Monthly Archives: March 2011

The fox, the hare and the chef

I think we should leave our boxes of house, classroom and boardroom and integrate with the natural world of fresh air, sun and terrain, if only for a vacation.  Venturing into the field, the park, even a backyard, nature comes upon you with sight, sound and scent that carries you away from asphalt and brick.

It’s not all pleasant, this leaving the box.  With the flower comes the wasp.  The fox is beautiful, but rabbits will die.

I have seen three wild foxes in my lifetime — that’s all, and I have looked.  In 1956, the first was along Pompey Creek in Mills County, Texas, on the lease of my step-father.  I was sitting on one side of the creek and along the other bank, a fox trotted along the stream, looked once at me and continued on.  I was impressed at its gait that was leisurely, self-assured.  The fox was plump, its coat deep-red and shiny.  I wanted to follow it and see where it went and if it had a mate and kits and where its burrow was.  I wanted to live with the fox and see it again and again and again in the forest and along Pompey Creek.  I never saw it again, although I looked for months and years thereafter for red fur coats in the central Texas brush.

The second time I saw a wild fox was in 2005 when Brenda and I were sitting out on the back porch.  We can look far into the pasture that is twenty-feet below, as we are on a hill above the grasses.  In the late spring evening, a fox came trotting along a pasture road, heading north into the brush of Blue’s farm to the east of us.  This fox’s coat was darker than the one at Pompey Creek, but the same focused gait carried him farther into the brush and away from the cleared field of buffalo grass.  Brenda and I spoke in whispers as it trotted away.  That same year, 2005, fifteen deer moved daily from Blue’s farm, across our pasture and into the grove.

Two years later in 2007, I was standing on the bank of Salt Creek in our oak tree grove when along the dry creek bed the third fox trotted, headed upstream towards the Dooley place on the west side of our ranch.  I was about fifteen feet above the creek bed and stood still as the fox passed by.  That was four years ago and I have seen none since.  A solitary deer occasionally drinks from the pond and I see track that may be fox.

* * *

The fox hunts and in the end, rabbits scream and chickens cluck and run.  The farmer brings the shotgun to the shoulder and fires once, twice, thrice.  The Dooleys to our west have chickens and they pen them for safety, but fox and coyote still take their cut.  The Dooleys count their losses.  I hear no gunfire.  The fox must eat.

It is a cycle of birth and death, the preyed upon and the predator.  You know the story, you’ve even been a part of it.  To describe the cycle is easy, but to understand it and live with it, to go on despite the tooth and claw is very difficult, for we like to deny the cycle happens or we put it away over there, behind the fence, beyond the hedge.  When I taught anthropology, my first lesson and repeated lesson through the semester was “Food — Where is it?  And, how do we get it? Who provides it for you?”  We buy food at the supermarket, but that’s not where it comes from, and it is not wrapped in cellophane when the middleman harvests the animal or plant.

Thomas Keller owns the most famous restaurant in America today, The French Laundry in California.  When he was young and honing his skills at the restaurant of Rene and Paulette Macary, near Catskill, New York,  he approached the purveyor of rabbit:

Thomas Keller

One day, I asked my purveyor to show me how to kill, skin, and eviscerate a rabbit.  I had never done this, and I figured if I was going to cook rabbit, I should know it from its live state through slaughtering, skinning, and butchering, and then the cooking.  The guy showed up with twelve live rabbits.  He hit one over the head with a club, knocked it out, slit its throat, pinned it to a board, skinned it — the whole bit.  Then he left.

I don’t know what else I expected, but there I was out in the grass behind the restaurant, just me and eleven cute little bunnies, all of which were on the menu that week and had to find their way into the braising pan.  I clutched the first rabbit.  I had a hard time killing it.  It screamed.  Rabbits scream and this one screamed loudly.  Then it broke its leg trying to get away.  It was terrible.

The next ten rabbits didn’t scream and I was quick with the kill, but that first screaming rabbit not only gave me a lesson in butchering, it also taught me about waste.  Because killing those rabbits had been such an awful experience, I would not squander them.  I would use all my powers as a chef to ensure that those rabbits were beautiful.  It’s very easy to go to a grocery store and buy meat, then accidentally overcook it and throw it away.  A cook sauteing a rabbit loin, working the line on a Saturday night, a million pans going, plates going out the door, who took that loin a little too far, doesn’t hesitate, just dumps it in the garbage and fires another.  Would that cook, I wonder, have his attention stray from that loin had he killed the rabbit himself?  No.  Should a cook squander anything, ever?

It was a simple lesson.

