Category Archives: Field Log

El Camino Real: Picuris-Talpa-Taos

Arroyo Miranda, the final leg of El Camino Real looking south towards Picuris. This photo taken on the outskirts of Talpa, near Taos, New Mexico, April 18,2017.

This photo is framed for a historical record.  It is not a pretty picture per se , but accurate as to the Royal Road from Mexico City northward to Santa Fe, the pueblos, and Taos.

According to Spanish documents, this final part of the Royal Road leading to Taos went from Trampas to Picuris Pueblo, slightly east to Vadito, then up Telephone Canyon around Picuris Peak, and then connecting with the Arroyo Miranda, traversing the east side of the arroyo.  The above photograph is looking south, up towards the Picuris Peak area.  Lying behind me is Talpa that is close to Rancho de Taos and Taos.

The map below indicates the route into Rancho de Taos.  Note Telephone Canyon, Arroyo Miranda, Rancho de Taos, and Taos.

Carson National Forest Map, 2017.

The following are my field notes from the trip, showing the route as I described.

Jack Matthews Field Notes, April 18, 2017.

The El Camino Real is only partially open to public transit through the Carson National Forest.  The final leg is on private land and closed to public transit.  The Royal Road, however, can be followed within two miles of Talpa and one can sidestep to SH 518 and hike into Taos.

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Filed under Field Log, New Mexico, Taos

Late, Damp Fall Day at the Field

Light rain has fallen in the field. Late fall temperature is 53 degrees, the grass remains green, but most of the pasture has gone into dormancy.  The pecan tree has shed leaves and pecans.

I like the lane shown in the photograph above. Going east on the lane I leave the field, but coming towards me with the camera, I leave behind the traffic on the state highway and enter a different world of green lanes and a tractor that needs its engine turned over.

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Filed under Bluestem Field Log, Christmas, Field Log, Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, Pecan

Young Pecan Tree


I am in Far Field this morning. The grass is high and here and there in the field are young pecan trees leafing out. There is a large pecan tree in the field and a unkept grove of pecan trees to the south of me on the Old Bryant place. 

In letting these young pecans thrive, I do so to let things live, grow as they might, and perhaps in the future a nesting place for birds, shade for Angus cattle. And, a few pecan nuts will in the distant future be picked up, pocketed. 

Who might rest in the shade of the young pecan tree?  I do not know, but some living thing will find comfort. I hear birds singing. 

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Filed under Bluestem Field Log, Field Log, Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly, Pecan

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.]

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

Poaching or just curious? Deer on Flying Hat Ranchito

Southeast gate of Pecan Tree Pasture, deer season opening day, November 5, 2011, 7:35 a.m.

(The following datum comes from Field Notebook No. 1, October 29, 2011 –.  These are the original notes I took this morning on the first day of the regular deer season in north Erath County, Texas, November 5, 2011.)

7:50 a.m. In the far field at Pecan Tree Pasture.  One rifle shot to the south, a loud report.  41 deg. F.  One photo taken at southeast far gate.  No deer yet sighted.  Traffic light on State Highway 108.  Owl call, hooting, in the grove.  [I am parked between the grove and pecan tree, having entered from the far southeast gate to contain deer? within the field.]

No deer stands sighted on Old Bryant place, the Dooley place, that I can see.  This is different from past three years.  Two years ago, I sighted nine deer stands from my place.

Crows cawing — very few.

7:59 a.m., flock of crows flying east to west.

8:00 a.m.  Solitary deer sighted between me and water trough on my pasture road.  I am at the grove-pasture gate.

8:01 a.m.  Rifle report to the far south.

Deer may have come out of the grove gate by the water trough.  Deer leisurely walking up the pasture road.

(Bring binoculars next time.)

(Clear brush around fence in places so the F-250 is not scratched.)

A gray, short-bed pickup cruises by my open southeast gate, turns off road by gate, pauses, then goes north on SH 108.  No identification of the gray pickup.  Not a neighbor.

8:10 a.m.  Chickadees or wrens fussing in the mesquite brush, grove.  Will the solitary deer I saw cross SH 108?

8:14 a.m.  Rifle report to the east at some distance, estimated three miles distant.

