Tag Archives: West Texas

Rain at Flying Hat in central Texas

Within the last month, rain fell on central Texas and upon my place, Flying Hat Ranch, or ranchito.  My former professor, Donald Worcester of TCU, used to say of his 142 acres near Fort Worth was a “ranchito,” due to its size and to the calculations of John Wesley Powell, noted surveyor of the West in the nineteenth century, who opined that a ranch in the semi-arid West should be at least 2,560 acres to run cattle and attain self-sufficient for a family.  So, notwithstanding a definition of terms, my 53 acre ranchito has received rain.  And, we are forecast for more rain starting at 4:00 p.m. today.

Since the flourishing of grass and trees this spring, I have observed large eruptions of milkweed.  More milkweed has grown about the pastures and especially the roadways, such as Texas State Highways 16 and 114, than I have ever seen since moving here in 2000.  In certain places, where I would seasonally see ten blossoms of milkweed, I now see a hundred.  Monarch butterflies, however, have not passed by here.  I see one or two in my grove, but no more than that–for now.

Rain and milkweed abound.  Yet, there is a different caliber of field news.  Worms have destroyed many elm trees on the ranchito.  I saw an elm tree covered in worm strands down by the grove, encased like a cocoon.  I have not counted the loss precisely, but my elm tree loss is between fifty and a hundred trees.  Some elms survived the worm infestation and remain hardy; others have partially damaged limbs.  I shall bring out the axe and chainsaw to harvest the dead trees.

I am closing with a video of my petting a wild, juvenile cottontail rabbit.  I have seen its parents in the tall grass, not far from where I rescued the roadrunner from the water trough.  Yes, I know as you do, cycles of life and death on ranches, farms, cities, and this good earth.  And, lately, rain has fallen.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Salt Creek, Texas

Meadow lark with morning sun

Early morning landing.

Early this morning as I walked down the road to feed Star, I saw these meadow larks (Sturnella neglecta) sunning on the barbed wire fence between the house and arena pasture.  I walked quickly back up to the house, grabbed my camera and took a few shots.  The larks are skittish and I did not get close, but I edited the ‘Early morning landing’ above as the sunlight pierced the feathers, creating an illumination that I saw only when I enlarged the picture.  Fascinating.

The photograph below captures the small flock on the fence.  When I came back to the house after feeding Star I looked out the front window and saw that the flock (or another group) had come around to the front of the house and was feasting on insects and seeds on the front lawn.  You can click on the ‘Larks on barbed wire’ below and obtain a larger image.  I did not get a picture of the flock at the front of the house.

Larks on barbed wire.

I have noted that birds are singing more here at the ranchito since the weather has warmed and rains have come.  I saw my first Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) a few days ago perched on a T-post beside the road to the barn.  I have a goal to photograph the bluebird this year.  I have seen as many as eleven bluebirds bathing in the runoff water from the horse trough.


Notes, corrections and additions:

To disclose my identification of the ‘meadow larks’ above, I have to add that my confidence in typing the above birds as meadow lark is fairly high, but with a bit of doubt about western or eastern.  When I got the Peterson’s guide open and starting reading about the meadow lark, there are at least two varieties, western and eastern, and I will have to look closer for the signature attributes.  The white edges on the tail (seen in the first photograph) are specific signatures for the western variety, so I go with that identification.  Besides, this is west Texas. 

I will look again in the morning at the flock, pending their reappearance.


Filed under Birds

Rain fills pond

Three days ago rain came to the area and I received about 4.5 inches of moisture.  The pond, seen above, rose three feet from run-off water.  Many areas of Texas, not just central West Texas, received sufficient rain to fill lakes and ponds.  The run-off was severe and water flooded roads.  Burn bans have been lifted.  I have read news reports that the drought has been lifted.  My pond has not been this full in over two years.


Filed under Weather

Wind and flag football


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.


Wind whipping grass blades on terrace.


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


Looking towards the west.


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.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Recollections 1966-1990

Succulents at Boyce Thompson Arboretum by Rebecca

Photo by Rebecca in the Woods blog at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Phoenix, Arizona (2012).

I like succulents because if I don’t I’ll be surrounded by plants I don’t like out here in central West Texas.  On the positive side, succulents adapt and survive in harsh climates, reflective of every species on earth at one time or another.  Natural selection, I think it is called.   Rebecca of  Rebecca in the Woods blog snapped several photographs of succulents at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, near Phoenix, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago.  The link above will take you to her blog where you can see more photographs of succulents.

I have yucca on every terrace outside my house.  At last count, I had about one-hundred pale-leaf yucca sprouting blossoms in the spring time.

Rebecca has, within the last year, relocated to Wisconsin from Georgia.  She studies nature and this last holiday season she sojourned to Arizona and other places in the Southwest.

