Tag Archives: Texas

Life is a Ditch: Acequia de Llano San Juan de Nepomuceno

Rivulet pouring into Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photograph, J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

Rivulet pouring into Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed mature forest (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2012).

Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed mature forest (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2012).

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Flora on Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010)

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Flora on Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

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Flora on Rio Santa Barbara upper watershed (photo by J. F. Matthews, July 2010).

The house on 17 irrigated acres from the Acequia de San Juan Nepomoseno del Llano.  Water rights since 1789 (Photograph by Taos Properties).

The house on 17 irrigated acres from the Rio Santa Barbara Acequia de San Juan Nepomoseno del Llano. Water rights since 1789 (photograph and data by Taos Properties).

(This new post derives from my previous post, “Not mine, not yours, but ours:  Penasco Upper Llano acequias,” October 2011.)

From Amarillo, Texas, I drove to northern New Mexico in 1968.  I traveled by way of Las Vegas, Mora, and Penasco, making camp along the upper watershed of the Rio Santa Barbara for a few days.  I vividly remember a man plowing his field with horses near Mora and the narrow strips of farm land that bordered rivers and irrigation ditches.  The narrow strips of irrigated land not only reflected a precise lay of the land by residents and survey crews, but the long lots reflected a community, a meshing of rural families alongside a water greenbelt.  In later anthropological field trips, I took my Amarillo College students by the Pecos River irrigated plots along State Highway 3 that ran from Interstate 40 to Interstate 25 between Santa Rosa and the Pecos Pueblo.  (Click to see Google map of the Pecos River plots.)

The system of irrigation is called acequia, referring both to the irrigation ditch and the association of members organized around it.

I have never owned land in New Mexico, but if I did I would buy a parcel of land that had water rights to an acequia, a system that stretches back in time to Native American communities before the arrival of the Spanish who brought laws respecting community water rights (riparian rights).  Having land that possesses an acequia, one gains entry into a community that cleans, rebuilds and nourishes the ditches and, further, is granted rights to meet in a democratic association to discuss apportioning water and policies affecting owners that border the irrigation ditch.

Several weeks ago, I came across a piece of property near Penasco that if I could sell my ranchito, I would buy and move my horses and equipment post haste to Penasco Upper Llano.  See the following Google map:  This is the map-image of the Penasco Upper Llano property and other long lots of community property.

This particular piece of property with the house pictured above is located in the high country between Taos and Santa Fe and can produce 700 bales of hay a year.  The water rights go back to 1789, the year that the United States inaugurated its first president, George Washington.  The surveyor’s plat looks like this:


Several good books and narratives have been written about the acequia culture.  Stanley Crawford in his work, Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico (1988), writes of the acequia culture:

There are few other civic institutions left in this country in which members have as much control over an important aspect of their lives; relatively autonomous, in theory democratic, the thousand acequias form a cultural web of almost microscopic strands and filaments that have held a culture and landscape in place for hundreds of years….

Ditch-cleanings are all very much the same, and in this they often feel more like ritual than work.  The crew varies from year to year: a couple of old men don’t turn up each year, a couple of boys barely able to handle a shovel, fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, take their places; the weather is better or worse than some vague notion of what is usual, mayordomos come and go and some are responsible and fair, others vindictive, punitive, almost military, others are lazy and heedless of the needs of the ditch; and the crew can be a good-natured, hard-working creature, or sullen and complaining and evasive, qualities perhaps dictated by the amount of pride or fear circulating through the hearts of both those in charge and those doing the actual digging….

Buddy Manzanares who, on one of my last perfunctory inspection tours half an hour from the end of the spring digging, calls on me to admire a meticulously dug out and cleaned up tarea [a grave-size chunk of the ditch], with the banks cleaned of grass and squared neatly where they end in the bottom of the smoothly shoveled-out channel….This man knows how to make this small thing, this chore, into more than we commonly imagine, and what can be more important to know in this life, than just that.

Mayordomo, pp. 176, 224, 228-29.

The deep thing about acequia that attracts me is the ready-made community that circulates around water rights that nourish subsistence crops and the growth of hay.  The isolation of many Texas ranches and the people that tend them and steward their animals is not good; in fact, it diminishes the rancher to a coarse individuality that thins the possibilities of  human endeavors, insinuates a obsessive pecuniary attitude about the land and narrows civic — read unselfish — behavior to the mere casting of a vote once or twice a year for politicians.

There are western ranching communities that transcend these deficiencies, I grant you, but the tendency has been to sell out or buy more land, thus expelling more people from the agrarian way of life.  I have experienced this and have witnessed the deleterious affect upon my family.

I do not romanticize the acequia culture because it is a human community and there will be conflict and law suits.  Nonetheless, there exists an association of men and women meeting about water and how to nourish their livestock, beans, alfalfa, corn, tomatoes, okra, flowers, lawns, chilis, vineyards, peaches, plums, apricots, coastal bermuda, roses, trees, and every other conceivable plant needing water that flourishes from the earth.  Having an acequia culture forces upon us the lesson about sharing in real, material ways that no desk-bound, box-bound person will ever learn.  The basic premise is:  water is limited, we all need it, how will we share it?  And, how are we going to keep it coming down the ditch?  The answer: let’s talk about it, let’s vote on it, let’s implement our decision, and we will meet again.

