive bosses, to a place that transcended our daily duty, our toil.  Yes, I laughed, too, but I was a witness, a boy looking at his gods, knowing something, but not understanding everything they did.

Time is fleeting.  I grew.  They worked.  They played, they loved.  They went away.  My grandmother passed in May 1965, my stepfather in December 2002, and my mother in April 2003.

In November 2003, I purchased land near Mingus, Texas, from the inheritance of my family.  I named the place, The Flying Hat.  That would be the best name, a time when all four of us were laughing:  my grandmother, stepfather, mother, and me, beside hand-cramping artesian water, under sycamore trees, as flying hats settle onto trees below.  These days, my granddaughter and I deliberately throw our hats off the terrace of our ranch house to amuse ourselves, but we know, deep down, the flying hats over Gorman Falls, Texas, flew first.



Portions of this post first appeared on The Flying Hat Horses website, several months ago.  The “About Us” page on the website is currently being revised.  The Colorado Bend State Park has infrequent field trips to the falls.  The Colorado Bend State Park, however, is open to campers and fishermen.

I visited Gorman Falls with my grandmother and relatives when it was under the supervision of the Lemons and Gorman Ranches (I’m not sure which ranch). Being privately owned, it lacked meticulous cleanups, having certain debris trails along the Colorado River bank and artesian stream. Despite that, the greenery around the stream was composed of ferns, some native.  I would like to go back and type the plants, especially the water cress, since my grandmother fixed a salad one time beside the stream by harvesting the cress.  I stated in the post that the temperature would fall ten degrees.  I have not taken the ambient temperature under the the canopy of trees, and I will correct my post if I have more data.

The fifty-three acres I purchased was with the inheritance I received from Effie, J.W., and Gywn, so I thought it proper to pay some respect by the naming, Flying Hat.  This fifty-three acres in Erath County is combined with thirty-five acres I share with my cousins in Mills County for a total of eighty-eight acres.  Living with eighty-eight acres is a soothing and fiery experience.  John Wesley Powell, in the nineteenth century, wrote that in the West a ranch should be comprised of at least 2,560 acres, so as to sustain a profitable operation.  Today, a lot of us in the southwest, have much less than 2,560 acres (four sections, English township nomenclature), but we have jobs to supplement our income and a passion to live with the land.  My grandfather, J.W., who helped manage the Gorman and Lemons Ranches, worked at times for the Santa Fe Railroad, to supplement his income and to save some for his own ranch.

1 Comment

Filed under Colony Road

Taos is Calling

I visited Taos countless times in the 1970s. I lived in Amarillo, Texas, and by leaving Interstate 40 at Tucumcari, traveling north on state highways, I could be in Taos in six, six-and-a-half hours.

Taos and its people offered me a chance, on two occasions, to move and reside in the high desert country.  I regretfully declined the offers, but I think back everyday of an non-lived lineament of my life.

The first offer came from Jim and Voyce Durling-Jones who had land and a home out near the Three Sisters Peaks, in the old Carson, New Mexico, area.  At the time, they managed the Sagebrush Inn and built their adobe home near Three Sisters.  They offered me a parcel of their land to build a bunkhouse or cabin near their place.  Jim was also a metal worker, a sculptor, and Voyce, an artist.  I declined because I couldn’t afford to build a casita and I did not have the equity to borrow.

The second offer I had came from a Taos Indian woman who asked me to marry her.  I had met her cousin, Leroy, and he had taken me, the Indian woman, and her brother up on the road behind the pueblo that goes up the mountain in the direction of Blue Lake.  About a third of the way up the mountain, we stopped, got out the chuckbox and ate lunch under the aspens.  We had lunch meat, onions, tomatoes, and peaches along with Coca-Cola and water.  I got out the guitar and played and sang a few songs.  It was good and happy time.  Leroy, I remember, took a bite out of the onion as if it was an apple.  It never occurred to me that here was this white face up in the mountains with three Indians.  I drove them up to the lunch in my Volkswagen, a dark blue “bug” with a sun roof.

When we finished lunch, we loafed awhile and chatted, then I drove into town with the Indians.  They showed me a back road that went by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s house.  As I drove, the Taos woman looked at me (she was sitting in the front passenger seat), and with a broad wave of her arm, sweeping the Taos reservation, the mountains and the desert, she said, “Jack, all of this can be yours, too, if you will marry me.”

In all seriousness, she proposed.  I thought it a rather quick courtship.  Her name was _____.  I replied that I was already committed to a woman back in Texas and I could not break my promise, but that I would always remember her proposal, the sweep of her arms across Indian land, and that day we lunched under the aspens.  Her brother and Leroy in the back seat, said, almost in unison, “Yeeehaaay, Yeay!”  She was not shamed by my rejection and I was honored.  And, her male relatives were not displeased.  We spent another hour or so together and I took them back to the pueblo and let them out near their home, close to the old graveyard and church.  I’m not sure she was serious, but neither did she laugh when she proposed.  I know I would have had to sustain a courtship with her for it to be respectful.  I never saw her or Leroy again, and, I’ve often wondered what became of her.

So, twice, Taos has called, and twice I have declined.  If it calls me again, I will submit, and move with livestock and family to a beautiful, open, soaring, and inspiring place that has beauty above it, beauty below it, and beauty all around it: Taos.


Filed under Taos

Baird Hill Ducks and Mount Kilimanjaro

[I wrote this post on November 3, 2009.  I have been writing about the Baird Hill Pond lately and decided to bring this forward to the front page and make it public.]

This morning at about 7:15 a.m. CST, I spied a flock of ducks on the Baird Hill Pond.  This is my first trip by the pond since last Thursday (no ducks then) and with daylight savings time over, the dawn’s light illuminated the pond.  From my pickup, I saw a flock of about fifteen ducks, paddling in the middle of the pond.  Their presence shows that the pond sustains life.  Whether or not the pond gains additional flocks remains to be seen, but the pond may be reconstructing itself.

Mt. Kilimanjaro snow cap is melting fast.  Whether this is the result of global warming is unknown, but suspected.  Arctic Ocean is opening up, Antarctica’s ice shelves are breaking up, and second homes (MacMansions) disturb the Taos Indian annual rabbit hunt.  Baird Hill pond is losing its vegetation, but ducks are there today.  How many more canaries have to die before we stop the misuse of our resources?

New York Times article on Mt. Kilimanjaro



Photo by Stephen Morrison on European Pressphoto Agency, as cited in The New York Times link above.

I think it was Borges that wrote once that a dead jaguar was found way up the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, beyond his or her range by several thousand feet.  Why?  What so possessed the jaguar to seek the mountain, going beyond what was familiar?  Borges or whomever it was wrote a short explication of their theory.  I have mine and I shall post about it one day.


Filed under Ducks, Life Out of Balance