Monthly Archives: December 2010

The eve of a new year on the ranch

Pigeons flying towards a new year above the Santa Fe plaza.

We make resolutions and there’s nothing wrong in doing so.  We plan to do better, give more and finish the big chores we have had on our list for months, maybe even curtail or give up our vices.  Well, maybe not completely give them up, but back off bad habits.

I work with students, horses and the land.  I work in order to live, not live in order to work.  That’s a big, big difference.  Working with students this last year has been more rewarding than ever before in my professional career.  I attribute that to my nearing retirement and wanting to give what I think is of value to the student before I put the chalk in the tray and walk away.  Time is fleeting and I don’t have time to cover all the points, just the most significant.  So, for this next year, I resolve to cut the excess from the lectures and discussions and get right to the core: finding your voice, writing down your voice and tending to your own garden (Voltaire, Gilgamesh, Trilling).

For my life with horses, it’s a sadder year coming.  We are selling Sweet Hija who is pregnant with a female and Shiners Fannin Peppy, the first foal out of Sweet Hija.  Brenda and I will be left with our two paints, Star and Lilly, both having their share of health problems these days.  In January, we are going to Oklahoma City for the Mixed Winter Sale at Heritage Place.  Market forces beyond my control have cut through our ranch operations with a vengeance and the cost of horse breeding and market conditions force my hand.  What Brenda and I are trying to do, in taking Hija and Fanny to the sale in Oklahoma, is to put these fine horses in the best sale around so that they will have good homes or ranches to live out their days.  So, for this next year, I resolve to focus on Star and Lilly, build some good, strong pens in the Pecan Tree Pasture for their safety.  I resolve not to think too much about our loss of Hija and Fanny and the little one — difficult to push that resolution through next year, I guarantee.

And, finally with the land, I resolve to set up brush piles for the little critters, deer and birds about the place, not shredding every single bush like some of my neighbors.  Further, I want to learn the name of every tree species on Flying Hat Ranch, or at least make a major dent in nomenclature.  I will also continue to plant native grasses about the pastures.

The eve of 2011 is here.  I toast to love, health and fortune to be found among horses and land, family and students — yours as well as mine.

Sweet Hija at full gallop in winter snow (2010).

Fanny strutting in the grove with Shiney (summer 2009).


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Lilly, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny), Sweet Hija

“From the Stone Wall” by Wildramblings

Far away from the Southwest, this nature writer describes a day in the New England woods, not so far different from our treks and hunts among the mesquite, cholla and oak.  Wildramblings is a blog worthy of putting on your roll.  Click the link below and relish fine writing.

From the Stone Wall | Wildramblings.


Filed under Adventure, Life in Balance

Willful Lilly

Willful Lilly walks to Well House Corral (December 27, 2010).

In the ongoing story of Lilly (Ima Lil Moore), she is a willful horse.  The above photograph shows her this morning, after browsing a few minutes in the front pasture, walking intently to the fence panels of the Well House Corral.

Lilly had spent the night in the stables underneath a 150 watt light bulb.  When I went down this morning to feed her, she was up and moving and whinnying for her breakfast, even pinning her ears back slightly when I entered her stall.  After she finished her grain, I put out two blocks of green alfalfa for her to munch on.

And, this is point of the story, she turned away from the hay rack and deliberately walked out of the corral and into the pasture with a determination of a yearling.  She’s twenty-five years old, for goodness sakes!  Then, after a bit of browsing, I shot the above photograph of Lilly.

She’s going to die — we’re all headed that way, for sure — within who-knows-how-long?  Tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?  Jim Scroggins is coming out to the ranch with his back hoe in the morning to dig a grave pit for Lilly.  Don’t be sad.  I’ll set up panels around it so that no one will wander into it.  It’s a preparation, sort of like making a will or planning a funeral with your favorite mortician.  (My political mentor when I was young was Groner Pitts of Brownwood, Texas, a funeral director.)  If Lilly makes it through the winter and I and the vet think she will, I’ll fill up the pit with water and maybe ducks will swim in it.  It is there, however, just in case.

But, for now, Lilly is a willful mare, stubborn in her habits, sleeping longer than usual and limping a little with arthritis.  Kinda like your grandfather or grandmother.  She has her life today and she willfully directs herself to green winter grass, lying down in the sun and drinking from the stock pond with ducks swimming about her.  It’s a good day to live.


Filed under Horses, Life in Balance, Lilly

Luminaria Christmas



Lights wrapped around tree with mobile art piece.


