Category Archives: Weather

Cloud portal to the coast

Thundershowers on either side of Interstate 20 west of Cisco, Texas, May 2012

Last Friday, May 11, 2012, I drove to Abilene for commencement at Cisco College where I instruct.  West of Cisco, on Interstate 20, I saw this cloud portal — at least that is what I call it.  I sped between the two thundershowers.  A few drops fell on my car.  The first couple of weeks in May is a time of showers and cool temperatures in west Texas.  That is not always true, for this time last year, I was busy writing about wildfires in my area.

I have a friend at Cisco College that teaches English and he traveled to the Oregon coast last year, staying near Seal Rock and Newport, soaking in cool temperatures and consuming seafood and local white wines.  He talks about moving to Oregon, selling his ranch and settling in the cooler climes.  I think about the higher altitudes of northern New Mexico around Truchas and Taos that have sharp winters and cool nights during the summer.

We both will probably stay put: he in Santa Anna, me in Mingus, for there are mild winters and days in May where thundershowers bring out the Cut-leaf Daisy, Fire Whorls, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Dandelions in brilliant colors while horses and cattle graze in lush Spring fields of gramma and bluestem.  I should like, however, to go to the Newport and Depoe Bay area of Oregon where my friend says, ‘There is a resident pod of whales for ten months out of the year about the coast.  You can see them surface and dive, surface and dive.’

I want to see that scene some day.  The cloud portal in the photograph above opens to the west, towards the Pacific, towards the whale.  And away from home.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Depoe Bay was added as an additional site my friend visited.  It is a central location for beautiful scenery and whales.  The boating outing in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was filmed in the area.

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Filed under Adventure, Rain, Taos, Weather, Wildfire

Rain comes, chores follow

For the last two days, rain has fallen, perhaps as much as three inches.  My rain gauge cracked and I estimate the amount cautiously.  Replacing the rain gauge is a task ahead of me.  Weather forecasters — I listen to the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC television station — say the rain will stop by tomorrow.  My water tank appears up by several inches, although it is too muddy to trudge down to verify.

The plow follows the rain.  That’s an old adage.  Here’s another one: Chores follow the rain.  Right at the top of the list of my chores is to perform foundation dirt work on the alleyway and barn area.  Water runs off the barn roof and into the alleyway and horse stall.  In addition, I have to transport my Case DX-55 tractor to the repair shop to fix the linkage to the PTO (power train operation) so that I can do another chore.  I have to shred some sprouting mesquites in the fields with the tractor and shredder.  Until the rain subsides and sun dries the soil a bit, I am at ease in the ranch house.

Here is a photograph of rain puddles in front of the barn.

Here is the rain runoff in front of barn. Notice Star on the right side of the tack room.

The runoff from the barn roof floods the alleyway. This is a chore to follow the rain.  Notice the green trees and grass in the background.

The alleyway and stalls will need more foundation after the area dries.

This next week is Spring Break.  I’ll be marking a few tasks off my list.  My list of chores is not long, so maybe I will put one chore on a page rather than list the whole congregation of tasks on one page.  That way I can see one task at a time, or one task on one page at a time.  Pace myself, as my step-father used to say.  He did not say much, but that was an ‘adage’ I remember he said.

The list:

1. Construct dirt foundation for alleyway and stalls.

2. Change tire on flatbed trailer so I can haul tractor to repair shop.

3. Take tractor to repair shop and return.

4. Shred mesquite sprouts.

5. Replace rain gauge.

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Filed under Rain, Weather

Overflowing pond

I’m not for sure the drought here in my area — central-west Texas — has been broken, but the recent rain filled my neighbor’s pond and it has overflowed gently the last few days into my pond or cow tank.  I walked yesterday to my pond and noticed the overflow, catching me by surprise as I jumped the slight current, avoiding getting my boots wet.  It was quite cold, by our standards, and I returned to the house after a bracing hike.

The overflow from Blue's pond, February 11, 2012.

Star follows me on the hike yesterday. He is browsing on grass sprouts, lately erupting from the rains.

I like the contrast of the leafless trees and Star with the previous photograph that shows emergent winter grasses and water.

