Category Archives: Cedar

Fur, crane and juniper berries: field log

The Scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so.  He studies it because it takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful.  — Jules Henri Poincare

* * *

[These are primary field notes taken today.  Time entered in UTC or Zulu time, i.e. 1759.  Post-field note commentary bracketed and italicized.]

12/27/2011

Flying Hat Ranch, North Erath County, Texas, Lat 32.43 N, Long -98.36 W, elev. 1,086 ft. Turkey Creek Quadrangle map.

1759.  51 deg. F.  [Cold enough to start into the field with line jacket, but by the time I got to grove, I shed the jacket, putting it on the fence post.]

1805.  Three or more ducks on pond.  No identification.  Woodpile near pond has been reduced by rain and natural deterioration.  Tree limbs and logs have settled in earth.  [Erath County has taken the burn ban off.  I’ll not burn the pile because it houses several critters.  The ducks are three and they make little noise.  They paddle to the far side of the pond as I stride by.]

1817.  Barbed wire between grove and arena pasture broken, 5 T-posts from the gate, towards the west.  Apparent deer tracks on the ground, no sign of struggle, crawling under, deer popped the strand.  Fur on ground.  Photos taken.  [I have seen juvenile deer scoot under the fence; hence, I think they broke it.  I looked carefully for signs of an entanglement in the wire, but found none and also went over to the creek embankment to make sure no deer had fallen.  I’ll repair the fence later this winter.  I wonder if it is deer “fur” or “hair?”  According to Scientific American, mammalogist, Nancy Simmons, there is no difference between fur and hair.]

1828.  Juniper berries on tree to the east of brick pile.  Tree is 20 feet high, 20 feet across  at lower crown.  Five juniper trees in immediate vicinity.  One large juniper 30 feet to east-southeast of the little grove.  This juniper is 30 feet tall, trunk is 2-3 feet in diameter.  [I had never stopped to count the number of junipers in the small grove, nor estimated the height of the tallest tree.  My recent post on junipers has prompted my focus.  I thought about picking the berries and consuming them, reenacting my Zuni experience.]

1843.  Red oak leaf falls.  I think it a floating butterfly.  Then I see the red oak.  No butterfly.  [What tricks our mind plays.  I thought for a moment that a Monarch might have roosted and emerged in the sun.  The leaf floated like a butterfly, not a swaying back-and-forth manner like a leaf.]

1849.  Two burrows near east water gap, one looks inhabited.  [Skunk, armadillo?  Other?]

1853.  Remnants of deer-stand ladder.  [I have dismantled all deer stands in the trees that I can find.  This ladder will be dismantled soon.  I hate it when nails are driven into trees.]

1855.  Bull bellows on Dooley Place.  [The Red Angus bull bellows.  ‘Twould be interesting to take field notes at a certain point for just sound, not images, just sound.]

1858.  Harris hawk ascends into tree at about 10 foot level, watches me approach, then flies low out of tree towards north.  [I have typed the Harris before.  There are two of them that soar and predate in the grove and surrounds.  They’ve been here on Flying Hat for two years.]

1908.  Scare 4-7 turkey vultures from dead mesquite tree at southwest part of grove.  [I hope Ethan Connell has checked the turkey vulture on his Life List in his Peterson’s.]

1917.  Flock of Sandhill Cranes overhead, flying north to south, catching wind currents.  [When I first heard the Sandhills,  I looked too high, gave up and then found them at a lower altitude.]

1930. Turn around at northwest corner of far field and return to house. Star whinnies at me.

1938.  White-crowned sparrows fly low in brush about arena at southeast end.

1942.  Scare up the resident jack rabbit while searching for stone tool in situ.  [I cannot find the stone tool.  I do have it located, however, on the GPS and I can locate it later.  I had placed a yellow surveyor’s flag at its place, but the elements have blown it down — or possibly, Star.]

1946.  At pasture-house gate.  [Log entries conclude.]

5 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Deer, Ducks, Field Log, Sandhill Crane

Juniper: an evergreen for all my seasons

Juniper in Flying Hat Ranchito grove, often referred to as cedar (J. Matthews, 2011).