Rios Woodyard luminaria.

Christmas in Santa Fe includes the traditional farolito stroll after dark along Canyon Road, the artistic thoroughfare that delights the eye.  The luminaria is the wood fire.  Farolitos are candles within paper sacks that light up the edges of sidewalks and walls along Canyon Road.  For up-to-date information, consult the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper’s Christmas Day edition.

New Mexican Christmas celebrations rival Italy and Germany.  Alessio Franceschetti, a very good friend of mine, sent me a montage of Christmas scenes in Italy.  Do look at it:  Natale in Italia 2010.  This montage is moving and beautiful.  Thank you, Alessio.



Filed under Christmas

Holiday wishes from Sage to Meadow and field notes

Shiney galloping to the corral during winter. No fear of the sun disappearing here.

A holiday greeting…

The sun in the northern hemisphere is at its lowest points this time of the year.  I do not think ancient and prehistoric people feared the sun would continue to sink towards the south and disappear forever — at least in southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.  There was and is sufficient overlap of folk knowledge and tribal elder history to instruct the young and anxious that nature’s cycle continues her circle of cold to warm to hot, hot to warm to cold.

Christmas Eve and Day are here.  I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

* * *

Update on Lilly and Star…

Lilly, our oldest mare, is holding her own at 25 years of age.  She moves between the Well House Corral and the pasture, indicating a good level of energy and health.  Her feed consists of all the alfalfa she wants, Equine Senior Purina grain and 1 – 2 grams of bute (painkiller for horses) a day.  To husband animals rewards the steward: nickers and whinnies of recognition and impatience, warmth of animal in cold weather, riding for fun (both rider and horse can enjoy if accomplished properly) and work, and the sheer companionship and friendship of the horse.  One of my pleasures of having horses is hiking in the woods and having Star follow me like a hiking friend.  Star will go up and down creek bank, push aside brush to continue the hike and rest with me beside a fallen log.  If I wish to walk alone, I have to close the gate to the woods.  Most of the time, I want him with me.

Star is confined to the first corral.  He is overweight and feed intake must be limited.  He has all the coastal bermuda hay he can eat and some painkiller for his front legs.  His confinement lasts one week.  I have had to separate him from Lilly since she has alfalfa, he must have coastal.  Star is not pleased, but he adjusts.

* * *

A field post about bird songs on winter mornings…

December 16, 2010, 7:05 a.m.

Within the last two weeks I have noted birds about the barn and stables sing profusely only in the morning during the winter and are relatively quiet for the rest of the day.  I have not spent the day about the barn and stables to confirm unequivocally this observation (I’ll probably regret having brought this up in the first place), but it seems a sound observation.  During the day when I do chores and in the evening when I feed the horses and spend a hour or so in the barn area, I hear no birds or few birds.  In the morning, birds chatter and tweet, but do not break into long melodious fugues.

Our small ranch is located in North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quad.  Mesquite trees, live oak trees, elm and underbrush comprise the habitat for birds.

Among singing birds I see in the morning are redbird (just tweets), titmouse, chickadee, wrentit, wren, red-headed woodpecker, white-crowned sparrow, house sparrow, dove and a couple of other species I have yet to identify.  They browse in trees, on the ground and in the underbrush.  If I remain motionless in the corral after disturbing them, they resume their chattering and calls in a few minutes.  When the sun reaches a point in the sky at approximately 10:00 a.m. or so, songs and calls diminish.  I see birds for the remainder of the day, though not quite as frequent as the first two or three hours in the morning.  I hear during the day the quacks of ducks on stock ponds and crows on the fly.

7:35 a.m.

I have returned from the barn and stable area and this post is taking a curious turn.

A cold front moved in last night and the temperature is 40 deg. F.  The sun is not shining and clouds completely obscure the sky.  On point, birds are quiet, not even a peep, casting a different observation and bringing to light variables I had not considered: temperature, sunshine, clouds.

With the temperature in the 40s and no sunshine, I hear no birds.


Filed under Christmas, Flying Hat Ranch, Horses

Christmas Eve Music in Old California

This post was published Christmas 2009.  I have added some photographs to the original for this 2010 Christmas.  I find “Christmas Eve music in Old California” poignant with the cultural interaction.


Christmas in California before the Americans came [1840s] was a season when all the grown people had as much fun as the children do now.  And the children had so much fun that they never got over it and ever after loved play and presents more than work and hard bargaining….

