Category Archives: Recollections 1990-

Norman Clyde and Life on Mountain Trails

Norman Clyde taught, read, guided mountain climbs and rescues.  “Norman Clyde still guided parties into the Sierra into the 1960s, when he was in his seventies. In the 1950s and 1960s, he lived by himself at the old Baker ranch-house on Baker Creek near Big Pine. Because he was trained in the classics, Norman Clyde loved to read books in Latin and Greek. At the Baker ranch-house, Clyde had thousands of rare classical books. At age 80, he was still sleeping outside the ranch-house on a mattress and sleeping bag, as long as it was fair weather.”

The above photograph on the cover of the magazine, Climbing, I have kept since a friend of mine, Mark Garlin, gave me the magazine in 1972.  Norman Clyde died later that year, December, 1972, at the age of 87.  I have kept the magazine at my ready shelf since that time because of my love of climbing mountains and the presence of strength and fortitude in Clyde’s face and posture.  Despite age, he has tools of his love and trade beside him:  rope, ice axe, and rucksack.

When I have climbed mountains by way of trail and path, not rope nor ice axe, I have met young and old, educated and not, rich and poor, and men and women who love the outdoors and the challenge of a good climb.  Without fail, those that are on the trail take an interest in the columbine and rushing waters and all the conifers in high country.  Oh, the trees: ponderosa pine, spruce, juniper, pinion.  There is learning in the austere mountain trail that is both external and internal.  In the external, one sees and usually identifies geological formations, the topography, the magpies and jays, and the trees.  Internally, the lessons run deep and are formative, even in old age.

Norman Clyde in the photograph above was in his eighties.  The perseverance in his climbing is found off the slopes in building strawbale compounds (as my good friend, Jimmy Henley, was doing at the time of his death in his seventies), performing the arts, climbing trees as a trimmer, and pursuing goals in getting a degree.  If ever you think you are too old, think of Norman Clyde on the front cover, the mountains behind and the tools of his adventure about him.  Clyde will climb until his body fails.

As I wrote, I keep Clyde’s photograph on my ready shelf.  If he can climb at his age, I can hike and build fence and mountaineer at my age.  As I climb in the high country, three questions arise:  What am I doing here?  What should I do?  And, how do I know?  The answers are simple and complex.  I am hiking.  I am hiking.  I know I am hiking in this moment at my pace, walking among the trees, hearing birds, seeing and hearing rushing waters, touching ground, seeing the sky as I meet others on the trail.  Those are my three answers.  In a sense, those are everyone’s answers.  Until our bodies fail.   Norman Clyde, front cover, Norma Clyde, front cover….


Photograph of Norman Clyde by David Hiser.

Quote in first paragraph from Wikipedia, “Norman Clyde,” accessed Aug. 23, 2016.

The three questions in the last paragraph are derivative from my course in philosophy at University of Texas at Austin, 1961.  On the Philosophy Department’s website page (at least a couple of years ago) those questions were posed in a slightly different way.

I climbed with Mark Garlin, my friend who gave me the magazine.  He lectured at the Air Force Academy in the 1970s on climbing and survival in the mountains.




Filed under Adventure, Juniper, Recollections 1966-1990, Recollections 1990-

Swarming berry feast for Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse (Cornell University)

I wrote my dissertation in Fort Worth, Texas, from a second-floor office, looking out upon an enclosed patio. Adjacent to the large window that framed my view were White Fringetrees that bore dark blue berries.  I composed intently and turned frequently to the window, yearning to be in high country, viewing pinon, spruce and ponderosa, not the Fringetree in a hot Texas summer.

One afternoon as I churned out sentences I saw birds fly onto and into the White Fringetrees.  Not just a few, but hundreds of birds landed on tree branches, weighing them down, almost to a point of snapping the branches from the tree trunk.  I turned away from writing and gazed upon Tufted Titmice engorging fringetree berries (1).  The animated flock, chirping and calling loudly, ate for fifteen or twenty seconds and then abruptly flew away, out of sight, in a orchestrated arc of motion.

I was stunned at clasping claws, fluttering wings, pecking mouths and swarming birds within ten feet of my desk.  No sooner than I began to think about their behavior the titmice returned, engorging and hanging upside down, flying crazily away, drunk upon the nectar, happily filled.

