Monthly Archives: December 2010

Long shadows soaring

Long shadows in the grove

This afternoon I decide to walk into field, grove and far pasture of native grass.  The walk.  What propels me, anyone, to walk into the raw material of nature?  Flying up in my face are three urges: what is changing out there?  Who is out there?  And, what is the surprise, the non-contingent event, large or small, that will stop me, stop us, and reveal the universal in the particular?

Before I walk into the field, from the house on top of Poprock Hill, with the aid of binoculars, I count approximately ten ducks, mallards mostly, feeding at the south end of the stock pond, the same pond that Star, my paint gelding, and his mother, Lilly, drink and cool their feet in mud.  The pond is low this December, the water line two feet below the cockle-burr plants I must root out next Spring.

I walk through the alleyway of the barn and through the two corrals, striding slowly next to the fence line of the Dooleys, our neighbors to the west.  Their stock pond is also low.  Yesterday morning, I heard a lone coyote call and yip near the pond.  (After dark tonight I heard the same coyote near the Dooley pond.)  I walk past the pond, counting vultures and crows in the air.  I see the gray, cocked-tufted, long-tailed bird that builds nests on barn light reflectors, pulling horse hair around the nests, dabbing the nest with feathers and mud.   I must pull down my Peterson and type it when I can.  I walk beside the west fence line, away from the mallards on the pond so as to keep them feeding, turning as they do upside down, their rumps fully exposed, their heads plunging and bills nibbling below the surface for tadpoles and moss.

I see that deer have been licking the salt block I put out last summer in the grove.  I do not see deer in the late evening so they must come after dark.  I see deer hoof prints abounding, more than I have seen in months.  The soil is hard packed from the lack of rain, but hardly any dust is stirred up for the wind is slight and cool from the east.  I believe when the deer walk down the pasture road, their small hooves stir up dust.  The horses and deer as well ducks browse and feed in close vicinity.  I have seen Star and Lilly wade up to their ankles in pond water while five feet away mallards dunk each other and dive for food.  The deer browse for grass alongside the horses.

In the tree grove alongside the creek, I notice shadows of trees are long, but it is only two o’clock in the afternoon.  This makes me fully aware, these long shadows, that it is nearly Winter and that the sun sinks lower towards the south until December solstice, a few days away.  In the low underbrush, two wrens feed, each starting at the top of the bush and making their way down towards the ground, spiraling downward, gravity’s pull upon their browsing.  I was aware of the calendar, December it is, but the natural effect of being outdoors and seeing the long, long shadows of elm, ash and oak force my day into the truth of the season changing to Winter.

As I walk with short breaths up the road and into the edge of the far field of native grass, I hear the surprise.  I hear the call of the Sandhill Crane above me — a gentle warble of sorts — and I look intently, but cannot see the flock flying south.  I hear them, once, twice, three times.  I take a photograph of side-oats grama grass, turn around, retrace my path, avoiding the mallards on the stock pond still quacking, and come home.

I come home because I have seen what is out there and what is changing.  And, I have been surprised at life soaring in the wild.

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Notes:

The date of hearing the coyote at night is December 8, 2010.  This post was composed the next day.

The bird in the barn alleyway is most likely a flycatcher.  I looked it up in the Petersen, but could not find a precise description or photo.

Correction: “Sandhill” Crane, not Sandhills.  Also, “grama” grass, not gramma grass.

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Filed under Field Log, Life in Balance

Gathering mistletoe in December

Oklahoma floral image mistletoe

In the 1940s and 1950s, I grew up in central Texas, playing and working about the counties of Brown, Mills, San Saba and Lampasas.

Although born in Brown County, my family spend a great deal of time visiting relatives during the holidays in San Saba and Lampasas Counties.  The Colorado River and San Saba River formed the backdrop of my childhood and early teen years.  During December, I often stayed a week or two with my grandmother who lived first in Bend, Texas, and then Lometa, a few miles away from Bend where she worked as a telephone switchboard operator for the communities.  The switchboard was in her living room.  Her name was Effie Morris Parks and she taught me much about living off the land, or at least using nature’s products from the original source, not a supermarket.

Grandmother Effie, as I called her, steered me in the month of December to harvest and collect two things:  mistletoe and cedar.  Cedar is still harvested, but the gathering of mistletoe with its poisonous berries to frock the door portal seems to have vanished from holiday culture.

She had a green Chevrolet pickup.  We would drive the pickup down dirt county roads and pull up next to a tree, usually mesquite, that would have clumps of deep green mistletoe with white berries.  We would knock down the mistletoe with long bamboo poles that we also used to gather pecans in the Fall.  Either that or I would climb up the tree and break off the fungus.  Then we would gather the mistletoe and place it in the bed of the pickup until the pile topped the rails.  We had to be careful to preserve the white berries because that improved the price we would receive.  We drove to San Saba or Lometa and would sell the mistletoe at the mohair and wool congregating store.  We would make upwards of twenty dollars and during the rest of the season, I often thought I saw what we had collected in small, cellophane packages sold in grocery stores in Brownwood.  I doubt that was the case, but I felt rather pleased that I had helped make holidays brighter for someone.

I chopped cedar only once or twice as a boy and it was grueling work, but during December the weather was cold and going into the cedar breaks to cut wood did not seem as brutal as it was chopping cedar in the summer.  Grandmother’s friends would take my cuttings — not very much, I’m afraid — and I would have a few dollars to spend during the holidays.  The cedar choppers I worked around were all muscled and strong and I envied their chopping expertise.  I learned how to cut staves versus good thick fence poles.

My grandmother Effie also gathered water cress, pecans, killed and plucked her own chickens, and during the late summer we would take the green Chevrolet and collect wild Mustang grapes that she would turn into jelly to consume on our breakfast table and give to friends.  The tartness of the Mustang grape is like no other.

But it is the memory of harvesting and gathering of mistletoe and cedar with Grandmother that stays with me today during the holiday stretch.  I scraped my arms and got stuck by mesquite thorns.  Despite it all, I grew up knowing nature intimately during the cold of December with my grandmother as teacher.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Cedar, Christmas, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas