My first winters in Texas in the 1940s were in Brownwood, central Texas, but other winters fell upon me in Austin, Amarillo, and Mingus. Snowshoes and skies are not required in Texas, but gloves, long underwear, waterproof boots, field coat, and hood or toboggan cap are accouterments imperative to outdoor work or play. Chaps of wool aren’t optional, they don’t even exist this far south in the West. Wooly chaps would snag on brush and mesquite down here, spilling rider into the cactus and spooking the horse to bolt. If you insist upon wearing a hat, it must be felt and if it cold and windy, stampede strings are required to hold the hat in place although I have seen few strings in my lifetime. Usually, a hoodie is worn and a neckerchief is tied twice around the throat for warmth. The hoodie is hardly ever pulled up about the head. Too urban.
Most often these days the tending of cattle during a Texas winter is performed in a pickup, stopping to throw hay or chop ice from a trough. Mechanized feed bins on the back of flatbed pickups allow cattle cake or cubes to be dispersed without leaving the warmth of the cab.
This winter in the 2010s I must feed two horses in the stable area, then load hay and grain in the pickup and drive to the Well House corral to feed the other three horses. Before daylight in the morning, I shuttle the grain and hay into two feed bins without separating the horses. The horses sort themselves out, the alpha mare Sweet Hija makes the other two horses move aside as she chooses. I get out of the pickup with a flashlight and have the headlights beamed into the arena so that I can climb over the corral fence and chop ice. For the last five mornings I have taken the hatchet to the ice in the trough and chopped through two to five inches of ice. The water splashes up on my coat and glasses and freezes immediately. I become partially caked in ice and as I climb back over the corral fence, my gloves stick to the piping and I have to pull my hands away from the railing. I think of the movie Christmas Story and the boy whose tongue stuck to the flagpole. Nothing that serious here. Only gloves, not tongue.
I finish the chore of feeding horses before 6:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and drive around the Poprock Hill pasture, through the pasture gate and up the hill and out on the county road. Other days of the week I can feed later at daybreak, not in the dead of night. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have a lecture at 8:00 a.m. in Abilene and I must be at the bottom of Ranger Hill by 6:15 a.m. to keep with my schedule on Interstate 20.
I drive to Abilene, my gloves are drying out on the dashboard, I’ve unwrapped the bandanna from my throat, taken my toboggan cap off and have my coat hung behind me. The Ford F-150 cab is warm. I think my lecture to the first class will be….