Tag Archives: Oklahoma

Balance — monarchs, milkweed and horses

Leading edge monarch in Spring 2011, north Erath County, Texas.

Earlier this week on the first full day of Spring 2011, I received a communication from Journey North that the monarchs “were pouring out of Mexico” and that the leading edges were entering Oklahoma, about a 100 miles from our place in north Erath County, Texas.  A day before the e-mail, I had seen a monarch in our front field feasting on nectar of wild verbena, but I did not have my camera to take a picture.

The next day, March 23, 2011, I spotted this leading edge monarch in our live oak tree out in front of our house.  Twenty-three live oak trees live on the knoll of our home, a hill really, that is known as Poprock Hill in local folklore.  These trees have been the roosting place for monarchs, I am sure, for several generations.  We have seen monarchs every year since we have moved here and last year I snapped pictures for the blog of a large roost of monarchs in the Fall as they flew to Mexico.

I have known of butterflies all of my life, but only in the last fifteen years have I begun to look deeply into the ecology of where I live in north Erath County, Texas.  This blog I write, Sage to Meadow, has become a platform for me to the rest of the world, a medium of communicating my love of nature, its greens and browns, births and deaths that encompass us all.  Butterflies such as the monarch abound where I live and I did not know milkweed was a prime source of its nutrition.

Milkweed, like many other things, is an example of nature’s complexity and diversity, for although it is a prime source of food for butterflies, its over-indulgence by horses and cattle is toxic and may result in death if untreated.  When I learned of that last year, I quickly researched  the milkweed and its correlation with horses and found that adequate grass and grain prevents the livestock from consuming large quantities of milkweed.

So, the lesson here is balance for farmers and ranchers.  Keep good stands of grass in the field, do not overgraze, and horses and man and butterflies can co-exist.  It’s not the final lesson of life, but it’s one of the best lessons to acquire — for the monarchs can continue to find food to and from Mexico, horses will graze elsewhere and be pacified, and we will be able to look upon all their beauty and grace as we observe from close and far away the interconnectedness of us all.

 

Green-flowered Milkweed (Asclepias asperula), May 2010, north Erath County, Texas.

 

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Filed under Horses, Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly

Kiowa wind, grass, colors

Map of the Kiowa Territory in Western Oklahoma, 1833-1843, from Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, p. 15.

In 1944, Alice Marriott in her book, The Ten Grandmothers, recorded Kiowa Spear Woman’s narrative of the motion and color changes of prairie grasses.  The “Ten Grandmothers” are ten Kiowa medicine bundles.  The bundles still exist, but they have not been opened since the 1890s when the last person who had the right to see the contents died.

For Leah the south porch of the big house was the best part of home.  Here you could sit and watch sunrise or sunset; watch the shapes of the earth change and move as the sun moved.  Then you knew, when you sat out there, that the earth was alive itself.

Spear Woman sat beside her granddaughter and thought that the earth had gone dead.  Lights played and moved, and cloud shadows came and went, but the earth itself had somehow died.  It was all one color now; not like the old days when its shades really changed and flickered like flames under the wind.  She stirred and sighed and spoke.

When the buffalo moved across it, there were other colors and other lights.

The thought was near enough Leah’s own to startle her.  There are lots of colors there now.

Her father spoke behind them.  Not like there used to be.  In the days that even I remember, there was one color when the wind was from the north and another when it was from the south, one from the east and another from the west.  Now the grass is all one color on every side, and it doesn’t change with the wind.

Sometimes the colors change.  Down near Lawton there is a prairie where the grass takes different colors.

* * *

[Spear Woman insists they travel to Lawton (Fort Sill, Oklahoma), fifty miles away.]

She brought her best Pendleton blanket from the trunk and spread it over the seat.  She put on her very best clothes and painted her face….

Two lines of high, tight fence spread across the prairie from a gate, and Spear Woman sat stiff, suddenly.  What is that!  That is grass like the old days.  Real grass.  All different colors.

It was, too.  It was like changeable silk, the kind the Delawares used to trim their blankets.  Yellow as the wind struck it; rose-color as it died away; then a sort of in-between color, with patterns that moved like patterns in silk when you folded it….