— Thomas Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook, New York: Artisan, 1999, p. 205, “The Importance of Rabbits.”

In too many of my hunts when young I squandered wildlife.  I still pay for that everyday.  I don’t hunt anymore, but I would if I had to.  My last hunt was deer and that was many years ago when I went with two of my closest friends to Van Horn, Texas.  I dressed my kill in the field and brought the deer back for my family.  I did not need to hunt for I garnered a paycheck every month and bought groceries at the supermarket.  I never hunted after Van Horn.  We ate what I shot.

In 2008, Brenda and I brought to market twenty-seven head of Angus stocker cattle after feeding them several months on our native grass pastures.  I made sure that when I transported them to the feed yard that they went to the cleanest and healthiest feed yard in Texas.  They did go to Perryton, Texas, a place of little stress and fine management with no HotShots (paddles to strike the calf) and plenty of room to move and breathe.

As I loaded the twenty-seven Angus into the stock trailer, I said under my breath and to no one in particular:  You go now!  You fatten yourselves!  I’ve done the best by you I could!  You better go to the table of someone that finds a cure for cancer for I will think of you the rest of my years!

I made no profit on the cattle, but I prepared them the best I could.  I did not squander resources in tending them as their steward.

And they were beautiful, like the fox, for some of them had a red hue about their coats as the sun went down.

______________________________

Notes:

One of my first blogs was called, “The 27th Heart,” named after Unit 27 Angus stocker calf that fell sick.  I tended him and took him to the vet.  He recovered.

I cook from Keller’s cookbook and always remember that story he wrote.  It is deep and connected with the American Indian.  Parallels can be drawn.

The italics in the quote of Keller’s are mine.


Advertisements

28 Comments

Filed under Life in Balance

Balance — monarchs, milkweed and horses

Leading edge monarch in Spring 2011, north Erath County, Texas.

Earlier this week on the first full day of Spring 2011, I received a communication from Journey North that the monarchs “were pouring out of Mexico” and that the leading edges were entering Oklahoma, about a 100 miles from our place in north Erath County, Texas.  A day before the e-mail, I had seen a monarch in our front field feasting on nectar of wild verbena, but I did not have my camera to take a picture.

The next day, March 23, 2011, I spotted this leading edge monarch in our live oak tree out in front of our house.  Twenty-three live oak trees live on the knoll of our home, a hill really, that is known as Poprock Hill in local folklore.  These trees have been the roosting place for monarchs, I am sure, for several generations.  We have seen monarchs every year since we have moved here and last year I snapped pictures for the blog of a large roost of monarchs in the Fall as they flew to Mexico.

I have known of butterflies all of my life, but only in the last fifteen years have I begun to look deeply into the ecology of where I live in north Erath County, Texas.  This blog I write, Sage to Meadow, has become a platform for me to the rest of the world, a medium of communicating my love of nature, its greens and browns, births and deaths that encompass us all.  Butterflies such as the monarch abound where I live and I did not know milkweed was a prime source of its nutrition.

Milkweed, like many other things, is an example of nature’s complexity and diversity, for although it is a prime source of food for butterflies, its over-indulgence by horses and cattle is toxic and may result in death if untreated.  When I learned of that last year, I quickly researched  the milkweed and its correlation with horses and found that adequate grass and grain prevents the livestock from consuming large quantities of milkweed.

So, the lesson here is balance for farmers and ranchers.  Keep good stands of grass in the field, do not overgraze, and horses and man and butterflies can co-exist.  It’s not the final lesson of life, but it’s one of the best lessons to acquire — for the monarchs can continue to find food to and from Mexico, horses will graze elsewhere and be pacified, and we will be able to look upon all their beauty and grace as we observe from close and far away the interconnectedness of us all.

 

Green-flowered Milkweed (Asclepias asperula), May 2010, north Erath County, Texas.

 

18 Comments

Filed under Horses, Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly

Field notes 3/22/2011 — diamondback and monarch

Winds sustained at 22 m.p.h.  Highway travel to Abilene slowed.

Yeller, our Aussie-Lab mix dog, sat in the hallway in front of the glass door leading to the outside porch.  He growls deeply, the deepest and most sustained growl I have ever heard from him.  I go to the front door, thinking Yeller has alerted us to a strange dog or our resident lizard that comes across the front porch.  Yeller growls deeper.  On the porch, I see a four-foot rattlesnake slithering next to the closed glass door, six inches from his nose.

