Monthly Archives: August 2011

Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake

Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake (MSNBC photo, August 2011)

As I drove back to the ranchito yesterday afternoon from Abilene, moving with light traffic on Interstate 20 near Eastland, Texas, I looked northeast and saw towering pyrocumulus clouds. Approximately forty to fifty miles away from where I drove on the highway, I pinpointed the fires at Palo Pinto, Texas, or Possum Kingdom Lake. My ranchito lay far away from the inferno, so my anxiety lessened and I began to think more intently about the precise location. The smoke rose high in the sky, becoming pyrocumulus, rolling and billowing upwards.  It had started at about 1:30 p.m.

When I arrived at the house, I turned on the television and Dallas-Fort Worth stations reported the fires near Possum Kingdom Lake, the southeastern side of the huge lake that dams the Brazos River, the largest river in Texas. In April, fires had erupted about the lake, destroying homes and thousands of acres of trees and grass with attendant wildlife. Once again, Possum Kingdom habitat ignites, the residents flee not having time to salvage photos or documents.

I ruminate that our region suffers a drought, cow tanks dry, underbrush decadent and my primary source of water, the Barton Creek Cooperative, restricts water use with heavy penalties for violators.  In the Possum Kingdom fire zone, summer camps for teenagers and children abound, primary homes and secondary homes stand close to trees that are pruned carefully, the underbrush removed as a fire hazard.  Yet, so, when the spark falls on the dead, crackly grass and brush, natural forces beyond man’s control take precedence and airships with their whap-whap-whap of whirling blades pour water onto flames that send smoke and ashes high into the sky, creating pyrocumulus in the blue skies of Texas.  I think of a line from Full Metal Jacket:  Who is in command here?

The origin of the fire is unknown and as of this morning, August 31, the fire is not contained.

For a morning news report, August 31, 2011, see “Wildfires burning homes in Texas, Oklahoma,” from MSNBC.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The quote from the movie, “Who’s in command here?” originally read Apocalypse Now.  The proper citation is from the movie, Full Metal Jacket.

The photograph from MSNBC shows smoke and ash close to the ground and none of the “clouds” are pyrocumulus.  I saw the pyrocumulus while on the interstate highway and I failed to use my iPhone to photograph the phenomenon. 

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Filed under Life Out of Balance, Weather, Wildfire

Thoreau the philosopher: The hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove

The following quote of Henry David Thoreau reflects a symbolism, rather deep I suspect, of three sentient beings: dog, horse and dove (bird).  Historians and literary scholars speculate these lost animals never existed.  Like so many queries, further research is necessary.  My quick and dirty (fast, not slow or deep) study assumes that they did exist AND they represent Thoreau’s tangential thinking.  In part, the dog is companionship, friendship, association; the horse is the passion and energy of men and women; and the dove is the transcendental quality, possessed by all men, to break the bonds of family, religion, nation and materialism.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854).

* * *

And, in association with such tracking and calling, I submit my own experiences with hound, horse and bird:

Come here, boy, come here. I hear the rustle of grass and juniper brush before I see my hound.

One long high whistle, followed by three low-toned whistles. The gallop towards me grows louder, the ground shakes and earth is a-flying.

The dove comes back to be with its own kind, a cooing ensues and a dance. I reach inside their loft — they are accustomed to me — and pick one gently up and as I stroke its breast, it sleeps, head tucked under its wing. I lay it gently down and in the morning’s light it disappears behind the clouds.

* * *

Not trying to be didactic or professorial (I hate that, even in my own classroom), what do you think about Thoreau’s quote?  Should this quote be taken literally?  Symbolically?  Or both?  I’ll expect your comments by September 1, or I will have to check the non-compliance box next to your name.  So, let’s get on with the punishment, shall we?

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The original post contained only Thoreau’s quote and my three extrapolations about hound, horse and dove.  I added the first paragraph before the quote and added the questions at the end of the post.  The photographs have also been added — all additions occurred August 27, 2011.