(As a disclosure, I use “cedar” and “juniper” interchangeably.  See notes below from Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia.)

I grew up with cedar all around me, but cedar posts for building fence predominated.  T-posts (the steel ones) may be making fence construction faster these days, but I hold to the cedar post as a primary building material.  Allergies from cedar congest the lungs of Texans, particularly central residents who weather the Mountain Cedar every year.  A website dedicates itself to, “Cedar: The Allergy Plague of Trees.

All of that being said, the cedar or juniper holds personal value for me beyond the descriptions, quotes and links I attach in this post.

Of all the flora about me as I grew up and the plants about me now, the juniper radiates scent and memories, even beyond the majestic pecan in my far pasture.  I burned juniper in a Folger’s coffee can to sweeten the air at campsites and even in my apartment from time to time, placing the coffee can at the edge of the hearth.  I have taken cedar bark and twisted it into fine pieces and lit a single match to start a campfire, and I have carried cedar tinder in my backpack to start fire along the trail.  I cut cedar staves and posts one Christmas vacation to earn extra money and to say, I once worked as a cedar chopper.

Green juniper groves along the Colorado River near Bend, Texas, contrasted with bleached white-gray rock outcroppings, and I found old campsites of roundups in pastures about the river, the blackened rock, not the red, holding the remains of cedar fires.  My grandmother once pointed out a cow camp firepit near the Colorado that she had cooked for the crew and her husband-cowboy Jake, before his accident on the horse Hell’s Canyon.

I have camped near cedar breaks many times, but the one time I remember was on the Zuni Reservation, out in the middle of the reservation, by myself with junipers and coyotes through the night.  I built a small fire of cedar and munched on a juniper berry for its bitter effect.  I had sped to the reservation from Grants, New Mexico, and hastily set up camp, sleeping in my bedroll beside the fire the night through.  I was seeking a medicine man, but he never found my camp.

More often than not at Christmas time, my family cut a juniper tree from the ranch to place in the living room.  The tree may have been as short as three feet, at other times, five-feet tall.  I loved the aroma of the juniper as it filled the house for Christmas.  Tinsel drooped from the branches with those bubbly lights all aglow.

Near Abilene, on the road to Coleman, there is a park on the east side of the highway at Buffalo Gap, a broad cut in the hills that buffalo and migrants used to go into southwest Texas from the High Plains and Caprock.  The park has a large grove of junipers that have trunks three to five feet in diameter.  I have rested there many times and note the broad-deep shade the junipers provide in the Summer and windbreak during Winter.  From the Juniper Park — as I have taken to call it — one can see into Buffalo Gap and off in the distance the plains to the north.  This Juniper Park has been a lookout, a redoubt of some sort, for a long, long time.  I think I stopped there one time when I was traveling to Brownwood to take care of my aging mother, or it may have been another time, and I rolled the windows down to smell the juniper and place my hand on the fertile greenery I had known all my life, or that other day anew in late Spring.  I thought then, as I do now, that I will remember this day for as long as I live, for although my mother lay dying and I was teaching in a foreign land, the evergreen of juniper and its effect transcended my sorrow and sense of alienation from this world.  I have found home and peace and love beneath junipers for all my seasons.  To me, its fruit is never bitter.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

Some juniper trees are misleadingly given the common name “cedar,” including Juniperus virginiana, the “red cedar” that is used widely in cedar drawers. True cedars are those tree species in the genus Cedrus, family Pinaceae.

In Morocco, the tar (gitran) of the arar tree (Juniperus phoenicea) is applied in dotted patterns on bisque drinking cups. Gitran makes the water more fragrant and is said to be good for the teeth.

American Indians have used juniper to treat diabetes; such treatments by the Navajo, for example, are under clinical study.[3] Clinical studies have shown that treatment with juniper may retard the development of streptozotocin diabetes in mice.[4] Native Americans also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive.[5] The 17th Century herbalistphysicianNicholas Culpeper recommended the ripened berries for conditions such as asthma and sciatica, as well as to speed childbirth.[6]

“Juniper,” Wikipedia, accessed December 25, 2011.

