Rain fell and our reservoir will last (current analysis) until February 15. Enough water fills the cow tank so ducks feed and socialize.
The longhorn painting hangs above my daughter’s fireplace in Lubbock, Texas.
(Contrary to the suggestion proposed by my daughter, Wendy, I will not be making the accompanying photograph in this post my latest profile picture.)
Bipedalism came first, then the large brain among the history of primates. The upright stance allowed man to scan the savannah, edges of forest and plains, or wherever he had wandered for food and predators.
I haven’t posted since December 27, 2011, mainly because I have had eye problems (really, only the left eye) since December 25th, Christmas morning, and a “Ho, ho, ho,” Christmas gift I desire to return, but can’t! I woke up that morning with blurred vision caused by a macular hole in my left eye. This last Tuesday, January 10th, I received a vitrectomy at Arlington Day Surgery Center, under the skilled hands of Dr. David Callanan (Dr. Wu administered the pharmacological agents — much appreciated).
I may still be bipedal, but I have assumed the position of a face-down recovery period lasting five days or more so that I neither can scan the savannah nor see the quacking ducks on my pond. I cannot have any hard spirits during my ten-day recovery, but that is not as painful as it may seem to some. I have this nature blog and like to go out into the field, but the only nature I see are house plants, two dogs and trees outside my living room window. I take a new interest in bugs that infrequently cross the floor.
I took a picture with my iPhone immediately after surgery and this is what I look like. I spend most of my days face-down in a specially-designed “chair” and a bedside rest for my face that is like those contraptions in massage parlors for your head as you get your massage. Dr. Callanan predicts a 90-95% recovery of vision in my left eye with another operation for cataracts in about a year (cataracts — Nile River, Egypt).
So, I will not be hiking the grove or taking photos of juniper any time soon. Medical technology and habitat adaptations, however, have come a long way since primates first scanned the savannah. I’m in a safe wikiup, been worked on by medicine men and women, have taken drugs and have nature outside my window. My hearing and tactile senses are sharpened. I listen for the Sandhill Crane that may fly overhead. I brush my canine that barks at strange sounds at the edges of camp. Although I question that human society has progressed, today with the skills brought to bear in my life I think in some areas we have progressed.
(Note: please do not show this photo to your children as it may cause nightmares or sleep unrest. Oh, go ahead, give the little primates a scare and make up a good narrative while you are at it.)
(As a disclosure, I use “cedar” and “juniper” interchangeably. See notes below from Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia.)
I grew up with cedar all around me, but cedar posts for building fence predominated. T-posts (the steel ones) may be making fence construction faster these days, but I hold to the cedar post as a primary building material. Allergies from cedar congest the lungs of Texans, particularly central residents who weather the Mountain Cedar every year. A website dedicates itself to, “Cedar: The Allergy Plague of Trees.”
All of that being said, the cedar or juniper holds personal value for me beyond the descriptions, quotes and links I attach in this post.
Of all the flora about me as I grew up and the plants about me now, the juniper radiates scent and memories, even beyond the majestic pecan in my far pasture. I burned juniper in a Folger’s coffee can to sweeten the air at campsites and even in my apartment from time to time, placing the coffee can at the edge of the hearth. I have taken cedar bark and twisted it into fine pieces and lit a single match to start a campfire, and I have carried cedar tinder in my backpack to start fire along the trail. I cut cedar staves and posts one Christmas vacation to earn extra money and to say, I once worked as a cedar chopper.
Green juniper groves along the Colorado River near Bend, Texas, contrasted with bleached white-gray rock outcroppings, and I found old campsites of roundups in pastures about the river, the blackened rock, not the red, holding the remains of cedar fires. My grandmother once pointed out a cow camp firepit near the Colorado that she had cooked for the crew and her husband-cowboy Jake, before his accident on the horse Hell’s Canyon.
I have camped near cedar breaks many times, but the one time I remember was on the Zuni Reservation, out in the middle of the reservation, by myself with junipers and coyotes through the night. I built a small fire of cedar and munched on a juniper berry for its bitter effect. I had sped to the reservation from Grants, New Mexico, and hastily set up camp, sleeping in my bedroll beside the fire the night through. I was seeking a medicine man, but he never found my camp.
More often than not at Christmas time, my family cut a juniper tree from the ranch to place in the living room. The tree may have been as short as three feet, at other times, five-feet tall. I loved the aroma of the juniper as it filled the house for Christmas. Tinsel drooped from the branches with those bubbly lights all aglow.
Near Abilene, on the road to Coleman, there is a park on the east side of the highway at Buffalo Gap, a broad cut in the hills that buffalo and migrants used to go into southwest Texas from the High Plains and Caprock. The park has a large grove of junipers that have trunks three to five feet in diameter. I have rested there many times and note the broad-deep shade the junipers provide in the Summer and windbreak during Winter. From the Juniper Park — as I have taken to call it — one can see into Buffalo Gap and off in the distance the plains to the north. This Juniper Park has been a lookout, a redoubt of some sort, for a long, long time. I think I stopped there one time when I was traveling to Brownwood to take care of my aging mother, or it may have been another time, and I rolled the windows down to smell the juniper and place my hand on the fertile greenery I had known all my life, or that other day anew in late Spring. I thought then, as I do now, that I will remember this day for as long as I live, for although my mother lay dying and I was teaching in a foreign land, the evergreen of juniper and its effect transcended my sorrow and sense of alienation from this world. I have found home and peace and love beneath junipers for all my seasons. To me, its fruit is never bitter.