They stripped the tree of berries after two more returns to the table and I never saw them again that summer.  I waited for a few to return in the remaining days, but they never flew back.

I revere that image.  I thought then, as I do now, that the berry feast of swarming titmice lifted my mood and helped propel me to finish my dissertation, for at my desk I saw nature churning, grasping, eating and flying.  High country, after all, in Texas.



1.  Please read my reply to Bill’s comment in this post about my confidence in typing a Tufted Titmouse.  I have a measure of doubt about the typing.  I wrote to Bill:

I’m not one-hundred percent confident it was a tufted titmouse. At the time, I had never seen any bird like it: tufted, grayish, small, energetic. Fort Worth is 65 miles from where I live now, 120 miles from where I was born and reared. I would say I am seventy-five percent confident about the typing. I’m not by any means a birder and I was hesitant in presenting this post. I remember at the time that I got my Peterson out a few days after the event. My first definition was some sort of junco, passing through like you say, but a junco was too large. With a little bit more definition, photographs and migrating patterns into Texas (no farther than Texas, I read), I hesitantly put it as a tufted titmouse. No one was with me at the time of the sighting to corroborate….If you read my reply to your comment, how do you go about your typing of birds up there? Today, I use the Peterson and Cornell University website. My Peterson is falling apart from use in the field and carrying around for, say, forty years?…Thanks, Bill, for commenting.  [Bill writes a nature blog and lives in New England.  His blog is Wildramblings.]

The White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus),  See also Rutgers Landscape and Nursery Services, New Jersey.

Tufted Titmouse, Identification, All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Baeolophus bicolor).


Filed under Birds, Recollections 1990-

Greening of Flying Hat and The Grand Inquisitor

Spring Afternoon, Poprock Hill Looking South, March 31, 2010 (click to enlarge)

Flying Hat Ranchito bursts with grass and flowers this late afternoon in March.  With snowfall this winter, greater amounts of nutrients lobbed onto tiny snowflakes already formed around dust particles, so that natural fertilizer fell from the sky — snow and sleet, not Monsanto.  The grass appears greener, more vibrant.  Certainly, an abundance of flowers bloom that we’ve not seen since homesteading in 2003.

The springing to life, lately dormant, continues in The Grove, and I want to go down there and take photographs — mine are more documentary than artful, but so? — for you and my record. There are willow trees and wild Mustang grapes in The Grove.  A large oak tree that we have dubbed The Council Tree will surely have shade so that we can spread a red-checkered tablecloth on the tailgate of the pickup and have a sandwich and wine or beer.  Definitely, spring in Texas.

Desdemona Windfarm in Distance, March 31, 2010 (click to enlarge)

Desdemona Windfarm in Distance, March 31, 2010 (click to enlarge)

In this second photograph, you see the greening of the trees to the southwest.  If you enlarge the photograph, you can see the Desdemona windfarm of British Petroleum beyond the ridgeline in the distance.  Those windmills are approximately twenty (20) miles or more from us.  I have yet to look upon the windmills and be calmed.  Not that technology should be calming, but the monumental size of these windmills evokes a slight fear, a fever, as it were.   I am glad, however, that the wind is collected and that diminishes our dependence on finite resources.  In a sense, there is a greening in our region along with the greening Flying Hat.

Then comes “The Grand Inquisitor,” chapter five of Book Five: Pro and Contra, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Shortly before turning out the light to go to sleep two nights ago, I mentioned to Brenda that I was going to read one more chapter of The Brothers Karamazov.  The book is not light reading, I knew that.  But, I wasn’t prepared for “The Grand Inquisitor,” for god’s sake, and I’m not trying to be punny.  The sheer length of paragraphs in that chapter overwhelmed me, not to mention the nuances of religion so stretched out that I thought, You can’t wring anymore out of “bread” than what you have already done, Fyodor!  But he did.   My bed lamp did not go out as quickly as I had hoped.  I finished the chapter and have reread it.  Why, you may ask, am I reading The Brothers Karamazov?  First, I want to read the 100 best pieces of literature ever written.  That’s why.  (There are several lists of the “best and greatest.”  I’ll post the lists eventually.)  The Brothers Karamazov is considered one of the greatest compositions.  The second reason is that I am curious about what makes great literature, the writing of a person that brings you into their inner world of comprehension.

