Tag Archives: Gywn Parks

Berries and birds

I am almost, but not completely, compelled to camp next to this chokecherry (?) tree in my front yard to watch the birds (juncos, etc.) strip the tree and come back time and time again.

Last year I saw the flock of birds that stripped the tree and identified them, but I did not write down my observations, so, here I go again and I will record this time.

I write this nature post and I do not have either bird or berry tree identified. But, so, I adore berry and bird regardless.

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Filed under Birds, Field Log, Life in Balance, Nature Writers, Nature Writing Series, Plants and Shrubs

Hardshell and gobble, gobble! Pecans and turkeys in my family

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.

Millican Pecan Co., San Saba, Texas

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.

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Filed under Pecan, Turkey

Rough Creek drums

Rough Creek on the Parks Place, San Saba County, Texas, looking northeast, ca. 1970 (J. Matthews)

Relying upon memories of childhood can be misleading, even downright wrong in place and time.  As adults when we reflect upon last year’s vacation we may err in detail and conversations we thought we had.  Even so, memories preserve detail that can re-emerge with an almost preternatural force with a bit of reflection and musing, even to the point of re-evoking scents and cachets of the past that transcend the moment.

My mother and grandmother never hosted parties, but they hosted and partook of family celebrations — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays.  And there were funerals, lots of them.  Funerals brought the Parks, McRorey, Morris, Ward, Millican and Ragsdale families together for burying kinfolk and re-establishing contact with distant relatives at Bend Sand, High Valley, Colony and Cherokee cemeteries in central Texas.  When I attended these functions, I had two sets of clothes, one for dressing-up and the other for outdoors.  Following the meal or funeral, I changed quickly into jeans and hiking shoes and explored and played with my cousins.  Having dinner at the Parks Place signified the best of all possible worlds because Rough Creek ran through it.

Rough Creek flowed through my great-grandfather’s place and formed the backdrop, foreground, side-scene and main-event for me.  Even today, still, Rough Creek continues to course through my mind and heart and its memory pacifies my days.  My great-grandfather’s ranch was called the Parks Place.  Not the Parks Ranch, the Parks Place.  Rough Creek cut the Parks Place in two parts, emptying into the Colorado River that bordered the east boundary.  For untold generations, Comanche Indians encamped at the confluence of Rough Creek and the Colorado, only to be driven away in the 1840s with the settlement of the area.  In the field north of the creek, after a hard rain, flint tools lay exposed.  A large midden revealed debris of hundreds of years.

I found stone tools, but my primary focus concerned the creek.  A county road ran through the Parks Place and at the creek, a large concrete slab had been poured, forming a stone-firm foundation for the road and continual pool of fresh water for perch, catfish and minnows.  Blue-colored dragon flies lit on green lily-pads and joined together in reproduction that I never fully figured out as to male and female flies.  Sycamore, cottonwood and pecan trees shaded most of the creek’s bank.  The water temperature was cold and it took a few minutes to become accustomed when as a boy my mother allowed me to swim and wallow with slippery moss on rounded stones.

I hiked up and down both banks of the creek.  When the terrible drought of the 1950s occurred, Rough Creek continued to run.  Neighbors in pickups with forty-five gallon water drums, came to the creek, parked on the slab and filled drums with water.  Their children swam and played in the water while the adults bailed water into the drums with buckets.  The elders were sun-tanned and strong, their hats crusted with dark sweatbands that bespoke toil and care for their cattle and family.  My great-grandfather never closed the road and I never saw the gates closed.  Cattle guards — steel-framed panels set in the ground — allowed trucks and pickups to pass over them unhindered, but kept the cattle in check and within the bounds of the Parks Place.

My great-grandfather gave me a branding iron, an iron with a capital “P” for the Parks Place, when I was a boy.  I have it hanging in the alleyway of my barn and see it everyday when I feed Star, my paint gelding.  I’ve not used it because our brand is a Running M.  I do not think of cattle when I see the the branding iron.  I think of Rough Creek on the Parks Place and I wonder how high the water is at the crossing.  Is it high enough that perch and catfish swim back and forth across the slab?  If another drought comes, will the present owners be patient with the neighbors who come to fill their drums?