Notes, corrections and additions:
Some juniper trees are misleadingly given the common name “cedar,” including Juniperus virginiana, the “red cedar” that is used widely in cedar drawers. True cedars are those tree species in the genus Cedrus, family Pinaceae.
In Morocco, the tar (gitran) of the arar tree (Juniperus phoenicea) is applied in dotted patterns on bisque drinking cups. Gitran makes the water more fragrant and is said to be good for the teeth.
American Indians have used juniper to treat diabetes; such treatments by the Navajo, for example, are under clinical study. Clinical studies have shown that treatment with juniper may retard the development of streptozotocin diabetes in mice. Native Americans also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive. The 17th Century herbalistphysicianNicholas Culpeper recommended the ripened berries for conditions such as asthma and sciatica, as well as to speed childbirth.
“Juniper,” Wikipedia, accessed December 25, 2011.
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juniper, any of about 60 to 70 species of aromatic evergreen trees or shrubs constituting the genus Juniperus of the cypress family (Cupressaceae), distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The juvenile leaves of a juniperare needlelike. Mature leaves are awl-shaped, spreading, and arranged in pairs or in whorls of three. Some species have small, scalelike leaves, often bearing an oil gland, which are pressed closely to the rounded or four-angled branchlets. Male and female reproductive structures usually are borne on separate plants. The reddish brown or bluish cones are fleshy and berrylike and often have a grayish, waxy covering. They mature in 1 to 3 seasons and contain 1 to 12 seeds, usually 3.
Common juniper (J. communis), a sprawling shrub, is widely distributed on rocky soils throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Many ornamental cultivars have been developed. The berrylike megastrobilus of this species is used to flavour foods and alcoholic beverages, particularly gin, which is named after Juniperus through the French genièvre. Juniper “berries” have a fragrant, spicy aroma and a slightly bittersweet flavour. Used with venison, they remove the gamey taste. They are also used to season sauces and stuffings, in pickling meats, and to flavour liqueurs and bitters.
An important ornamental and timber tree of eastern North America is the eastern red cedar (J. virginiana), whose fragrant wood is made into cabinets, fence posts, and pencils. This species is an invader of glades, pastures, prairies, and other open grassy areas in parts of its range; thus, it is considered a troublesome weed by some botanists and land managers. The savin (J. sabina) of central Europe, Chinese juniper (J. chinensis) of eastern Asia, and creeping juniper (J. horizontalis) of eastern North America are other popular ornamental species with many horticultural varieties. The wood of incense, or Spanish, juniper (J. thurifera), of Spain and Portugal, and of Phoenician juniper (J. phoenicea) of the Mediterranean region sometimes is burned as incense.
Oil of juniper, distilled from the wood and leaves of several species, is used in perfumes and in medicines such as diuretics. Galls produced by junipers as a reaction to fungal infection are known as cedar apples. This fungus, cedar apple rust, completes its life cycle on members of the apple subfamily of the flowering plant family Rosaceae, which contains numerous species of trees and shrubs commercially valuable as fruit and ornamental plants. The growth of junipers around apple orchards and plantings of related genera is thus discouraged to avoid disfigurement or loss of these important cultivated plants.
Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “juniper,” accessed December 25, 2011, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/308301/juniper.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! In the words of Abraham Lincoln, A fellow is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be. So, in the spirit of a great president who faced reality head-on, let us make up our minds a few times during the day to be merry and happy. I would be a lot happier if I didn’t have to hear Alvin and the Chipmunks sing Christmas songs, but it is hard to avoid if one goes into the city malls. Yet, to stay out of the malls means I might not run into my favorite seasonal character, Clark Griswold. Play ball!
(I will publishing a post later today about my favorite fauna flora coincident with Christmas and other events in my life: the juniper.)
In central Texas, for as long as I can remember, pecans and turkeys have been a mainstay harvest source for my family clan: Morris, Parks, McRorey, Millican, Gray, Hollingshead.
The Millican family business, stretching back to the nineteenth century, provided pecans for Queen Victoria and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The queen and Lord Tennyson were an integral part of the customer base for many years. My grandfather and grandmother took long bamboo poles and thrashed pecans along the Colorado and San Saba Rivers. On one occasion my grandfather lost his high school ring while thrashing and never found it. Someone will unearth it one day and see the graduation date at about 1917-1918, and think it unfortunate, yet quaint, the ring was lost.