* * *

juniper, any of about 60 to 70 species of aromatic evergreen trees or shrubs constituting the genus Juniperus of the cypress family (Cupressaceae), distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The juvenile leaves of a juniperare needlelike. Mature leaves are awl-shaped, spreading, and arranged in pairs or in whorls of three. Some species have small, scalelike leaves, often bearing an oil gland, which are pressed closely to the rounded or four-angled branchlets. Male and female reproductive structures usually are borne on separate plants. The reddish brown or bluish cones are fleshy and berrylike and often have a grayish, waxy covering. They mature in 1 to 3 seasons and contain 1 to 12 seeds, usually 3.

Common juniper (J. communis), a sprawling shrub, is widely distributed on rocky soils throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Many ornamental cultivars have been developed. The berrylike megastrobilus of this species is used to flavour foods and alcoholic beverages, particularly gin, which is named after Juniperus through the French genièvre. Juniper “berries” have a fragrant, spicy aroma and a slightly bittersweet flavour. Used with venison, they remove the gamey taste. They are also used to season sauces and stuffings, in pickling meats, and to flavour liqueurs and bitters.

An important ornamental and timber tree of eastern North America is the eastern red cedar (J. virginiana), whose fragrant wood is made into cabinets, fence posts, and pencils. This species is an invader of glades, pastures, prairies, and other open grassy areas in parts of its range; thus, it is considered a troublesome weed by some botanists and land managers. The savin (J. sabina) of central Europe, Chinese juniper (J. chinensis) of eastern Asia, and creeping juniper (J. horizontalis) of eastern North America are other popular ornamental species with many horticultural varieties. The wood of incense, or Spanish, juniper (J. thurifera), of Spain and Portugal, and of Phoenician juniper (J. phoenicea) of the Mediterranean region sometimes is burned as incense.

Oil of juniper, distilled from the wood and leaves of several species, is used in perfumes and in medicines such as diuretics. Galls produced by junipers as a reaction to fungal infection are known as cedar apples. This fungus, cedar apple rust, completes its life cycle on members of the apple subfamily of the flowering plant family Rosaceae, which contains numerous species of trees and shrubs commercially valuable as fruit and ornamental plants. The growth of junipers around apple orchards and plantings of related genera is thus discouraged to avoid disfigurement or loss of these important cultivated plants.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “juniper,” accessed December 25, 2011, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/308301/juniper.

12 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Juniper, Life in Balance

Chocolate to mesquite

Several months ago in a previous post, I wrote that one of my field objectives on the Flying Hat Ranchito was to identify every tree species rooted about the pastures and Salt Creek.  Beginning with this post, I identify the mesquite tree.  Unless Southwesterners have been reared in a dark box, everyone recognizes the mesquite and usually such identification is followed with a curse word or two.   Except for the far pasture between Barton Creek and Salt Creek, mesquite erupts constantly about the ranchito and requires annual shredding or pruning.  I relate to the mesquite tree without impatience, finding it worthy of praise, not scorn.  But, first, from a objective point of view, then followed by subjectivity.

The mesquite tree…

Mesquite is one of the most widely distributed trees in Texas. It is a small to medium tree with an irregular crown of finely divided bipinnately compound foliage that casts very light dappled shade underneath. It is armed with thorns sometimes up to 2 inches long. In the spring, summer and after rains it is covered with fragrant white flowers, and the long bean pods are ornamental as well as providing food for wildlife and livestock. Mesquite is not a rancher’s favorite tree: it readily invades overgrazed sites and other disturbed land, is virtually impossible to get rid of, and the thorns injure livestock. However, the foliage, flowers and fruit are attractive, it adapts to almost any soil that is not soggy, it is heat and drought tolerant, it fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides many areas of Texas with shade, fuel and timber where otherwise there would be none. The wood is used in flooring, furniture, and as a cookwood for seasoning.

“Texas Native Plants Database,” Texas A&M University (2011).

