Monthly Archives: August 2010

Radio Days of Yore with Sgt. Preston

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon with his faithful dog, Yukon King. Rex, his horse Sgt. Preston rode during the summer, is not pictured. Neither is Pierre, his French Canadian friend.

I ran, trudged or bicycled home from Coggin Ward in the late 1940s and early 1950s, opening the door and running into my room to listen to fifteen-minute episodes, then thirty minutes of action in the 50s, on radio station KBWD, Brownwood, Texas, of the adventures of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon with his husky dog, Yukon King.  “On King!  On you, huskies!”

I had a radio, my own radio to hear Sgt. Preston’s daring does.  I had been reared in a small trailer house, then a pier-and-beam house, with my mother and grandmother and the Philco 41-245T Tropic radio that glowed a soft-golden light across its frequency panel, emitting sounds with basso edge.  Yes, it was golden.  That Tropic radio stayed with my grandmother, but I had a small Philco to link me symbiotically to A.M. airwaves,  theatrically setting the stage for desperadoes and their inevitable capture by Sgt. Preston.  I pedaled like crazy to get home on the day Sgt. Preston came alive.

I look back now on Sgt. Preston and know that the setting in the Canadian outdoors, along with my dreams of becoming a bush pilot in Canada and Alaska, engendered a deeper attraction to earth, trees, wild things blowing in the wind.  I never bought the comic books of Sgt. Preston as you see in the photograph.  I had the animation of sound, produced by corporations and hosted by Quaker Oats!  Preston’s voice, Yukon King’s bark, Rex’s nickering, evil doer’s cackle and the sound of wind in the trees replaced comic books.  Comic books?  Who needed comic books when Sgt. Preston was on the air, in the air and I could, with hundreds of thousands of other kids, hear his sled glide through snow?  Crunching footfalls, trees cracking and rivers roar.  All there, on the radio.

My radio days of yore included other programs.  I went to sleep a thousand times with the radio on, the music fadin’ in and fadin’ out, the Jack Benny Show, Lucky Strike Hit Parade and the Louisiana Hayride.  But, Sgt. Preston and Yukon King remained my boyhood favorite.  The other shows were mainly the selections of my grandmother and mother.

I know now — perhaps as a boy, who can say? — that the cold, wild travels with a dog in the woods took me away from hot and arid Texas.  Oh, yes, I liked the uniforms, who doesn’t?  Snappy red, yellow-striped trousers, high-top boots.  The uniform was trivial and I could only imagine it from other sources.  On the radio, impressively, Sgt. Preston talked to his dog.  His dog communicated with him.  They conversed in a cold, wild woodland context, faraway, but not alien to me.

When the snow comes to Flying Hat Ranch, I go outside and I work, I play.  My horses prance.  I take their photographs — remember Star, the levitating horse? I secure chains to the pickup and glide through snow to Santa Fe and the Jemez, never doubting my survival for I have been snowbound and trapped on the Jemez Mountains at night and have spent a three-below night in my car at Taos.  Sgt. Preston chased criminals, found them and concluded his program by saying to his dog:  Well, King, this case is closed.

My travel in cold, wild, woodlands is not a chase.  It’s a journey between two places whose starting and ending points change.  I prefer to glide where it’s cold and wild and forested, wind blowing conifers, the sky cloudy or blue.  At the close of the day, like those radio days of yore with Sgt. Preston and Yukon King, I shall build fire, embrace my companions and turn on the radio, seeking that signal, that program, that lets me fall asleep.

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Notes:

My cousin, Sam Gray, wrote on Facebook in response to this post that, ” When the radio shows were in their last days you could only get them on Sunday nights, and my mother made me go to church instead. Broke my heart!”

Philco Model 41-245T for 1941 (T for tropic), introduced June 1940, 7 tubes, electronic push button, 3-band reception (540-1550 kc, 2-7 mc, 9-12 mc), original price $39.95, 22,566 made.

This is the identical model of radio that we had when I was a child.

The photograph and description of  purchase by a antique radio collector is found on TubeRadioLand.

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A quick post to readers and subscribers

This week I have been setting up classes, face-to-face and online, for two campuses.

I’ve not been able to post for Sage to Meadow.  I shall shortly.

More about my schedule and events later.

I’ve been working on my instructional website Chez Tejas Thinkery.

Life slightly out of balance.  You know the feeling.

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Our Taos Blue Door

On my first visit to Taos Pueblo in 1967, blue doors and window frames reflected color brilliantly against adobe walls.  Still do.  Never outlandish in my opinion, the blue gave an even more mysterious quality to the north and south pueblo complexes.  I read that the Taos blue or Taos green, as it might also be designated, prevented evil and witchcraft from entering the dwelling.  The color surrounded the window or door frame with a protective halo.  It was also a beautiful color by itself, the security notwithstanding.

