Tag Archives: Barton Creek

Rain at Flying Hat in central Texas

Within the last month, rain fell on central Texas and upon my place, Flying Hat Ranch, or ranchito.  My former professor, Donald Worcester of TCU, used to say of his 142 acres near Fort Worth was a “ranchito,” due to its size and to the calculations of John Wesley Powell, noted surveyor of the West in the nineteenth century, who opined that a ranch in the semi-arid West should be at least 2,560 acres to run cattle and attain self-sufficient for a family.  So, notwithstanding a definition of terms, my 53 acre ranchito has received rain.  And, we are forecast for more rain starting at 4:00 p.m. today.

Since the flourishing of grass and trees this spring, I have observed large eruptions of milkweed.  More milkweed has grown about the pastures and especially the roadways, such as Texas State Highways 16 and 114, than I have ever seen since moving here in 2000.  In certain places, where I would seasonally see ten blossoms of milkweed, I now see a hundred.  Monarch butterflies, however, have not passed by here.  I see one or two in my grove, but no more than that–for now.

Rain and milkweed abound.  Yet, there is a different caliber of field news.  Worms have destroyed many elm trees on the ranchito.  I saw an elm tree covered in worm strands down by the grove, encased like a cocoon.  I have not counted the loss precisely, but my elm tree loss is between fifty and a hundred trees.  Some elms survived the worm infestation and remain hardy; others have partially damaged limbs.  I shall bring out the axe and chainsaw to harvest the dead trees.

I am closing with a video of my petting a wild, juvenile cottontail rabbit.  I have seen its parents in the tall grass, not far from where I rescued the roadrunner from the water trough.  Yes, I know as you do, cycles of life and death on ranches, farms, cities, and this good earth.  And, lately, rain has fallen.

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Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Salt Creek, 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.

* * *

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

Chocolate to mesquite

Several months ago in a previous post, I wrote that one of my field objectives on the Flying Hat Ranchito was to identify every tree species rooted about the pastures and Salt Creek.  Beginning with this post, I identify the mesquite tree.  Unless Southwesterners have been reared in a dark box, everyone recognizes the mesquite and usually such identification is followed with a curse word or two.   Except for the far pasture between Barton Creek and Salt Creek, mesquite erupts constantly about the ranchito and requires annual shredding or pruning.  I relate to the mesquite tree without impatience, finding it worthy of praise, not scorn.  But, first, from a objective point of view, then followed by subjectivity.

The mesquite tree…

Mesquite is one of the most widely distributed trees in Texas. It is a small to medium tree with an irregular crown of finely divided bipinnately compound foliage that casts very light dappled shade underneath. It is armed with thorns sometimes up to 2 inches long. In the spring, summer and after rains it is covered with fragrant white flowers, and the long bean pods are ornamental as well as providing food for wildlife and livestock. Mesquite is not a rancher’s favorite tree: it readily invades overgrazed sites and other disturbed land, is virtually impossible to get rid of, and the thorns injure livestock. However, the foliage, flowers and fruit are attractive, it adapts to almost any soil that is not soggy, it is heat and drought tolerant, it fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides many areas of Texas with shade, fuel and timber where otherwise there would be none. The wood is used in flooring, furniture, and as a cookwood for seasoning.

“Texas Native Plants Database,” Texas A&M University (2011).

The mesquite bean is also ground up and can be used as an additive to wheat flour or corn flour for making tortillas and bread.  I’ve not tried the recipe, but I shall from a Native American reference I have on file.

* * *

Objects that appear void of emotional affect to one person may be illuminated with soundings of deep, ineffable meaning to another.  The mesquite and juniper trees in my life resound with spiraling emotion that takes me to a different plain, evoking events in my memory that I never forget and can only begin to understand.   I shall write about the juniper another day.  Today my focus is the mesquite.