The mesquite bean is also ground up and can be used as an additive to wheat flour or corn flour for making tortillas and bread.  I’ve not tried the recipe, but I shall from a Native American reference I have on file.

* * *

Objects that appear void of emotional affect to one person may be illuminated with soundings of deep, ineffable meaning to another.  The mesquite and juniper trees in my life resound with spiraling emotion that takes me to a different plain, evoking events in my memory that I never forget and can only begin to understand.   I shall write about the juniper another day.  Today my focus is the mesquite.

When I was a boy, about five or six years old, I used to play underneath a mesquite tree adjacent to my mother’s studio apartment in Brownwood, Texas.  It was shortly after World War II had concluded and my father had separated from us and was reestablishing himself in Pennsylvania, far away from Texas, the place he met my mother.  Across the street from mother’s apartment, my grandmother lived in a small trailer house and took care of me while mother worked at Southwestern States Telephone Company.  At the time, I did not know how close we were to destitution.  I was a boy and I played outside underneath the mesquite tree, thoughtless and innocent about money matters.

One day as I played under the mesquite tree, I heard the sound of the wind — a southwest wind — flowing through the trees as I had never heard it before, but have ever since.   The sound was of medium pitch, neither high nor low, and it persisted with a rising and falling velocity, bending branches, shifting the shade about me and my toys.  As I heard the wind, I felt lonely, really alone in the world.  My mother was in the house — I knew that — but I sensed a separation from her and a state of emotion that evoked a sadness, a sorrow that I found inexpressible at the time.  The moment remains clear and even the affect is still apparent.  It  never leaves me.

Years later I came to realize that under the mesquite tree I felt, for the first time, a separateness from other things, other people.  I realized I was an individual, distinctively apart from others, and there was no going back I came to find out.  Under a mesquite tree was the place  the affect of estrangement spooled out and bound me.  I’m not alone in that awareness and that is a comfort, for we all sense that estrangement and how we meet the abyss and gain unity or self-loss is the rest of our life.  These days, as I walk underneath and beside mesquite trees on the ranchito, I sense the mesquite as a companion one day and a intransigent master teacher the next.  It helped me grow.  I didn’t want to, but it threw me out of my Eden.

* * *

In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl, the giver of knowledge and wisdom to the people was thrown out of his city, country and reign for moral turpitude.  As he went into exile, going east, he crossed the mountains to the sea, his dwarf companions died from the cold and the chocolate trees he passed turned to mesquite and great sorrow came upon the land.

[This is first of several posts on the mesquite.]

9 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Recollections 1942-1966

Allowing the flourishing of wildlife

A 1975 reprint of Farmers' Bulletin No. 2035

The first summer I lived on my ranchito, the summer of 2004, I hired Cody Scott to plant native grass seeds in my far pasture, the Pecan Tree Pasture that lay between Barton Creek and Salt Creek.  Last summer I reseeded the pasture with native grass seeds and wildflowers.  The upshot of these two distributions has been a resurgence of bluestem, side-oats gramma, buffalo grass, coneflowers, Indian blankets and vetch.  Frankly, I held no longitudinal goal other than to provide habitat food for cattle, horses and wildlife.

Frank Waters of The Man Who Killed The Deer (1942) fame wrote that the proper relationship of a person to the land was to “live with the land,” not on it, but with the land.  Living with the land has been an axiom for me, a mantra for many years.  A U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin No. 2035, “Making Land Produce Useful Wildlife,” provides me guidelines to live with the land.  By way of full disclosure, I do not make my living raising cattle or horses, but teaching at a junior college in Abilene, so my basic approach to my ranchito is sustaining the land, not cropping, leasing or planting.  That being said, I integrate what I have learned with horses, cattle and the land into my lectures.

The land is my teacher and all things upon it instruct, from thistles under juniper to even — I hesitate to write this — the mesquite.

So, a few tips from “Making Land Produce Useful Wildlife,” by Wallace L. Anderson, biologist, Soil Conservation Service, I list below.

To support a high wildlife population, a farm or ranch must have a plentiful supply of good food close to cover that furnishes protection from enemies and weather.  And it must be available in all seasons of the year….