In the early 1970s, I took the photograph of Rough Creek that sets the banner and feature photo of this post.  The Parks Place had been sold and passed into other hands.  The road remained open and I stopped at the creek’s edge and took this photograph.  I framed it with the sycamore on the left and the road and concrete slab in the foreground.  Behind the trees, on the upper left-side of the photograph is the grist mill, but you cannot see it clearly.

The photograph verified that my memory remained good and that cool, fresh water flowed over a concrete slab with lily-pads and bull rushes abounding.  After taking the photo, I drove slowly out of the Parks Place and up the road, past the mill and over the cattle guard I had seen when I was young and had most of my life in front of me.

______________________________

Notes:

The intersection of Rough Creek and the road is precisely 31.136°N 98.5468°W, elevation at center: 1,119 feet (341 meters), San Saba Quad map.

I have a true narrative I have written involving a court case between my relatives and the first owner of the Parks Place (not the present owners) after it was sold.  The first post-Parks owner attempted to close the road.  My cousins de-welded the gates, threw them in the pasture and smeared his brand on the portal with cow manure.  The owner sued my cousins in civil court — most upset he was about the cow manure.  My mother and cousins testified that the road running through the Parks Place had always been open for ranchers and their families living in the back country, and that closing the gate impeded the commercial and social intercourse, long-standing in history, of the community.  The owner lost the case, sold out and moved on.  The present owners of the former Parks Place indulge me and my kin when we stop and look at Rough Creek as we go into the back country.  My great-aunt Helen Tom, daughter of my great-grandfather, talks with the present owners about her growing up on the ranch and they allow my aunt to visit and see the place at any time she so desires.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, Recollections 1966-1990, San Saba Texas

Beginning: Bend Ford

Jack F. Matthews, Sr., Winter 1941-42, Texas

As posted in “Beginning: Red Ants,” there is first a setting out, a beginning of all things.  Nations and tribes record their origins and seed their narratives with great events and heroes.  Beginnings do not stop with national revolution or constitutions, but are present in the family, the circle of kin.  Not stopping there, the setting out goes even farther down into each sentient, solitary being.  Corporeal narratives, we each are.

The beginning is that earliest moment of consciousness, not self-consciousness because that comes later under the mesquite tree in Texas when the wind blows (at least for me, it was).  It may be a song, a face, an automobile, truly anything under the sky that sticks first in the mind, imprinting a memory.  At that moment the setting out begins and does not end till death.  It may never be written, never told; but it is embedded in the flesh.

Mother’s setting out, she tells me, was when she and her father, Jake, were crossing the Bend Ford on the Colorado River near her Uncle Nathan’s home on horseback, riding double, when the horse slipped and fell on her.  The river bottom, only one or two feet below the surface at the ford, is solid granite like the face of Round Rock near Fredericksburg, Texas, and mother, Jake, and horse entangled, thrashing in water.  Her leg broke and they sent for Dr. Doss who set the leg as her father fashioned a small crutch for his two-year old to walk.  The river became a constant theme in her life: the flood, the boundary, the swimming.  Gywn crossed the river at Bend Ford many times after the fall, but the accident was her setting out, with horse and water above her and a father to save her.

My cousin and I were sitting on the ground outside the one-room trailer house on Austin Avenue in Brownwood, Texas, looking down at a clock.  The year was either 1943 or 1944.  The bedside clock was a throwaway timepiece, the face removed, the case gone, but the wheels and spring intact.  In our play, the clock had been wound tight, the wing nuts stuck in the ground.  The alarm went off and the clock spun around and around.  My cousin and I gazed as only children can, intently focused on the exposed wheels and clock turning in the dirt.  Wheels clicked within wheels turning.  I looked away from the spinning clock and saw green bamboo stalks beside the trailer.  I looked down, my cousin stared at the spinning clock until it stopped, turned again, then finally stopped.  She looked at me.  We giggled.  My beginning was an old clock stuck in dirt, spinning round.

