Monthly Archives: January 2010

Beginning: The Bridge Spoke

Bend, Texas, in the early fifties….

Two miles away from Sand Cemetery, the Colorado River was host mainly to catfish, some fifty pounds in weight, yellow and blue.  A few ducks from time to time browsed along the banks where the current slowed.  I saw catfish, gar, perch, turtle, ducks and heron.  Blue heron rose off the river, awkwardly flapping to gain lift.  You cross your fingers every time they start up as heron may never make the air.  But they do.  They gain ten or fifteen feet, level off and then in slow wing beats glide above the river following its contours like a liquid highway.  They would turn at the bend of the river, nearly out of sight as I stood on the suspension bridge connecting San Saba and Lampasas counties above the Colorado River, watching the blue heron turn a gray color in the distance.

The suspension bridge sagged three feet as cattle trucks crossed, the weight of the trucks pushing a ripple of bridge planks in front of them, like an ocean wave.  I ran to the end of the bridge and slid down the embankment to see trucks pass, the wave rising and falling.  The bridge held strong for passengers, livestock and man, until it was torn down and replaced by a wider, concrete bridge that held no awe, little respect, and absolutely no history.  The old suspension bridge groaned and creaked when cattle trucks shifted gears to speed over the planks.  When trucks first crossed onto the suspension there was thunderclap.  The new bridge did not speak; it said nothing when built; it says nothing now.

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Beginning: Bend Ford

Jack F. Matthews, Sr., Winter 1941-42, Texas

As posted in “Beginning: Red Ants,” there is first a setting out, a beginning of all things.  Nations and tribes record their origins and seed their narratives with great events and heroes.  Beginnings do not stop with national revolution or constitutions, but are present in the family, the circle of kin.  Not stopping there, the setting out goes even farther down into each sentient, solitary being.  Corporeal narratives, we each are.

The beginning is that earliest moment of consciousness, not self-consciousness because that comes later under the mesquite tree in Texas when the wind blows (at least for me, it was).  It may be a song, a face, an automobile, truly anything under the sky that sticks first in the mind, imprinting a memory.  At that moment the setting out begins and does not end till death.  It may never be written, never told; but it is embedded in the flesh.

Mother’s setting out, she tells me, was when she and her father, Jake, were crossing the Bend Ford on the Colorado River near her Uncle Nathan’s home on horseback, riding double, when the horse slipped and fell on her.  The river bottom, only one or two feet below the surface at the ford, is solid granite like the face of Round Rock near Fredericksburg, Texas, and mother, Jake, and horse entangled, thrashing in water.  Her leg broke and they sent for Dr. Doss who set the leg as her father fashioned a small crutch for his two-year old to walk.  The river became a constant theme in her life: the flood, the boundary, the swimming.  Gywn crossed the river at Bend Ford many times after the fall, but the accident was her setting out, with horse and water above her and a father to save her.

My cousin and I were sitting on the ground outside the one-room trailer house on Austin Avenue in Brownwood, Texas, looking down at a clock.  The year was either 1943 or 1944.  The bedside clock was a throwaway timepiece, the face removed, the case gone, but the wheels and spring intact.  In our play, the clock had been wound tight, the wing nuts stuck in the ground.  The alarm went off and the clock spun around and around.  My cousin and I gazed as only children can, intently focused on the exposed wheels and clock turning in the dirt.  Wheels clicked within wheels turning.  I looked away from the spinning clock and saw green bamboo stalks beside the trailer.  I looked down, my cousin stared at the spinning clock until it stopped, turned again, then finally stopped.  She looked at me.  We giggled.  My beginning was an old clock stuck in dirt, spinning round.

Two-and-a-half miles away from the spinning clock and trailer house, Camp Bowie trained soldiers for the war.  My father, Jack Matthews, had left the camp, left us, and was jumping out of planes for extra money, urging Gywn to keep flying the Irish green.  He was parachuting with Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, destined for Europe and every major combat operation from Normandy to Berchestgarten.  The Band of Brothers, Easy Company.  Since Gywn and Jack had divorced shortly after the war, I knew few details about him.  I found a cache of letters in her things following her death and I did not open them until the summer of 2009.  When I found out he was a foot soldier in Easy Company, I ordered books overnight from Amazon.com and read his story, his name in print.

In Gywn’s cache of correspondence, I read the letters and documents dated until 1946.  There was a story beyond the narrative my mother had told me and its plot lines were different from what I had been told as a boy.  I stopped reading and put the letters back in the Bigso Boxes of Sweden I bought from Container Store to preserve them.  I have put them aside for now because there’s a story to be told.  An old, old story, along the banks of the Colorado River in Texas, before the spinning clock, before my beginning, but in the flesh of my family.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966

Hay, Rain, Fire

My horses were short of hay and I had to go to Stephenville today to purchase alfalfa and Bermuda.  I took a chance that it would not rain heavily and drench the eight bales that the feed store  stacked in the F-150.  Fortunately, it did not rain heavily and I returned after lunch with wet hay, but not soggy.