One Christmas Eve, I remember best, there was a full moon.  Over all the ground there was a glittering frost, just enough to whiten everything, yet not enough to even nip the orange trees which at this season of the year hang full of fruit and blossom both….

We had much music–guitars of the Mexican and Spanish type, made with twelve strings of wire, and mandolins.  After supper there was dancing in the patio, coffee and cigaritos on the veranda, and singing everywhere.  Someone said it was a beautiful night for a horseback ride over the valley to the Mission Santa Clara.  The horses in the corral were soon saddled.  There were twenty-five or thirty of us young men and women.  Our horses were the best of the big herds that were attached to every rancho….The saddles, bridles and spurs were heavily covered with silver bullion ornaments, as in those times we put silver on our horses instead of on our dining tables; for Spaniards…live on horseback, and they eat but to live, instead of living to eat.

Riding out of the patio gate it was like a scene from the time of the Moors in Spain.  As our horses snorted in the cold air they spun the rollers in their bits, making music that only the Spanish horse knows [1].



[1]  José Ramon Pico, “Before the Gringo Came,” San Francisco Call, December 1899.  From Sam Travers, Christmas in the Old West:  A Historical Scrapbook, pp. 171-174.

Mission Santa Clara Asís established in 1777, was located a few miles south of San Francisco.  This mission and adjacent Indian pueblo eventually grew into Santa Clara and San Jose.  The mission is now located on the campus of  Santa Clara University.

Frank Principe, silversmith from Lindell Beach, British Columbia, writes that many of the old California-type bits, such as the Santa Barbara, were designed with Islamic religious symbols.  The symbols included seven buttons, half moons, and starts.  This is traceable to Moorish occupation of Spain until the 1490s, the Cortez expedition to Mexico, and other adventures.  He writes, “For the last one hundred years or so most North American bit makers have been using these designs without realizing their historical significance.”

Sweet Hija (Spanish for “daughter”), my black mare, has King Ranch breeding.  Even today, King Ranch provides ranch horses for Mexican ranches.  Of all my horses, Sweet Hija is the fastest and most energetic.  After saddling Hija, I must run her about the round pen to work off her energy before she is ridden.  She is the most alert and sensitive to her surroundings, spotting deer a half a mile away.  I have to use binoculars to see what she sees.

Spanish Mustang Research Facility.


Filed under Christmas, Horses

River lights contentment


River lights by Montana Outdoors, December 13, 2010.

Montana Outdoors is a photography blog and the above photo is one of many excellent shots of nature’s grandeur in winter.  Its author wrote the following in his introduction to his blog that has been published since 2006,

I am privileged to live in western Montana, close to the wilderness and roadless areas that I love so much, and I’m thankful that I am still able to venture up into them and spend much of my time there.

Most of the photos that I post are of scenes that cannot be seen from from roads or highways. There is a very beautiful world out there in the wild country and it is my wish to make it visible, by words and photographs, to those who are interested in enjoying it.

It seems that many folks have all but forgotten that we are part of that natural world and that ultimately it sustains us in both body and spirit. My hope is that we will have the wisdom and the discipline to preserve it for future generations, for once the wilderness has vanished, mankind will soon vanish as well.

Readers, you must go to Montana Outdoors website for it is a beautiful paean to all things, big and small, in the outdoors.

* * *

In concord with Montana and the holiday season, Sam Travers, Christmas in the Old West: A Historical Scrapbook, has a note about Christmas at the Saleesh House in Montana in 1813, from the pen of trader Ross Cox,

Our hunters killed a few mountain sheep, and I brought up a bag of flour, a bag of rice, plenty of tea and coffee, some arrowroot, and fifteen gallons of prime rum.  We spent comparatively happy Christmas and, by the side of a blazing fire in a warm room, forgot the suffering we endured in our dreary progress through the woods.

* * *

From The San Saba News (Texas), December 15, 1883, here is a comment about Christmas and the progress of time,

Christmas is near at hand — two weeks from Tuesday — and each day between now and the great event will drag wearily away to the little folks.  What a pity it is men cannot experience on this day of peace and good-will to all the unalloyed happiness they did as boys.  But then years bring experience and ofttimes misery, and happy is he who can retain even until middle life a touch of boyhood’s pleasures.

The editor of The San Saba News wrote columns upon columns of prose each week for a frontier community far removed from trolley cars and opera houses.  In other news, the little town of San Saba celebrated Christmas by gift giving and church gatherings.  Several advertisements listed gifts men and women might enjoy, such as colognes and mustache cups.