8:21 a.m.  Rifle report to my southwest, very loud, very loud either on Dooley or Woods place.  I can almost smell the gunpowder.  [I carefully listen for bullet coming through air, but hear no sound.]

Far away to the south, another rifle shot.

A white-flatbed pickup passes on SH 108, slows down by field, turns around and comes back by deer at water trough, slows down, goes up road, turns around and then heads south on SH 108.  He probably saw the deer on my place.  Not a neighbor.

Big bluestem grass abounds in this field.

8:50 a.m.  Leave field.

______________________________

Notes, corrections, additions:

This year the rifle sounds are greatly reduced in number for the opening day of the general season.  The pickups that turn around and gaze into the far field where I have deer may be curious or may be looking for an opportunity to poach.  I can’t monitor and don’t want to monitor my field constantly.  I am glad that the deer stands have been significantly reduced in number from several years ago.  I have Tony Navarro to thank for that.  Game Warden Tony Navarro’s great-grandfather signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.  I rode with him in his outfitted pickup a couple of years ago when we scanned Flying Hat Ranchito for game. 

Game Warden Tony Navarro's card

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Filed under Deer, Field Log

Fox and Salt Creek: field log entry 2

12:00 p.m. — 1:08 p.m.:  After thirty minutes communing with a fussy wren, I finished a brief field observation with a walk up Salt Creek about one-tenth of a mile.  I logged tadpoles, frogs, wrens, bluejays, heard the cry of the red-tailed hawk or the Harris hawk, photographed a turkey vulture (not included herein) and saw the owl (unidentified) fly into the grove away from my hike.  Back at the ranch house, I identified the wren that had chattered at me — a Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii).    I saw numerous tracks in the mud.

I counted two monarch butterflies within the cool willows of the water cache — see photograph below for the Salt Creek water cache with sky blue.

Salt Creek water cache with sky blue (October 15, 2011).

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds states that Bewick’s Wren prefers drier conditions to its resemblance, the Carolina Wren.  Bewick’s Wren has certainly enjoyed dry conditions throughout the summer.

I liked this photograph of the prickly-pear cactus with the willow and pecan trees in the background.  It describes in essence what this part of Texas and my ranchito is all about — wet and dry, green and brown, cactus and pecan, things-that-stick-you and things-you-eat.

Fox I did not see.  I did not expect to see any, but one never knows.  My friend, Wild Bill of Wild Ramblings Blog, suggested that I get a animal call tool that sounds like a wounded rabbit to attract the fox.  I think I shall because I want to see fox again.   Cougars and bobcats have been sighted in our area, so I shall be cautious.  I don’t want my day spoiled by predators of that size taking me from behind.  We have a saying out here, “If it doesn’t sting or bite you, it will stick you!”   I’ll take the stinging and sticking anytime over the biting.  Now, where are my field catalogs?

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Filed under Birds, Bluestem Field Log (Live), Field Log, Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly

Fox and Salt Creek: field log entry 1

Eight minutes ago, I sat down at the site in the grove, above Salt Creek about fifteen feet, where I saw a fox trotting in the creek bed several years ago. I have a folding chair I sit in, my field log, pen, iPhone for composing and taking pics and an internet connection.

Since seated, I log: turkey vulture shadow passes over me, an unidentified wren chatters at me ten feet away, rifle and shotgun firing in the distance, crows cawing, vehicle traffic on SH 108, cool breeze.

I face northwest by west. Here is a photo of the creek bed at the precise spot I saw the fox:

20111015-122037.jpg

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Field gifts in July

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.

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Filed under Field Log, Plants and Shrubs, Wild Flowers of Texas

Spring to Summer in central Texas

Mustang grape vines on southern fence of Pecan Tree Pasture (May 2011).

Emergent flora signifies the arrival and maturation of Spring into Summer in central Texas.  Mustang grape vines climb trees and follow fence lines without fail.  I collect buckets of ripened grapes in late June or early July.  Daily observations of ripening grapes must take place or birds pluck the deep ruby-red berries and in over-consuming they fly dizzily, drunkenly away, first to the harvest, leaving my mouth and bucket empty.

Mesquite and mustang grapevines often intertwine and when harvesting, the mesquite thorns force the cost of harvesting painfully upward.

Mustang grapes with mesquite (June 2011).