The glass door separates Yeller and us from the rattlesnake.  Brenda gets Yeller and Lottie, our Schnauzer, away from the door and takes them into another room, away from what must happen.  I grab the Remington 12 gauge and run around to the front door and dispatch the snake quickly, angling the shot to prevent blowback.  We are unnerved since no rattlesnakes — other snakes have been left alone — have been seen around our house since we moved here in 2003.

I must make sure the grass is cut about the house and piles of brush are placed at a distance away from the yard.  We have become complacent and need to sharpen our senses.

Later this afternoon, I see a lone monarch butterfly sitting on our wild verbena in the front field, a hundred-feet away from the front porch event a hour before, feasting on nectar, gently folding and unfolding the wings.

I am not sure what to make of monarchs, diamondbacks, dogs and all of this that comes across my field.  I am saddened and must do what needs to be done to be safe and live.  This day, March 22, 2011, has been filled with many things I do not understand.

* * *

 

[From Backpacker, June 2000.]  Sure, carrying a hiking stick makes me look like a rugged mountain man, but it also helps me in more pedestrian ways. By easing the load on my knees and shoulders, it helps me chew up big miles, plus I can tiptoe across loose rocks, slippery logs, and rushing streams without a wobble. Here’s how to create your own personalized staff.

1. Search your local forest for a downed branch that’s stout, straight, and preferably, blemish-free (no obvious cracks or big knotholes). The stick should reach your armpit and measure 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

2. Remove twigs with a pocketknife and strip the bark if you want. Round off sharp points or level knobs with a plane or file. Hold the stick as though you’re hiking (your elbow should form a right angle) to figure out where your grip will be– 2 to 3 inches below the top. Customize the grip by cutting shallow grooves for your fingers like those on a steering wheel. Just above the grip area, drill a 1/4-inch hole for a wrist loop. Smooth the surface of the stick first with coarse, then fine, sandpaper.To remove residual sawdust, wipe the stick with a rag dipped in paint thinner.

3. Decorate the stick with carvings, wood burnings, paintings, emblems or bear bells. If the wood is still green, place it in a warm, dry location to cure for at least 2 weeks, and rotate it often to prevent bowing.

4. Apply two coats of wood stain, allowing each coat to dry overnight, to give the stick a darker, richer hue. Then apply three coats of clear urethane varnish to seal the wood and prevent rot. Allow each coat of varnish to dry overnight. Sand the stick lightly with very fine sandpaper or steel wool after each coat.

5. Thread a 2-foot piece of rawhide lace or heavy cord through the hole. Adjust the length of the loop to fit your wrist, tie the ends in a big knot to secure the loop, then trim the ends as necessary.

Wood is a fickle creature, so remember that hiking sticks are born as much as they are made. –Jonathan Dorn

____________________________

Notes:

“Making Your Own Walking Stick,” Backpacker magazine, June 2000.

13 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Diamondback Rattlesnake, Field Log

Widgeon flying

American widgeon (Mareca americana) or baldpate species.

 

 

By the analysis of Jay Miles of Wells, Maine, the featured duck in the last two posts is an American widgeon (Marcea americana) or baldpate species.  Several months ago I posted “Gray Sky with Duck,” concerning nine ducks I scared from our pond when I drove down the pasture road after feeding the horses and scattering corn in the grove for deer.  After reading my post, Jay commented that he would help in identification of ducks.  I looked at his Kicking Bull Gallery website and he knows ducks!  He sculpts ducks, he sells vintage and antique duck decoys.  He has five lists (each list is several pages) of duck decoys on his website of  “Antique old vintage decoys, hunting decoys used in old times past to hunt ducks in the marshes and the sea.”  Jay has his ducks in a row.

 

Kicking Bull Gallery

 

I wrote Jay an e-mail several days ago asking for his opinion since I was wallowing around in factoring duck morphology.  I may know cacti and sagebrush, but I don’t know ducks.  Jay responded this morning by e-mail.  By this time next year, I will be a bit more versed in duck identification.

* * *

Roger Tory Peterson writes in A Field Guide to Western Birds that the female American widgeon voices qua-ack.  I noted this two-part voice pattern many times before as I stood out of sight near the pond’s embankment.  I often thought that the duck had been bumped into by other browsers, eliciting a two-part sound of frustration.  No, that wasn’t the case despite my attempt at personification.  The widgeon winters from southern Alaska to Central America.  Its habitat is in fresh marshes, irrigated land, ponds, lakes and bays.  Some widgeons, we now know, winter or pass by north Erath County, Texas, and spend time on the Flying Hat pond.