Two-and-a-half miles away from the spinning clock and trailer house, Camp Bowie trained soldiers for the war.  My father, Jack Matthews, had left the camp, left us, and was jumping out of planes for extra money, urging Gywn to keep flying the Irish green.  He was parachuting with Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, destined for Europe and every major combat operation from Normandy to Berchestgarten.  The Band of Brothers, Easy Company.  Since Gywn and Jack had divorced shortly after the war, I knew few details about him.  I found a cache of letters in her things following her death and I did not open them until the summer of 2009.  When I found out he was a foot soldier in Easy Company, I ordered books overnight from Amazon.com and read his story, his name in print.

In Gywn’s cache of correspondence, I read the letters and documents dated until 1946.  There was a story beyond the narrative my mother had told me and its plot lines were different from what I had been told as a boy.  I stopped reading and put the letters back in the Bigso Boxes of Sweden I bought from Container Store to preserve them.  I have put them aside for now because there’s a story to be told.  An old, old story, along the banks of the Colorado River in Texas, before the spinning clock, before my beginning, but in the flesh of my family.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966

Duncan Steele-Park Lane

South Poprock Hill Pasture, Flying Hat Ranch, January 7, 2010

By the calendar it is January 7, 2010, and I am in the pickup, near the barn.  Looking east from the Well House corral in south Poprock Hill pasture, the early morning sky configures a cold day for livestock and young men and women on horseback who manage them.  Currently, we have no cattle herd to tend, but five horses need our daily attention.  I rose early before daylight and planned the first feed of the day for Lilly the oldest mare and alpha, Star the gelding-son of Lilly, Sweet Hija the King Ranch legacy mare, and Shiney the colt of Sweet Hija.

Presently, I do not tend the fifth horse.  The fifth horse is off-site, at Duncan Steele-Park’s place near Weatherford, Texas, going to school in the round pen of equine education.  This horse, Fanny, is with ten others in her cohort, learning and gaining confidence to join-up and toil with cowboys and cowgirls that must use horses that are strong and even-tempered.

Duncan has a philosophy about horse training.  Before we even unloaded Fanny from the stock trailer, he stated his way of working with young horses.  Duncan grew up in Australia and his methods presage directness, no frills, no nonsense.  He spoke clearly, precisely, in clipped tones of the Down Under, and with the authority of a thousand rides upon young horses needing guidance to confirm man as a friend, not predator.

The most important lesson you must teach a young horse, who is having his first few rides, is to go forward which is why I don’t spend much time in a round pen because there is no where for a horse to go in an arena.  I find myself a fence line or a lane and kick the latch of the arena open and let my young horse just run.  You see if you leave a young horse’s feet free you keep his mind free.  And if things are getting a little radical,  just one-rein stop him and then let him go and before you know it he begins to relax.  People and clinicians now days take too  much of the impulsion out of young horses because they spend too much time doing groundwork [in the roundpen].

I think I’ll play with Fanny this afternoon and see what she does [1].

My grandfather, J.W. “Jake” Parks trained or as they used to say, “broke” horses.  My mother told me that her father would use a forceful technique to train horses and that the “screams” of the horses upset her as a child and caused her to resent the method Jake used, even Jake.  My grandfather did not have a coarse or abusive nature; he loved jokes and took my mother and his sisters fishing along the Colorado River.   He was, unfortunately, taught to use the aggressive method by his teachers and peers; that was what he saw in the 1910s and 1920s in central Texas.  I think if my grandfather had seen another method to train without force, he would have used it.  Those methods were not present in his background, although the method of respectful, non-forceful training has been around in recorded history since Xenophon, the Greek cavalry officer, 5th century B.C.E.  General Stephen W. Kearny who marched American troops through New Mexico to California in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, reportedly used non-abusive techniques in handling horses.  My grandfather probably never knew Xenophon’s way or Kearney’s.  He was, like us all, a man of his times and it ended badly.

In the 1930s, while working on the Sorrel Ranch in Sonora, Texas, my grandfather was critically injured riding a horse named Hell’s Canyon as they popped brush for cattle.  Riding fast, he struck a low-hanging tree branch and was knocked unconscious.  Unfound for three days, he almost died before ranch hands rescued him.  He never regained his health following the accident.  I do not believe Hell’s Canyon delivered a mystical counterforce to Jake, re-aligning balance to horse screams and my mother’s pain, but rather the accident came as both horse and rider delighted in the chase of cattle for round-up.

