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.