The temperature yesterday when I hiked was 28 deg. F., not cold enough to freeze the runoff, but cold enough to wear a warm coat and toboggan cap.

Today the temperature remains about the same and we are forecast sleet and rain from 6:00 p.m. until tomorrow morning.

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Filed under Star, Weather

Rain fills pond

Three days ago rain came to the area and I received about 4.5 inches of moisture.  The pond, seen above, rose three feet from run-off water.  Many areas of Texas, not just central West Texas, received sufficient rain to fill lakes and ponds.  The run-off was severe and water flooded roads.  Burn bans have been lifted.  I have read news reports that the drought has been lifted.  My pond has not been this full in over two years.

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Filed under Weather

Wait for the wind to stop? You’ll never get anything done in Texas!

I worked a lot yesterday on clearing my two-horse trailer of camping gear and storage boxes.  I have this reluctance to store things in the attic because of spontaneous combustion, so I am careful about what goes in the attic — hardly any cardboard boxes, mainly plastic storage containers that are tightly sealed.  The main focus of work, however, was to reclaim the two-horse trailer for hauling Star, hay and camping gear.  I have a larger stock trailer, but I like the shorter trailer for maneuverability.

There’s an old Irish saying:  If we wait for the rain to stop so we can work, we’ll never get anything done.  Transposing that old saw:  If we wait for the wind to stop or the weather to cool here in Texas, we’ll never get anything done.  So I worked with barn doors banging, dust about me, and wind chill in the 40s.  The wind blew a gale, upwards of 40 mph gusts during the day, and when night fell, I parked the trailer and F-250 inside the barn beside the tractor.  The photo shows the interior of the barn with trailer, truck, tractor and in the background the ever-present Stihl chainsaw (orange casing next to back wall).  The Stihl needs a workout on windfall oak in the grove.

In Santa Fe, Mr. Rios, of the Rios Woodyard in back of Geronimo’s Restaurant on Canyon Road, told me last winter that he would trade me even-Steven for oak and pinion.  I need pinion, he needs oak.  I won’t make it to Santa Fe this holiday, so I have time to cut the oak into proper size to make the trade in the summer.  The Stihl chainsaw is just about the most reliable chainsaw I have ever used.  I have many “safety issues” with using a chainsaw, but that’s for another post.  (I beginning to feel like I am writing a column for safe behavior in the modern Wild West.)

The wind did not cease until 10:30 p.m., but the trailer is clean.  I got a few things done in Texas today.

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October in Texas: dusting and sunflowers

Sunflowers with dust storm near Abilene, Texas (October 17, 2011).

A light “dusting” of dust, not snow, descended with high winds upon Texas yesterday. A cold front came in the afternoon that sent temperatures this morning down into the lower 50s F. I love changes in weather. Of course, not with abrupt turns that bring destruction and fire, but changes like yesterday: brisk winds, racing clouds, lightening, rain in the distance that you can smell (my dog, Yeller, lifts his head high to catch the scents far away), dark clouds with long trailing edges that signal rain prospects and all of it bringing anticipation to the heart that tomorrow will be different, a new day with fresh starts all over the world.

How can one capture that cachet of weather change and anticipation for riding your favorite horse into the future? ( I am down to one horse, my Star paint gelding, so he is the favorite, the last of the remuda — but I will build a remuda back with brown mares that foal in the Spring.)  Well, you can’t capture it, but you can take a photograph that elicits Texas weather change, and the above photograph of Texas plains, dust and sunflowers, brings yesterday’s moment to pause.

You must ENLARGE the photo above to get the full effect of yesterday’s “dusting” around Abilene, Texas.  The evocations the photograph brings reminds me of migrating pioneers in the nineteenth century that saw the Trans-Mississippi West plains and stopped, not wanting to venture farther onto land that had little water, few trees and a population that spoke strange languages.

O, Pioneers!  Be not afraid!  There are springs and rivers, trees are in the ravines and highlands!  The Indians will trade and parley and teach their tongues, if you will tread lightly upon the terrain!

Yes, I know that pioneers did not tread lightly.  There were, however, places of concord — Bent’s Fort, the Pawnee, the Tewa, among other spaces and culture.