When I was a boy, about five or six years old, I used to play underneath a mesquite tree adjacent to my mother’s studio apartment in Brownwood, Texas.  It was shortly after World War II had concluded and my father had separated from us and was reestablishing himself in Pennsylvania, far away from Texas, the place he met my mother.  Across the street from mother’s apartment, my grandmother lived in a small trailer house and took care of me while mother worked at Southwestern States Telephone Company.  At the time, I did not know how close we were to destitution.  I was a boy and I played outside underneath the mesquite tree, thoughtless and innocent about money matters.

One day as I played under the mesquite tree, I heard the sound of the wind — a southwest wind — flowing through the trees as I had never heard it before, but have ever since.   The sound was of medium pitch, neither high nor low, and it persisted with a rising and falling velocity, bending branches, shifting the shade about me and my toys.  As I heard the wind, I felt lonely, really alone in the world.  My mother was in the house — I knew that — but I sensed a separation from her and a state of emotion that evoked a sadness, a sorrow that I found inexpressible at the time.  The moment remains clear and even the affect is still apparent.  It  never leaves me.

Years later I came to realize that under the mesquite tree I felt, for the first time, a separateness from other things, other people.  I realized I was an individual, distinctively apart from others, and there was no going back I came to find out.  Under a mesquite tree was the place  the affect of estrangement spooled out and bound me.  I’m not alone in that awareness and that is a comfort, for we all sense that estrangement and how we meet the abyss and gain unity or self-loss is the rest of our life.  These days, as I walk underneath and beside mesquite trees on the ranchito, I sense the mesquite as a companion one day and a intransigent master teacher the next.  It helped me grow.  I didn’t want to, but it threw me out of my Eden.

* * *

In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl, the giver of knowledge and wisdom to the people was thrown out of his city, country and reign for moral turpitude.  As he went into exile, going east, he crossed the mountains to the sea, his dwarf companions died from the cold and the chocolate trees he passed turned to mesquite and great sorrow came upon the land.

[This is first of several posts on the mesquite.]

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Filed under Cedar, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Recollections 1942-1966

What is this with horses and water?

Hoof prints in water from Barton Creek.

And…

Star's hooves covered in mud so much you can't see his shoes. He's really a good boy.

Coming back for more…

Water, mud and a horse.

A good head shot…

Star after playing in water is curious about camera and all the excitement.

What is this with horses and water?  Or for that matter, kids and water?  They love playing in water.

I’ve not had rain in a few weeks and the corral is dry.  Star’s hooves needed moisturizing, so I turned on the water sprinkler this morning to partially flood the corral — about thirty minutes of watering.  Star saw the water coming out of the sprinkler and shoved his head, nose and mouth down into the steam of water, pawed at the ground and for forty-five minutes stood over the sprinkler getting his front quarters wet and soggy as well as his hooves.

I finally left him there, went back up to the house for another cup of coffee and to fetch the camera.  When I returned, he had gone back to his hay bin, but returned to the sprinkler when I asked him to pose.  He posed for a pretty-good head shot.

* * *

I am down to one horse, Star, and no cattle — for the moment.  I sold three horses in January and Lilly had to be put down that same month.  The far Pecan Tree Pasture is ready for a few head of cattle to graze and Star and I need to be around bovine for awhile.  Star has a natural cutting ability and takes his cue from me, even when I am on foot and not in the saddle.  If he sees I am trying to pen cattle, he will help me round-up the cattle and put them in the pen — more shepherd than equine I sometimes think.

A farrier of mine once said that he was the smartest horse in the remuda, but so smart he would try to outwit you.  Once he joined-up with you, however, you were buddies for life and you worked together.  Maybe next week, the sale in Abilene…

Early morning scan for fresh grass through corral panels.

Post-publication note: If you have not clicked on the first link of Sage to Meadow Photostream, the picture with the elk in the water, do so.  It is a young elk playing in the water and is enchanting to watch.  The Photostream is on the first sidebar — NOT the Vodpod photos of guitarists.