Shade was not even in sight, and when they had driven through the gates, with the lines of the fence on either hand, it was still not easy to find.  Spear Woman didn’t care.  She sat and watched the grass turn over in the sun, flickering and bending and straightening like little campfire flames, and was happy.  It was the old kind of grass, the old, rippling, running prairies, even if there were fences.  She was glad her eyes were dim, because she didn’t always see the fences, and could forget about them.  It was all peaceful and alive again.

From Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, pp. 285-288.

* * *

When I was a boy, my grandmother drove between Brownwood and Bend, Texas, near San Saba to visit relatives.  I watched fields of grass sway in the wind on either side of the road, a narrow two-lane highway.  She would point out to me where she and her family had camped and where she had seen buckboard wagons ascend a hill along the creek, the hubs carving their initials along the cliffs.  I saw them and put my hands in wagon-hub grooves when we stopped to rest.  The prairie wind flowed over the grass, moving stems and leaves in a rhythm, a wave of motion like water I saw in Corpus Christi Bay.

* * *

Last year I planted six acres of native grasses in the Pecan Tree Pasture.  The grasses are native to the Cross Timbers of Oklahoma where Spear Woman found peace again, and the grasses are native to our ranch that is also designated as Cross Timbers.  The grasses in our pastures grow waist-high, chest-high in some areas, and when the prevailing wind, a southwest flow from Mexico, crosses the pastures, grasses move and bend and change color.  As I go up the road towards Huckabay, Texas, about six miles away, I always notice a very old stand of Bluestem that turns reddish-brown in the Fall and Winter, but becomes blue and green in the Spring.  The stand of Bluestem is only an acre in size and machines have not touched it in many years for it is on the side of a hill.  It is old, that family, and I care for it.  If I could move that acre of old Bluestem to my ranch, I would.  I can’t.  But I have planted its relatives in the Pecan Tree Pasture and there I shall attend to their health and growth.

______________________________

Notes:

The citation is: Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1945.  I have the fourth printing, October, 1951.  In the excerpt, I have omitted quotation marks and substituted italics for the spoken words.

Lawton, Oklahoma, is also the home of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, that is seen in the map above.  If you click on the map, then enlarge it with your computer, you can see more clearly the locations of encampments and the Sun Dance locations.  The Cross Timbers designation flows all the way down into Texas and includes our ranch, Flying Hat Ranch, Mingus, Texas.

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

Gathering mistletoe in December

Oklahoma floral image mistletoe

In the 1940s and 1950s, I grew up in central Texas, playing and working about the counties of Brown, Mills, San Saba and Lampasas.

Although born in Brown County, my family spend a great deal of time visiting relatives during the holidays in San Saba and Lampasas Counties.  The Colorado River and San Saba River formed the backdrop of my childhood and early teen years.  During December, I often stayed a week or two with my grandmother who lived first in Bend, Texas, and then Lometa, a few miles away from Bend where she worked as a telephone switchboard operator for the communities.  The switchboard was in her living room.  Her name was Effie Morris Parks and she taught me much about living off the land, or at least using nature’s products from the original source, not a supermarket.

Grandmother Effie, as I called her, steered me in the month of December to harvest and collect two things:  mistletoe and cedar.  Cedar is still harvested, but the gathering of mistletoe with its poisonous berries to frock the door portal seems to have vanished from holiday culture.

She had a green Chevrolet pickup.  We would drive the pickup down dirt county roads and pull up next to a tree, usually mesquite, that would have clumps of deep green mistletoe with white berries.  We would knock down the mistletoe with long bamboo poles that we also used to gather pecans in the Fall.  Either that or I would climb up the tree and break off the fungus.  Then we would gather the mistletoe and place it in the bed of the pickup until the pile topped the rails.  We had to be careful to preserve the white berries because that improved the price we would receive.  We drove to San Saba or Lometa and would sell the mistletoe at the mohair and wool congregating store.  We would make upwards of twenty dollars and during the rest of the season, I often thought I saw what we had collected in small, cellophane packages sold in grocery stores in Brownwood.  I doubt that was the case, but I felt rather pleased that I had helped make holidays brighter for someone.