*  *  *

Two stands of Big Bluestem grass (May 2011)

When rain falls, grass flourishes.  The top of the stems reach six-feet or more high.  Big.  Native.  Bluestem.

* * *

The final exhibit of Spring in this post is prickly-pear cactus with its brilliant yellow cactus flower.  I note that many varieties of insects clamor and dive into the flower, bees especially.  Cactus is destroyed as nuisance flora as a regular chore on small ranches and farms.  Yet, its fruit is edible, the flower yields pollen for honey and in drought, propane torches burn thorns and cattle consume the paddles.  The roar of burning pear signals drought upon the land.

* * *

For the moment, propane torches rest against barn walls.  Yesterday, west of my ranchito about a hundred miles, and northwest of Abilene, Erin Rea reports prairie fires near her farm.  The drought has descended brutally on her area and in a line stretching to the southeastern corner of Colorado,  the land reminds old-timers of the dust bowl days.  @Tuckertown tweets, “Wildfire in Southern Colorado fouls the air along Colorado’s Front Range. Very tender dry in the SE corner of Colorado. Very bad.”

The Spring to Summer in central and west Texas is endurable as we live with the land whether mustang grapes emerge or prairie fires burn.

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Quail and deer lease my field

Deer skull with prairie grass (2011).

Temperatures reached 102 degrees yesterday.  Work slows or stops at 11:00 a.m.  Winds blew fierce, reaching 40 m.p.h. in gusts.  Yet, the pastures are green, the grass not browning for the moment.

* * *

Two days ago I shredded several narrow paths about the pastures.  I do not shred fields or pastures.  As I shredded a narrow path around the edges of Pecan Tree Pasture, I flushed a bobwhite quail.  Just one quail, but it is significant for quail habitually cluster in coveys.  Quail have disappeared in large portions of the area from hunting, shredding pastures, cropping and the spread of fire ants that kill young chicks.  I have reseeded the Pecan Tree Pasture with native grass and allowed the field to remain fallow for several years.  If I see more quail — the late sighting proving to not be an isolated occurrence — I will conclude I have done well in partial restoration of a native habitat.

* * *

Yesterday I sighted three mature deer and a fawn between the grove and the stock pond.  It is odd that their color is so pale brown, almost yellow, against the greenery of Spring.  Deer return, quail flush.  The fawn pranced.

* * *

As I sat on the back porch yesterday afternoon, a cattleman from Gordon knocked on the door.  He wanted to lease the pasture that I had flushed the quail and seen the deer — a monthly lease depending upon the number of cattle he would place.  I refused.  I told him that I would probably run a few head myself.  He stated that he had seen no cattle on the pasture and that’s why he had inquired.  I took his card and he said he was looking for pasture within ten miles of Gordon, so that if I heard of any land available for rent, please let him know.  I politely said I would.

Other inquires will follow this Spring.  They always do from cattlemen or harvesters of grass.  And, I always refuse and politely explain that I have the pasture for horses or a few head of cattle.  I have not run any cattle for four years.  I may put a few on the land this Spring, but not many and they will not disturb either deer or quail.  In the field, the Big Bluestem grass will be higher than the withers of horse and rump of cattle.

* * *

I had to kill a copperhead in the barn two days ago.  I knelt down to air up a tire and moved a salt block receptacle to position myself and a copperhead lay under the receptacle.  I will be cleaning out the barn early next week.  I had planned to do so — in fact I had moved six boxes of books to my office in Abilene a week ago –, but the danger of snake bite spurs me sooner to glean the barn.  My air conditioner repairman and contractor lost part of a finger last year from a copperhead bite.  For some reason, we have more copperheads in this portion of north Erath County, Texas, than most areas.

* * *

The photograph at the beginning of the post was taken over at Pecan Tree Pasture about where the solitary bobwhite was sighted.  I was observing the growth of native grasses a month ago and happened across the deer skull with horns.  I consider myself keenly observant of objects in my field of sight, but the grass has grown so high, secrets are undisclosed unless one tramps the land.  The skull remains in situ.  I like the simplicity, the complexity intertwined: deer, native grasses, treeline.

The field wholly remains in situ, lightly touched, deeply felt.

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Filed under Birds, Deer, Field Log, Life in Balance