Pastureland practices harmful to wildlife are uncontrolled burning, overgrazing, and complete clean mowing early in the season….

There are three essentials to good cover for wildlife — grasses, weeds, stubble, and other low-growing plants for nesting and roosting; dense or thorny shrubs for protection from predators, for loafing, and for nesting; and, in the North, clumps of evergreens or other tall dense cover for winter protection.

Mesquite thorns, poisonous plants and cacti also abound along the fence rows in the far field.   I have bull nettle, a stinging plant to the touch, but it has medicinal properties.  The nightshade plant that many define as a weed has been used to treat snakebite erupts along the corral.  And the few cedar trees, cut and harvested year after year prior to my ownership, their posts for sale in Mingus and Palo Pinto, are defined more appropriately as “juniper” provide berries for birds, aroma for incense and luscious shade from the sun.  I shan’t be cutting  cedar breaks or juniper.  All this in the far field allows the flourishing of wildlife close to me, close to you, close to us all.

Juniper, often referred to as cedar (J. Matthews, 2011).

[In my next post, I will write about the mesquite tree that is close to us all here in the bush.]

6 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Flying Hat Ranch, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Wild Flowers of Texas

Lilly’s Mound: early Winter morning

 

Lilly's Mound in an early Winter morning at Flying Hat Ranch, Texas, 2011 (click to enlarge)

In the far background are the Twin Mountains of north Erath County, Texas, 1,400 feet. Ducks swim and feed upon and beneath the pond in the middle of the photograph even in this cold weather.  The gate opens into the arena pasture.  The small mound with cedar posts upon it, to the far, far left in the photograph (you may have to enlarge), is Lilly’s Mound, 1,065 feet.  The mound is small and does not stand out in the photograph — in fact, hardly noticeable — , but it is a meaningful part of this good earth to me and Brenda and Star.

21 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Flying Hat Ranch, Horses, Juniper, Lilly, Star

Cedar post traction

The weather remains cold, down to 12 degrees last night and up to 21 degrees at 3:00 p.m.  I do like Winter.

Since Tuesday, we have stayed put in the ranch house, burning pinion in the fireplace during the day, lowering the thermostat to 65 degrees in cooperation with emergency power issues in Texas.  The temperature is not expected to go above freezing until Saturday and another snowfall descends this evening.

Schools closed.  Our mail carrier, Jeannie Chisolm, told us this morning that the roads are treacherous on her route that encompasses county roads in Erath and Palo Pinto Counties.

I needed to make a mercy run to Interstate 20, five miles away, for supplies.  First, I had to put weight in back of the F-250.  The old “two-bales-of-hay-watered-down-and-frozen” ploy was not feasible.  Too cold and I didn’t want the hassle of clean up next week.  As a second option, I decided to load the F-250 with cedar posts in order to weigh the rear end down.  Actually, the wood used for fence posts is not cedar, but juniper.  The colloquial is “cedar,” however, and I’m not about to go to the “cedar” yard and ask for “juniper” posts — might result in fisticuffs about definition of terms. But, back to loading cedar.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.  First, I broke the ice around the barn doors with a flat shovel in order to drive the DX-55 Case-Farmall into the pasture where I stored the posts.  After the tractor warmed up, I loaded two big stacks of cedars into the front-end loader, sweeping some snow off the posts and observed Meadow Larks nearby, scratching for seed where the posts had rested.  I drove up the hill to the house.  I used a rubber hammer to dislodge the goose-neck ball from the bed of the pickup, as it had become frozen after the rain Monday evening.  I use the rubber hammer and vise-grips frequently in these times.

I dumped — very carefully — two loads of 6 to 9 inch cedar posts into the bed of the F-250, raising the front-end loader above the bed of the pickup and away from the back window.  I estimated the load to be about 800 pounds, sufficient to give traction on ice for the pickup.  I test drove the 250 up and down the lane.  Two loads seemed sufficient — it was.

