Category Archives: Life in Balance

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.

4 Comments

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

Life is a Ditch: Acequia de Llano San Juan de Nepomuceno

Rivulet pouring into Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photograph, J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

Rivulet pouring into Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed mature forest (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2012).

Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed mature forest (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2012).

DSC_1989

Flora on Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010)

DSC_1986

Flora on Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

DSC_1976

Flora on Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

The house on 17 irrigated acres from the Acequia de San Juan Nepomoseno del Llano.  Water rights since 1789 (Photograph by Taos Properties).

The house on 17 irrigated acres from the Rio Santa Barbara Acequia de San Juan Nepomoseno del Llano. Water rights since 1789 (photograph and data by Taos Properties).

(This new post derives from my previous post, “Not mine, not yours, but ours:  Penasco Upper Llano acequias,” October 2011.)

From Amarillo, Texas, I drove to northern New Mexico in 1968.  I traveled by way of Las Vegas, Mora, and Penasco, making camp along the upper watershed of the Rio Santa Barbara for a few days.  I vividly remember a man plowing his field with horses near Mora and the narrow strips of farm land that bordered rivers and irrigation ditches.  The narrow strips of irrigated land not only reflected a precise lay of the land by residents and survey crews, but the long lots reflected a community, a meshing of rural families alongside a water greenbelt.  In later anthropological field trips, I took my Amarillo College students by the Pecos River irrigated plots along State Highway 3 that ran from Interstate 40 to Interstate 25 between Santa Rosa and the Pecos Pueblo.  (Click to see Google map of the Pecos River plots.)

The system of irrigation is called acequia, referring both to the irrigation ditch and the association of members organized around it.

I have never owned land in New Mexico, but if I did I would buy a parcel of land that had water rights to an acequia, a system that stretches back in time to Native American communities before the arrival of the Spanish who brought laws respecting community water rights (riparian rights).  Having land that possesses an acequia, one gains entry into a community that cleans, rebuilds and nourishes the ditches and, further, is granted rights to meet in a democratic association to discuss apportioning water and policies affecting owners that border the irrigation ditch.

Several weeks ago, I came across a piece of property near Penasco that if I could sell my ranchito, I would buy and move my horses and equipment post haste to Penasco Upper Llano.  See the following Google map:  This is the map-image of the Penasco Upper Llano property and other long lots of community property.

This particular piece of property with the house pictured above is located in the high country between Taos and Santa Fe and can produce 700 bales of hay a year.  The water rights go back to 1789, the year that the United States inaugurated its first president, George Washington.  The surveyor’s plat looks like this:


Several good books and narratives have been written about the acequia culture.  Stanley Crawford in his work, Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico (1988), writes of the acequia culture:

There are few other civic institutions left in this country in which members have as much control over an important aspect of their lives; relatively autonomous, in theory democratic, the thousand acequias form a cultural web of almost microscopic strands and filaments that have held a culture and landscape in place for hundreds of years….

Ditch-cleanings are all very much the same, and in this they often feel more like ritual than work.  The crew varies from year to year: a couple of old men don’t turn up each year, a couple of boys barely able to handle a shovel, fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, take their places; the weather is better or worse than some vague notion of what is usual, mayordomos come and go and some are responsible and fair, others vindictive, punitive, almost military, others are lazy and heedless of the needs of the ditch; and the crew can be a good-natured, hard-working creature, or sullen and complaining and evasive, qualities perhaps dictated by the amount of pride or fear circulating through the hearts of both those in charge and those doing the actual digging….

Buddy Manzanares who, on one of my last perfunctory inspection tours half an hour from the end of the spring digging, calls on me to admire a meticulously dug out and cleaned up tarea [a grave-size chunk of the ditch], with the banks cleaned of grass and squared neatly where they end in the bottom of the smoothly shoveled-out channel….This man knows how to make this small thing, this chore, into more than we commonly imagine, and what can be more important to know in this life, than just that.

Mayordomo, pp. 176, 224, 228-29.

The deep thing about acequia that attracts me is the ready-made community that circulates around water rights that nourish subsistence crops and the growth of hay.  The isolation of many Texas ranches and the people that tend them and steward their animals is not good; in fact, it diminishes the rancher to a coarse individuality that thins the possibilities of  human endeavors, insinuates a obsessive pecuniary attitude about the land and narrows civic — read unselfish — behavior to the mere casting of a vote once or twice a year for politicians.

There are western ranching communities that transcend these deficiencies, I grant you, but the tendency has been to sell out or buy more land, thus expelling more people from the agrarian way of life.  I have experienced this and have witnessed the deleterious affect upon my family.

I do not romanticize the acequia culture because it is a human community and there will be conflict and law suits.  Nonetheless, there exists an association of men and women meeting about water and how to nourish their livestock, beans, alfalfa, corn, tomatoes, okra, flowers, lawns, chilis, vineyards, peaches, plums, apricots, coastal bermuda, roses, trees, and every other conceivable plant needing water that flourishes from the earth.  Having an acequia culture forces upon us the lesson about sharing in real, material ways that no desk-bound, box-bound person will ever learn.  The basic premise is:  water is limited, we all need it, how will we share it?  And, how are we going to keep it coming down the ditch?  The answer: let’s talk about it, let’s vote on it, let’s implement our decision, and we will meet again.