An interesting nexus emerged in my previous posts asking for assistance in identification.  Bill of Wild Ramblings opined, so did Laura of A Number of Things, Caralee of Built by Hand Strawbale Housing and Jay Miles of Kicking Bull Gallery.  Bill hails from Massachusetts, Jay is from Maine, Laura of London and Caralee of Utah.  The five of us that took an interest in the duck are attuned to nature.  Caralee added her observations about the difficulty of typing birds in flight — she is working on typing hawks that swoop down upon her.  I opened Peterson to pages about duck profiles in flight, something I had never done before.  Bill added the difficulty in typing waterfowl and steered me away from it being a Canvasback because of the beak feature.  Laura apologized for not identifying, but pointed out that the title of the post, “Typing duck in flight,” made her think of a duck carrying a typewriter while in flight!  I find it fascinating that a digital photo of duck taking flight from a Texas pond could provoke a response from Utah to New England to London.  We are all curious about birds, and, moreover, the infinite wildness of the natural world.

_____________________________

Notes:

The Kicking Bull Gallery logo is from Jay Miles website.

Photograph of American widgeon in flight is J. Matthews, March 2011, Mingus, Texas.

Illustrations are from Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, second edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969.

American widgeon from Roger Tory Peterson.

14 Comments

Filed under American Widgeon, Ducks

Typing duck in flight part 2: the takeoff

The unidentified duck in the photograph below takes off.  Upon a clue from Bill Lattrell who loves wild places (see his Wild Ramblings blog), the duck may be a Redhead (Aythya americana).  Field marks from Peterson’s include the male that is gray with a black chest and round red-brown head; the bill blue with black tip.  Both sexes have gray wing-stripes.  I have one additional photograph of the duck as it took off from the pond.

 

Tentatively a Redhead duck in takeoff from pond (February 2011).

The other aspect that may be a factor in identifying the duck as Redhead is that they patter along the surface while getting underway.  From the photograph above, you can see the traces of a patter?  It all happened so fast when the duck took flight that I could only snap two pictures.  (There is a camera feature to take rapid sequential shots that I should turned on.)  The other photograph is in a previous post yesterday.  It is the same duck.

In any case, if any of you have an opinion about the duck above, please comment or write me at matthewsranch@msn.com.  Duck feedback anyone?

7 Comments

Filed under Canvasback, Redhead Duck

Typing duck in flight

Since so much of our ranch is a Texas Cross Timbers habitat with one large pond, I find ducks most interesting since they have uncommon presence and seasonally come and go.  I do not know with graceful skill the typing of these water creatures.  I tentatively identify the duck below as Canvasback (Aythya valisineria).  Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds states, “A very white-looking duck with a rusty-red head and neck, black breast, long blackish bill.”  I am not sure and will correct my identification if anyone can discern factors I have missed.  In any case, here is what I regard as a Canvasback.  Please let me know in the comment section of this post or e-mail me at matthewsranch@msn.com or tweet @sage2m if you have an opinion.  Thanks for your help and assistance.

March 17, 2011, 1:00 p.m., CDT.  Wild Bill of Wild Ramblings blog has opined it may be a redhead duck.  The short bill of this duck indicates something other than a Canvasback.

Tentatively a Canvasback.

11 Comments

Filed under Canvasback, Ducks

No more rodeo

 

Texas Cowboy Reunion rodeo opening scene.

Received news today after doctor’s examination that I had an acute (severe) irritation of the cartilage in my left knee caused by arthritis.  No surgery is planned, nor  M.R.I.  The warning signs of the knee giving way, freezing up or ballooning the size of a grapefruit will necessitate further action, but for now, no more running or rodeo.

Not that I ever got caught up in rodeo.  The last one I participated in was back in 1958 when Brian Bettis and I scrambled for calves at the Comanche County Rodeo.  We came in second, bruised and somewhat bloody by the calf.  Calf won, we lost.  Since then, I’ve always worked cattle using a squeeze chute.  The simplest squeeze chute is to block both ends of the chute with heavy timber.  The cattle I handled were not abused and came to be accustomed to the chute to the point they stood calm while I doctored or vaccinated.  I will continue to work cattle with the chute since it doesn’t require heavy labor, just patience.

In any case, Sawbones said that I could not run or sprint again and that I would have to wait awhile to go back to the dance hall.  I love to dance.  I hear fiddle music and I am carried away.  But I have to wait awhile.

Gruene dance hall, oldest in Texas.

Further, the Doc said I needed to get some riding shoes or boots with soft soles.  After leaving his office, we went to Cavenders and I bought some Ariats with soft soles.  I wore them out of the dry goods store and they feel really good.