Between our place and the interstate, a pickup had overturned and at least ten off-road events in the bar ditch had occurred.  Trucks on the interstate traveled in one lane at 15-20 m.p.h.  We bought our few supplies and came back to the house on the road with two inches of ice beneath several inches of snow.  The clerk at the Exxon station stated that the local propane dealer had run out of propane and his trucks could not resupply until the roads cleared.  There was no milk for sale — all sold out.

Back at the house, we settle in.  I give Star a loaf of hay to tide him over till supper.  Lottie our Schnauzer jumps up on the fireplace bench to warm herself after we relight the fire.  I look out and see cedar posts in the F-250 and I know in an emergency we can make the Palo Pinto Rural Health Clinic (PPRHC) in Gordon with cedar posts as weight in the back for traction.

14 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Cedar, Flying Hat Ranch, Juniper

Gathering mistletoe in December

Oklahoma floral image mistletoe

In the 1940s and 1950s, I grew up in central Texas, playing and working about the counties of Brown, Mills, San Saba and Lampasas.

Although born in Brown County, my family spend a great deal of time visiting relatives during the holidays in San Saba and Lampasas Counties.  The Colorado River and San Saba River formed the backdrop of my childhood and early teen years.  During December, I often stayed a week or two with my grandmother who lived first in Bend, Texas, and then Lometa, a few miles away from Bend where she worked as a telephone switchboard operator for the communities.  The switchboard was in her living room.  Her name was Effie Morris Parks and she taught me much about living off the land, or at least using nature’s products from the original source, not a supermarket.

Grandmother Effie, as I called her, steered me in the month of December to harvest and collect two things:  mistletoe and cedar.  Cedar is still harvested, but the gathering of mistletoe with its poisonous berries to frock the door portal seems to have vanished from holiday culture.

She had a green Chevrolet pickup.  We would drive the pickup down dirt county roads and pull up next to a tree, usually mesquite, that would have clumps of deep green mistletoe with white berries.  We would knock down the mistletoe with long bamboo poles that we also used to gather pecans in the Fall.  Either that or I would climb up the tree and break off the fungus.  Then we would gather the mistletoe and place it in the bed of the pickup until the pile topped the rails.  We had to be careful to preserve the white berries because that improved the price we would receive.  We drove to San Saba or Lometa and would sell the mistletoe at the mohair and wool congregating store.  We would make upwards of twenty dollars and during the rest of the season, I often thought I saw what we had collected in small, cellophane packages sold in grocery stores in Brownwood.  I doubt that was the case, but I felt rather pleased that I had helped make holidays brighter for someone.

I chopped cedar only once or twice as a boy and it was grueling work, but during December the weather was cold and going into the cedar breaks to cut wood did not seem as brutal as it was chopping cedar in the summer.  Grandmother’s friends would take my cuttings — not very much, I’m afraid — and I would have a few dollars to spend during the holidays.  The cedar choppers I worked around were all muscled and strong and I envied their chopping expertise.  I learned how to cut staves versus good thick fence poles.

My grandmother Effie also gathered water cress, pecans, killed and plucked her own chickens, and during the late summer we would take the green Chevrolet and collect wild Mustang grapes that she would turn into jelly to consume on our breakfast table and give to friends.  The tartness of the Mustang grape is like no other.

But it is the memory of harvesting and gathering of mistletoe and cedar with Grandmother that stays with me today during the holiday stretch.  I scraped my arms and got stuck by mesquite thorns.  Despite it all, I grew up knowing nature intimately during the cold of December with my grandmother as teacher.

17 Comments

Filed under Bend Texas, Cedar, Christmas, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas

Stealth Horse

You can hear horses nicker and whinny.  You can feel the ground shake when they gallop past you in full run.  When you are inside a horse trailer with them and they call for their mates, the trailer vibrates with the force of their voice and your ears ring for thirty minutes.

Even so, horses are quiet.  Really quiet.

One story, among many I have, illustrates the stealth horse in every horse that lives and breathes.   Air force secret stealth projects have nothing on these guys.  Four years ago I was setting up cedar staves between big fence posts on the boundary between our place and a neighbor’s ranch southeast of us.  Our small remuda of equine was in the pasture behind me and I was sweating and swearing vigorously in the morning heat.  Between me and the horses in the field was a flat-bed trailer.