Like so many other things in life, the ditch is more than a ditch.  The acequia and the water is not mine, not yours, but ours.  Water is life, and in this case, Life is a Ditch.

Acequia near Vadito, New Mexico, (Vadito II, oil by Eric Andrews, Taos, personal collection of J. Matthews).

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The language keyboard for Spanish and diacritical markings frustrates me.  Hence, the Spanish diacritical markings for “Penasco” are missing, although about every 20 times, I can get the tilde above the “n” in Penasco.  If anyone has any suggestions within the WordPress format to easily apply diacritical markings to writing, please comment or drop me an email at matthewsranch@msn.com.  I am intent upon using proper markings, but I am not going to spend ten minutes every time I need a tilde to paste it on.  Can Windows Vista do anything right?  Of course they can, but you have to update your browser every five minutes.  And, then restart.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Taos

Young Pecan Tree


I am in Far Field this morning. The grass is high and here and there in the field are young pecan trees leafing out. There is a large pecan tree in the field and a unkept grove of pecan trees to the south of me on the Old Bryant place. 

In letting these young pecans thrive, I do so to let things live, grow as they might, and perhaps in the future a nesting place for birds, shade for Angus cattle. And, a few pecan nuts will in the distant future be picked up, pocketed. 

Who might rest in the shade of the young pecan tree?  I do not know, but some living thing will find comfort. I hear birds singing. 

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Filed under Bluestem Field Log, Field Log, Life in Balance, Monarch Butterfly, Pecan

Sage blossom and sky noir

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A mid-morning rain fell on the place. The air is cool, almost cold, and the sky has not cleared and probably will not this day. This photograph shows a break in the clouds towards the south, the town of Stephenville, lying about nineteen miles away. My mother came to Stephenville–I tagged along–and bought plants at Wolfe Nursery. The nursery had a large sign of a wolf that signaled the entry to the nursery that encompassed acres and acres of tended trees and several hothouses.

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The rain caused an eruption of this blossom upon the sage near the house.

Fall has come to the place, the farm, the ranchito, the people of Sims Valley, and all the wildlife abounding.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, Uncategorized

Prickly pear fruit

There is a super-abundance of prickly pear fruit this year. I have never seen the eruption of fruit like this year. I buy an Italian sweet soda made of prickly pear. ‘Tis the season! It is 102F in field at 7:04 p.m.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Salt Creek, Succulents

Rio de Pueblo

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As I traveled this week from Mingus, Texas, to Taos, New Mexico, I stopped in the Kit Carson National Forest, alongside the Flechado Day Campground that bordered the Rio Pueblo seen above. The water was cold, flowing, gurgling, clear.

Back home today at my ranchita in Texas, I filled water troughs with Barton Creek Coop water so that my last horse of the remuda I once husbanded can have water to drink in addition to the cow tank that is the lowest I have ever seen.

I placed cedar posts in all three of the water troughs–stable, corral, far field round trough–so that squirrels when they fall into the water while slacking their thirst can have something to climb onto and escape a watery grave.  Three squirrels have drowned in the stable water trough and a roadrunner was nearly drowned when I pulled him out several years ago.

Rio Pueblo, Barton Creek, and my water trough in the far field proffer life.  I accept the gift.  When the animals of this semi-arid region accept a gift of water, I can, at least, make sure that it is not their last benefit.

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Filed under Salt Creek, Taos

Rare the white buffalo

On the highway to Lubbock from Hermleigh, Texas, there is a byway that goes west to a marker for the white buffalo.  I have visited it once, but I do not see any markers these days to the monument of the white buffalo.  The monument may not be standing anymore since vandals have besmirched much of the statues and markers here in west Texas.

That being written, in Connecticut, a white buffalo has been born.  One in ten million the odds.  See the article in The New York Times:  White Buffalo,

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/nyregion/sacred-white-bison-is-born-in-rural-connecticut.html

Good, let us now praise a beautiful calf, and if it is born in Connecticut, so much the better.

 

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Filed under Life in Balance

Star with water

Star with water sprinkler in Broke Tree Corral (June 28, 2012)

Hot weather pervades my place, but it also falls across so many regions this summer.  Colorado suffers this season with wildfires close to Colorado Springs.

My gelding, Star, sweats in temperatures during the day that come in at 100, 102, 108 deg.  Rains have fallen this spring so there is green and wildfires are negligible.  But, Star got water spray today.  After an hour of his nuzzling the spray and standing over the water, I shut it off.

His hooves were trimmed yesterday and like cutting our fingernails close to the quick, he was stiff today in walking to the hay bin, so, I turned the sprinkler on to cool him and to soften the earth upon which he walks.  My water comes from a water cooperative, the Barton Creek Cooperative.  I’ll spend a few more dollars this summer and turn the sprinkler on for Star.