Like so many other things in life, the ditch is more than a ditch.  The acequia and the water is not mine, not yours, but ours.  Water is life, and in this case, Life is a Ditch.

Acequia near Vadito, New Mexico, (Vadito II, oil by Eric Andrews, Taos, personal collection of J. Matthews).

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

The language keyboard for Spanish and diacritical markings frustrates me.  Hence, the Spanish diacritical markings for “Penasco” are missing, although about every 20 times, I can get the tilde above the “n” in Penasco.  If anyone has any suggestions within the WordPress format to easily apply diacritical markings to writing, please comment or drop me an email at matthewsranch@msn.com.  I am intent upon using proper markings, but I am not going to spend ten minutes every time I need a tilde to paste it on.  Can Windows Vista do anything right?  Of course they can, but you have to update your browser every five minutes.  And, then restart.

2 Comments

Filed under Life in Balance, Taos

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. 

8 Comments

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

Xeriscaping

Your Guide to Planning Drought Friendly Landscaping

By Mary Sauer

[I now have a house in the city and may apply these techniques to the landscape.  I still have 29 acres of farmland and pasture near Mingus, Texas.  Check out the links to this company.  Full disclosure:  I am not getting any monetary compensation from re-publishing Mary Sauer’s article.  I find it helpful in saving water and, as Frank Waters wrote, “living with the land” respectfully.]

When you live in an area prone to droughts, the decisions you make regarding your landscaping can either promote water conservation and sustainable living or they can promote water waste. Specific areas of the country experience months of dry weather, with very little rain providing natural hydration for lawns and landscaping elements. The good news is, there are plenty of attractive and ecologically responsible landscaping options that are perfect for areas prone to droughts.

Image

Alternatives to Lawns of Green

One of the biggest challenges faced in areas that experience droughts is finding an alternative to lawns comprised largely of grass. Green lawns require a large amount of water on a daily basis. In some areas of the country, city governments are placing strict regulations on the amount of space that can be occupied by grass in hopes of lessening water waste and promoting more sustainable landscaping.

Xeriscaping is a popular landscaping practice that completely eliminates landscaping elements that require water beyond what their environment naturally provides. These options include the use of stones, ornamental grass, native flowers, succulents, and plants with a reputation for surviving with very little maintenance.

When it comes to landscaping, stones are as drought friendly as it gets. Obviously, stones require no water. With the countless shape, color, and size options occurring in nature, it is easy to create a beautiful and visually interesting space. Additionally, with a little research, you should be able to find stones that have been harvested with minimal negative impact on their environment.

Certain flowers and plants need very little water to thrive in areas prone to drought. The simplest place to start is with flowers that occur naturally in your region. Native flowers will thrive, even during a drought, and won’t require you to indulge in wasteful water use habits to keep them alive. One of our favorites is the Lewisia Cotyledon, or Sunset Strain, a dainty, pink flower with evergreen foliage that is native to California and Oregon. Certain ornamental grasses also do very well during droughts, and many are larger enough to take the place of thirsty shrubs. Lastly, succulents actually do best with just a small amount of water, and are ideal for use in areas that regularly deal with droughts.

Image

Use Grey Water to Hydrate Your Landscaping

If you do have certain elements in your landscaping that require regular hydrating, there are alternative methods for watering that are less wasteful. Grey water is any water that you are already using during your day-to-day life that you are reusing a second time. Consider catching the water used while showering, washing dishes, or doing laundry and reusing it to water your lawn.

 At Modernize, we are passionate about empowering homeowners like you to find beautiful yet sustainable ways to create a home that truly captures your personality and meets your needs. Just because you live in a region that receives very little rain doesn’t mean you have to give up on having a beautiful lawn—by using these tips, your new landscaping will be more unique and exotic than ever before!

 

4 Comments

Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs

Water in Far Field

Central Texas in the last week had rain.  My Far Field (shown in photograph above) shows a marshy area on the south section of the field.  The rains this week have broken the record for the wettest November in the Fort Worth area.

I walked and viewed the marshy area yesterday, parking my F-250 along State Highway 108 because the road into Far Field lacked gravel or cliche for pavement.  The temperature was 44 degrees F., wind calm, and sky cloudy.  Crows inevitably cawed, killdeers pipped, and some type of finch perched and chirped in the pecan tree above me.  I had intended to cut down a tree that was blocking the gate, but the low temperature and wetness forced me back into the pickup, my axe never unloaded from the cabin.

I retired from teaching college in June of this year, having either been in college or teaching for fifty-five years.  Shortly after retirement, I sold the front part of the farm, including the house, barns, stables and arena, keeping the Far Field of 29.151 acres.  Moving into Fort Worth, some sixty miles to the east, I took an apartment that is adjacent to the Trinity River.  Since in the apartment, I have seen owls, falcons, hawks, Sandhill Cranes, and numerous species of waterfowl that fly along the river, turning as a flock at the bends of the river.  Wild turkeys inhabit a ranch across the river from where I live and I have seen a seven-member troop of them walk up into the homes and yards when it rained heavily last week.

