Monthly Archives: November 2010

The other side of nature

The other side of nature. A rather intense blizzard, Christmas time, Texas High Plains, 2009.

We turn our heads, even raise our hand to eye so as to blind us to the other side of nature — fierce cold.

Winter storms force cattle to turn their backsides to the wind and drift — drift until warm temperatures encounter their travel.  But during the worst of blizzards, cattle bunch into box canyons, fences and fast-flowing streams that terminate their travel, even their lives.  The worst of western blizzards came in 1888, destroying like a monster from Hades the free range of the American West that never arose again.

The photograph inserted shows the blizzard of 2009 that stranded motorists and brought out the National Guard to the Texas High Plains.  Brenda and I drove through the storm.  Livestock perished, not like 1888, but many perished despite the efforts of cattlemen and helicopters dropping hay from the heavens, manna for cattle.  We put chains on the pickup in Roscoe and took them off in Slaton, slowly making our way to Lubbock, then Santa Fe.

I drive at least two times, sometimes four times a week, between Mingus, Texas, and Abilene, a journey of 87.2 miles from my ranch house to Cisco College.  As I travel, I see good and warm things, but I also see a tableau of death, regardless of cold Winter or warm Spring.  I do not write about the tooth and claw — only one post in a year have I written about the other side of nature — because it is most unpleasant and I have been taught by my family to look the other way, grit my teeth, bow my back and work on, carry on, even pick up sticks and rocks from the corral to forget and cover the other side of nature, raising a hand to the eye.

I was taught by my family to keep death and blood away, the least semblance of pain is to be endured against happiness and pleasure receding too quickly in our lives.  I learned in college that my family’s philosophy was stoicism, remembering vaguely the word, but daily that conduct.  I write this blog about nature and how she covers us second by second, year by year, like a quilt on a cold winter’s night, a softness and heaviness at the same time, installing comfort into our harried house.  The warmth erases pain and anguish.  But, there is another side that we all must endure.

There is an extraction, a debt, that inevitably must be paid.  As I drive the 87.2 miles to Abilene and back to Mingus, I see, even hear the debt being paid in blood and tissue.  How many deer, raccoons, skunks, possums, coyotes, dogs, cats, field mice, ravens, hawks, snakes, fox, moths and monarch butterflies can I continue to see killed along the roads?  I see the remains; I am even a part of making the remains.  The only debt I hear paid is the lovely monarch butterfly that hits my windshield, leaving a yellow stain that I cannot wash off until the day ends.  The monarch strikes my windshield and I cringe.  I think, quite often, that my salary, forcing my travel to Abilene, is not worth the agony and groans that I feel and emit as I see and hear the other side of nature.

I write of horses prancing, birds singing, dogs playing and armadillos browsing with slow gait, rooting and eating contentedly.  Then, why write this post, why bring up the other side of nature?  Death and blood and stench of flesh?  I’m not sure, but to bring up the other side of nature seems to balance my exuberance downward.  Downward to the way-things-are and away from illusion, closer to truth.  My work is affected.  As I drive the interstate to Abilene I see the panic of deer running across the road, jumping the fence to safety, to daily heaven.  I walk into class to lecture and the gravitas of it all weighs me down to essentials:  why are we here, what are we doing, what are the models we want to imitate, what are the models we wish to avoid?  I don’t waste time for I am doing my best to answer those questions for that day.

As I come back home to Mingus, I think:  I am here to groom my horse, play with my dog, feed my cats, tend my pastures, grow plants for monarchs to feed upon, protect the deer in my domain and love my life and wife.  Taking my hand from my eyes, I see life as gift once more as it is balanced against the other side.



I often have Brenda read my stuff before I publish it.  She read this and said, “Very good, but very heavy.  They’re going to say you haven’t had your anti-depressant.”   We laughed.  She understood what I was trying to say in the post.  I told her that I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.  One of the reasons I support wildlife corridors is the death I see on my travels to Abilene.  There’s a place along Baird Hill that needs protection.  I see drivers trying to avoid the wildlife.  Many succeed in avoiding the critters.  Drivers aren’t all talking on the cell phone.


Filed under Baird Hill Pond, Deer, Dogs, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance

Creatures of Dusty Blu

I work with a horseman, Dusty Blu Cooksey, at the college where I teach in Abilene, Texas.  Today he told me of animals besides his horses that envelop his life on his ranch northwest of Abilene.

First, Blu has dogs and horses, even a dog that cannot hear, but watches for hand commands and other para-linguistic signs from Blu.  His horses compete in shows all over the Southwest, and early in his horse career, Blu had two world champion quarter horses.  That was in the 1980s.

