Tag Archives: Coggin Ward

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.


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.


Filed under Life in Balance, Rain, Sounds, Weather

Radio Days of Yore with Sgt. Preston

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon with his faithful dog, Yukon King. Rex, his horse Sgt. Preston rode during the summer, is not pictured. Neither is Pierre, his French Canadian friend.

I ran, trudged or bicycled home from Coggin Ward in the late 1940s and early 1950s, opening the door and running into my room to listen to fifteen-minute episodes, then thirty minutes of action in the 50s, on radio station KBWD, Brownwood, Texas, of the adventures of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon with his husky dog, Yukon King.  “On King!  On you, huskies!”

I had a radio, my own radio to hear Sgt. Preston’s daring does.  I had been reared in a small trailer house, then a pier-and-beam house, with my mother and grandmother and the Philco 41-245T Tropic radio that glowed a soft-golden light across its frequency panel, emitting sounds with basso edge.  Yes, it was golden.  That Tropic radio stayed with my grandmother, but I had a small Philco to link me symbiotically to A.M. airwaves,  theatrically setting the stage for desperadoes and their inevitable capture by Sgt. Preston.  I pedaled like crazy to get home on the day Sgt. Preston came alive.

I look back now on Sgt. Preston and know that the setting in the Canadian outdoors, along with my dreams of becoming a bush pilot in Canada and Alaska, engendered a deeper attraction to earth, trees, wild things blowing in the wind.  I never bought the comic books of Sgt. Preston as you see in the photograph.  I had the animation of sound, produced by corporations and hosted by Quaker Oats!  Preston’s voice, Yukon King’s bark, Rex’s nickering, evil doer’s cackle and the sound of wind in the trees replaced comic books.  Comic books?  Who needed comic books when Sgt. Preston was on the air, in the air and I could, with hundreds of thousands of other kids, hear his sled glide through snow?  Crunching footfalls, trees cracking and rivers roar.  All there, on the radio.

My radio days of yore included other programs.  I went to sleep a thousand times with the radio on, the music fadin’ in and fadin’ out, the Jack Benny Show, Lucky Strike Hit Parade and the Louisiana Hayride.  But, Sgt. Preston and Yukon King remained my boyhood favorite.  The other shows were mainly the selections of my grandmother and mother.

I know now — perhaps as a boy, who can say? — that the cold, wild travels with a dog in the woods took me away from hot and arid Texas.  Oh, yes, I liked the uniforms, who doesn’t?  Snappy red, yellow-striped trousers, high-top boots.  The uniform was trivial and I could only imagine it from other sources.  On the radio, impressively, Sgt. Preston talked to his dog.  His dog communicated with him.  They conversed in a cold, wild woodland context, faraway, but not alien to me.

When the snow comes to Flying Hat Ranch, I go outside and I work, I play.  My horses prance.  I take their photographs — remember Star, the levitating horse? I secure chains to the pickup and glide through snow to Santa Fe and the Jemez, never doubting my survival for I have been snowbound and trapped on the Jemez Mountains at night and have spent a three-below night in my car at Taos.  Sgt. Preston chased criminals, found them and concluded his program by saying to his dog:  Well, King, this case is closed.

My travel in cold, wild, woodlands is not a chase.  It’s a journey between two places whose starting and ending points change.  I prefer to glide where it’s cold and wild and forested, wind blowing conifers, the sky cloudy or blue.  At the close of the day, like those radio days of yore with Sgt. Preston and Yukon King, I shall build fire, embrace my companions and turn on the radio, seeking that signal, that program, that lets me fall asleep.



My cousin, Sam Gray, wrote on Facebook in response to this post that, ” When the radio shows were in their last days you could only get them on Sunday nights, and my mother made me go to church instead. Broke my heart!”

Philco Model 41-245T for 1941 (T for tropic), introduced June 1940, 7 tubes, electronic push button, 3-band reception (540-1550 kc, 2-7 mc, 9-12 mc), original price $39.95, 22,566 made.

This is the identical model of radio that we had when I was a child.

The photograph and description of  purchase by a antique radio collector is found on TubeRadioLand.


Filed under Recollections 1942-1966

It’s Recess! Coggin Ward 1955

Dale Smith Hitting Home Run, Coggin Ward, Brownwood, Texas, 1955 (click to enlarge)

In the 1950s, when I went to elementary school at Coggin Ward in Brownwood, Texas, we had two recesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  The op-ed article from the New York Times today (see link below) decries the lack of playtime in childhood and the problems encountered at recess — bullying, arguing, intimidation — so much so, that recess coaches have been appointed for troubled schools and playgrounds.  “For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair”, so writes David Elkind.

I loved recess at Coggin!  Not so much to escape academics because I loved most of my classes, but I engaged recess like a high form of testing my strength against my weaknesses — running, jumping, kicking soccer balls, escaping from tag, hitting the baseball, even playing mumblepeg on school grounds (pocketknife game, we all carried them).

I used a 620 Kodak camera to take these pictures of us playing baseball in ca. March 1955, at Coggin Ward school.   (Mother used the Kodak to capture pictures of Camp Bowie and my father in the 1940s.)  Dale Smith was a good friend of mine and quite talented in athletics.

These photographs show no recess coaches.  I think there were a couple of teachers observing from the building, but they were never interventionists in our play and gaming unless a major squabble broke out (I don’t remember any).  We chose sides to play baseball.  There was some organization every now and then — calesthentics were occasionally forced upon us.  In the choosing of sides, athletic ability carried the most importance, then popularity.  Even the poorest-talented boy would be chosen to play for there was no sulking allowed we ordered.  I learned that life was not always fair and good, but most of the time the shame and failure could be overcome by coming up to bat again, having another chance for a hit to drive in Henley from second base.   There was always another chance at the plate, and, even then, there was tomorrow’s recess to score a point to win the game.

Television, computer games and other devices have robbed children and adolescents of time outside in the sun and wind and rain.  Look at the trees in the photographs.  It’s late winter, early spring and the leaves are not even out on the trees.  I can tell you that we would play at recess as long as the dust did not obscure second base from homeplate.  We learned to play and adapt to each other.  Oh, these were “social skill sets” that we carried into life beyond Coggin, beyond Brownwood High School.  It may be strange for us of the 1940s and 1950s to visualize a recess coach on the playground, but if that is needed to get boys and girls, young men and women, out of boxes called classrooms and houses, then so be it.  I think I’ll apply to be a recess coach in my retirement.  I’d rather be on the playground than behind a lectern on any sunny day of the year.

Choose sides, boys!  I want Dale, Joe and Jimmy on my side.  Carol will lead the cheers.  It won’t turn out that way, but that’s life, a lesson I learned at recess.

Dale Smith Sliding Into Homeplate, Coggin Ward, Brownwood, Texas, 1955 (click to enlarge)

Baseball Card Photo, Dale Smith, Coggin Ward, Brownwood, Texas, 1955 (click to enlarge)

Op-Ed Contributor – At Schools, Playtime Is Over – NYTimes.com.  This is the link to the New York Times article explaining the socialization problems of modern youth.


Filed under Recollections 1942-1966