Tag Archives: Amarillo Texas

Naturalist quote of day: Aldo Leopold on danger of not owning a farm

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.  One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.

To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949)


Winter by Joseph Fleck (Taos Art Museum and Fechin House)



Painting of Joseph Fleck associated with the Taos Art Museum and Fechin House.

See also Taos Painter Joseph Fleck.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Nature Quote of the Day

Tickling the belly of buffalo: no more

[When I lived in Amarillo, Texas, from 1966-1990, I gazed upon the landscapes of the Panhandle-Plains and saw distances and life in those distances.  Not barren, not unlivable, but inhabited.  Sandhills Crane, burrowing owls, sagebrush, mesquite, cool waters of the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, geese, Mallards, mule deer, white-tailed deer and the Barbary Sheep of the Palo Duro Canyon.  I hiked into the edges of vast ranches and found campsites of cowboys and Kiowa tribes, they not-knowing, the owners that I was even there, lightly I trod.

In the midst of all this wandering, I taught at Amarillo College and I impelled my students in anthropology to sketch corn-grinding sites in the canyons for practice and awe.

Somewhere along the way of field trips and hikes, I came across Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. He died fighting a prairie fire.  Here is an excerpt about the Silphium of the Aster family.  It is more than a plant cut under the progress of road.  It is the canary in a cage in a mine, deep into the earth.

From the University of Texas, http://gargravarr.cc.utexas.edu/chrisj/leopold-quotes.html This excerpt is from Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.  Other excerpts are included at this website.]

Every July I watch eagerly a certain country graveyard that I pass in driving to and from my farm. It is time for a prairie birthday, and in one corner of this graveyard lives a surviving celebrant of that once important event.

It is an ordinary graveyard, bordered by the usual spruces, and studded with the usual pink granite or white marble headstones, each with the usual Sunday bouquet of red or pink geraniums. It is extraordinary only in being triangular instead of square, and in harboring, within the sharp angle of its fence, a pin-point remnant of the native prairie on which the graveyard was established in the 1840’s. Heretofore unreachable by sythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or cutleaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.

This year I found the Silphium in first bloom on 24 July, a week later than usual; during the last six years the average date was 15 July.

When I passed the graveyard again on 3 August, the fence had been removed by a road crew, and the Silphium cut. It is easy now to predict the future; for a few years my Silphium will try in vain to rise above the mowing machine, and then it will die. With it will die the prairie epoch.

The Highway Department says that 100,000 cars pass yearly over this route during the three summer months when the Silphium is in bloom. In them must ride at least 100,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise. If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weeds, he would be amazed and uncomprehending. How could a weed be a book?

This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the floras of the world. Mechanized man, oblivious of floras, is proud of his progress in cleaning up the landscape on which, willy-nilly, he must live out his days. It might be wise to prohibit at once all teaching of real botany and real history, lest some future citizen suffer qualms about the floristic price of his good life.



All photographs of the plants, courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Center for Plants in Texas.


Filed under Life Out of Balance, Plants and Shrubs

Larry McMurtry and the Barber

Last evening, I finished reading Larry McMurtry’s Books: A Memoir (2008).  He sustained a theme about books in his life, defining himself in book lingo as antiquarian, second-hand bookseller and book scout.  A few years ago, he settled back in his hometown of Archer City, Texas, bringing his Georgetown bookstore business into the small Texas town, about two hours away from where I live.  The name of his bookstore in Archer City is the Blue Pig (merged with his Georgetown Booked Up bookstore) from the notorious pigs in Lonesome Dove.  He owns six buildings on the square in Archer City, five of them devoted to books, about 400,000.  At his home, he has a personal library of 28,000 volumes that began with his original nineteen books as a boy.

Dustcover of Books by Larry McMurtry

I’ve been there twice and have an appointment to go again in the near future with my wife and friends, Selden Hale and Claudia Stravato.  I am interested in purchasing ethnography of Western America.

I met McMurtry once in Amarillo, Texas, where he lectured at the Amarillo Art Center back in the 1980s.  I asked him what was the greatest novel ever written and he replied, “Anna Karenina.”  He is not fond of novels anymore, preferring non-fiction, especially travel journals of the late-nineteenth, twentieth century.

McMurtry has bought bookshops in bulk and one that he bought was Barber’s Book Store in Fort Worth, Texas.  When I came to TCU in 1990, I asked about second-hand bookshops and was referred to Barber’s.  It was downtown.  (Last weekend when I was in Fort Worth, I saw that the sign for Barber’s was still erect over the closed shop.)  The shop was quite large and had a good collection of Western Americana.  I purchased several books, including a five or six-year collection of The New Mexico Historical Quarterly.


Filed under Recollections 1966-1990

Protected: Leroy and Alibates (The Notes)

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Filed under Colony Road, Recollections 1966-1990, Taos

Leroy and Alibates

Taos, 1970s…

Leroy, a northern Tiwa, came over and sat beside me on a bench on the Taos city plaza before they removed the jail that plunged beneath the ground on the northwest side.  It seemed a dungeon, of sorts, the jail.  Could be a Taos County law enforcement kiva?  Hey! he said.  Hey, back.  I read a newspaper.  We talked that day.  We talked the second day.  Jack, can you loan me ten?  Yes, I said.  It may have been the first day he wanted the ten.

Leroy and I talked the third day, on the plaza before they covered the jail underneath.  He said he used to make jewelry, but it bored him and he quit and drank too much.  So, he said, I came back here, to the pueblo.  More conversation.  I was from Amarillo, loved to come up to the mountains, the high-desert country, I confessed.

I liked Leroy.  So, I gave him a gift.

Out of my backpack on the third day, I brought out a paleolithic axe I had discovered in an exposed sandbank in the middle of  the Canadian River near the Alibates flint quarry in Texas.  I had waded across the Canadian River when it was low in the winter to find the 1849 rock cairns of Major Randolph B. Marcy when his survey team mapped a southern transcontinental railroad route.  I found Marcy’s cairn.  My legs cramped from the freezing, cold water when I waded across the Canadian River and when I came back.  The muscle cramps were worth it: I found a rare tool, a paleolithic axe, perfectly formed, grayish-blue.  And, I’ve never found such a prize since.

I handed the axe to Leroy.  He took it in his hands and then quickly raised it to his cheek and rubbed the Alibates flint axe against his face.

Why the rub against his cheek?  He smiled.  Ahh! he said.

It’s yours, I said.

All I can remember now is that he said, Ohh.

Then, Leroy:  Let me take you to the pueblo and up the mountain, Jack.

We went together up the Taos Mountain that day with his cousins in a blue Volkswagen with sunroof.  Towards Blue Lake, towards the sky, towards birch trees all around.


Filed under Adventure, Colony Road, Recollections 1966-1990, Taos

Quail in the Texas Panhandle


Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph birdsofoklahoma.net

In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail.  My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them.   My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.

I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground.  The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed.  It was only three blocks away.

I purchased  fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies.  I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country.  Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens.   A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile.  Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is  “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark.  The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy).  Tail short, dark.”

[Peterson, Roger Tory.  A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1969.  See pp. 86-91.]

The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service.  I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes  in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas.   At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”

Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed.   Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together.  It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.

One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood.  The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block.  Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?

I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely.  Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail.  The quail needed the space.

South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.

My life in the country began.

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Filed under Birds, Dogs, Recollections 1966-1990