Field gifts in July

At 3:30 a.m., with such dignity as I can muster of a July morning, I step from my cabin door, bearing in either hand my emblem of sovereignty, a coffee pot and notebook.  I seat myself on a bench, facing the white wake of the morning star.  I set the pot beside me.  I extract a cup from my shirt front, hoping none will notice its informal mode of transport.  I get out my watch, pour coffee, and lay notebook on knee.

Aldo Leopold’s early morning field method, A Sand County Almanac, pp. 41-42.

This July morning, a warm morning that will expand into hot, I walked the one-half mile of Salt Creek on my 53 acre ranchito.  Salt Creek is an intermittently-flowing creek that twists and curves through the forested grove in the middle of the 53 acres.  During heavy rains, the creek reaches ten feet high and lays flat the water-gap fences on the east and west ends of the property.  This summer, waiting out the worst drought since 1895, the creek remains intact, its bed dry; yet elms, junipers (beautiful they are), cottonwoods, oak and pecan trees uplift subsurface moisture, retaining their leaves and shade for owl, redbird, bluebird, sparrow, deer, armadillo, skunk, coyote and fox.

Salt Creek on this day holds one watery seep, fifteen feet in length of oblong, deep water.  Flush against the shady side, this watery seep encapsulates water three-feet in depth, the water flowing from the native grass field I have tended these last four years.  I discovered on my walk, along the one-half mile of the creek bed, it is the only source of water in the bed.  Wildlife track abounds around the water cache, and it is supplemented by my stock pond — amply full — a quarter-of-a-mile away to the northeast.  Animal tracks puncture the wet soil of both seep and pond.  Trails radiate in all directions from these water pools, life-sustaining hubs among tens of thousands of water holes in west Texas.

Walking, ambling really, I kept watch for the unanticipated field discoveries that, without fail, always occur; and if none appear, I have not looked upon, within and close enough, the land upon which I trod.  I wrote in my field notebook the jack rabbit, woodpecker, roadrunner and fertile pond algae as they appeared in good order from the house.

As I turned in the creek bed at the last big U-turn loop, I gazed upon color, flower color, I had never seen before: the Clammyweed.  Not exactly the classiest of names, but it is what it is.

Clammyweed (Polanisia dodecandra), Salt Creek, north Erath County, Texas (July 27, 2011).

Clammyweed grew on a sand bar in the middle of the dry creek bed.  Seven blossoms on three plants taunted the drought in all its brazen heat, stating in siren tones that shade, moisture and sand can bring forth purple and white, stamens a-blazing, here in July.  The heat be gone for the moment.  Hooray!  for Clammyweed!

I was already dizzy from the heat and lack of air circulation, but this discovery boosted me out of the spell.  I read later in field manuals that Clammyweed is a derivative of the caper family, one of my favorite garnishes, and that if one rustles the flower or plant, an odor emits that clams to the skin.  I must go back and find out for myself this attribute.

The second field gift on this July day came near the end of my one-and-a-half hour field trip.  Walking gingerly in the middle of the creek bed, avoiding large sandstone rocks, I looked down and saw a dark, flat-shaped, lithic object of iron ore that is abundant about the place.  Thinking it a natural chink or large piece of rock, I kicked at it with my boot.  Instead of a natural formation, it showed signs of flaking and abrasion — a lithic tool, used by Native Americans before the onslaught of mining, farming and ranching.

Abraded and flaked lithic tool (4'' x 2.5"), Salt Creek, north Erath County, Texas (July 27, 2011).

I noted the location, picked up the tool and continued my ambling to the west water gap, the end of my walk.

Returning to the house, I sat down, not with coffee but with a Dr. Pepper, and wrote out the rest of my field notes.  My observations had begun at 8:14 a.m. and concluded at 9:45 a.m.  The temperature by ten o’clock was 86 degrees, headed upwards to 105-107 degrees by the late afternoon.

The grove remains green.  A water seep looks healthy in the creek bed.  Wildlife track abounds.  Cultural artifacts appear, attesting to man’s continuing occupation of the surrounds.  The day will be hot.  Gifts, of a sort, have fallen in my path and I gain a sense of continuity with nature reviving itself in Clammyweed blossoms, bursting in color, a natural goddess emerging from the earth in July, glimmering in fertility.  Paradise regained.

* * *

The water cache and seep along Salt Creek, north Erath County, Texas (July 27, 2011).


Notes and corrections:

The photograph of the Salt Creek water cache was appended.

The sentence, “Paradise regained,” was added in the last paragraph of the essay.


Filed under Field Log, Plants and Shrubs, Wild Flowers of Texas

15 responses to “Field gifts in July

  1. What a nice entry. I love discovering evidence of ancient cultures. Their testament to ongoing life is always a wonder and piques my curiosity about their culture, their day-to-day lives.

    I hope the rain comes soon.

