This is Poprock Hill Pond, also known as a stock pond, stock tank, cow tank, watering hole, runoff reservoir or catch pond. In this region of Texas — central, west — they are called, cow tanks or stock tanks. “Cow tank,” of course, has familial, idiosyncratic, usage: Uncle Floyd’s ranch, Tom Parks place and many others. Cow or stock tank does not have the Walden cachet that reflexively appeals to non-Westerners, non-Texans. To many of us, however, the cow tank was the first place where we learned to swim, fish and observe water in a region of semi-arid climate. It was a separate, exciting area, cupped in the earth.
The rivers of Texas, such as Brazos, Colorado, Llano, Pecan Bayou (yes, a river), San Saba, Concho, Pecos and Rio Grande (always drop the word, “river,” before you say or write Rio Grande) may be public in water rights, but only a few families own the land around the river banks. The Walton family of Walmart has a large ranch along the Brazos River near Millsap, Texas. The few families that control river banks have no duty to the public to give them access. To canoe or float down these rivers in Texas, you enter the river at a public road crossing, such as Interstate 20.
For most of us owning land in Texas, our first exposure to large bodies of water — other than bathtubs — were cow tanks, such as Poprock Hill Pond or stock tank, photographed above. Swimming in cow tanks with cousins was often the first time people saw another body without clothes or scant apparel. Perch and bass fish were stocked in the tanks and in the winter, ducks arrived to feed, carouse. The cow tank was a retreat from family conflict, a quiet place to throw stones in the water and watch the ripples circle out to the edges. It was another visual reference for for drought or abundance: cow tank down, way down, dry. Or, the other way: stock tank up, way up, overflowing. During the summer, we camped on the northern side of the stock tank, so as to catch the water evaporation from the southwest wind at night as we would sleep in a tent or on cots beneath live oaks, pecan trees. By the morning, we wrapped ourselves in old quilts or sleeping bags to ward off the cold breeze from the tank.
Stock tanks, however, are primarily for livestock. Angus cattle walk the dam and water daily. Our horses, Star, Lilly, Hija, Fanny and Shiney, wallow in the shallows to the right in the above photograph, bathing and cooling themselves in hot weather. Hija is a water nymph. She wallows more than others, she plays in it: nuzzling the surface, plunging her head down into the water almost up to her eyes, stomping the edge of the bank to splash water on herself. She’s a fine horse, she is. If she could, she would bring her stallion to the water’s edge.
This morning, the temperature was 41 deg. F. and I saw the mist arise from Poprock Hill Pond. Before I threw hay to Hija — she’s a fine horse, she is — I went down to the pond and took the photograph. I don’t know the temperature of the water, but I’ll get a thermometer one of these days and plunge it into the pond water, if it is pertinent to my tasks that day. Then, again, I may not. I may stand on the edge of the cow tank and think of my cousins and Sweet Hija, bucolically at play and passing time. The registering of the surface temperature may have to wait as I look at the wind moving the surface of the water, the light film of natural oils, the young willows emerging along the banks and the sunlight reflecting. And, soon — it always happens — I’ll forget myself, looking at a misty cow tank in Texas.