There is a lot of idiocy and mindless rant on television, the internet and in the newspapers.  So, in order to bring a sensibility of order and art to my world out here in west Texas, along with my horses and land, I read good things and I think about those things — even the Grand Inquisitor — as I work with horses, unload hay and plant native grass seed in the soil.  I intend to wear out, not rust out, in this great land of ours, the idiocies of the day notwithstanding.  We all need to continue to green in some way, even if it means reading “The Grand Inquisitor” before turning out the lamp.  Do choose another chapter, however.


Filed under Recollections 1990-

Poprock Hill Pond Mist

Poprock Hill Pond Mist, March 14, 2010 (click to enlarge)

This is Poprock Hill Pond, also known as a stock pond, stock tank, cow tank, watering hole, runoff reservoir or catch pond.  In this region of Texas — central, west — they are called, cow tanks or stock tanks.  “Cow tank,” of course, has familial, idiosyncratic, usage:  Uncle Floyd’s ranch, Tom Parks place and many others.  Cow or stock tank does not have the Walden cachet that reflexively appeals to non-Westerners, non-Texans.  To many of us, however, the cow tank was the first place where we learned to swim, fish and observe water in a region of semi-arid climate.  It was a separate, exciting area, cupped in the earth.

The rivers of Texas, such as Brazos, Colorado, Llano, Pecan Bayou (yes, a river), San Saba, Concho, Pecos and Rio Grande (always drop the word, “river,” before you say or write Rio Grande) may be public in water rights, but only a few families own the land around the river banks.  The Walton family of Walmart has a large ranch along the Brazos River near Millsap, Texas.  The few families that control river banks have no duty to the public to give them access.  To canoe or float down these rivers in Texas, you enter the river at a public road crossing, such as Interstate 20.

For most of us owning land in Texas, our first exposure to large bodies of water — other than bathtubs — were cow tanks, such as Poprock Hill Pond or stock tank, photographed above.  Swimming in cow tanks with cousins was often the first time people saw another body without clothes or scant apparel.  Perch and bass fish were stocked in the tanks and in the winter, ducks arrived to feed, carouse.  The cow tank was a retreat from family conflict, a quiet place to throw stones in the water and watch the ripples circle out to the edges.  It was another visual reference for for drought or abundance:  cow tank down, way down, dry.  Or, the other way:  stock tank up, way up, overflowing.   During the summer, we camped on the northern side of the stock tank, so as to catch the water evaporation from the southwest wind at night as we would sleep in a tent or on cots beneath live oaks, pecan trees.  By the morning, we wrapped ourselves in old quilts or sleeping bags to ward off  the cold breeze from the tank.

Stock tanks, however, are primarily for livestock.  Angus cattle walk the dam and water daily.  Our horses, Star, Lilly, Hija, Fanny and Shiney, wallow in the shallows to the right in the above photograph, bathing and cooling themselves in hot weather.  Hija is a water nymph.  She wallows more than others, she plays in it:  nuzzling the surface, plunging her head down into the water almost up to her eyes, stomping the edge of the bank to splash water on herself.  She’s a fine horse, she is.  If she could, she would bring her stallion to the water’s edge.

This morning, the temperature was 41 deg. F. and I saw the mist arise from Poprock Hill Pond.  Before I threw hay to Hija — she’s a fine horse, she is — I went down to the pond and took the photograph.  I don’t know the temperature of the water, but I’ll get a thermometer one of these days and plunge it into the pond water, if it is pertinent to my tasks that day.  Then, again, I may not.  I may stand on the edge of the cow tank and think of my cousins and Sweet Hija, bucolically at play and passing time.  The registering of the surface temperature may have to wait as I look at the wind moving the surface of the water, the light film of natural oils, the young willows emerging along the banks and the sunlight reflecting.  And, soon — it always happens — I’ll forget myself, looking at a misty cow tank in Texas.

