Tag Archives: Palo Duro Canyon

Wind and flag football

URGENT – WEATHER MESSAGE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORT WORTH TX 206 PM CST SUN JAN 22 2012 …A WIND ADVISORY IS IN EFFECT FOR MOST OF NORTH TEXAS THROUGH 7 PM… .A POTENT UPPER LEVEL SYSTEM MOVING NORTH OF THE REGION IS SPREADING VERY STRONG AND GUSTY WINDS FROM WEST TO EAST ACROSS THE REGION. WEST TO SOUTHWEST WINDS WILL BE SUSTAINED FROM 20 TO 35 MPH WITH GUSTS OF 40 TO 50 MPH. THE STRONGEST WINDS WILL OCCUR IN THE AREA GENERALLY ALONG AND WEST OF INTERSTATE 35/35E.

I read the weather forecast last night, fearing an outbreak of fire with such oxygen rushing through dry brush and grass.  From the back porch, I see eight miles to the Cross Timbers hills and ridge lines toward Stephenville and Hannibal.  Neither smoke nor fire can be seen, only dust and the affect of wind.

I seek to take photographs that will reflect the aridity, the drought conditions as well as today’s fierce wind.  As I have written before in another post, if you wait for the wind to die down or cease in Texas to work, you will never get anything done.  True.  A good pair of sunglasses and sunscreen provide protection as well as a sense of humor to work and play here in central West Texas.  To play hard and lose one’s self, one forgets the wind.

In the 1970s, at holidays with family in the Panhandle, near Canyon, Texas, we played football after dinner (served at noon), and we played with windy conditions.  Across a large front yard providing turf for, say, forty yards of a playing field, we had to compensate for the strong prevailing winds out of the southwest or northwest — low, short passes.  The teams were co-ed and young wives and female cousins ran and fought for every yard along side their husbands and relatives — one female cousin became a colonel in the Marines.  Touch football rules prevailed, sometimes flag football with a bandanna hanging out of our blue jeans.  The wind begone, we played anyway.  Of course, we forgot about the cold and wind as we played together at Thanksgiving, Christmas and once in the summer.

Here at the ranchito, the wind blows today, but there are no contests in the front yard, only birds tucked fast in the branches of the live oaks or nestled in pasture grass.  Here are some photos I took about an hour ago.

This view is towards the southwest, showing the dust in the distance and the leafless trees.

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Wind whipping grass blades on terrace.

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View towards Lilly's rock cairn and the Blue farm beyond the mesquite tree line.

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Looking towards the west.

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From the back terrace, I shot a thirty-second video of the landscape to the southeast.  Not much excitement in the footage, but it’s the middle of Winter.

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Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Recollections 1966-1990

Why western American landscape photography matters

John K. Hillers, Mesa at Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1875

Cameron Walker writes in a recent issue of High Country News,

Recently, I asked Martha Sandweiss, a Princeton University historian and author of Print the Legend: Photography and the American West, why people are so attracted to Western photographs — hoping, really, that I’d learn something more about myself.

Photography, she said, became a way of reframing the country after the Civil War. “The West was a place beyond history, during a time when recent history was really painful,” Sandweiss said. Many landscape photographers kept their cameras trained on the wilderness and its prospects, often omitting the West’s history and people to create a powerful illusion of a place where only the future mattered. “There’s this intense desire to imagine the West as our last great hope.”

To Sandweiss and Walker, the West in landscape photography is a place beyond history, a place where only the future matters, the West as our last great hope.  I agree.  Placing this position on one side, say, the positive side, we have the other position that Western landscape photography displaced a painful past (Civil War in this case), created an illusion and omitted actual history (relocating Indians, extermination of vast herds of buffalo, hollowing out natural resources).  Both sides fit together although we repress the pain, illusion and facts in favor of a place beyond history.  Look at the following three photographs, continue reading and let me explain.

Ansel Adams, Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942

Jeff Lynch, Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, 2011

Montucky of Montana Outdoors, Cool, clear water, 2011

In the three photographs of Ansel Adams, Jeff Lynch and Montucky, each has captured a western landscape in pure form, without human artifice intruding — no church spires, courthouses, schools or bridges.  As we wander into these Wests, I submit that we want to leave behind those objects that change the terrain — automobile, antennas, roads.  Further, if we seek to preserve these pure forms, we must leave behind the ideologies of exploitation, over-consumption and race.  We may desire preservation, but the ongoing drive of the machine into the West can hardly be slowed down, much less stopped, as population expands.  We may want to leave behind the ideologies and terrain-changing objects and, though difficult, it is not impossible.

I do not view nature in these photographs as a cropping or harvesting opportunity and they are not presented as such by the artists.  I see rivers, streams, trees and mountains that are in themselves moving and living things, having the same molecular and atomic substance that make up my flesh, bones and hair.  Different arrangements for a time, the land and me, but substantially the same.  These three photographs give rise, I believe, to humanity’s kinship with the earth and invite gentle, ethical occupation of the land.  When I move into these Wests I do not want to construct a Monticello, but rather fit my home and hearth into the line and contour of the earth as in John K. Hillers, Mesa at Zuni Pueblo, seen above.