I originally started re-reading Thoreau for a variety of reasons, especially searching for irony and wit in his writing, but I got side-tracked with this quote.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Nature Quote of the Day, Quote of the Day

My dog chewed my Peterson’s Field Guide!

Remnants Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide

Yeller, my Australian Shepherd-Labrador mix, chewed and swallowed several color plates of my Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, ninth printing of the 1969 edition.

Here is Yeller with snow several winters ago.  He’s a good dog!  Yeller has a habit pattern of wanting to play at about 6:30 p.m. in the evening.  Sedate most of the day, when that time rolls around he will seek me out in the office and pester me until I play with him.  He is most fond of me wrestling with him on his huge pad, a 3×4 foot mattress-like dog pad, until I give up.  Yeller will lead me to his pad, pick up a toy and challenge me to play, “Take Away!”

I am not always a good play companion for I get too busy with very important things like writing a blog and will command, “Lay down.”

Yeller retrieves 25 lb. sacks of dehydrated goat milk and children’s toys from about the countryside when I used to let him run uncontrolled.  I’ve found rubber Daffy Ducks and Pluto the dogs in my front yard, carefully placed by Yeller after rambling through neighboring pastures and juniper groves.  I keep him indoors now and will let him out on a “field leash,” a twenty-five foot yacht rope leash I used to train bird dogs.  In most cases, the toys he brought back to the ranchito were abandoned by insensitive little primates in the veld.  He is a rescue dog, sort of St. Bernard-like.

This fine, courageous dog chewed my Peterson’s one night last week.  When I arose at 5:00 a.m., I found my field book that I have carried in field packs, backpacks and floorboards of many pickups scattered into hundreds of pieces on the floor of my office.  Many of the color plates had been consumed.  He was especially hungry for the quail and duck color plates.

Punishment?  No way.  The act of destruction occurred in the middle of the night and if I had chastised Yeller he would not have connected the “event” with my scolding voice that I hardly ever use because he is such a fine dog, good dog.  Besides with all the scents attached to that field book, carried in my sweaty hands, dropped in a bog, stuffed in field bags with Trail Mix and held in my possession since 1972, I could hardly blame him.  My fondest remembrance of referring to the Peterson was when I was up in the Sangre de Cristos, near Truchas, New Mexico, and I identified my first Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica) that flew about the trail I ascended into the Pecos Wilderness.

That’s okay, Yeller, I understand you.  I can always get another Peterson’s from Amazon.com, but there never be another dog like you.  Now, go fetch your toy!  It’s playtime!

Yeller is looking for Peterson.

 

 

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Filed under Dogs

My summer’s end

Medieval depiction of the four seasons, peasant perspective.

As far back as I can remember, my summers end with the beginning of school in late summer, although at college and the university eons ago the semester began in September, not the middle of one-hundred degree temperatures in August, a month christened:  harvest month (Finnish), month of leaves (Japanese) or month of the sickle (Polish).  August still blows hot and the cumulus clouds don’t always come together during the day for a thundershower in Texas.  These days, my summer’s end comes when the bugle sounds, “Faculty Assembly,” and I file in with other professors for another encounter with young men and women who must always be reminded that getting an education is beyond, way beyond, getting a job.  And, frankly, by December, they know the difference.  ‘Tis a seasonal thing, I say.

When does summer officially end?  Oh, gosh, no, here comes a science lesson: Summer is calculated as ending when “the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator.”  This equality of the northern and southern hemisphere angle or tilt towards the Sun occurs twice, about March 21, September 22.  Enough of the astronomical parsing, just what is going on with my summer’s end, prematurely a month before its true shutoff?