Blue Front Door, Flying Hat Ranch

When we decided to paint our gray doors, we looked up photographs in our books of the Taos blue and green, settling on the color you see in these photographs.  Brenda painted all three of our doors.  We got the paint from Sherwin Williams in Weatherford, Texas.  She took in a swatch that she had compared with photos in Christine Mather and Sharon Woods, Santa Fe Style, p. 25, lower right-hand photograph.  Sherwin Williams designated the color, Turquish, No. 6939.  She bought a gallon, using a third of the gallon to paint the doors twice.  I am trying to get her to paint the tack room door of the barn.  Course, there are no evil spirits down there.  Not with the horses chasing away bad dreams.

Close up of Taos Blue front door of Flying Hat Ranch house

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Notes:

Christine Mather and Sharon Woods, Santa Fe Style, New York: Rizzoli, 1986.

Red Door at Taos, Courtesy Gary Thompson, Photographer

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Emergent Rushes on Baird Hill Pond?

I drove by the Baird Hill Pond on the way to work this morning in Abilene, Texas.  My habit pattern for eleven years has been to look closely at the pond’s condition and waterfowl that may be browsing.  The pond in the last two years has been devastated with unknown toxic runoff.

This morning, however, I think I noticed emerging rushes along the pond’s edges!  The water has appeared clear and a healthy-dark blue recently, so my first observation about new growth of rushes may be validated.  The pond is along Interstate 20 as you ascend the hill westward to Baird, Texas.  I shan’t get too excited until the sprouts I see emerge farther.

No access road beside the pond allows me to stop my pickup and look closer.  I will have to park about 200 yards away to take photographs from the barrier wall.

We shall see what we shall see.

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Nuzzles and Campus

Horses on Bianditz mountain, in Navarre, Spain...

Horses on Bianditz mountain, in Navarre, Spain. Behind them Aiako mountains can be seen.

My summer has ended.  Although the season does not astronomically change until September 21st, my summer is over.  I will feed the horses in an hour or so, then drive the interstate highway to campus, officially beginning the Fall semester.

Our summer has been dark and bright, jagged and smooth.  Broomweed has been shredded, horses husbanded and a vacation to the high country taken.  Brenda painted our doors Taos blue and green, symbolizing a color that repels the ills of the cosmos.  But they also look beautiful.

Here is one of my favorite pictures that I will carry with me as I return to campus.

Shiners Fannin Peppy "Fanny" Nuzzling Jack

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Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Horses, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny)

Four Standing Orders for a Texas Ranch

As written in a previous post, if we had to wait for cooler weather in Texas to get anything done, we’d never get anything done.  For our operations here on the ranch, we have four standing orders that must be accomplished everyday.

The First Order is feed the horses twice a day, once in the morning between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. and in the late afternoon between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.  During the summer, I watch the shadows lengthen at five o’clock in the afternoon from the mesquite and live oak trees surrounding the corrals and barn, a signal to feed.  Although the temperatures are high, the shadows present a significant measure of relief.  In the open sun, the temperatures have reached 115 deg. F. this summer.

The Second Order is to fill three water troughs in the two corrals and stable.  Horses consume water in large quantities.  We are dependent on Barton Creek Water Cooperative for potable water at the house and at the barn.  We have a large stock tank in the front pasture and in Pecan Tree Pasture, a half-mile away and across Salt Creek, there is a large circular water trough filled with Barton Creek Coop water.  All water troughs must be at least one-quarter full.

The Third Order is to physically check the health of all the horses, from head to tail, hoof to withers, and apply medicine or fly spray (marigold tincture, not oily, water-based) to los caballos. Horses are bound, like toddlers, to get cuts and scrapes, sometimes worse.

Fourth Order is to check fences where the horses are turned out.  This may be done on horseback, in the pickup or using binoculars.

When we run a herd of cattle, these four orders apply to their pastures and browsing areas.  In addition, certain Niman Ranch protocols (c) must be followed if the cattle are certified Niman Ranch.

Feed, water, check the health of the livestock and fences dictate four chores that must be accomplished, summer or winter.

* * *

The front pasture has been shredded of its broomweed.  I leave large swatches of tall grass for the critters.  Perhaps one day quail may come back.  I’ve only seen one covey here at the ranch in eight years.  They will nest in tall grass, dead grass.  To completely shred a pasture destroys that cover.