Closeup Mist on Poprock Hill Pond, March 14, 2010 (click to enlarge)


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Recollections 1990-

The Day After the Poly Survey

Poly Cemetery, September 2002, Archeological Surface Survey for Texas Wesleyan University

In September 2002, I managed an archeological surface survey of Poly Cemetery in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Poly Cemetery Association and their descendants.  The History Club at Texas Wesleyan University assisted in the fieldwork.  The next day after conducting the survey, my mother called and said my step-father was diagnosed with leukemia and his prognosis was grim.  My wife and I canceled our trip to France.  Lufthansa gave us a full refund when my step-father’s doctor sent them a letter.  He died in December 2002, and mother in April 2003.  I was not able to complete the report of the surface survey analysis until 2006, and then in 2008, the State of Texas awarded a Historical Survey Marker for the cemetery, the 1,000th cemetery marker for the state.

I was proud of the work we had accomplished as a survey crew that September day in 2002, but the photographs and field notes I inscribed always remind me of  how my life was changed the day after the survey.  Within a week after the Poly survey, I began to manage, among several things, two horses:  Lilly and Star.  After I settled the estate of my parents, I purchased another horse, a mare, Sweet Hija, a legacy horse of King Ranch.

Shiners Fannin Peppy and Sweet Hija, March 2008

From Sweet Hija came Shiners Fannin Peppy or “Fanny” as she is affectionately named.  Several posts have been centered around Fanny’s training with Duncan Steele-Park over at the GCH Land & Cattle Co. near Weatherford, Texas.  Life changed, and the good and bad were different from 2002.  Overall, this time, good came about.

Road in Grove, November 2008

Since 2002, one good emerging  is this road and where it takes me.  This is the road from the ranch house through the grove and down the creek bed and up onto Pecan Tree Pasture adjacent to the Bryant place.  The road must be maintained.  Erosion from rain, not wind, force me to grade the road by blade or allow erosion to continue.  The road is passable by tractor most of the time.  When it is graded, car and pickup can travel the road.  We take picnic baskets with red-checkered tablecloths and have a feast in the shade of the tree, usually on the tailgate of the pickup.  In Novembers, we drink Beaujolais Nouveau beneath the pecan tree with our picnic of french bread, meats, cheeses, pates and tapenade.  The new wine is not as robust as we like, but it is the new crop of vino. The horses will stand off and graze if they are in the pasture, looking up occasionally when they detect a rapid motion under the tree, a flapping of the tablecloth.  In parking, we angle our pickup so that we can look in the direction that has no power lines, no buildings in view, only trees and ridge line.  The direction is West.  We spill some wine on the ground, a Lakota custom we have adopted in honor of the departed ones, and we talk about our family and of things to come, the days after the Poly Survey.

Pecan Tree, November 2008


Filed under Recollections 1990-

Bill Tiblets Picks Pecans

Abandoned Mingus Grocery Store, Texas

Mingus Post Office, Texas, 2009

In 1999, my wife and I looked at a house to purchase in Mingus, Texas, an old nineteenth-century mining community mid-way between Fort Worth and Abilene.  The house was a wooden two bedroom structure that had been moved from New York Hill along the main highway to 113 East Grant Town Road.  The caretaker and brother of the woman that had lived in the house was named Bill Tiblets.  He and his wife lived next door to the house we would buy.  Bill said, “Set a price on the house.”  We did, and for $35,000 we had a 1913 Arts and Crafts house with about one-quarter of an acre upon which I planted a vineyard of forty-four Cabernet franc, Cabernet savignon, and Syrah grape vines, most imported from California vineyards.  The vineyard flourished over the next four years and we still have a car boy of the Cabernet sitting in the dining room.

Bill Tiblets had lived in Mingus all of his life, been postmaster, and had operated a steak house, “Will’s Steakhouse,” for many years before he retired.  He was tall, pleasant, well-groomed, and friendly.  Bill became a close friend of mine and so did his wife, Will, for whom the steakhouse was named.  They had four sons, Larry, Jody, James, and Charles, and the kind and friendly attributes of their father and mother were ingrained into their behavior.

Bill, however, in his early seventies, was partially impaired by the concoction of old age and hard work.  He had osteoarthritis and from time to time had to use a scooter to get around in the house and yard.   Each week or so, he would call me and invite me to come over to his home next door and have a toddy.  It would be a toddy of Old Granddad whiskey with Seven-Up or Coca-Cola.  We talked and I found out that during World War II, he had been stationed in Brownwood, Texas, for training, and that his wife, Will, had come down to stay with him.  Accommodations were so sparse in Brownwood  with Camp Bowie nearby, that they rented out a clean chicken house in which to reside for a couple of months.