Like the medieval image above, I lay down my sickle and pick up the history survey text of the United States and lecture.  No more harvesting here, I throw fertilizer and facts at students and hope the plants thrive.  I feel unnatural to put my farm tools down before summer ends.  What will happen when I am in the classroom and it has rained and the fields need cultivation?  The plow follows the rain, as every farmer knows.  Will things be okay without my studied interference?  I think so.  The fields manage quite well without my disc, chisel or shredder.  (I still have areas I cultivated five-years ago that remain dormant mainly because I interfered.  No more of that!)  I’ll catch up another day on interfering.

What I will miss most is arising at 4:30 a.m. and by 5:00 a.m. sitting out in the dark or early morning light and logging the sights, sounds and smells of the coming day, scribbling fast on my steno pad, nine to ten lines a steno page in the dark so as to keep up with the ending of night, the beginning of the day in American West.  Drought has a scent: dusty, dry wood, a tad smoky, bog water, leather that needs oiling, mesquite bean, burnt stone.  I should like next summer to rise early again, take notes in the dark, drink coffee and look for orioles as the rosy fingers of Dawn emerge before my summer’s end.  ‘Tis a seasonal thing, to be sure.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Orioles are uncommon in west Texas.  I have only seen two in my life: one when I was ten, then day before yesterday, I saw another oriole, brilliant in color against the green mesquite.  It flew with a rhythm like a runner jumping hurdles.

Here is a painting that depicts Everyman and their summer’s, life’s end:

Summer's end.

This painting comes from the blog: http://damnthefreshman15.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/summers-end/

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Filed under Birds, Life in Balance

Rain in Broke Tree Corral

Rain in Broke Tree Corral, north Erath County, Texas, August 12, 2011.

Yesterday afternoon, after months of drought, rain came down sporadically in drops, then sheets of rain.

The first raindrops bounced on the aluminum roof of the barn and stables. Lightning flashed, thunder clapped, and Star the paint gelding and I flinched.  He bolted for about three gallops, then returned quickly to the shelter of the stable.  Within thirty minutes, five-tenths of an inch had fallen and a lightning strike on the oil piping fence about fifty-yards away knocked out electrical power.

I fed Star his grain and Horseshoer’s Secret — a potion for rebuilding hoof walls — and he munched haply through the noise of the thunderstorm, occasionally bringing his head out of the feed bin to see if I still sat in the alleyway waiting out the rain.  I talked to him, Good boy, fine fellow.

Broke Tree Corral is the first of two successive corrals about the barn and arena.  So named for an American Elm tree that broke in two, the tree has continued to thrive with bark and one-half of its internal veins intact for at least eight years now.  The grass in the corrals has become brittle and sparse.  The rain quickly formed small channels that flowed into the second corral, the Well House Corral, where bare ground could not stop the erosion-flow into the near fields of buffalo grass and mesquite sprouts.

Rain flows down the road towards the barn, north Erath County, Texas, August 12, 2011

Rain has fallen, the temperature has dropped and the Jack Rabbit has come out of his burrow to chomp on fresh sprouts and new, tender, blades of grass in the small dell between me and the Dooley place.  The drought has not been broken decisively, but this rainfall is a far away sound of better days and nights headed to Texas, a hunter’s footfall tracking a devil of fiery brutalities to slay and scatter to cool winds and shady juniper groves for those that live with the land.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Try as I might, misspelled words sometimes slip through.  I do not rely on “check spelling” frequently, but will look again at a word if it is underlined in red.  In this post this morning, I misspelled, “lightning,” twice!  I spelled it “lightening” and missed the correction.  In writing posts, I do not have a proofreader.  It is an imperfect world filled with imperfect compositions.

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Filed under Rain, Star, Weather

Clouds with Mourning Dove

Pre-dawn clouds in Texas, north Erath County, August 2011.

Yesterday in mid-afternoon, August 10, 2011, a weak squall line walked through my ranchito in central-west Texas.  Blue-gray rain clouds edged and staggered to a halt south of my place.  A few drops of rain fell.  The power of the squall line churned up dust clouds, obscuring the Nowack barn across the county road in a microburst downdraft.  East of me, seventy-five miles away, Fort Worth had rain falling on Sundance Square, the heart of downtown commerce and entertainment that coarsely promotes the city as, “Where the West Begins.”  I disagree, but that argument will have to wait for another day.