* * *

Summer Pasture Flying Hat Ranch, August 2010

Several days ago I posted “Cactus Illusion,” a momentary scare that our oldest mare, Lilly, had become entangled in the fence at the area she loafs, next to the Hall place on the east side of the arena pasture.  I have some photographs of that area.

As explained in the post, I was a quarter-of-a-mile away, using the binoculars to examine the fence line and check on the horses at mid-day when I thought I saw Lilly down and entangled.  The sun and my crisis mode at the time played a trick on my behavior as Brenda and I sped to the area to rescue Lilly.  She was just fine, loafing in the grove area underneath a live oak tree.  We were terribly relieved that it was a cactus illusion.

Getting adapted to working Texas summertime heat requires thinking ahead more than usual.  By and large, work should be done before 10:30 a.m. so that the work during the heat of the day can be accomplished in the shade or in a barn with good circulation.  Large circular fans, 10 to 15 feet in diameter can be installed at the top of a barn or enclosed arena.  We don’t have those fans, but we work on the breezy porch or in the alleyway of the stables.  I use misters in the stables.

Take a lesson from livestock during the summer.  Rest and loaf in the shade during the heat of the day.  Browse in the early morning, evening and night.

Paint Horse Lilly's Loafing Area, Cactus Illusion

Lilly's Mane Hair at Loafing Station, August 2010

Ima Lil Moore "Lilly" browsing early in the morning (8:30 a.m.) before going to her loafing area along the fence line.

For Lilly’s pedigree and other photos, click on Ima Lil Moore APHA 111214.

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Notes:

The Niman Ranch protocols may be found under the link for our ranch: Niman Ranch Beef Cattle protocol.

The Niman Ranch website. Here you may find a list of ranches specializing in the protocol as well as sources to purchase the high-quality meat.

We have not had a cattle herd since 2009.  We specialize in Angus cattle.

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Ivanpah is Us

The Ivanpah Valley in Nevada and California is us.  I mean you and me:  us.

A corporation wants to bulldoze the valley and construct solar energy complexes to provide California with a “green” source of energy: solar energy.

The valley, dry as it is, is not dry, but holds the habitat of tortoise, kangaroo rat, lizards and sidewinders (beautiful dancing snakes, but be careful).

These creatures will be displaced.  There is slated to be a relocation of these sentient beings by biologists when the permits are granted.  There will be a digging up of tortoises from their burrows and they will be relocated elsewhere!  Within a year, one-half of those tortoises relocated will die.

This sounds a lot like displacing human populations in the Nineteenth Century.  Do you remember reservations?  Moving hunting grounds for gold and silver?  Say, the American Indian?

Ah, that’s history, that’s the Mojave Desert, fit for nothing, build Solar Complexes!  On with it!

Who speaks for the tortoise, the cholla, the lizard?  I do.  Chris Clarke does and hundreds of thousands of citizens that want not only the solar complex at Ivanpah terminated, but also want our over consumption and greed-lined behavior to come to an end.  The tortoise waves its head and seeks a friend.  A mate.  That will come to and end if this project continues.

The Ivanpah is us.  If we allow corporations and the government to use bulldozers upon that sacred land, then it is us that the bulldozers grind.  The Ivanpah is us.

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Last Summer at Ivanpah by Chris Clarke

[Posted by Chris Clarke on August 10, 2010.  Chris Clarke’s Blog is Coyote Crossing: Writing and Photography from the Mojave Desert. This post is reprinted with Chris Clarke’s permission.  I find this composition about Ivanpah Valley to be revelatory from several angles: the pressure to gain new sources of energy erases natural habitats, the failure of citizens to stop the project because of organizational weakness, the retreat of Sierra Club from responsibility because of trade-offs and the force of building new power stations for an over-consumption society.  Government should stop this project. Who speaks for the tortoise? The cholla?  The Hopi have said that life is out of balance.  They try to correct the balance with rituals and dancing.  Life is out of balance when our power needs obliterate the habitat of living things.  Chris Clarke speaks for the wild lands and its plants and creatures just as the Hopi drumbeat seeks to realign the balance.]

Hopi Labyrinth Pictograph

Ivanpah Valley Site of Proposed Solar Power Grid

Ancient desert slated for destruction. Laura Cunningham photo.

There is a story that has haunted me since I first heard it, and it comes to mind often these days. It was in the early 1960s, and the Sierra Club — playing politics in order to save one landscape deemed more important than others — had agreed not to oppose a gigantic dam on the Colorado river upstream from the Grand Canyon. Not long after that deal was struck, author Wallace Stegner suggested to the Sierra Club’s director, David Brower, that the Club had acted in haste. Stegner invited Brower to visit the place the Club had written off as unworthy of protection. Brower did. He was horrified at what he’d done. When I met Dave some three and a half decades later, he was still upset over his failure to protect Glen Canyon from the dam builders.