The story of my grandfather and Hell’s Canyon was heaped on me when I was a child and I was told I favored my grandfather in body, but I never saw him.   In the family narrative, horses and and my grandfather were always joined, wedded, symbiotic, tragic.  I was never expected to follow my grandfather’s path.  That was just as well because I grew up in a small town, my country experiences were inconstant and we had no land, no cattle, no horses.

Time passed, I inherited horses, my grandfather’s inheritance was passed down to me and I bought more horses, good horses, fine-bloodied, and beautiful.  I bought land and I began to work with horses without force, without pain, and with respect.  And, when it is time, I take them by the halter and give them to a teacher who will help them grow in ways that take them to high places, wind-swept and sunlit that call out their strength and delight to help tend livestock with humans in the West.

Duncan Steele-Park has a fenced lane, about fifty-feet wide, that angles from his round pens into the Texas brush and trees and pasture.  Though I have not seen it, I know where the lane ends.  I can tell you where it begins.  For the horse, the lane begins with respect and it must end in a land of fun with Duncan Steele-Park.  Jake would be pleased; he would be changed.

Fanny in the Grove, Winter 2009

Notes

[1]  Conversation of Duncan Steele-Park to Jack Matthews, Weatherford, Texas, December 22, 2009; email of Duncan Steele-Park to Jack Matthews, Weatherford, Texas, January 8, 2009.

An an object lesson in writing and fact-checking, I sent Duncan an email on January 7, 2009, for him to fact-check my recollection of our conversation on December 22, 2009.  My recollection was:

I let them gain a confidence before I ask anything of them.  Some trainers just put them in the round pen and round and round they go, boring them and not letting them be.  What I do is let them go down the lane, down the lane, learning for themselves and gaining confidence before I ask anything of them in the round pen.  Then as they go down the lane, after awhile I ask something of them in the round pen.

As you can read, Duncan’s correction of my recollection carries specificity about training that my later recollection did not.  His words have greater clarity about his philosophy and present his training style in definitely his own words.  I can hear in his writing, the down-under Australian accent.

Duncan Steele-Park’s email address is duncansteelepark@yahoo.com.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Duncan Steele-Park, Horses, Recollections 1942-1966, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny)

Protected: Gywn Parks at Rural Declamation 1938

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Flying Hats Over Gorman Falls, Texas

Photo Courtesy of Colorado Bend State Park

This is a narrative of how my ranchito in Texas is called, “The Flying Hat,” and of special places on earth that evoke attachment and meaning in an ineffable way, be it Gorman Falls or Estes Park or Truchas Peaks.

Gorman Falls is located in San Saba County, along the Colorado River, downstream from Bend, Texas, and above Lake Buchanan.  Since 1984, Gorman Falls has been managed, fortunately, by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. An artesian spring, ejecting about three-hundred gallons a minute, provide hand-cramping cold water for the falls.

When wading in the water, legs cramp from the cold.  Water cress grows naturally along the stream.

The spring is about one-quarter of a mile up from the falls.  The sound of the waterfall is loud, a low roar, back down by the cliffs, as you walk under a canopy of sycamores, cottonwoods, and pecan trees that give shade,  plunging the ambient temperature ten degrees or more.  The temperature change is so vivid, it is like opening the refrigerator in the house after working outside in the heat.  It is no wonder that the Comanche, the working cowboys of the Gorman and Lemons Ranches, planned their day to be close to the falls when toil eased at mid-day or stopped in the evening, so that the cool air and artesian water might ease their muscles or give good medicine to the tribe.

I know of these things, maybe not the Comanche camp, by listening to my grandmother who tended the chuck wagon for her husband who managed cattle for the ranches.  My grandmother, Effie, took me to the falls many times, always pointing out on the downhill slope to Gorman Falls, “That’s where we camped and set up the wagon, built a fire right there.”  And, I would look and see bleached rocks and junipers, a clearing in the trees, and, yes, the remnants of a fire, her fire, many layers below.  I thought of the cowboys who herded cattle, sitting down and eating beans, cornbread, and beef that my grandmother cooked.  She was not that tough of a woman, of a person, to fix grub on the ranches, but she did.  She followed my grandfather because she loved him and would cook for him and his pardners, as they tended cattle in the blazing hot, anvil-hard earth, Texas sun.  Gorman Falls, with its cool, artesian water, was Beulah land, paradise, relief beyond belief, for them, for me.