Despite this riff-tangent about the American pioneer, I come back to the weather change of yesterday that brought cold winds, turning the sunflowers to face the southern climes.  Bees and butterflies still feasted on its pollen, riding the petals like cowboys on broncs; the contrast of red earth, dusty skies and yellow flowers showed a tough plant on inhospitable soil, holding on tight and bearing its colors to the world.  I love these types of weather changes.

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Filed under Weather, Wild Flowers of Texas

Well springs Frio loam

Southeast corner of Pecan Tree Pasture, Johnsongrass and big bluestem (September 4, 2011).

Drought has come to the Southwest, particularly Texas. Wildfires erupt and I view every cloud in the sky as either friend or foe, rain-cumulus or pyrocumulus. Man lives in oscillating cycles: birth, maturity, degeneration and death; spring, summer, winter and fall; day and night. Nature’s theater, the grandest show — in fact the only show on the road — brings hot, dry days to us, an uneasy audience that sits without a program in hand.

Raising my hands and putting on a broad-brimmed hat to shield myself from the sun, I think, Is there is no way out of this parched country of west Texas, this incessant drought?  As a matter of habit, I drove to the far field two days ago, then again yesterday, and what I saw brought me out of the funk and into the reality of primary, nascent things that fosters renewal, not despair.  What I saw was the green field of my far pasture, Pecan Tree Pasture, a 35 acre field of buffalo grass, side-oats gramma, little bluestem, big bluestem and Johnsongrass that stood higher than my head!  The rain of about 2.5 inches two weeks ago provided enough moisture for a re-eruption of growth.

Trying to understand the dissonance of yellow-brown drought in Texas and this field of green grass, I gazed deeper and deeper into the field, trying to resolve these issues of color.  Then, it penetrated:  I was not looking deep enough, for beneath the grass lay soil, the wellspring for grass, the fountain of energy that we all thrive upon.  Well springs the soil.

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.  Food chains are living channels which conduct energy upward; death and decay return it to the soil.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, p. 216, New York: Oxford Press, 1949.

In primary school, we all saw the pyramid chart of soil, plants, animals, man, sun and the flowing of energy back and forth.  The tooth and claw of the pyramid remained omnipresent, but never voiced.  We knew one thing lived by absorbing another living thing, whether cougar on deer, fox on rabbit or kids on hamburgers, but our teachers for reasons of refinement side-stepped the tooth, the claw.  The revealing of one thing eating another lay with fathers and uncles in the field on cloudy, windy and cold days.  Perhaps that is how it should be.

To know my soil, early this morning I unfolded the Soil Survey Map of Erath County, Texas, in order to type the soil of the far field I saw yesterday.  The map is ninety-one years old (1920); it is still accurate, still a good map.  My land, temporary occupant that I am, encompasses three soil types.  First, I have rough stony land (R) upon which sits the house, barn, stables and arena.  Second, the tree grove of American elm, willow, live oak, red oak, juniper and pecan rests upon Frio silty clay loam, Colluvial phase (F).  Through the tree grove runs Salt Creek, an intermittent flowing stream.

In the far field, where big bluestem is stretching upwards of seven-feet in height, a pasture that has not been grazed by Angus cattle in four years, is Frio loam (Fm), deposits of earth that have rushed down from High Salt Cove and between two creeks, Barton Creek and Salt Creek.  From Frio loam springs the grass in the far field.  The doe and fawn I disturbed yesterday lie between the high stands of big bluestem, and I lapse back to Oklahoma’s plains and the waving blue-red waves of autumnal bluestem that rustle with wind, the stems making sounds as they brush against one another.  The pasture holds the moisture of the last rain and though I am not a person of edgy competition, I would put my far field of green grass up against any non-fertilized field in Erath County for height, vigor, nutrients and wildlife.

After tending the far field for eight years and seeing the soil’s fountain of energy this late summer, How is it that man fouls such richness, such gifts?  The answer is complex, but knowable.  The resolution to stop the pollution begins with a respect for knowledge, deep knowledge that is revealed early and, unfortunately, forgotten early on with so many other things in our youth, a bulletin board that displayed the food chain in first grade.  The ethic of conservation and sustainability rests upon simple principles that need the status of a Commandment, an article of the Constitution, a catechism of the church.  Better yet, we should recover that which was lost when we began to make pottery, metal and textiles thousands of years ago, or left on that bulletin board at Coggin Elementary School in Brownwood, Texas.