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Filed under Star

In the field with Ant Lions

 

After Ant Lions and the alleyway, a beautiful violet blossom of rosemary is seen before the cold winter blast tomorrow.

Yesterday, November 23, 2010, late in the afternoon, I wanted to walk into the pastures, grove and corrals and first observe, then photograph, then write a post.  Frankly, I never got farther than the alleyway between barn and stables.  Since my intent was to observe sentient creatures especially — invertebrate as well as vertebrate — there emerged enough activity that I did not even venture past the barn or first corral.

Between the house and barn is a distance of 300 feet.  The house is about fifteen to twenty feet higher than the barn, providing a panoramic view of our countryside — Sims Valley, Upper Salt Cove, Twin Mountains, Salt Creek and Barton Creek.  From house to barn, I see yellow butterflies feed on small white flowers.  Acorns from the Live Oak trees continue to fall on the ground, making a crackling sound, and on the slope down from the house the acorns are like marbles under my boots so that I step gingerly lest I slip and fall.  Small birds flit about the underbrush and yucca.  I walk into the barn alleyway and sit down on a step-up crate that I have to climb on — like a small ladder — to mount horses.

Sitting on the step-up in the alleyway, I hear a solitary crow, then see the crow fly west to east, towards our duck pond.  The crow persistently calls, but no reply comes from other birds and it flies towards Morgan Mill, avoiding the duck pond treeline and mesquite on the other side.  Ducks quack, but I decide against walking to the pond to photograph the noisy assembly.  A turkey vulture circles in the sky over Salt Creek.  Our two horses, Star and Lilly, are nowhere to be seen as they had sauntered into the Grove, perhaps down into the creek bed.

A stern cold front is to pass through central west Texas tomorrow, putting the temperatures into the 50s F. for daytime, 20s F. for the night.  As I sit on the red-colored step-up, the temperature reads 80 F., the sun quite warm, the cold front a day away, the sky clear.  I look down at the ground in the alleyway and see small funnel traps, drilled by Ant Lions that throw dirt up frantically and then wait for ants and insects to kill and eat.  Of the ten or so dirt traps, three of those traps are being fussily arranged by bugs.  The sun beams down on their efforts and I bend down more closely to see if I could discern the sentient.  I could not, but the dirt continues to fly up over the one-inch funnel, prima facie evidence of invertebrate activity.  How fragile, how strong at the same time, life is.

As I lean over to see the funneling Ant Lions, I place my hand over a stable railing to balance myself.  The air is still, the sky clear to the south and east.  Then, quite discreetly a gentle zephyr comes through the alleyway from the north.  I face south and the cool air moves over my neck and hand grasping the rail.  The air is definitely cool and I look up into the sky and the clouds move across, northwest to southeast.  I know the cold front is a least a day away, but this is a prelude, an advance-scout for the weather change.  The clouds persist in clustering, the Ant Lions stop their funneling, the temperature falls a few degrees and I stand up, whistling for the horses to come to supper: long-high whistle followed by three short-low-toned whistles, a pitch change of about an octave.  Two minutes later, Star and Lilly emerge from the creek bottom and walk home to me, their grain and alfalfa.

I feed Star and Lilly.  I walk back up the hill to the house and pace the three terraces, looking for a possible photographic shot of an errant Monarch or striped lizard.  I find a small blossom of rosemary to photograph and by 5:00 p.m. I go inside the house to write of Ant Lions and alleyways.  I mince rosemary for our dinner.

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Notes:

After the second sentence in the second paragraph, I shift to present tense.  I had written this piece using past tense, but decided to change the tenses.  I like it better than past tense in this post.

The camera was in the pickup and when I saw the Ant Lions — Doodlebugs — I started to fetch it and photograph.  The wind — zephyr (I don’t get to use the word often) — came up about that time and I knew if I went to the pickup, I would lose my place in the alleyway and, besides, I could not capture on Kodachrome the wind passing over my flesh.  So, I stayed put and let things transpire.

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