Whether Montana or Texas, people seem to find a way to transcend their discontent by celebration and looking upon light from a river in winter.



The San Saba News from the nineteenth century is found on Chronicling America The Library of Congress link on the sidebar under small town newspapers in Texas.

I had pulled together the San Saba editorial and the Old West scrapbook piece for two separate posts, but when I came across River Lights by Montana Outdoors, I brought them together in one post.  I think we all find a way to get by the holidays, be it “prime rum” or family gatherings.  Since my family is scattered in Texas and Florida, I go to Santa Fe more often than not at Christmas.  This Christmas of 2010 I am not sure where my wife and I will be.  In any case, and this is my point, nature is outside my window and there I can find a measure of contentment — River Lights always beckon.  Always.



Filed under Christmas, Santa Fe

Saving a drowning Roadrunner

Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Petersen Field Guide

In the summer of 2009, I rescued a roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) from drowning in the circular water trough in the Well House Corral.

Roadrunners occupied a minor niche in my bird and animal kingdom as I grew up in central Texas.  My Aunt Lennie McRorey who lived on a ranch with her husband in San Saba County, Texas, kept a minor collection of roadrunner figurines and commissioned a small oil painting of a roadrunner that my daughter displays on her end table in Lubbock.  Driving down highways and especially back roads, roadrunners flew or ran across the road in front of the car.  I never saw any remains of roadrunners beside the road, attesting, I think, to their agility and speed.  They were big and seemed amusing the way they ran and picked at insects along the highways.  In a way, the roadrunner to me seemed unique among birds, more of an ostrich-like being than a flight creature — a miniature ostrich, for sure.

When we moved to our ranch in 2003, I saw roadrunners occasionally along our county road, but in 2008 and 2009, I noticed a pair of roadrunners that nested or habitually occupied the Well House Corral next to the Dooley Pond and mesquite brush to the west of our fence line.  As are most of my discoveries here on the place, my initial observation was accidental.  I was resting in the shade of the barn alleyway one hot summer day in 2008, when I saw a roadrunner dart from well house to the arena and under the trees in the corral.  Initially, I saw only one, but after a few more sightings during the summer, I saw two of them.  They often flew up in the lower branches of the live oaks and sat in the afternoon.  At the most, I spent thirty minutes watching their antics in the lower branches, wallowing and playing in the arena, and then I followed their hunt towards the east and our stock pond.  The summer of 2008 came to a close and I did not see them until the next summer.

Water trough in Well House Corral that ensnared roadrunner.

I had set a circular water trough in the Well House Corral for cattle and horses.  The trough was large, about six feet in diameter and held enough water for two or three days for cattle.  One afternoon in the summer of 2009, I walked down to the trough to check its level and noticed that the water was greenish and appeared disturbed.  Live oak leaves fell in the trough, and algae grew about the leaves and errant grass stems.

As I looked at the level of water I saw a long, log-like thing in the water.  It was listless, dead.  I looked closer and realized it was some kind of animal?   I thought at first a very large squirrel or possum?  Then, the parts all came together and I realized it was a roadrunner, one of the roadrunners I had been observing for two summers.  I thought, How could you have gotten drowned as crafty and smart as you are?  Oh, no, you poor thing.  I beat myself up for a moment, thinking I should have kept the water level higher so that if he had wanted a drink, he could have perched on the edge.

Well, I had to get him out of the water or it would become contaminated.  As I reached over to pick him up, his eye blinked!

Good god almighty, he’s alive!

I gotta get him out of there.  As I reached over to pick him up with my bare hands, I stopped.  The roadrunner could turn and peck me mightily, drawing blood.  Several years ago I had grabbed a mockingbird that had become caught in some netting I used to protect ripening grapes in our vineyard and the mockingbird had turned and pecked my finger in two places, drawing blood before I could let it go.  Pecked by a mockingbird is one injury, but a roadrunner peck may be a wound to the bone.

Seeing that the roadrunner was exhausted and I had to do something fast, I ran back up to the barn and grabbed my sombrero that was large and a couple of warm, fresh towels I used to groom horses.  I hurried back down to the water trough and dipped the sombrero under the roadrunner and lifted him out.  He was still blinking, but not moving at all.  He was huge.  I never knew how big these things were.  He was at least two feet long!  Think a small ostrich.