I chopped cedar only once or twice as a boy and it was grueling work, but during December the weather was cold and going into the cedar breaks to cut wood did not seem as brutal as it was chopping cedar in the summer.  Grandmother’s friends would take my cuttings — not very much, I’m afraid — and I would have a few dollars to spend during the holidays.  The cedar choppers I worked around were all muscled and strong and I envied their chopping expertise.  I learned how to cut staves versus good thick fence poles.

My grandmother Effie also gathered water cress, pecans, killed and plucked her own chickens, and during the late summer we would take the green Chevrolet and collect wild Mustang grapes that she would turn into jelly to consume on our breakfast table and give to friends.  The tartness of the Mustang grape is like no other.

But it is the memory of harvesting and gathering of mistletoe and cedar with Grandmother that stays with me today during the holiday stretch.  I scraped my arms and got stuck by mesquite thorns.  Despite it all, I grew up knowing nature intimately during the cold of December with my grandmother as teacher.

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Filed under Bend Texas, Cedar, Christmas, Juniper, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas

Running With Shiney

Shiners Fannin Pepto (2010)

Bittersweet is the moment when you perceive that the boy has become a man, the girl a woman, for then you see passageways that are closed forever.  Those days of softness and pliability are gone.  Ahead, there appears toil and disciplined hours that hopefully will insure security and comfort in all seasons, so that  life can go on with moments, perhaps hours, of rest and sociability with family and friends.  As a caretaker for the young, be they human or not, the letting-go as they walk away or as you drive away from the curb extracts a pain within that circulates around the thoughts: Have I done well enough by them?  Do they have what it takes to survive?  What could I have done different?

I trained Shiney (Shiners Fannin Pepto) in ground manners as much as I could while working and traveling at a full-time job.  My life with horses began only eight-years ago when my parents died and I inherited two paint horses.  I began to change when I worked horses.  I gradually became more patient with my life in west Texas that had turned out quite different than I thought it would.  I added another horse.  I bought a fine-blooded mare (Sweet Hija) from King Ranch and from her issued two foals, Fanny and Shiney.  The time came about three months ago to send Shiney to a professional horse trainer to fit for sale.  When I sent Shiney to Jimmie Hardin’s in Aubrey, Texas, I had carried the colt as far as I could.  Since I had only worked with mares or geldings since 2002, he was more than I could handle — or so I thought.

Jimmie Hardin and her crew, especially Peppy, her right-hand trainer, worked with Shiney to fit him for sale: standing, tying, leading, and running with the handler.  Good manners.  Midway in his training, I went up to see Shiney’s progress.  I saw his development in many areas, but one behavior held my attention:  when Shiney ran with Peppy in the corral, he held his head high and the two of them trotted in unison, turning this way and that way, Shiney showing his form and muscle and even excitement to run with a person.  As I first saw them running, I wanted to run with my horse, my colt, that young thing I had blown my breath into his nostrils on his first day, a year ago, May 15, 2009.

Four days ago, Brenda and I picked up Shiney from the trainer.  His mane was braided, coat sleek, and hair trimmed.  All fit for sale in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

We unloaded Shiney after a four-hour trip and I walked him around the sale grounds.  Then, I began to walk briskly, faster, and then broke into a trot.  I held the stud chain close under his chin, neither tight nor loose, and Shiney picked up his pace and we both ran together.  I turned and he turned with me.  I stopped, he stopped.  We ran again.  There, it happened, a powerful creature, joining with a person.

As I walked back to Brenda, she was smiling so broadly: He is so beautiful.  He holds his head so erect.  He is gorgeous.  You two looked so good together.

On sale day, I ran with Shiney three times.  I didn’t have to.  Once for buyers from Laredo and once for Steve Phipps of Springfield, Missouri, who purchased him.  We did not even lead him through the sale ring.  The price was right and Phipps was the one for Shiney.

The third time I ran with Shiney it was for me and him, alongside the barn and trailers, outside in the morning sun of Oklahoma.  I never grew tired or weary with our runs.  I was holding on to him for as long as I could and then I had to let him go.

I’ll never forget as long as I live that I once ran with a colt that was becoming a stallion.  Bittersweet, to see him grow.

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Filed under Horses, Shiney (Shiners Fannin Pepto)