I’ve often wondered, especially after getting to know Dave a little, what that float trip must have been like for him: to see the cathedrals, the fern seeps dotted with crimson Epilobium, the tortuous slot side canyons and sublime riffles; to know it would all soon be destroyed; to be wracked with knowing that he might have been able to save the place had he more vigorously opposed the plans to destroy it. I’ve thought of that trip, taken back when I was a small child, and I’ve wondered how he must have felt during it.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will be heading to the Ivanpah Valley to find out.

On or around the 15th of September, the developers of the proposed Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System will be granted all the permits they need to proceed with building their nearly 4,000-acre project. As soon as the permits are in hand, the company’s “biologists” —  in much the same sense in which the guy spraying your house for termites is an “entomologist” — will walk the site methodically, shovels in hand, looking for burrows. They will dig up every single desert tortoise they find for relocation. About half of those tortoises will be dead in a year, if similar past projects are any indication. Other animals will be evicted as well: kangaroo rats, burrowing owls, desert woodrats and rattlesnakes, kit foxes, desert horned lizards and badgers. The job will be done in a hurry: legally, no tortoises can be “relocated” after October 15.

And then the bulldozers will come. They will come to rip out the hundred-year-old creosote bushes and thousand-year-old Mojave yucca clumps. They will come to scrape the desert pavement that has been protecting the land from erosion since the Ice Age. They will come to evict the pencil cholla and elegant lupine and the honey mesquite, to blade away almost all of the old-growth creosote desert — though they say they will leave a bit of open soil between the mirrors, a sop to those who’ve asked if they might not leave a few square feet of vegetation here and there as a compromise. That compromise will actually make things worse. Unprotected by desert pavement, those bits and pieces will scour away in the first good wind, will provide harbor to invasive red brome and Sahara mustard, whose seeds will then blow into the adjacent Mojave National Preserve.

When they’re finished, the developers will have installed 173,000 mirrors, each one seven by ten feet, over nearly six square miles of murdered old-growth desert. Those mirrors will focus desert sun on boilers atop three 469-foot towers — taller than the great Pyramid of Cheops. The towers won’t last anywhere near as long as the Pyramid: they have a projected lifespan of twenty or thirty years. But in that time they, along with the mirrors that surround them, will produce a white and hellish glare that even the agencies supporting the project admit will pose a serious hazard to drivers and aviators. The project will almost certainly disable sight-hunting raptors. Night lights on the towers will attract disoriented birds, who will collide with the structures and die.

This stake in the heart of the desert, this new gaping wound that will erode the integrity of the desert for many miles around, this industrial project that even its backers admit will cause serious, unmitigable damage to the environment, this project of an “alternative energy” corporation funded by Chevron and BP and Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs — this is renewable energy.

There is still a chance to save the site, still a chance that a large green group will sue over violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, and stall the project for a month until it’s too late to relocate the tortoises, which would mean no construction on the site before December 31, which would mean no Federal stimulus funding for the project, which— given the fact that this uneconomical project could not happen without massive subsidies — might kill it. It would certainly buy us more time. But such a lawsuit becomes less likely with each passing hour. The large green groups have turned their back on the Ivanpah Valley. The Sierra Club — eager to play Glen-Canyon-style politics forty years after those politics were forever discredited — refuses to oppose the project. Every single Sierra Club member I know who is personally familiar with the Ivanpah Valley steadfastly opposes the solar plant, but the Club has expressly silenced its own activists. The Sierra Club, and the National Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society, and a number of other prominent groups have decided to offer up the Ivanpah Valley as a token of their willingness to cooperate with the energy industry.

The mistake, of course, as has been amply demonstrated so many times, is that such dealing won’t buy the groups any influence.  Ivanpah Valley is merely the first domino to fall. One “acceptable” project after another will follow, on lands the Respectable Greens deem uninteresting: at Ocotillo, in the Amargosa Valley, at Bullard Wash and Palo Verde, in the Granite Mountains. Hundreds of thousands of acres will fall to the bulldozers, a mistake to dwarf the damming of Glen Canyon, and the damage will multiply, will blow off the sites of each project as plumes of dust.

Not long hence — as the projects go wrong, catch fire, break down, prove unprofitable and are abandoned, and as society turns to actual, practicable solutions to climate change — a new generation of people who care about whatever fragments remain of the desert will ask hard questions. They will ask why we did not stop these projects.