I put the roadrunner and sombrero on the ground and gently gathered him up in the towels.  With one towel I held him and the other I dried him off thoroughly.  With each stroke of the towel, going from head to tail, he would stretch his neck and extend his body as if running.  As he would stretch, his neck area would reveal sparse feathers and tender skin.  I saw no lesions or breaks or fractures.  I continued for five minutes or so drying him off.

Now what to do?  He was not standing or trying to fly off.  I decided to keep him on the towel and take him to the arena where it was sunny and warm and away from our barn cats.  I placed him down alongside the arena panels, near an area that I had seen him and his mate play.  He remained still, but was beginning to stir a bit.

I walked back up to the alleyway where I could monitor him and watched.  After about thirty minutes, I saw him stand up and begin to fluff his feathers and preen.  This went on for fifteen minutes.  I had to move on to other chores and left him alone.  An hour or so later, I went back to the arena and checked on his condition.  He was gone, most likely over the fence line to the Dooleys and his mate.

I’ve often wondered, fantasy-like, Borges-like, that somewhere in Mexico after he had recovered, this roadrunner told a story to his friends about a sombrero, the marvelous power of a hat that came down out of the sky and carried him out of water to dry land and life again amongst the cactus and creosote of the desert.  Just a fantasy.

The sombrero that was used to rescue the roadrunner.



This last summer, 2010, I have not seen any roadrunners in the Well House Corral.  Our neighbors to the east have cleared a lot of brush from their property and deer and other critters have moved southward, into the grove and far pasture, so the habitat for the roadrunner has changed.  I continue to look for them.  I know that observing the roadrunner in the wild is most infrequent and I am motivated to observe more when I can.

In the photograph of the hat, you will notice two bite marks out of the rim.  Star, my paint gelding, reached through the stall and took two chunks of straw out of it while I wasn’t looking.  The hat is made by SunBody hats and is constructed from palm leaves in Guatemala by Jose Medrano.

Towards the Dooley Pond where the roadrunners have their nest.

The live oak trees where the roadrunners sat.

The arena where the roadrunners played.

The spot where I put the roadrunner to dry off.

Senor Jack wearing the hat that saved the roadrunner.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, San Saba Texas

Forthcoming posts


I am not fond of making lists, but I made one today on the posts I want to compose.


I have some posts I want to write, and, once my paperwork has been turned in to Cisco College and Texas Wesleyan University, I want to write something about:

Henry Clay and his fantastic ability to dance.

A newly-discovered playful aspect of Lottie (snow-plowing schnauzer).

Lilly, the oldest mare on our place, and her insistence on opening gates that are closed.

The lone coyote that yips over by the Dooley pond.

My rescue of a roadrunner from drowning last summer.

The reconstruction of the Chimayo restaurant with the help of its staff and contractors following their disastrous fire.

Paying for damages for breaking crockery in the morning and writing letters of apology.

But, for now, I must complete my tasks for concluding the semester.


Lottie the snow-plowing schnauzer.



Filed under Adventure, Life in Balance

Pleasant Valley footsteps: naturalist quote

Louis Bromfield, photo by Carl Van Vechten, 1933.

Several mornings during the month I search for a quote, an excerpt, that I can post; an excerpt that illustrates humanity’s vital relationship to nature.  This morning I glanced through — and will use later — works of Gregory Bateson, New Mexico trail guides, historical scrapbooks of the Old West, my old family photographs and the W.P.A. guide to Texas.  The farrier, Dale Lyon, is coming at 9:30 a.m., an hour from now, so I’ve made a selection from Louis Bromfield, Pleasant Valley (1943).  Bromfield’s writing about Malabar, his Ohio farm, is in the tradition of Walden.

A good farmer must be many things — a horticulturist, a mechanic, a botanist, an ecologist, a veterinary, a biologist and any number of other things — but knowledge alone is not enough.  There must be too that feel of all with which nature concerns herself….A farmer knows from day to day, even from hour to hour the state of the weather, of his crops, of his animals….He is the man who learns by farming, to whom the very blades of grass and stalks of corn tell stories.  He is the man to whom good crops sing a song and poor ones convey a painful reproach.  He is the man who knows that out of the soil comes everything, that out of the soil come the answers to the questions that torment him.

…With all the research we have made there still remain many mysteries, not beyond explanation but which have not yet been explained or understood.  In this borderland the “live” farmer finds his place — the man who sees and feels what is going on in the soil beneath his feet and on the earth around him, the man whose footsteps are the best fertilizer for the farm.


Louis Bromfield, Pleasant Valley, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1943, pp. 147-148.

See the page under Fine Writing for more information.


Filed under Nature Quote of the Day