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.

* * *

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.


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.


Filed under Life in Balance, Rain, Sounds, Weather

18 responses to “Well springs Frio loam

  1. That field is amazing, given the heat and drought that it has been through! It’s a real testament to the resilience of nature and an example of what proper stewardship of the land can do!

    Sadly, in so much of the west, that knowledge that you wrote of has not been used, replaced by tradition, the tradition of “taming the west”.

    • Yes, Montucky, “taming” has meant clearing, cropping and cutting. A balance of some sort eluded us in “opening” the West. I prefer the West closed except to those that tread lightly through the desert, forest and mountains. That preference, however, has been gone since the nineteenth century. So, the effort should be education, science, natural law and the like to foster sensitivity to the soil, the beautiful flowers you photograph in Montana and the wildlife.

  2. Amazing how evocative the earth can be, not to mention the words we use to describe it. The smell of turned soil in an Iowa spring still comes back now and then. Your use of the word “loam” brought it back, full force.

    Our loam was black and rich, so thick you could dig and dig before coming to the end of it. It had substance. It felt good to walk on – it wasn’t hard or unyielding. It produced wonderful crops, particularly as post-Dustbowl farming practices began to be applied.

    But not all of the land was in crops. Some was held back, allowed to lie fallow, like your pasture. And some – wonder of wonders – never was touched. Patches of prairie endured as reminders of what could be, even where the land had been broken.

    Reading your description of the pasture again, I smiled. Maybe a first step is to stop seeing the natural world only as an enemy – to save a place in the chain even for the Johnsongrass.

    • Linda: I have never been to Iowa or Massachusetts or Montana, three states that my fellow bloggers hail from. Yes, stop seeing the natural world as an enemy. And, even save a part of it for Johnsongrass (I looked up the spelling of the word and this spelling seems the most common). And, it is the smell that evokes memories isn’t it? Wood burning at a small campfire, wet earth, cut grass, fur of dog and hair of horse.

  3. Bedrock geology, surficial geology, and climate are all fundamental to the soil that grace each part of the planet. And the soils relationship to which plants will or won’t grow and the extended relationships to wildlife that use a particular area is most fascinating.

    Where there is green non-woody vegetation despite the drought indicates deep loam that holds water.

    Praise the earth for her wonders!

  4. It’s always wonderful to read your writing, Jack. I wish that the knowledge and the respect of knowledge would be spread all over, also here in my country. Your land is so unbelievable large to me, and it seems like an incredably big work to handle.

    He-Hem! Where is Yeller? Take care of your good map!
    Grethe `)

    • Grethe: Yeller is right now in the hallway waiting for breakfast. He is so big that when he wags his tail, it hits the side of the wall, resounding like a drum. The map is carefully tucked into a leather briefcase, folded as it was ninety-one years ago. What a piece of luck to find it. Thank you, Grethe.

  5. The great plains will always have a place in my heart.

    • Westwood: Oh, does it ever occupy a large space in our hearts! I lived in Amarillo, Texas, for twenty-four years and never tired looking at the terrain, open spaces, sky as big as it could ever be.

      • I do agree, but I find my feeling summed up better with these lyrics:

        Down in the valley
        Deep in the lowland
        My heart cries out for thee
        Hills of the north

  6. Great post Jack. I needed a little reminder that it’s still possible for grass to grow here in Texas. It’s been a very sad week with the destruction of Bastrop SP and your photo brought a smile to my face and hope to my spirit.

    Thanks for sharing my friend.

  7. I would like to see one of those pyramid charts you mention having in primary school. I will try to find on internet.

    Our family preschool class at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science today and yesterday entitled, Moon, Planets, Stars: Night Sky Discoveries we had colored buckets for each of the 8 planets – the blue earth bucket the only one with rich moist soil and plants – of the four rocky planets. …

    For our new Emergence Hall exhibit opening, a man named Eric Smith from the Santa Fe Institute gave a lecture. The thing he said that stays with me is that our planet is the only one in our solar system with tectonics and that is perhaps the key to life – the warm magma interacting with the minerals in the water … – tectonics: the moving plates.

    Soil – our end product – our gold. Will re-read your post again, Jack!

  8. Magic photo and wonderful post Jack. I hope at this writing, the field still holds and local wildlife are drawn to it.
    Yes. Those early lessons should be informing our decisions in ways that protect and enrich our planet, rather than damage her. And for many people, like you, that positive use of what we know instinctively and have learned along the way, is making places better. Restoring and enhancing. I take heart in that knowing. Seeing it happen. We need more fine maps. Images. Voices. Keeping the record of what was, what is and what might be.
    Keep writing Jack. Do the book. It matters and can make a difference. May this find you, Brenda and the critters safe and enjoying a replenishing rain, soon.

  9. It doesn’t take long really after a burn that beauty stretches across the open black pasture with those precious little sprigs of green grasses. This summer has been long and harsh. I sure enjoy your writing.

  10. Hi Jack you have been busy as I can see. Your website looks amazing and your posts are nice to read too…Thanks

  11. Pingback: Grass: a side of oats with music | Sage to Meadow

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