As I stood back from a particularly hard tie of a cedar stave to a five-strand barbed wire fence, I felt this hairy flesh about my neck and shoulder.  I was already nervous from fighting yellow-jacket wasps and I had a couple of minor puncture wounds from the barbed wire.  What in the world has got me now?

It was Star, paint horse gelding!  Sneaked up he did, went around the flat-bed trailer, and quietly walked up to my backside!

Five minutes ago, he was back up a hundred yards in the pasture.  Now the guy is building fence with me!   “Star, what are you doing?  You scared the daylights out of me!”

He stood there looking at my work.  I’m sure he was real proud of himself  having spooked me.  I gave him a gentle rub between the eyes.  He stood with me for about fifteen minutes while I finished the task and then ambled off, walking around the flat-bed trailer to go munching on bermuda grass.

That Star is a stealth horse.

 

Star the stealth horse lying down in the pasture.

 

Star the stealth horse galloping away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forthcoming post:  Star Herds Sheep Without Rider

10 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Horses, Juniper

Jubilee of My July

Flag and Early Morning (Photo by J. Matthews, 2010)

My wife prevailed upon me yesterday to put up an American flag.  [Read the notes at the end of this post about Norman Rockwell and his American Ideal paintings.]  I installed a pole caddy on the front porch, dusted off the flag pole, unfolded Old Glory, used twine to tie the lower end of the flag to the mast and hung it.  Like so many other small projects on the ranch, flag pole installation had been put off for years.  At our previous home in Mingus, we had hung a flag for several weeks after 9/11, but since moving to the ranch, we had left the flag carefully folded in the cedar chest that we use as a coffee table in the grand room.

As I was growing up in Texas, the Fourth of July was nearly always hotter than the hub of hell.  Many jokes came from the heat in Texas:  If I had a choice between hell and Texas, I’d live in hell.  And so on.  But enough about Hades.  For several years, my parents and I would go to Brady, Texas, about fifty miles from our home in Brownwood and attend the Brady Jubilee.  That was its name: jubilee.  I always associated stifling heat, horse racing and yellow watermelon (salted, of course) with jubilee.  It never made much sense to me to travel in a hot, non-air-conditioned pickup or old Ford sedan whose rough felt seats were smelly and lounge under trees and watch horse racing from a distance.  Come the first of July, the dreaded Brady Jubilee jaunt lay in front of me like a sauna with no water.  There must of been something character building about the event, but I never could figure it out.

This Fourth of July, the weather is cloudy in west-central Texas from the effects of a gulf hurricane and the temperature is a tolerable middle 80 deg. F.  We’ve had about two inches of rain this past week and the grass has greened slightly — not a typical Fourth.  Where were these days back in my boyhood?

Given this age of internet technology, the town of Brady, Texas, has a website. As a link within the website, there is the Brady Jubilee. I’m somewhat disappointed, however, as I read over the list of activities.  There are none for July 4th and no horse racing.   All of the Brady Jubilee activities take place July 1-3: Heart of Texas Ford Parade with a “Hats Off To Our Heroes” accent, washer and horseshoe pitching tournaments, fireworks the nights of July 1-3, and a dance Saturday night featuring Brian Burk, Kristen Kelly and the Modern Day Drifters.

Brady Jubilee, Richards Park (Photo by Cross Bar Land Co.)

Suddenly, I realize that July 4th this year is on a Sunday!  That’s why the Brady Jubilee has nothing planned for the Fourth.  It’s a church day and normal activities cease and there’s no exception to that rule.

The horse racing, however, is probably a thing of the past — they were short races for quarter horses and not many were booked because of the July heat.

On this day, with no Brady Jubilee scheduled, our plans are to attend a fireworks display at either Possum Kingdom Lake or go into Fort Worth for dinner and watch the display over the Trinity River.  Either way there will be no horse racing or jubilee today.