Nowadays, the creatures of Dusty Blu include an armadillo, coyote, raccoon and cats.

The armadillo was brought up to the stables by his dogs several years ago.  It was a baby armadillo and the little guy was carried gently in the mouth of his Blue Heeler, placed upon the ground in front of Blu and his workers, as if, “Here’s a little guy that needs help.  Take care of him.”  They put him in a stall since he was small and let him grow and eat dog chow.  After the armadillo grew to a juvenile, Blu let him or her out, but the armadillo stayed about the corrals, never venturing far, and tunneled into alfalfa haystacks to sleep during the day and roam at night.  The dogs consider him one of them and let the armadillo browse and eat with them at supper time.

The dogs brought a baby coyote to the stables, like the armadillo, and laid him down gently.  The dogs seem to know rescue quite well.  Blu fed the coyote pup and neutered him when he grew of age.  Wiley is the coyote’s name and he attends the ranch, never venturing far from his home he knew as a pup.  The dogs consider him one of them and let Wiley alone.  At times, he howls, but not out of loneliness.

A raccoon habits the place and washes his food in pools of water.  The creatures of Dusty Blu seem content.  Within the past few days, Blu tells me that an unusual cat, calico and tabby combined with two different-colored eyes, meandered into the mix.  A kit of small size, Blu will take him to the vet for neutering and care.  Nurture surrounds the kit and the void disappears.  When Blu told me today of these things, I laughed at the complex of animals with him and how his horses tolerate the menagerie.

Deep down, past laughter, I looked at Blu as he walked away to teach.  He’s a tall man and dresses western all of the time.  I saw wings and his hat was rimmed in gold.


Filed under Dogs, Dusty Blu, Horses, Life in Balance

Cottonwood yellow sound

Cottonwood in the Grove

Populus deltoides var. occidentalis or Texas Cottonwood. Yesterday as I drove up the road to the ranch house, I saw in the Grove a brilliant yellow foliage from a solitary cottonwood along the creek.  As it was late, I vowed to take photos of it the next day — today.  I think it a young cottonwood, twenty-years old at the most, but I am not the authority.  It is a healthy tree and its roots are embedded firmly into the bank of Salt Creek.  I am concerned about the tree, however, as it is rooted within the confines of the creek and the creek flows quite rapidly after a thunderstorm.  The pull of the current may bring it down this next year, yet, it has withstood the flow of water these many years, so it may endure for years to come.

Panoramic view from the ranch house. The cottonwood is the bright yellow tree to the right of the scene.

The water current is not the only factor that affects the tree, but also the wind.  Today, southern wind gusts peak at 35-40 miles per hour and the cottonwood swayed in the wind.  Its leaves have been falling and blowing off for most of the day.  The wind blows strongly.  Rain is falling this afternoon as I write this post.  The major squall lines formed north and east of me, near Fort Worth and the Red River Valley.  I have had good rains in the summer, so the vegetation remains green, turning brown.  The rains must have nourished the cottonwood most favorably, as well as the creek bed, because its foliage was dense and now with colors turning, it is the most spectacular flash of color in the Grove.  Wind and rain have good and bad effect upon the tree.

There are male and female cottonwood trees.  This tree appears to be male.  I have not seen cotton spores float off of it, thus identifying a female.  Here are the leaves on the bottom of the creek bed.  One feature of the cottonwood that I find soothing is the sound of the leaves rustling.  When the tree is green and fresh in the Spring, the sound is like a babbling brook, solid and deep.  In the Fall, the sound of the leaves is a higher pitch, shallower, lighter-sounding, a fragile clacking like extremely delicate china.  If this is a male tree — I think it is — somewhere in the vicinity is a female, a fecund being that issued seeds, bringing this tree to our place.  I will look for it, up the Salt Creek, to the higher Salt Creek Cove, two-hundred feet higher to the west.

Cottonwood leaves in the bed of Salt Creek

Today, the sound seemed like a frenzy with the wind blowing so very hard from the south.  The leaves, brittle and dry, began to fall in greater numbers and I was glad I hurried down after lunch to photograph the tree before all its leaves had fallen.  I had hoped that I might capture a leaf in flight, but I did not.  A monarch butterfly floated amongst the trees and I wondered if it could make Mexico by the freeze.