My Far Field qualified for agricultural use.  It consists of native grasses and various inserts of Johnson grass and other “invasive” species.  The field is still wet today and will remain so for a couple of weeks.  To what use shall I put the field?  Cattle grazing, crops for wildlife?  I am not sure, but the decision  “to do” something with the soil has raised some philosophical questions about my behavior towards the land.  For now, the field is wet, the crows and hawks perch on the only tree in the field.  Nestled in the field grasses and burrowing into the earth are skunks and voles.  So, leaving it alone for now is practical and respectful.

IMG_0503

 

7 Comments

Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance

Robert Macfarlane: why we need nature writing

A new “culture of nature” is changing the way we live – and could change our politics, too.

Source: Robert Macfarlane: why we need nature writing

3 Comments

Filed under Life in Balance, Nature Quote of the Day, Nature Writers, Nature Writing Series

Milkweed for Monarchs at My Place

IMG_3540

Milkweed Clusters

I have located three milkweed clusters since 2003 on my place–central Texas, Erath County. Today I sought the three clusters again, one directly in front of the house, one alongside the road to the barn, and the cluster in the far field, one-quarter of a mile away. I found only the cluster photographed above–the cluster beside the road to the barn.  I found no milkweed in the far field nor in the front yard.  I believe that this spring has been mild so far and some heat is needed to bring out other patches of milkweed. Today, as I walked the fields, I discovered a large Monarch in the grove that soared out of the grass and into the sky above the trees.  A huge Monarch, one the largest I have ever seen.  Then as I finished my field trip, in the front yard, a Monarch flitted above the cut-leaf daisy and lawn grass. Two Monarchs, one patch of milkweed that has ten clusters of blossoms (you can only see seven in the above photograph)–definitely an event to be recorded for 2015. I will continue to monitor the milkweed and Monarchs, posting the field trips I take to far and near fields on my place.

IMG_3541

7 Comments

Filed under Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly

Spring at Flying Hat: The Constant and the Transient

   It is spring at my place, Flying Hat Ranch or Ranchito, and I am not sad, even though it is said, “April is the cruelest month.”  I understand the sadness and lament, but yesterday I took several photographs of the constant and the transient forms on Flying Hat.

The constants are the live oaks and yucca.  You see them, they seem always present, but the blossoms of plants erupt, then fade out.  They are the “transients.”

Yet, as the blossoms drop off, transient as they are, I know their roots and stems remain.  That is constant, and given another year about this earth, I will see them again.

Transient, though I may be.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance

Rosemary and Star

IMG_3308Here in central Texas, Erath County, we remain in a drought.  Since Christmas, however, rain has fallen and we do not have to boil our water before drinking.  The date for near-complete water extinction has been extended into the future.  No specific date for extinction has been given, but the February 15th date for extinction is no longer in effect.

In the photograph above, I hold a rosemary blossom, indicative of moisture in the air and soil about the large rosemary bush on the west side of the ranch house.  The scent of rosemary lingers on my fingers as I type.  I use the rosemary for several recipes, but I favor its use when I prepare a sauce for steaks or lamb chops.

* * *

Before Christmas, my good horse Star died of colic.  The old boy was fourteen years old and in his becoming ill, the first veterinary I called to the ranch said he was a strong, stoical horse in that he did not lash out at us, his handlers.  Star was diagnosed at six in the evening and had to be put down at two o’clock the next morning at the Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery compound in Weatherford, Texas, where he was surrounded by three female veterinarians who took control and managed his passing.  Without being sentimental, I still look out my porch windows, even today, to see where Star is in the pasture.  Is he loafing under the mesquites?  I know he is not there, but I still look.

Star

Star Bars Moore will be just fine.

Star Bars Moore APHA 808164, loafing in arena pasture under mesquites.

Star Bars Moore APHA 808164, loafing in arena pasture under mesquites.

 

18 Comments

Filed under Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Star

‘Hanna Ranch’ Wrangles With Environmental Issues

Currently, I am wrestling with water restrictions imposed by Barton Water Cooperative. My area is in a drought. Yet, so, I have green grass in all my fields for I have not allowed over-grazing by neither horses nor cattle.

Kirk Hanna sought to employ a holistic environmental approach to cattle ranching. His struggles are detailed in this documentary, “Hanna Ranch.” See also the link within the article to the Holistic Resource Management site, originating on the savannas of Africa.

“This Colorado cattle rancher — a featured personality in Eric Schlosser’s 2001 best seller “Fast Food Nation” — was a forward-thinking cowboy who embraced Holistic Resource Management, a fruitful approach that, among other things, encourages herding methods less stressful to cattle and a more frequent rotation of livestock through pastures. Mr. Hanna used earth-friendly natural fertilizer; to attack weeds, he employed hungry goats.”

See more on the New York Times link.

‘Hanna Ranch’ Wrangles With Environmental Issues – NYTimes.com.

A scene from

Kirk Hanna

6 Comments

Filed under Life in Balance