The squall line with thunderclouds failed to bring rain on my land yesterday, but one weather change in the future will bring drops and sheets of rain.  I looked at the weather charts yesterday afternoon and saw thundershowers, sixty-miles north, let loose rain, then dissipate into nothingness but a void of mirages, quavering silver lakes far away.  No mirage here, the juniper trees in the ranchito grove threw off a luscious scent with the rise in humidity, dispelling summer for a time and bringing a promise of better days.

This morning, clouds remain to my east and as the sun rises, I see remnants of yesterday’s storm over Sundance Square.   I count three, perhaps five, sun rays through the cirrus and cumulus debris.  In all of this — the dust clouds, wind, scarce drops of rain and the sun’s rays — I look at yesterday’s date, August 10th, and know that Fall is forty days away, and that the sun rises later and sets earlier each day upon the earth’s northern hemisphere, Sundance Square and my hacienda. 

As if I needed any more natural substantiation that the season is turning — I do — Mourning Doves (Zenaidura macroura) sustained their ooah, cooo, cooo, coo this morning for over an hour, sitting on power lines and in the mesquite brush of the Dooley place to my west.  The Mourning Dove with hot mornings and brutal afternoons of heat on the ranchito does not coo earnestly, but quiets in sorrow for the lack of rain.

The Mourning Dove is in the lower-left photograph, a White-fronted Dove is pictured in lower-right (Audubon Society Field Guide, 1977).

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The call of the Mourning Dove comes from Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to Western Birds (1969), my constant reference and field guide that is tattered and torn.  But I would not have it any other way.

Photographs of the dove are from The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (1977).  This reference guide from Audubon was in the small library of my parents who grew up in the country of central Texas and were always cognizant of wildlife, thunderstorms, cattle and horses.  I inherited the library and treasure each volume of field manuals that they thumbed through.

Several species of dove reside and pass through the ranchito. 

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Filed under Birds, Rain, Weather

Cool, clear water

Western edge of pond, Flying Hat Ranchito, north Erath County, Texas, July 2011.

Proust had his tea cake that extended memories to prosy heights that we all have started to climb, but failed to reach — my ascent stopped at Swann’s Way, but I’m not going to stay long on the ledge for I have hammered the next piton to assail the final page of Mt. Swann.  “Cool Water,” a country and western classic by the Sons of the Pioneers, a tea cake of sorts, takes me back to old Camp Bowie, near Brownwood, Texas, as I complained the lack of water on a hot summer day, touring with my parents in a old, non-air conditioned Ford sedan.  Why they weren’t thirsty, I’ll never know, but I campaigned persistently for halting somewhere, anywhere, for water.

I must have been persuasive for my step-father stopped the car along the highway and I crossed over a fence and ran to a pond of fresh, cool water in a green pasture.  I drank, cupping the water in my hands, not muddling the water as I scooped.  Even today, I still see that pond when I drive in the region, although it has been dug out and deepened countless times.  Both my step-father and mother laughed in sympathy and I was dubbed, “Chief Water Bucket,” a name I did not like nor wanted.

The drought in the Southwest descends brutally upon the landscape, in the news and by the mails; the only shade at times is under lovely junipers.  I look out upon brittle, brown grasses; the trees in the grove are turning golden.  The newspapers boldface the headlines that cattle are being sold through the night at local auctions as cattlemen line up two-miles long with moaning cows in their trailers.  In the mail, Barton Water Cooperative states that I can only water the yard twice a week and if the water usage exceeds tolerable levels, I will be assessed a fine, a surcharge.  I fill one water trough for my horse, Star, allowing an overflow into a pan on the ground for wildlife.  I dare a surcharge for that.