Land is a fountain of energy.  In my far field, Frio loam is a wellspring.

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Click to enlarge. Soil survey map, Salt Creek and Barton Creek merger, from Soil Survey of Erath County, Texas (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922). The far field is located at about center-left along Salt Fork and is associated with the symbol, Fm, for Frio loam.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There, New York: Oxford Press, 1949.  I am quoting from the paperback, special commemorative edition that has an introduction by Robert Finch.

Soil Survey of Erath County, Texas, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922.  The map was drawn in 1920, hence, it is ninety-one years old.  I found it in the workshop of the house I once owned in Mingus, Texas.  The house was know as the Old Bertino Place, named for the Italian family that had come to the area to work in the coal mines of Thurber in the nineteenth century.

I have been reading a considerable amount of literature this summer:  Aldo Leopold, Thoreau, Tolkien, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Edward Hoagland, Black Elk, Frank Waters, Wordsworth, Catulus.  I have something to write.  Whether it sells or not is a by-product.  I have to write, I really do.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Rain, Sounds, Weather

Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake

Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake (MSNBC photo, August 2011)

As I drove back to the ranchito yesterday afternoon from Abilene, moving with light traffic on Interstate 20 near Eastland, Texas, I looked northeast and saw towering pyrocumulus clouds. Approximately forty to fifty miles away from where I drove on the highway, I pinpointed the fires at Palo Pinto, Texas, or Possum Kingdom Lake. My ranchito lay far away from the inferno, so my anxiety lessened and I began to think more intently about the precise location. The smoke rose high in the sky, becoming pyrocumulus, rolling and billowing upwards.  It had started at about 1:30 p.m.

When I arrived at the house, I turned on the television and Dallas-Fort Worth stations reported the fires near Possum Kingdom Lake, the southeastern side of the huge lake that dams the Brazos River, the largest river in Texas. In April, fires had erupted about the lake, destroying homes and thousands of acres of trees and grass with attendant wildlife. Once again, Possum Kingdom habitat ignites, the residents flee not having time to salvage photos or documents.

I ruminate that our region suffers a drought, cow tanks dry, underbrush decadent and my primary source of water, the Barton Creek Cooperative, restricts water use with heavy penalties for violators.  In the Possum Kingdom fire zone, summer camps for teenagers and children abound, primary homes and secondary homes stand close to trees that are pruned carefully, the underbrush removed as a fire hazard.  Yet, so, when the spark falls on the dead, crackly grass and brush, natural forces beyond man’s control take precedence and airships with their whap-whap-whap of whirling blades pour water onto flames that send smoke and ashes high into the sky, creating pyrocumulus in the blue skies of Texas.  I think of a line from Full Metal Jacket:  Who is in command here?

The origin of the fire is unknown and as of this morning, August 31, the fire is not contained.

For a morning news report, August 31, 2011, see “Wildfires burning homes in Texas, Oklahoma,” from MSNBC.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The quote from the movie, “Who’s in command here?” originally read Apocalypse Now.  The proper citation is from the movie, Full Metal Jacket.

The photograph from MSNBC shows smoke and ash close to the ground and none of the “clouds” are pyrocumulus.  I saw the pyrocumulus while on the interstate highway and I failed to use my iPhone to photograph the phenomenon. 

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Filed under Life Out of Balance, Weather, Wildfire

Rain in Broke Tree Corral

Rain in Broke Tree Corral, north Erath County, Texas, August 12, 2011.

Yesterday afternoon, after months of drought, rain came down sporadically in drops, then sheets of rain.

The first raindrops bounced on the aluminum roof of the barn and stables. Lightning flashed, thunder clapped, and Star the paint gelding and I flinched.  He bolted for about three gallops, then returned quickly to the shelter of the stable.  Within thirty minutes, five-tenths of an inch had fallen and a lightning strike on the oil piping fence about fifty-yards away knocked out electrical power.