  2. So interesting to imagine these acres of yours through your writing. You all are extra dry, too, but your area is a very different ecosystem than our high desert chaparral near Albuquerque. Yet, the colors in the rocky soil from your second photo of the tool, and the photo of the Clammyweed, which looks an awful lot like our Rocky Mountain Bee plant, both feel familiar to here. From the 2rd photo, though, I sense a different soil condition over there, further east. Maybe more humus. This is one hard summer for Texans and New Mexicans alike. We have gotten some rain – July has brought the filling out of our first inch of rainfall for the whole of the year. I second the wish for rain to come!

    • Cirrelda, I think we have some overlapping of the ecology, but New Mexico is in a world of its own. Yes, there is more humus and the seep photo shows the loam from the rich soil between the two creeks — now pretty dry. Good for your monsoons.

  3. Suddenly struck by the word “Erath”, I went looking and discovered Mr. Erath, the surveyor for whom the county was named, and stumbled over some little facts just as you stumbled over your tool and the clammyweed. For example: long before the petroleum company, there were the Anadarko people, moved from Texas to Oklahoma and giving their name to the Anadarko basin in the two panhandles. Very interesting.

    Here in the city, we have water caches, too – you always know who has a leak in their sprinkler system by the birds and wildlife hanging around!

    And even a half-inch of rain can do so much – we have wildflowers blooming all around just now, for all the world like it’s April. Sunflowers and thistle, little purple things and big purple things, pink things and white. The ability of the world to restore itself is marvelous – thanks for the reminder!

    • Yes, Erath was a man and not a misspelling of “earth.” The Anadarko came down this far and beyond. I’m not sure what culture these tools are associated with, but will find out. Yes, we need restoration, don’t we?

  4. Reading this I can almost feel the overbearing heat as it sucks the life from all that it touches. Searing heat like what you are experiencing is my least favorite thing yet your words go beyond what is obvious to point out what we need to see to get the whole picture of how life continues even in harsh environments; seeds that sprout along the edges of what little water remains, trees and shrubs who’s roots reach deep into the soil looking for moisture, vegetation that has formed seeds that will disperse and start the cycle again. And amongst this vegetation there are insects doing their work, reptiles, mammals and birds all seeking food, some finding enough, some not. There is evidence of life everywhere, we just have to slow down and look and enjoy its wonder. Thanks for taking us along on your walk of discovery.

    • Annie, your words are very thoughtful and insightful into what’s happening — despite the drought, renewal is afoot and life is continuing to eek out an existence. Yes, it was a walk of discovery. I enjoyed your salmon recipe post.

  5. This “journal entry” brings the reader along with you almost every step of the way. How lucky you were to find lithic tool. I wondered what it felt like to hod a tool once held and used by ancient Native Americans in doing daily chores. To hold such a rich piece of every day history is almost unbelievable, at least to me. You have been exposed to a lot more archaelogical items than I ever will be through your past research and digs, an honor that I’m sure you hold warmly.

    The “oblong pool” the last vestige of water in your dry environment sounds like it is a true magnet for thirsty wildlife. Have you though of setting up a trail camera to take pictures of all the visitors it receives. That would be fascinating.

    It must be fun to explore this creek in various times of the year. From the wet spring to the frozen conditions of winter I’m sure it takes on many different personalities.

    Very nice piece Jack.

    • Bill, I did not think about it until you mentioned it. I’m going to look up field cameras on the web and see how expensive they are. To hold a lithic tool of the past is pretty awesome. Imagining its use, user, applications, portability and age: all set us in motion to see that connection with the past is very stimulating. Around here, acorns, deer, yucca, cactus bulbs and other food supplies must have attracted those cultures. Thank you, Bill, for your comment, and to explore the creek throughout the year, seasons all, is new and different each time. The cottonwood has grown one-third since last fall.

      • Yes, Jack, go to Cabelas on the web and write in trail cameras. They must have 50 different kinds. No need to get one of the real expensive ones, some of the ones around $100 are more than adequate. Try to get one that uses infrared and motion sensors to trigger the shutter. You’ll have a lot of fun with it, especially when you have a “magnet” like you have with the pool.

      • I going to do that. $100 is about what I can afford now. Thank you so much, Bill. You are a friend indeed.

  6. Nature is amazing, isn’t it! Even in a prolonged drought there is a pool of water and pretty blossoms. Reassuring. The ancient tool was a great find. When I lived in Arizona and explored the desert I found a number of stone tools and they always stirred my imagination and made me feel connected to the people who lived there far in the past.

    • Nature is amazing and surprising. And, reassuring that the cycle continues. I think the delicate flowers you photograph in Montana are just about the most beautiful blossoms I’ve ever seen. I love the southwest, but this heat in Texas is driving me and my friends northward to the glaciers, the land where there are two seasons: winter and July. Thanks, Montucky, for your comment.

  7. Pingback: Well springs Frio loam | Sage to Meadow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s