From her ‘About’ page:

A small-town girl from Ohio, Rebecca Deatsman received her Bachelor of Arts in zoology and environmental studies from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2009.  After graduating, she worked on bird research in rural Saskatchewan and the Australian Outback before returning to the U.S. to pursue a career in environmental education.  She began blogging in March 2010 as an outlet for her love of writing and natural history. Currently she is working toward a Master of Science degree in natural resources – with an emphasis in environmental education – at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, through an off-campus fellowship program at Conserve School in the Land O’ Lakes area.

Elsewhere on the internet, she can be found on Twitter as @rebeccanotbecky.

Her blog is worth a visit and a visit and a visit…

Here are some of my photographs of succulents outside my backdoor:

Pale-leaf Yucca, Flying Hat Ranch, Texas, photo by J. Matthews.

Pale-leaf Yucca, Y. pallida, photo by J. Matthews.


Filed under Succulents

October in Texas: dusting and sunflowers

Sunflowers with dust storm near Abilene, Texas (October 17, 2011).

A light “dusting” of dust, not snow, descended with high winds upon Texas yesterday. A cold front came in the afternoon that sent temperatures this morning down into the lower 50s F. I love changes in weather. Of course, not with abrupt turns that bring destruction and fire, but changes like yesterday: brisk winds, racing clouds, lightening, rain in the distance that you can smell (my dog, Yeller, lifts his head high to catch the scents far away), dark clouds with long trailing edges that signal rain prospects and all of it bringing anticipation to the heart that tomorrow will be different, a new day with fresh starts all over the world.

How can one capture that cachet of weather change and anticipation for riding your favorite horse into the future? ( I am down to one horse, my Star paint gelding, so he is the favorite, the last of the remuda — but I will build a remuda back with brown mares that foal in the Spring.)  Well, you can’t capture it, but you can take a photograph that elicits Texas weather change, and the above photograph of Texas plains, dust and sunflowers, brings yesterday’s moment to pause.

You must ENLARGE the photo above to get the full effect of yesterday’s “dusting” around Abilene, Texas.  The evocations the photograph brings reminds me of migrating pioneers in the nineteenth century that saw the Trans-Mississippi West plains and stopped, not wanting to venture farther onto land that had little water, few trees and a population that spoke strange languages.

O, Pioneers!  Be not afraid!  There are springs and rivers, trees are in the ravines and highlands!  The Indians will trade and parley and teach their tongues, if you will tread lightly upon the terrain!

Yes, I know that pioneers did not tread lightly.  There were, however, places of concord — Bent’s Fort, the Pawnee, the Tewa, among other spaces and culture.

Despite this riff-tangent about the American pioneer, I come back to the weather change of yesterday that brought cold winds, turning the sunflowers to face the southern climes.  Bees and butterflies still feasted on its pollen, riding the petals like cowboys on broncs; the contrast of red earth, dusty skies and yellow flowers showed a tough plant on inhospitable soil, holding on tight and bearing its colors to the world.  I love these types of weather changes.


Filed under Weather, Wild Flowers of Texas

High grass in the pasture 1:46 pm

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Flying Hat Ranch, Texas, February 2011.

[February 27, 2011, added comment.  In my field work, the constant tools (carried in pockets or small rucksack) are stenographer’s pad, pens, tape measure, compass, topographical map and watch.  Close by in the pickup are engineering graph tablets, colored flags, binoculars and camera.  The camera is ofttimes carried around the neck.  I have also been using a GPS lately.  I’ve not used a laptop in the field, but I can see its utility with uploaded topo maps and data entry.  The iPhone may have some applications in field work, but the fundamental tools are steno pad, topo map, compass and tape measure.]

The experiment with in-the-field short note taking has come to an end.  I am back up at the ranch office and am writing on the desktop, not the iPhone.

The use of the iPhone in the field for short bursts of updates works, but the photographic uploads into my blog via iPhone did not work.  Part of the problem is that our ranch is way out in the brush and our cell towers are at Bluff Dale and Morgan Mill, Texas, miles and miles away.  For any extended commentary, a laptop with a wireless connection is much preferable to the iPhone although I will try the iPhone mode again.

While in the field today I kept a written journal and took photographs with another camera.  I am posting the photographs of high grass in the pasture.  The Big bluestem is “big,” reaching six-feet tall.  The Little bluestem is about three-feet tall.  For now, enjoy the field photographs.


Unidentified duck taking flight from the stock pond.

Still waters on the stock pond, ducks have taken flight to Blue's pond to the north.

A typical Cross Timbers life zone that has been harvested and cut for several generations. The tree grove is rebuilding itself.

Big bluestem, Flying Hat Ranch, Texas, February 2011.


Filed under Bluestem Field Log (Live)

The eve of a new year on the ranch

Pigeons flying towards a new year above the Santa Fe plaza.

We make resolutions and there’s nothing wrong in doing so.  We plan to do better, give more and finish the big chores we have had on our list for months, maybe even curtail or give up our vices.  Well, maybe not completely give them up, but back off bad habits.