I fed Star his grain and Horseshoer’s Secret — a potion for rebuilding hoof walls — and he munched haply through the noise of the thunderstorm, occasionally bringing his head out of the feed bin to see if I still sat in the alleyway waiting out the rain.  I talked to him, Good boy, fine fellow.

Broke Tree Corral is the first of two successive corrals about the barn and arena.  So named for an American Elm tree that broke in two, the tree has continued to thrive with bark and one-half of its internal veins intact for at least eight years now.  The grass in the corrals has become brittle and sparse.  The rain quickly formed small channels that flowed into the second corral, the Well House Corral, where bare ground could not stop the erosion-flow into the near fields of buffalo grass and mesquite sprouts.

Rain flows down the road towards the barn, north Erath County, Texas, August 12, 2011

Rain has fallen, the temperature has dropped and the Jack Rabbit has come out of his burrow to chomp on fresh sprouts and new, tender, blades of grass in the small dell between me and the Dooley place.  The drought has not been broken decisively, but this rainfall is a far away sound of better days and nights headed to Texas, a hunter’s footfall tracking a devil of fiery brutalities to slay and scatter to cool winds and shady juniper groves for those that live with the land.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Try as I might, misspelled words sometimes slip through.  I do not rely on “check spelling” frequently, but will look again at a word if it is underlined in red.  In this post this morning, I misspelled, “lightning,” twice!  I spelled it “lightening” and missed the correction.  In writing posts, I do not have a proofreader.  It is an imperfect world filled with imperfect compositions.

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Filed under Rain, Star, Weather

Clouds with Mourning Dove

Pre-dawn clouds in Texas, north Erath County, August 2011.

Yesterday in mid-afternoon, August 10, 2011, a weak squall line walked through my ranchito in central-west Texas.  Blue-gray rain clouds edged and staggered to a halt south of my place.  A few drops of rain fell.  The power of the squall line churned up dust clouds, obscuring the Nowack barn across the county road in a microburst downdraft.  East of me, seventy-five miles away, Fort Worth had rain falling on Sundance Square, the heart of downtown commerce and entertainment that coarsely promotes the city as, “Where the West Begins.”  I disagree, but that argument will have to wait for another day.

The squall line with thunderclouds failed to bring rain on my land yesterday, but one weather change in the future will bring drops and sheets of rain.  I looked at the weather charts yesterday afternoon and saw thundershowers, sixty-miles north, let loose rain, then dissipate into nothingness but a void of mirages, quavering silver lakes far away.  No mirage here, the juniper trees in the ranchito grove threw off a luscious scent with the rise in humidity, dispelling summer for a time and bringing a promise of better days.

This morning, clouds remain to my east and as the sun rises, I see remnants of yesterday’s storm over Sundance Square.   I count three, perhaps five, sun rays through the cirrus and cumulus debris.  In all of this — the dust clouds, wind, scarce drops of rain and the sun’s rays — I look at yesterday’s date, August 10th, and know that Fall is forty days away, and that the sun rises later and sets earlier each day upon the earth’s northern hemisphere, Sundance Square and my hacienda. 

As if I needed any more natural substantiation that the season is turning — I do — Mourning Doves (Zenaidura macroura) sustained their ooah, cooo, cooo, coo this morning for over an hour, sitting on power lines and in the mesquite brush of the Dooley place to my west.  The Mourning Dove with hot mornings and brutal afternoons of heat on the ranchito does not coo earnestly, but quiets in sorrow for the lack of rain.

The Mourning Dove is in the lower-left photograph, a White-fronted Dove is pictured in lower-right (Audubon Society Field Guide, 1977).

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The call of the Mourning Dove comes from Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to Western Birds (1969), my constant reference and field guide that is tattered and torn.  But I would not have it any other way.

Photographs of the dove are from The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (1977).  This reference guide from Audubon was in the small library of my parents who grew up in the country of central Texas and were always cognizant of wildlife, thunderstorms, cattle and horses.  I inherited the library and treasure each volume of field manuals that they thumbed through.

Several species of dove reside and pass through the ranchito. 

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Filed under Birds, Rain, Weather