Before mechanical pecan shellers, my step-father and uncles about Thanksgiving and Christmas had stained fingers, like charred wood, from cracking and peeling pecans. In older years, a package of shelled pecans was always included with Christmas gifts and the nuts were minced upon for days thereafter. As I put a pecan in my mouth, I reflected upon the labor tended, my step-father cracking pecans in front of the radio or television in the evenings. I knew hard shell from soft shell pecans and sought the soft shell to crack — didn’t we all?
The McRorey family — Floyd, Lennie, John R. and Joycelyn — raised turkeys for the Thanksgiving table on a grand scale with thousands fed and sped to market before the holidays. The turkey business was good for the McRoreys and when I stayed with them I drove the tractor as grain was unloaded in the feed bins. I was not the best of drivers, but I meant well. I learned much from my Uncle Floyd.
My mother hunted wild turkey. On one occasion in Brown County (Brownwood, Texas, the county seat), she bagged the first turkey of the season. With a .22 caliber rifle she took her kill that season. She arose before daylight in the morning and placed herself behind a hunter’s blind on my uncle’s ranch near Brookesmith, along the creek, and waited patiently for the flock. Ofttimes, she merely watched the wildlife, counting the flock or observing deer in the pasture. For many years after she won the first-turkey-taken prize, as I accompanied her on errands around town, she was asked: Are you going to get the first turkey this year, Gywn? What rifle do shoot turkey with? Where do you hunt?
I am one and two generations removed from a family clan that thrashed pecans, raised turkeys and lived off the produce of the soil, harvesting and consuming nature’s fecundity. I have only lightly touched those activities, but I am aware, deeply so, that when I eat pecan pie today I see the bamboo poles of thrashing in the rafters of the barn, and when I see the breast meat of turkey upon my plate I hear the gobble-gobble of Uncle Floyd’s turkeys along the Cherokee Creek in San Saba County. I am truly thankful for for the produce of the soil and the hands that have tended the harvest and taught me lessons about nature and all that dwells therein.
Christmas in Santa Fe includes the traditional farolito stroll after dark along Canyon Road, the artistic thoroughfare that delights the eye. The luminaria is the wood fire. Farolitos are candles within paper sacks that light up the edges of sidewalks and walls along Canyon Road. For up-to-date information, consult the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper’s Christmas Day edition.
New Mexican Christmas celebrations rival Italy and Germany. Alessio Franceschetti, a very good friend of mine, sent me a montage of Christmas scenes in Italy. Do look at it: Natale in Italia 2010. This montage is moving and beautiful. Thank you, Alessio.
This post was published Christmas 2009. I have added some photographs to the original for this 2010 Christmas. I find “Christmas Eve music in Old California” poignant with the cultural interaction.
Christmas in California before the Americans came [1840s] was a season when all the grown people had as much fun as the children do now. And the children had so much fun that they never got over it and ever after loved play and presents more than work and hard bargaining….
One Christmas Eve, I remember best, there was a full moon. Over all the ground there was a glittering frost, just enough to whiten everything, yet not enough to even nip the orange trees which at this season of the year hang full of fruit and blossom both….
We had much music–guitars of the Mexican and Spanish type, made with twelve strings of wire, and mandolins. After supper there was dancing in the patio, coffee and cigaritos on the veranda, and singing everywhere. Someone said it was a beautiful night for a horseback ride over the valley to the Mission Santa Clara. The horses in the corral were soon saddled. There were twenty-five or thirty of us young men and women. Our horses were the best of the big herds that were attached to every rancho….The saddles, bridles and spurs were heavily covered with silver bullion ornaments, as in those times we put silver on our horses instead of on our dining tables; for Spaniards…live on horseback, and they eat but to live, instead of living to eat.
Riding out of the patio gate it was like a scene from the time of the Moors in Spain. As our horses snorted in the cold air they spun the rollers in their bits, making music that only the Spanish horse knows .
 José Ramon Pico, “Before the Gringo Came,” San Francisco Call, December 1899. From Sam Travers, Christmas in the Old West: A Historical Scrapbook, pp. 171-174.
Mission Santa Clara Asís established in 1777, was located a few miles south of San Francisco. This mission and adjacent Indian pueblo eventually grew into Santa Clara and San Jose. The mission is now located on the campus of Santa Clara University.
Frank Principe, silversmith from Lindell Beach, British Columbia, writes that many of the old California-type bits, such as the Santa Barbara, were designed with Islamic religious symbols. The symbols included seven buttons, half moons, and starts. This is traceable to Moorish occupation of Spain until the 1490s, the Cortez expedition to Mexico, and other adventures. He writes, “For the last one hundred years or so most North American bit makers have been using these designs without realizing their historical significance.”
Sweet Hija (Spanish for “daughter”), my black mare, has King Ranch breeding. Even today, King Ranch provides ranch horses for Mexican ranches. Of all my horses, Sweet Hija is the fastest and most energetic. After saddling Hija, I must run her about the round pen to work off her energy before she is ridden. She is the most alert and sensitive to her surroundings, spotting deer a half a mile away. I have to use binoculars to see what she sees.