Monthly Archives: September 2011

Lilly’s* cairn

Rock cairn of Ima Lil Moore, September 25, 2011.

This summer I constructed a rock cairn to stack sandstone and petrified wood on the ranchito. A few feet up from the cairn in the photograph, I smoothed the soil with a hand rake. The smooth soil and the cairn mark the spot that Lilly*, known also by her registered name, Ima Lil Moore (APHA 111214), lies buried, six feet beneath the surface in a grave dug by the backhoe of a Stephenville, Texas, contractor. The cairn is about four feet in height and I pile smaller stones within the hollow of the cairn as I work through the day.

Cairns are built on top of mountains and within them sometimes a tin box is placed so that mountaineers may log themselves in and make a few comments about the climb to the top. I’ve done that with Mt. Taylor and Pedernal in New Mexico, climbs that I remember vividly and relive in my mind as I grow old. I shall not stop climbing. I don’t have a mountain to climb now as a goal, but the South Truchas peak in New Mexico is the only one of the Truchas peaks I have not assailed.  I will find the South Truchas cairn and write of my climb some day.

Lilly’s cairn contains no tin box, but as I look at it during the day I etch comments about her in a notebook that never fades or tears. She was my first and original teacher of horse behavior. I learned the difference between a kick of aggression and a kick of delight. Lilly never bit or kicked in aggression. She suffered to stand in her last days, allowing me to put a sling on the tractor and hoist her up by the neck, whereupon she shook herself and proceeded to the hay bin as if nothing had happened. To her last days, feeble as she was, the powerful King Ranch mare of mine who stood two hands above her always moved aside in respect for Lilly so that she could eat where she wanted. Lilly was alpha among the remuda.

I have thought of writing a post about putting Lilly down, and I will some day, but for now, I fill her cairn with rocks she galloped upon, throwing stones in her run to green pastures and fresh water.  I know those stones and pick them up for her cairn.  And in my dreams, Lilly walks beside me on a trail to the top of a unknown mountain, and she fills my night with peace.

Lilly (1985-2011)

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Notes, corrections and additions:

*The spelling of Lilly is “Lilly.”  It is a nickname that originated with my mother.  The flower, “lily,” is spelled with one “l,” but this horse has always had it spelled with two “l’s”.  Call it quaint Texas spelling.  The spelling of names on birth certificates is always interesting.  And, unfortunately, sometimes confusing.

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Sage blooms in Abilene

Sage blooming in Abilene, Texas, September 20, 2011.

This late summer, thundershowers fall infrequently around Abilene, Texas.  Yet, some showers do fall about this west Texas city that lies close to the Brazos River and Buffalo Gap, a niche in the hills that allowed buffalo to migrate from north to central Texas in the nineteenth century, following the shortgrass and bluestem in their casual browsing.

Two days ago as I worked late at my office at Cisco College, I walked by three large sagebrush by the back entry door.  A monarch butterfly floated by, floating and fluttering as if they are playing, and landed on one of the blossoms.  But before I could draw my iPhone from my coat pocket, it flew away and out of my range to snap a picture.  Alas, I was too slow on the draw.  I followed it to a green clump of slender grasses and lost it, despite my intent search.  The monarch had buried itself from my eyes, thinking me a raptor?

Yesterday, following the blooming sagebrush and my failure to photograph the butterfly, it rained about the city, to the north and west particularly.  A rainbow emerged with the sun setting to the east.  And, this morning, the temperatures were the coolest since May, a 61 degrees before sunup.

I think, if sagebrush blooms, can rain be far behind?  And playing monarchs about the purple sage?  Not far behind either.

Three sagebrush with blossoms at the back door of Cisco College, September 22, 2011. The monarch flew and hid in the bushes to the upper right of the photograph.

 

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Well springs Frio loam

Southeast corner of Pecan Tree Pasture, Johnsongrass and big bluestem (September 4, 2011).

Drought has come to the Southwest, particularly Texas. Wildfires erupt and I view every cloud in the sky as either friend or foe, rain-cumulus or pyrocumulus. Man lives in oscillating cycles: birth, maturity, degeneration and death; spring, summer, winter and fall; day and night. Nature’s theater, the grandest show — in fact the only show on the road — brings hot, dry days to us, an uneasy audience that sits without a program in hand.