I have camped many times under the sycamores at Gorman Falls, but the time I remember the most was in 1951, when my grandmother, Effie; my stepfather, J. W. Hollingshead; and my mother, Gywn, drove to the falls for a picnic.  I was nine-years-old.  My step-father, J.W., had an old gray, felt hat that was soiled and very, very ugly.  My grandmother had teased him for months to get a new hat and throw his old hat away.  As the four of us chatted under the shade of the trees and cool air along the stream, my grandmother proposed to my stepfather that if he would throw his old hat over the waterfall cliffs, she would throw her bonnet over the falls after his hat.  But, J. W. throws first.  It was an ugly hat.

Smiling so broadly, my stepfather walked to the edge of the falls and threw his hat over the cliff, the wind and mists of the water catching it, holding it, and then settling onto the trees below, never to be seen again.  And, with that, my grandmother, grinning and chuckling softly, walked to the edge of the falls, unpinned the hat from her hair, and threw her hat, a yellow, broad-brimmed hat trimmed in wide black ribbons, into the air and it, too, settled with the mists of the falls onto the trees below.  The hats flew, suspended, they flew.

We all laughed and I, to myself, admired my grandmother for creating an event that took us beyond our scarce resources as a family, the jobs under good, but insensitive bosses, to a place that transcended our daily duty, our toil.  Yes, I laughed, too, but I was a witness, a boy looking at his gods, knowing something, but not understanding everything they did.

Time is fleeting.  I grew.  They worked.  They played, they loved.  They went away.  My grandmother passed in May 1965, my stepfather in December 2002, and my mother in April 2003.

In November 2003, I purchased land near Mingus, Texas, from the inheritance of my family.  I named the place, The Flying Hat.  That would be the best name, a time when all four of us were laughing:  my grandmother, stepfather, mother, and me, beside hand-cramping artesian water, under sycamore trees, as flying hats settle onto trees below.  These days, my granddaughter and I deliberately throw our hats off the terrace of our ranch house to amuse ourselves, but we know, deep down, the flying hats over Gorman Falls, Texas, flew first.

______________________________

Notes:

Portions of this post first appeared on The Flying Hat Horses website, several months ago.  The “About Us” page on the website is currently being revised.  The Colorado Bend State Park has infrequent field trips to the falls.  The Colorado Bend State Park, however, is open to campers and fishermen.

I visited Gorman Falls with my grandmother and relatives when it was under the supervision of the Lemons and Gorman Ranches (I’m not sure which ranch). Being privately owned, it lacked meticulous cleanups, having certain debris trails along the Colorado River bank and artesian stream. Despite that, the greenery around the stream was composed of ferns, some native.  I would like to go back and type the plants, especially the water cress, since my grandmother fixed a salad one time beside the stream by harvesting the cress.  I stated in the post that the temperature would fall ten degrees.  I have not taken the ambient temperature under the the canopy of trees, and I will correct my post if I have more data.

The fifty-three acres I purchased was with the inheritance I received from Effie, J.W., and Gywn, so I thought it proper to pay some respect by the naming, Flying Hat.  This fifty-three acres in Erath County is combined with thirty-five acres I share with my cousins in Mills County for a total of eighty-eight acres.  Living with eighty-eight acres is a soothing and fiery experience.  John Wesley Powell, in the nineteenth century, wrote that in the West a ranch should be comprised of at least 2,560 acres, so as to sustain a profitable operation.  Today, a lot of us in the southwest, have much less than 2,560 acres (four sections, English township nomenclature), but we have jobs to supplement our income and a passion to live with the land.  My grandfather, J.W., who helped manage the Gorman and Lemons Ranches, worked at times for the Santa Fe Railroad, to supplement his income and to save some for his own ranch.

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