The cane?  Well, yes, I bought a cheapie at Walgreens and will use it for infrequent occasions.  My first use of it was to poke Brenda in the backside.  She did not appreciate that.

It is a bench mark to be told that “the running days are over.”  I ran occasionally in the pastures for exercise, but it was never a habit pattern.  Still, it’s a solemn note on the music score today.  Yet, I hear music and it’s a band with fiddle and guitar.  Come on, Brenda, let’s waltz across the floor!  You’re not a widow yet.

10 Comments

Filed under Dancing

Sandhills, Lilly and clumsy me

Left knee with icebag

Given the fact it’s a Saturday and most people want a calm and relaxing — well, maybe some activity — after a hectic week, the last thing a person needs to see is a knee with icebag.   My apologies, readers, but here it is or rather up there is the knee.

I was chasing Sandhill cranes most of the day to photograph them.  It was Wednesday and I divided my time between working on Blackboard (I teach five online classes of history) and going into the field of 53 acres of Flying Hat Ranch (FHR).  As my posts indicate from Wednesday, I was hearing but not seeing the elusive, high-flying bird.  It was a good day and I got work done, issues resolved on Blackboard and shot a number of photos for fieldwork.

I found and marked with an engineer’s flag several lithic tools in the field.  But every time! I heard the Sandhills, the camera was either in the truck or at the house.  Besides, until late afternoon, I didn’t see any.

Brenda comes home from work and I am walking back to the ranch house from the barn and I hear the Sandhills and look above me and what to my wondering eyes should appear but about 300 Sandhills, in at least two V-formations.  Beautiful and they were calling.

So, I broke into a sprint.  On my first or second spring up the lane, something popped or snapped in my leg.  I skipped, not sprinted, to the house and got the camera, but the cranes had their throttles to the wall and I missed the shots with the camera.  But I did see them.

My leg hurt and in the middle of the night, at two o’clock, I woke up in pain and by Thursday morning, I could barely walk.  I went to Fort Worth to the clinic and they sent me to Harris Methodist hospital for x-rays.  The P.A. told me I might be looking at an orthopedic surgeon!  Or rather, he would be looking at me with a scalpel in hand.

As it turned out, Friday I learned (after icebags and pain pills) that nothing was broken or torn, but it was arthritis!  Good news?  Bad news?  How in the dickens can arthritis bring me down to jumping on one leg from bed to bathroom, for crying out loud?  I don’t know, but next Wednesday I have an appointment with my Primary Physician for a yearly checkup and in addition to him invading my body cavity without mercy, he will enlighten me on the knee.

Brenda is taking care of the dogs and Star.  I’m looking at walking canes on the web.  Ever Google “canes”?  Well, live long enough, you will.  There are all sorts of canes.  Canes that fold, canes that have stupid heads on them, curved canes, canes with swords and even canes with risque girls painted along the stem and nose (there’s a whole glossary of cane nomenclature).  I’ve not picked my cane.  I have some nice looking cedar staves down along the barn I may craft upon and develop an Etsy Shop for homemade canes.

Lilly, the good old girl that we had to put down in January, had osteoarthritis too, and in the left knee really bad.  But, you know what?  She got up with a struggle and ate and walked and even pranced in the snow despite her knee.  She’s taught me a lesson about arthritis among many I’ll eventually churn out on Sage to Meadow.  I’m up and I’ll be in class Tuesday.  Star will be fed — I’ll do it slowly.  I’ll continue to contemplate canes.  If my knee continues to be painful, I’ll have to hire a person to do some seasonal work.  I’ll do a jig in the snow.

Frankly, if I had to hurt myself, I’m glad I was chasing Sandhills rather than tripping over the cat.  And, if I had to learn a lesson about dealing with the pain, who better to be my teacher than Lilly?  When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  She did and doesn’t even know it.

Enough of this!  Now, where’s that pain killer I used to give Lilly?  Oh, yes, it’s in the tack room next to the saddles.

38 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Lilly, Sandhill Crane

Seen, heard, but not photographed

I heard the Sandhill, but did not photograph. But they were 2,000 feet above me. Got the camera, but they were pushed by the wind so fast. I estimate 80+ mph. Now I stand in the lane, sun setting, I hear, but do not see.

14 Comments

Filed under Bluestem Field Log (Live)

Sandhill Crane heard

I’ve heard several Sandhill in the sky above me right now. I cannot see them, but I hear their gentle calls up in the sky. It’s 70 degrees and pleasantly warm. Mail has come and I fired up the F-250 so its cylinders can warm. Star has come running up to the front pasture. Hawks cry in the sky.

8 Comments

Filed under Bluestem Field Log (Live)