Raising my hands and putting on a broad-brimmed hat to shield myself from the sun, I think, Is there is no way out of this parched country of west Texas, this incessant drought?  As a matter of habit, I drove to the far field two days ago, then again yesterday, and what I saw brought me out of the funk and into the reality of primary, nascent things that fosters renewal, not despair.  What I saw was the green field of my far pasture, Pecan Tree Pasture, a 35 acre field of buffalo grass, side-oats gramma, little bluestem, big bluestem and Johnsongrass that stood higher than my head!  The rain of about 2.5 inches two weeks ago provided enough moisture for a re-eruption of growth.

Trying to understand the dissonance of yellow-brown drought in Texas and this field of green grass, I gazed deeper and deeper into the field, trying to resolve these issues of color.  Then, it penetrated:  I was not looking deep enough, for beneath the grass lay soil, the wellspring for grass, the fountain of energy that we all thrive upon.  Well springs the soil.

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.  Food chains are living channels which conduct energy upward; death and decay return it to the soil.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, p. 216, New York: Oxford Press, 1949.

In primary school, we all saw the pyramid chart of soil, plants, animals, man, sun and the flowing of energy back and forth.  The tooth and claw of the pyramid remained omnipresent, but never voiced.  We knew one thing lived by absorbing another living thing, whether cougar on deer, fox on rabbit or kids on hamburgers, but our teachers for reasons of refinement side-stepped the tooth, the claw.  The revealing of one thing eating another lay with fathers and uncles in the field on cloudy, windy and cold days.  Perhaps that is how it should be.

To know my soil, early this morning I unfolded the Soil Survey Map of Erath County, Texas, in order to type the soil of the far field I saw yesterday.  The map is ninety-one years old (1920); it is still accurate, still a good map.  My land, temporary occupant that I am, encompasses three soil types.  First, I have rough stony land (R) upon which sits the house, barn, stables and arena.  Second, the tree grove of American elm, willow, live oak, red oak, juniper and pecan rests upon Frio silty clay loam, Colluvial phase (F).  Through the tree grove runs Salt Creek, an intermittent flowing stream.

In the far field, where big bluestem is stretching upwards of seven-feet in height, a pasture that has not been grazed by Angus cattle in four years, is Frio loam (Fm), deposits of earth that have rushed down from High Salt Cove and between two creeks, Barton Creek and Salt Creek.  From Frio loam springs the grass in the far field.  The doe and fawn I disturbed yesterday lie between the high stands of big bluestem, and I lapse back to Oklahoma’s plains and the waving blue-red waves of autumnal bluestem that rustle with wind, the stems making sounds as they brush against one another.  The pasture holds the moisture of the last rain and though I am not a person of edgy competition, I would put my far field of green grass up against any non-fertilized field in Erath County for height, vigor, nutrients and wildlife.

After tending the far field for eight years and seeing the soil’s fountain of energy this late summer, How is it that man fouls such richness, such gifts?  The answer is complex, but knowable.  The resolution to stop the pollution begins with a respect for knowledge, deep knowledge that is revealed early and, unfortunately, forgotten early on with so many other things in our youth, a bulletin board that displayed the food chain in first grade.  The ethic of conservation and sustainability rests upon simple principles that need the status of a Commandment, an article of the Constitution, a catechism of the church.  Better yet, we should recover that which was lost when we began to make pottery, metal and textiles thousands of years ago, or left on that bulletin board at Coggin Elementary School in Brownwood, Texas.

Land is a fountain of energy.  In my far field, Frio loam is a wellspring.

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Click to enlarge. Soil survey map, Salt Creek and Barton Creek merger, from Soil Survey of Erath County, Texas (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922). The far field is located at about center-left along Salt Fork and is associated with the symbol, Fm, for Frio loam.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There, New York: Oxford Press, 1949.  I am quoting from the paperback, special commemorative edition that has an introduction by Robert Finch.

Soil Survey of Erath County, Texas, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922.  The map was drawn in 1920, hence, it is ninety-one years old.  I found it in the workshop of the house I once owned in Mingus, Texas.  The house was know as the Old Bertino Place, named for the Italian family that had come to the area to work in the coal mines of Thurber in the nineteenth century.

I have been reading a considerable amount of literature this summer:  Aldo Leopold, Thoreau, Tolkien, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Edward Hoagland, Black Elk, Frank Waters, Wordsworth, Catulus.  I have something to write.  Whether it sells or not is a by-product.  I have to write, I really do.

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