Leaving artifice behind, slowing the machine and having kinship with the earth in thought and deed has been tried before, and the dream has died ten-thousand times and it will die again.  Sand Creek and Ludlow coexist with the Rockies as backdrop in our history — blood and beauty.  Nonetheless, every vignette of western landscape offers the dream again, a chance to move on past the pain of history and into the wild without the machine.  Art museums, galleries and photographic books elicit a response in the viewer that there is a purity of form beyond the city, in all landscapes, all regions.  As a special art, western American landscape photography matters because it renews again and again what has been torn in our history.  We build upon beauty momentarily captured on film and not what has been shattered in history.  Western landscape photography can help us transcend what has terribly gone wrong.  As a result, I submit, we will take lighter loads and bigger hearts in our wagons when we migrate West next time.

It is all there in the photographs, beyond the lens of Adams, Lynch and Montucky.  They point the way.  Can you not see it?

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Not all people that view landscape photography of the West will see renewal or lessen their impact on the land.  The West is still seen as ripe for exploitation and extraction.  New lamentations are writ everyday in the West and many of them are never heard, yet they are always seen — on film.

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Notes:

Cameron Walker, January 24, 2011, High Country News, interviews Martha Sandweiss, “Depth Afield: Why is the Western Image so Appealing?”

Mesa at Zuni Pueblo from James L. Enyeart, Land, Sky, and All That is Within: Visionary Photographers in the Southwest, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Additional comment, February 2, 2011.  Caralee Woods of Kanab, Utah, sent this by e-mail and I post it as another example of the appeal of the western image.

Caralee Woods, Paria River, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, 2010.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance

Tickling the belly of buffalo: no more

[When I lived in Amarillo, Texas, from 1966-1990, I gazed upon the landscapes of the Panhandle-Plains and saw distances and life in those distances.  Not barren, not unlivable, but inhabited.  Sandhills Crane, burrowing owls, sagebrush, mesquite, cool waters of the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, geese, Mallards, mule deer, white-tailed deer and the Barbary Sheep of the Palo Duro Canyon.  I hiked into the edges of vast ranches and found campsites of cowboys and Kiowa tribes, they not-knowing, the owners that I was even there, lightly I trod.

In the midst of all this wandering, I taught at Amarillo College and I impelled my students in anthropology to sketch corn-grinding sites in the canyons for practice and awe.

Somewhere along the way of field trips and hikes, I came across Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. He died fighting a prairie fire.  Here is an excerpt about the Silphium of the Aster family.  It is more than a plant cut under the progress of road.  It is the canary in a cage in a mine, deep into the earth.

From the University of Texas, http://gargravarr.cc.utexas.edu/chrisj/leopold-quotes.html This excerpt is from Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.  Other excerpts are included at this website.]

Every July I watch eagerly a certain country graveyard that I pass in driving to and from my farm. It is time for a prairie birthday, and in one corner of this graveyard lives a surviving celebrant of that once important event.

It is an ordinary graveyard, bordered by the usual spruces, and studded with the usual pink granite or white marble headstones, each with the usual Sunday bouquet of red or pink geraniums. It is extraordinary only in being triangular instead of square, and in harboring, within the sharp angle of its fence, a pin-point remnant of the native prairie on which the graveyard was established in the 1840’s. Heretofore unreachable by sythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or cutleaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.

This year I found the Silphium in first bloom on 24 July, a week later than usual; during the last six years the average date was 15 July.

When I passed the graveyard again on 3 August, the fence had been removed by a road crew, and the Silphium cut. It is easy now to predict the future; for a few years my Silphium will try in vain to rise above the mowing machine, and then it will die. With it will die the prairie epoch.

The Highway Department says that 100,000 cars pass yearly over this route during the three summer months when the Silphium is in bloom. In them must ride at least 100,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise. If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weeds, he would be amazed and uncomprehending. How could a weed be a book?

This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the floras of the world. Mechanized man, oblivious of floras, is proud of his progress in cleaning up the landscape on which, willy-nilly, he must live out his days. It might be wise to prohibit at once all teaching of real botany and real history, lest some future citizen suffer qualms about the floristic price of his good life.

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Notes:

All photographs of the plants, courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Center for Plants in Texas.

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Filed under Life Out of Balance, Plants and Shrubs

Quail in the Texas Panhandle

Bobwhitequail

Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph birdsofoklahoma.net

In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail.  My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them.   My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.

I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground.  The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed.  It was only three blocks away.

I purchased  fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies.  I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country.  Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens.   A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile.  Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is  “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark.  The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy).  Tail short, dark.”

[Peterson, Roger Tory.  A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1969.  See pp. 86-91.]

The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service.  I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes  in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas.   At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”

Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed.   Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together.  It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.

One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood.  The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block.  Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?

I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely.  Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail.  The quail needed the space.

South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.

My life in the country began.

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Filed under Birds, Dogs, Recollections 1966-1990