I have to go now and feed the horses and, just by chance, they may race around the arena.  To my list of morning chores I will hang the flag.  On this Fourth of July, I will think of the Brady Jubilee with its heat, melon and horses and quietly yearn for another day there.  Yes, I know, the heat.

______________________________

Notes:

The New York Times today ran an article on Norman Rockwell.   A quote about him: “These are qualities one wants to retain as a society, and it is a credit to Rockwell’s subtle, story-weaving imagination that he captured the values we celebrate on Independence Day without ever having done a painting of American flags waving from porches or July skies bursting with fireworks.”

That’s correct, never made a painting with American flags waving from porches.  He painted America in the people he painted.

10 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966

Harry’s of San Saba, Texas

In 1950, Aunt Lennie bought me a pair of jeans and a straw hat at Harry’s Store in San Saba, Texas, a dry goods store near the corner of East Wallace and Highway 16.  As I was growing up, I visited Aunt Lennie and Uncle Floyd many times, spending weeks at their Cherokee, Texas, ranch near San Saba.

Harry’s purveyed hats, boots, shirts, Levis, jackets, coats and all associated accouterments to farm and ranch living in central Texas.  The smell of leather, felt, and Levis surrounded a customer as they shopped.  The dry goods were new and unbroken by weather and work.  Trading at Harry’s was serious shopping, not browsing or spending time checking out the newest fashions, rubbing the fabric for quality. You bought jeans that withstood brush and barbed wire; hats that shielded you from a sun that blistered the fair-skinned into pain; coats that were warm and gave enough room to twist, turn and lift sacks of feed and drag cedar posts; and boots that had high-heels enough to keep the foot from plunging through the stirrup in a tight turn or a moment of fright.

I wasn’t riding horses or lifting cedar posts into holes in the ground.  I was eight or nine-years-old and tagging along with my uncle into the pastures and fields, making a nuisance of myself, asking too many questions.  Nonetheless, I had jeans and a hat from Harry’s after that trading day in San Saba.  The possession of country dry goods to protect myself from brush and sun signified a boy’s development into life on farm and ranch.  I dressed the part and looked like my uncle and cousin.  Not a poser.  You are not a poser when you buy from Harry’s and work on your uncle’s ranch.

Now in 2010, Harry’s has expanded into several adjacent stores, including the old San Saba Hardware store.  Four buildings comprise Harry’s, not the one or two rooms I remembered.  The expansion into the hardware store revealed a weather history.  A clerk had recorded San Saba’s weather patterns, writing data on the wall for remembrance, prediction, or both.  Today, the tin ceiling remains intact.  The hat area is on the second floor.  Silk western shirts are now sold with short-sleeved cotton work shirts and Levis.

Harry’s still evokes the same scent as years gone by.  As my wife and I toured on Highway 16 to Fredericksburg this week, we went into Harry’s to purchase jeans and shirts.  Opening the door to the new entryway, the smell of leather and new jeans surrounded us and I felt comforted that life may be, for a short time, comprehensible and integrated.  I bought a pair of Wrangler jeans — a change from the past — that the sales girl said were pre-washed and less stiff to begin with.  My wife looked at the shirt section and selected one for me: a Ryan brand, silk type that I would never wear in the field, but under my field jacket in winter it would give me flexibility in the barn as I fed the horses.

As I stood in the middle of Harry’s breathing a history, a friend and colleague came up to me.  Surprise!  He had seen me and and Brenda enter the store and had parked his car to come in and say, Hello — he was on the way to Austin down Highway 16 to visit his son on spring break.  We talked and chatted about politics and the weather, the recent death of a colleague and her funeral.

I need to buy you a shirt, I said.

Oh, no, he said.

Oh yes, a work shirt.  Come over here.  Which one do you like?  This one?

Well, yes.

Then, it’s yours.

I paid for it and told him the story of my first visit to Harry’s.  I fetched him a business card from the sales clerk.  Then, he looked down at the shirt and Harry’s store label was attached to the lower flap.

Oh, I’ll remember Harry’s, from the label on the shirt, he said, as he walked out the door.

So will I.

10 Comments

Filed under Cedar, Juniper, Recollections 1942-1966