This summer I have thought often about “Cool Water,” and sung and hummed the melody and lyrics.  Each time I reflect on the music, I am back with my parents alongside the road, running for the cool, clear water in that pasture.  “Cool Water,” is my tea cake, my madeleine.

Here are the lyrics to “Cool Water,” followed by a current photograph of the ranchito’s only pond.

All day I face the barren waste without the taste of water,
Cool water.
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water,
Cool water.

The night are cool and I’m a fool each stars a pool of water,
Cool water.
But with the dawn I’ll wake and yawn and carry on to water,
Cool water.

(Chorus)
Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him Dan, he’s a devil not a man
and he spreads the burnin’ sand with water.
Dan can’t you see that big green tree where the waters runnin’ free
and it’s waiting there for me and you.
Water, cool water.

The shadows sway and seem to say tonight we pray for water,
Cool water.
And way up there He’ll hear our prayer and show us where there’s water,
Cool Water.

Dan’s feet are sore he’s yearning for just one thing more than water,
Cool water.
Like me, I guess, he’d like to rest where there’s no quest for water,
Cool water.

(“Cool Water,” Sons of the Pioneer, RCA Country Legends.)

Flying Hat Ranchito pond, north Erath County, July 2011.

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Filed under Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966, Weather

Score: Mockingbird 1, Roadrunner 0

A mockingbird resides in a live oak tree on the east side of the terrace beside the house.  For several days I have observed roadrunners coming up to the terrace early in the morning and mid-afternoon to feast on grasshoppers.  Occasionally, the roadrunners will scale a separate live oak tree from the mockingbird’s nest only to be thrown back, not by cauldrons of burning drought-oil in Texas, but by the fierce, unrelenting assault of the mockingbird.  The trees upon the terrace are mockingbird territory!  Beware aliens!  The mockingbirds will allow red-headed woodpeckers to pierce bark for a meal, but not the roadrunner.

Yesterday, I took these photos of the tournament.  At end of battle, the score was Team Mockingbird 1, Team Roadrunner 0.  The roadrunner ran off the terrace and into the mesquite thickets on the Dooley place.

A roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is a cuckoo, here pictured on the terrace with pale-leaf yucca in background (north Erath County, Texas, 2011).

Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) assaults roadrunner (north Erath County, Texas, 2011).

Mockingbird stares at roadrunner.

Roadrunner stares at mockingbird.

I have had close encounters with both species in rescuing them from death.  I unloosed a mockingbird from bird netting several years ago.  He bit me and drew blood.  And, a year or so ago, I saved a roadrunner from drowning in a water trough.  He had fallen in and was unable to fly or climb out.  I have no idea if the roadrunners I see are survivors of that event — more than likely not since it was over a year ago.

I do have a field note about each of these birds.  I can hear the roadrunner chattering, a noise he makes by rolling mandibles together.  He has a voice like a dove, but more often I hear the chatter.  The other note is that the mockingbirds like to sing at night in the spring — all night long.  I used to hear them as a boy when I slept with the windows open; I barely hear them now with the air conditioner blowing.

Seeking comic relief in all this heat, I look for a coyote to come across the terrace tomorrow, laying a trap for Team Roadrunner.  I hear coyotes, but don’t see them.  “Beep, beep.”

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If she isn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, I’ll give her to you!

Wild Flower Gal with verbena (north Erath County, Texas, late winter, 2007).

Four winters ago, my neighbor, Jerry Wood who lives two miles south of me on County Road 114 stopped at my mailbox as I retrieved letters one morning.  We chatted for a few minutes as he kept his diesel truck running and as we closed our conversation he said, “I have a horse, Jack, [words unintelligible over the engine noise] I’ll give her to you!”

“I’ll give her to you?”  I had three horses at this time, two tobiano black paints and one quarter horse, Sweet Hija, and another horse added to the remuda would not be a problem to train and feed.  But, a gift horse?  I thought as Jerry drove off that he must be terminally ill or something drastic was going on like divorce or bankruptcy.  I immediately decided that if the horse was sound, I would take her off Jerry’s hands and ease his problem — whatever it was.