The rain has taken away the threat of grass fires.  I have seen prairie fires at night up on the ridge line towards Stephenville several years ago during the month of January.  That night I drove out in the pickup to check the fires.  Whirlwinds of fire looped like little devils through pastures.  The scene was hideous.  I hitched the trailers to our trucks and prepared to load livestock if the wind shifted in our direction.  The fires stayed south of us and did not move closer than five miles from our place.  I drove up with our stock trailer to see if I could assist my neighbors in Huckabay and Hannibal.   The next day after the fires had died out, I saw homes destroyed, livestock scattered, and smoke from large trees still burning.

I am glad for this day of rain and cool temperatures, wet hay or not.

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Beginning: Red Ants

There is first a setting out, a beginning of all things.  Among the Huron in America, a woman fell from from the sky, hurling toward water.  Two loons that were flying over the water saw her and placed themselves beneath her to cushion her fall, holding her above the water, and calling for other animals to help hold her up.  The cry of the loon can be heard a long distance.  Animals came, including the turtle, and helped her, building earth from the bottom of the sea.  Here in the Southwest, among the Navaho, human beings emerged from the earth as red ants and red ants are the ancestors of those that walk the earth today on solid ground.

I remember my Uncle Floyd on his ranch in Cherokee, Texas, taking poison to the large red ant hills in the corrals and alleyways of the cattle pens.  Some ants died, but most of them survived the attack and continued to bring small stones to their portal.  The red ants never stung him, nor me.  Uncle Floyd eventually gave up the task and let them be.  The Navaho and other tribes collect the stones at the ant pile and place them in gourds to make rattles.  Uncle Floyd, Aunt Lennie, and I would attend the Methodist Church in Cherokee, Texas, and hear the minister read Genesis on how God created the earth and gave dominion of its creatures to man in the beginning.

I never assisted in putting the poison on the ant hills.  The red ants always looked so harmless and when I held one in my hand, there was no stinging, just a waving of the antenna and a deliberate attempt to find a way off of my boyish hand.  Today here on Flying Hat, I let the red ants live and bring their little stones to their entry holes.  I wonder how they place themselves down in the ground and what chambers they retire to.  Their pathways are so well-traveled on the surface that they may be two inches wide, devoid of vegetation, and a hundred-yards in length.  In Pecan Tree pasture, the ants have a lot of food from the side-oats gramma Cody Scott and I planted five-years ago.  In the area cleared around the ant hills, I can see the tracks of deer.  The word, deer, is traced back to an Indo-European hypothetical word meaning,  to breathe.

On our place here in Texas, the ants emerge from the earth and a deer signifying breath stands above them on solid ground brought up by turtles in ancient times to save the woman that fell from the sky in the beginning.

Notes

For method, N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain.  For Huron, Elsa A. Nystrom, Primary Source Reader for World History, volume I: to 1500.  For Navaho, divers sources including Washington Matthews, his Smithsonian series on Navaho singing chants.  See also Frank Waters, Masked Gods.

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Kindred

My Kindred at Las Golondrinas July 2009

I write to put down thoughts, images.

I put it down to not lose it, but to save a fragment.

The fragment demands narration, almost imperious.

And, then there is you to hear it yes hear it.

A holy trinity of me, you and the imperious fragment.

My kindred.

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A Year in Ninety Seconds, Oslo, Norway

A really good piece.

A Year in Ninety Seconds, Oslo, Norway

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Greenery in a Texas Winter

Stable Greenery in a Texas Winter

Yesterday, January 17, 2010, the temperature was 70 degrees in central-west Texas.  A light breeze came from the south persisting into the early evening.  Down in the uncovered stables winter grass emerged about two inches high during the day.  Although winter wheat and rye give green to fields in a Texas winter, the winter grass in the stable seemed different, like a surprise gift from a friend.  Lilly the alpha mare saw the grass and grazed after eating her senior grain with supplements to ease her arthritis.  Forget April for the moment.  January is the cruelest month.

Old Lilly's Knees and Forearms Backside

This is the backside of Lilly’s knees and forearms and you can see her osteoarthritis.  She is twenty-five-years old.  Her date of birth is January 20, 1985.  Her full name is Ima Lil Moore and she is the companion and foal sitter to Shiney.  Despite her age, when it snows Lilly prances.

Shiney the Horse in Morning Sunshine

Shiney is a six-months-old colt.  He is a male, all-boy and quite different from a filly.  Lilly, his sitter and companion, will turn her backside to him and threaten a kick if he acts rambunctious towards her.  Oddly enough, pairing the oldest horse in the remuda with the youngest, Lilly and Shiney, has kept her young and made him old.

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