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Filed under Star

Well, I declare!

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Well, I declare!

I open the valve on the far-field water trough and I nonchalantly look around the ground, thinking, There are no new wildflowers about.

I am wrong.  I see three new wild flowers.

Well, I declare, my Aunt Lennie used to say.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Mandala56 posted this comment: ‘What’s that blue one called? When I was a kid we called it “elephant’s ears”.’  I replied that I did not know — yet.  I was in the field when I published the post.

8 Comments

Filed under Flowers of Flying Hat, Wild Flowers of Texas

Turkey Tangle Fogfruit: Flowers of Flying Hat (32-38)

In my continuing project to photograph all different species of flowering plants on Flying Hat Ranchito during 2012-2013, I give you seven more Flowers of Flying Hat (32-38).  Please correct my identification if I make an error, for I want my cataloging to be accurate.

32. Tall Coneflower, Rough Coneflower, Giant Coneflower (Rudbeckia grandiflora)

As the Tall Coneflower matures, it loses the green-gray cone, becoming brown.  These are immature, but mature Tall Coneflowers erupt throughout the ranchito.  These immature coneflowers suddenly sprang up after the last rain along a terracing ditch for stock ponds.  The large spindle-like purple flowers in the background are horse mint, previously photographed.

No. 32 Family of Tall Coneflower

33. Texas Frogfruit, Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Frogfruit (Verbena family), good nectar plant for butterflies, bees

No. 33 Sprawling Texas Frogfruit

This odd-named plant is a host to several larval: Phaon Crescentspot, Buckeye, and White Peacock butterflies.  I find butterflies and bees abounding on its blossoms.  The sprawl is located in front of my C&C livestock trailer and my Big Texas flatbed.  It is flooded and dried by the sun, time and time again, and still remains robust and flowering.  Frankly, I nearly passed over the blossoms for they are quite small — about 1/4 inch across –, but decided to go back this morning and photograph.  Upon looking up its characteristics, I am impressed with its connections to bees, butterflies and larvae.  I wish I knew how Frogfruit got its name.  And it is Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, not Frogfruit, in case you are interested.  Fogfruit, Frogfruit — what nomenclature our ancestors tagged on flora.

I can’t wait for someone to ask me down at the barn, What kind of plant is that?

My answer, Why don’t you know?  Everyone knows that’s….

34. Tasajillo, Christmas Cactus, Christmas Cholla, Rat-tail Cactus, Pencil Cactus (Opuntia leptocaulis), edible fruit

If I have been stuck by this cactus once, then it is for sure at least a hundred times more over the years.  I may have been bucked by a horse long ago into a bunch of these Christmas cacti.  I have eaten the fruit carefully.

35. Coreopsis, Golden-Wave, Tickseed, Goldenmane Tickseed

I went down to the Grove this morning to see if the Wine Cups blossom in cooler temperatures — 70 F.  The Wine Cups were gone, but these Goldenmane Tickseed had sprung up about the area where the Wine Cups had erupted.  Fair enough, I think, for the soil is rich, the shade is cool by the creek, and there is room for several blossoming plants.

36. Soft Golden Aster (Chrysopsis pilosa)

37. Texas Thistle (Aster family)

38. Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus, Aster family)

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Filed under Flowers of Flying Hat, Wild Flowers of Texas

Cloud portal to the coast

Thundershowers on either side of Interstate 20 west of Cisco, Texas, May 2012

Last Friday, May 11, 2012, I drove to Abilene for commencement at Cisco College where I instruct.  West of Cisco, on Interstate 20, I saw this cloud portal — at least that is what I call it.  I sped between the two thundershowers.  A few drops fell on my car.  The first couple of weeks in May is a time of showers and cool temperatures in west Texas.  That is not always true, for this time last year, I was busy writing about wildfires in my area.

I have a friend at Cisco College that teaches English and he traveled to the Oregon coast last year, staying near Seal Rock and Newport, soaking in cool temperatures and consuming seafood and local white wines.  He talks about moving to Oregon, selling his ranch and settling in the cooler climes.  I think about the higher altitudes of northern New Mexico around Truchas and Taos that have sharp winters and cool nights during the summer.

We both will probably stay put: he in Santa Anna, me in Mingus, for there are mild winters and days in May where thundershowers bring out the Cut-leaf Daisy, Fire Whorls, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Dandelions in brilliant colors while horses and cattle graze in lush Spring fields of gramma and bluestem.  I should like, however, to go to the Newport and Depoe Bay area of Oregon where my friend says, ‘There is a resident pod of whales for ten months out of the year about the coast.  You can see them surface and dive, surface and dive.’

I want to see that scene some day.  The cloud portal in the photograph above opens to the west, towards the Pacific, towards the whale.  And away from home.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Depoe Bay was added as an additional site my friend visited.  It is a central location for beautiful scenery and whales.  The boating outing in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was filmed in the area.

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Filed under Adventure, Rain, Taos, Weather, Wildfire