Within the week, I drove down to Jerry’s with my trailer hitched up, pulled into his corrals and saw Wild Flower Gal, a sorrel tobiano paint that was drop-dead gorgeous.  “Why would he even want to get rid of this beautiful creature?” I quietly thought.  In any case, he took her through her paces, showed that she was healthy and halter-trained and I liked her behavior so she would fit in after getting to know my other three horses.

After seeing her training, paces and overall friendliness, I asked Jerry, “Are you sure you want to give this beautiful horse to me, Jerry?”  I thought he was making a big mistake to give Wild Flower Away and I did not want to exploit Jerry’s problem — whatever the heck it was — in his hour of crisis.

“What?” he said.

“You did say, didn’t you, Jerry, that you were giving this horse to me?”  This was quickly going in a perplexing direction I did not like.

“Oh, no!” he quickly replied.  “I said, ‘If she isn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, I’ll give her to you.'”

“Oh, you did?”  This was definitely in embarrassing territory.  “How much do you want for her?”

“One-thousand dollars,” he replied.

I became a tad dizzy in my thinking at that point, but my mind quickly cleared the confusion:  Jerry’s diesel engine had blocked out his words, “If she isn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen…”  And I had slammed his statement into, “I have a horse to give you, Jack.”

What to do?  Buy the horse and lighten my bank account?  Probably the best exit strategy.  If I did not buy Wild Flower Gal, I would probably be the center of an oft-told tale at the Hannibal Country Store concerning my over-eagerness to gainsay another yegua for free.  I did not want that circulating around the cracker barrel.

So, I bought Wild Flower Gal, loaded her up and brought her to my stables.  Jerry signed over the pedigree, pocketing a thousand.

Wild Flower Gal was pretty, but not the prettiest gal I had ever seen.  But, pretty enough to buy and train and sever any anecdote about my confusion.  Several months later I snapped the photograph of her in late winter browsing through the wild verbena.  It was fitting, this photograph, because she was in a pasture of wild flowers that reflected her namesake.  I sold her a year later for a thousand dollars to a family near Abilene, Texas, that showed her at halter and loved her well.

A lot of lessons emerge from this story.  Verify and clarify conversations of commercial intercourse.  Cut your engines when conversing.  Above all, there’s no such thing as a free horse.

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Filed under Horses, Sweet Hija, Wild Flowers of Texas

Downy feathers and purple fruit of Texas

The drought affect upon a person’s mood in Texas can quickly decline into prurient prose and photographs to the neglect of new abundances, new vacuums, curious presences in the arid lands. The drought’s vignettes multiple in west-central Texas:  Boer goats standing tall, eating mesquite and live oak leaves, dropping on all fours to dead grass; auction sales in Dublin, Eastland, and Coleman, Texas, that go on through the night and into the next day selling cattle that will, in the main, be quickly transported to packinghouses; cow tanks and water caches that were never dry in my lifetime are now barren, their empty beds cracking like dregs of buttermilk on clear glass; and reflective heat exploding my Boston Scientific Weather Station thermometer to 122 degrees.

No need to get angry at the weather; that’s crazy, wrote Nietzsche.  And after going over the daily picture rituals of dry, semi-arid, landscapes, I prefer not to reside in some smutty alcove of bereavement, rocking back and forth, counting beads, hoping for a drastic change in the jet stream.  I am in a droughty weather cycle, yes, but so?  Start designing interior plazas, stucco walls and arbors with water mists — all replete with scented juniper shade.  And, in the cool morning, begin construction.

Then, in the field, observe all things, including downy dove feathers on mesquite and the purple tulip fruit of the ubiquitous Desert prickly pear.  These are trusty images to dwell upon during the heat of the day.

Desert prickly pear, New Mexico prickly pear, bearing tulip fruits that are edible (north Erath County, Texas, 2011).


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