They will ask Carl Zichella and Carl Pope and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club: “Where were you when the wild lands needed you?”

They will ask Johanna Wald of NRDC: “What on Earth did you think you would accomplish by trading these places away?”

They will ask Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity: “What did you have to do instead that was more important?”

They will ask you, and they will ask me: “Why did you not throw yourselves on the gears and make this stop?”

I don’t have an answer for that last one.

I do remember a time when it seemed impossible the Berlin Wall would fall, when it would have been absurd to suggest Nelson Mandela might someday be president of South Africa, when it would have been unthinkable to suggest the United States would start to accept same-sex marriages. Change sometimes comes in an eyeblink; I have not yet given up hope. But our time is short.

Sometime soon, in the next couple of weeks, I will head out to the Ivanpah Valley for a night or two, to greet its tortoises and cactus wrens, to photograph its big red-spined barrel cacti, to hike among its cholla and creosote for what may be the last time. I will grieve that I did not do more to preserve the land there and I will be thankful for the opportunity to give it a voice, however ineffective a voice mine may have been. I will celebrate having met the place, a landscape far older and more precious than I can really grasp, at what may turn out to be the very end of its existence.

This never needed to happen.

[This post is a reprint of Chris Clarke’s composition on August 11, 2010.  See Coyote Crossing by Chris Clarke.]

Desert Tortoise at Ivanpah Valley

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Notes:

Permission obtained from Chris Clarke to reproduce his post on my blog, August 11, 2010, by e-mail.

The photograph of the Hopi labyrinth, desert tortoise and simulated solar array are my additions to his post.  The photograph of Ivanpah Valley is attributed to Chris Clarke’s post.

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Cactus Illusion II

Caralee Woods, Cacti Illusion, Fort Worth, Texas

Caralee Woods of Kanab, Utah, sent me a cactus illusion she had in her home at Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas, several years ago.  She writes,

Here’s another cactus illusion, one of my favorite photos.  It was taken in a hall that led from the kitchen to the garage in the Fort Worth house.  You will remember there was a series of three small square windows in which I put little pots of small cacti.  The sun would shine at a particular angle, making a shadow on the white opposite wall.

Caralee Woods and Jimmy Henley live in Kanab, Utah, and are building a strawbale compound.  You can visit their website Building Our Strawbale Home! Caralee was a regional book representative for Harper and Row before she retired.  Her husband, Jimmy Henley, was the undergraduate dean at Texas Christian University and taught sociology.  He was a grade school and high school friend of mine in Brownwood, Texas.

Their home at Eagle Mountain Lake near Fort Worth was featured in Architectural Digest [n. d.] before they sold it and moved to Kanab.  Their home was built with many of the lines and forms of the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth.

I used to house sit and take care of their companions (doggies and kitty cats) while they vacationed in the American Southwest.  I grew so attached to their companions that I regretted when they returned and I had to leave.

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Correction:

Caralee and Jimmy’s home was not featured in Architectural Digest, but in the local Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers.  See the comment section below.

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Cactus Illusion

We had a scare today.  At 11:30 a.m., I trained the binoculars on the pasture beyond the arena to check on Lilly and Star who were turned out today.

There is a special spot along side the fence and under a mesquite tree that Lilly likes to loaf, and when I looked at her favorite spot, it appeared that she was on her back, legs stuck along the posts of the fence and injured.  Maybe even comatose from stress and the heat.

I yelled at Brenda to put her boots on, “Pronto!”  She did and we climbed in the pickup and I quickly drove by the barn to get rope, halter and blankets.

We drove rapidly through the pasture gate and sped alongside the pond under the live oak trees.  Rounding the curve, Brenda said, “There she is, in the grove, under the live oak tree, standing up!  She’s not by the fence!”

Sure enough, Lilly loafed under a tree, head down, drowsy-like.

What I saw from the house was the reflection of the sun off a stand of prickly pear cactus.  The paddles of the cactus were long enough to appear as Lilly’s legs and the shine seemed like Lilly’s white coat.  I had looked carefully, but I had seen a crisis in the stand of cactus, not reality.

I was embarrassed at the panic, but what could I say?  “Sorry, Brenda, I didn’t mean to get you upset.”  She understood.

This heat is affecting my brain pan.  It’s okay, we have siestas, the horses are well-fed and cool under the trees and this is summer in west Texas.

Taking a cue from an Irish saying, “If we waited for the rain to stop, we’d never get anything done.”  Well, here in Texas, if we waited for it to cool off, we’d never get anything done.

But, I can do without cactus illusions.

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