On the Blue place, the neighbors east of us, two cottonwoods grow along their pond next to our stock tank.  There may be a female there.  I hear them as well as see them.  The area in north Erath county is dry.  The appearance of these cottonwoods is uncommon and I revere their existence in clay and sand and moderate moisture.  I sit on the porch and see the one cottonwood in the distance.  I look to my left, to the east, towards Blue’s place and see and hear the trees.  Ducks quack on both our ponds.  When I drove to the Grove, I took the long way there, avoiding the pond road, lest I scare the ducks to the sky as I traveled to cottonwood yellow sound.


Filed under Ducks, Flying Hat Ranch

Faro is not a card game

From Friggers Krog, Faro, Sweden

The Baltic Sea is the background for this photograph and is taken from the Friggers Krog restaurant website linked in The New York Times article below.  The agricultural life on the island has declined and the tourist industry has picked up the economy.  Be sure, if you read the article, to click on the Friggers Krog restaurant website.  More than likely a good Texas band with a fiddle will be performing there soon.  Yeah, right.

Faro is a card game.  It also the name of a Swedish town on an island in the Baltic Sea.

The Enchanted Island That Bergman Called Home – New York Times.

Friggars Krog Restaurant, Faro, Sweden. I really like this place.  Brenda and I must go there sometime.


Filed under Adventure

Sun takes command

Mid-October sunrise over Flying Hat (Nikon D300, f5/29mm, ISO 200)

Sigfried Gideon wrote that in the western world, mechanization takes command.  Jacques Ellul found technology so intrusive into western culture that “technique” rules behavior and slays choice.  That is so, yet, sitting on the back porch early in the morning, the sun takes command.  Wind orders glide of bird and sway of grass.  If one sat and turned the face to the rising sun and fair breezes, choice would arise again, offering moments that should not be refused for mechanics and technique have most of the day.


Filed under Life in Balance

Sufficient fowl for our day

North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quad.

Two ducks on stock pond, November 1, 2010.

Your habitat, wherever you may be, probably sustains larger flocks of ducks, but I was glad to see these two ducks on our pond once again this Fall.

I walked across the Arena Pasture, diagonally to the road and directly to the pond, quietly edging up the slope and stopping in an area of broomweed in order to take a photograph of the two ducks.  I had seen them three days ago and yesterday there were a dozen or so of their acquaintances feeding on the pond.  When I finished snapping this photo, I walked on the road and scared up other ducks that were feeding, altogether about twelve.  I will be more careful and not frighten them to flight although they rise just enough to clear the cottonwoods and land on Blue Pond, our neighbor’s stock tank to the east of us.

I took this walk after lunch, down to the Grove and around the edges of Salt Creek that has several caches of water, but is not flowing owing to the lack of rainfall.  The water caches provide a source of water for deer, raccoon, fox and bobcat, among other species.  Birds drink their fill and as they scatter in the trees, I hear their wings slap leaves.  I walked, ambled is more like it, for forty-five minutes, taking photographs of foliage.

Yucca in the Grove as I ambled on November 1, 2010.

I came across a species of yucca that I must identify.  I think it different from the narrow Pale-Leaf variety we have close to the house.  This yucca has broader leaves and its color is a deep turquoise.  The turkey bones that Olivia, my granddaughter, and I discovered this summer have been carried off.  No feathers of the Thanksgiving fowl remain.  What animal would carry off bleached bones and feathers?

I eased into this walk today, relaxed and breathing deeply.  Nothing lay ahead of me except my next step, my scan of the ground and sky.  I would have liked company, but this solitude was restful and aimless, other than to walk to the far field and turn around to retrace my trail.  I could hear the dogs bark back at the house.

Then, I heard them.  Sandhill Crane.  I looked high and all I could see were the stratocirrus clouds.  Their calls are like burbles, water gently falling over smooth stones in a clear stream.  Gentle and calming.  I could not see them.  Their calls faded and I walked back up to the house.  I stood for a moment on the back terrace and as I started back into the house, I heard a flock of Sandhill again.  I looked up and 2,000 plus feet above me, a flock of crane flew.  They could of been higher above ground than that and as I pulled my camera up for my first shot of the season, I could not see them.  But I had seen them and they had such a pale-grey, whitish even, underside that it reminded me of the underside of jet planes I see above.  Their undersides reflected the clouds below them and I took a photograph of where they had been, aiming their graceful necks towards the southeast and warmer climes.

I shall photograph them soon, but today I could not find them low to our earth for they soared above me and my camera.  I heard them.  I saw them, but their image I could not preserve en camera today.  But I photographed two ducks for our Fall season.  What’s the saying, “Sufficient unto this day?”  I think so.

Stratocirrus where the Sandhill Crane had flown, November 1, 2010.


Filed under Birds, Ducks, Sandhill Crane