As time passed, I could tell that Bill was in a state of physical degeneration, becoming less and less mobile.  Still, however, he would walk as best he could.  One day, he and his sons came over to the house and we went outside to see the old steakhouse that he had owned.  The steakhouse was across a nearby creek that used to have crawdads and bullfrogs when the climate was wetter and cooler, back in the 1930s and 1940s.  Bill, his four sons, and I picked up relics from the cafe that had burned down (a case of arson): spoons, forks, knives.  Brenda and I had already picked up some Buffalo-style platters in the rubble.  We use them to serve steaks to our guests.  But, on that day, Bill, his sons, and I reflected on the steakhouse so many people enjoyed.  Bill said that people would fly into the landing strip on New York Hill and come down to their steakhouse to eat.   Will’s Steakhouse was also known as Little Lowake, a steakhouse near San Angelo that was as popular in Texas as The French Laundry in California.

Lowake Steakhouse, Concho County, Texas

As Bill’s degeneration worsened, he walked less and less, motored more and more.  We still had our weekly toddies.  He continued to joke.  He tolerated the local minister’s visits to insure his passage to the afterlife would be comfortable, although, like me, Bill professed skepticism at such things as heaven and hell.  He much preferred the company of his family and friends while alive to thinking of  reverie beyond the grave.  Bill worked in his wood shop and plant nursery in his last days.

Our houses, as I said, were next door:  the Tiblets a brick house, ours the wooden Arts and Crafts of 1913.  Pecan trees bordered our property with a 100 foot vacant grassy lot between us that we kept mowed.  Larry, Bill’s son, trimmed around the mesquite and pecan trees.  The vacant lot had been a parking lot for a dance hall in the 1930s and 1940s.  The pecan trees would seasonally give both our families a sufficient harvest for munching, perhaps a pie.  We could see each other across the lot and we would talk almost daily.

One fall day, Bill drove his scooter to the pecan trees between our homes.  I saw him through our kitchen window.  He sat briefly under the shade of the trees, warming in the sun, and then he wiggled out of the scooter, got on his hands and knees and picked pecans.  His impairment prevented him from bending over from the scooter.  I called my wife to the kitchen window.  “Bill is picking pecans on his hands and knees,” I said quietly.  He would put them in his pockets and occasionally empty the nuts into a bag attached to the scooter.  Over the next few weeks, Bill would pick every few days or so, easing himself down from his machine.

Bill possessed the good in mankind,  the deep-down drive to keep going, despite pain, to maintain a simple but necessary ritual of harvesting pecans when ripe or making a pie for the holidays or feeding the horses or cattle.  Necessary toil.  I saw Bill on his knees that day, but he was a thousand feet tall, decked in finery, and crowned with an ancient helmet of self-possession to duty, until the end of his time, his day, his life.

Bill died later that year.  We all will have our end, but until that day, we need to get out of the chair and harvest the fruit on the ground, on hands and knees, if necessary.  Like Bill.

I raise my toddy everyday and toast to my friend, Bill Tiblets:  “A votre exemple.”



Bill’s children and widow have moved from their home on Grant Town Road in Mingus.  Will lives in Gordon, Texas, a few miles east of Mingus, and her children have all built homes nearby  on top of a hill, overlooking Interstate 20.  The Arts and Crafts home Brenda and I lived in for four years has been sold.  The present tenants have let the vineyard lapse into semi-chaos, but when I drive by on the way to the post office I do see Cabernet franc vines robustly staying alive.  We kept the Mingus house for a couple of years as we moved  to our ranch.  We got a good price for it since I had cleaned up the dead trees and had planted the vineyard.  I miss the house and so does Brenda.  Bill’s children are settling in on the hill and each son has the drive and initiative of their father: construction, home repair, accounting, water plant worker, and other skills.  Brenda and I talk about Will and Bill and our life next door to them in Mingus, but the one topic that always comes up is Bill Tiblets Picks Pecans.


Filed under Recollections 1990-