I work with students, horses and the land.  I work in order to live, not live in order to work.  That’s a big, big difference.  Working with students this last year has been more rewarding than ever before in my professional career.  I attribute that to my nearing retirement and wanting to give what I think is of value to the student before I put the chalk in the tray and walk away.  Time is fleeting and I don’t have time to cover all the points, just the most significant.  So, for this next year, I resolve to cut the excess from the lectures and discussions and get right to the core: finding your voice, writing down your voice and tending to your own garden (Voltaire, Gilgamesh, Trilling).

For my life with horses, it’s a sadder year coming.  We are selling Sweet Hija who is pregnant with a female and Shiners Fannin Peppy, the first foal out of Sweet Hija.  Brenda and I will be left with our two paints, Star and Lilly, both having their share of health problems these days.  In January, we are going to Oklahoma City for the Mixed Winter Sale at Heritage Place.  Market forces beyond my control have cut through our ranch operations with a vengeance and the cost of horse breeding and market conditions force my hand.  What Brenda and I are trying to do, in taking Hija and Fanny to the sale in Oklahoma, is to put these fine horses in the best sale around so that they will have good homes or ranches to live out their days.  So, for this next year, I resolve to focus on Star and Lilly, build some good, strong pens in the Pecan Tree Pasture for their safety.  I resolve not to think too much about our loss of Hija and Fanny and the little one — difficult to push that resolution through next year, I guarantee.

And, finally with the land, I resolve to set up brush piles for the little critters, deer and birds about the place, not shredding every single bush like some of my neighbors.  Further, I want to learn the name of every tree species on Flying Hat Ranch, or at least make a major dent in nomenclature.  I will also continue to plant native grasses about the pastures.

The eve of 2011 is here.  I toast to love, health and fortune to be found among horses and land, family and students — yours as well as mine.

Sweet Hija at full gallop in winter snow (2010).

Fanny strutting in the grove with Shiney (summer 2009).


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Lilly, Shiners Fannin Peppy (Fanny), Sweet Hija

Sun takes command

Mid-October sunrise over Flying Hat (Nikon D300, f5/29mm, ISO 200)

Sigfried Gideon wrote that in the western world, mechanization takes command.  Jacques Ellul found technology so intrusive into western culture that “technique” rules behavior and slays choice.  That is so, yet, sitting on the back porch early in the morning, the sun takes command.  Wind orders glide of bird and sway of grass.  If one sat and turned the face to the rising sun and fair breezes, choice would arise again, offering moments that should not be refused for mechanics and technique have most of the day.


Filed under Life in Balance

Four Standing Orders for a Texas Ranch

As written in a previous post, if we had to wait for cooler weather in Texas to get anything done, we’d never get anything done.  For our operations here on the ranch, we have four standing orders that must be accomplished everyday.

The First Order is feed the horses twice a day, once in the morning between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. and in the late afternoon between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.  During the summer, I watch the shadows lengthen at five o’clock in the afternoon from the mesquite and live oak trees surrounding the corrals and barn, a signal to feed.  Although the temperatures are high, the shadows present a significant measure of relief.  In the open sun, the temperatures have reached 115 deg. F. this summer.

The Second Order is to fill three water troughs in the two corrals and stable.  Horses consume water in large quantities.  We are dependent on Barton Creek Water Cooperative for potable water at the house and at the barn.  We have a large stock tank in the front pasture and in Pecan Tree Pasture, a half-mile away and across Salt Creek, there is a large circular water trough filled with Barton Creek Coop water.  All water troughs must be at least one-quarter full.

The Third Order is to physically check the health of all the horses, from head to tail, hoof to withers, and apply medicine or fly spray (marigold tincture, not oily, water-based) to los caballos. Horses are bound, like toddlers, to get cuts and scrapes, sometimes worse.

Fourth Order is to check fences where the horses are turned out.  This may be done on horseback, in the pickup or using binoculars.

When we run a herd of cattle, these four orders apply to their pastures and browsing areas.  In addition, certain Niman Ranch protocols (c) must be followed if the cattle are certified Niman Ranch.

Feed, water, check the health of the livestock and fences dictate four chores that must be accomplished, summer or winter.

* * *

The front pasture has been shredded of its broomweed.  I leave large swatches of tall grass for the critters.  Perhaps one day quail may come back.  I’ve only seen one covey here at the ranch in eight years.  They will nest in tall grass, dead grass.  To completely shred a pasture destroys that cover.

* * *

Summer Pasture Flying Hat Ranch, August 2010

Several days ago I posted “Cactus Illusion,” a momentary scare that our oldest mare, Lilly, had become entangled in the fence at the area she loafs, next to the Hall place on the east side of the arena pasture.  I have some photographs of that area.

As explained in the post, I was a quarter-of-a-mile away, using the binoculars to examine the fence line and check on the horses at mid-day when I thought I saw Lilly down and entangled.  The sun and my crisis mode at the time played a trick on my behavior as Brenda and I sped to the area to rescue Lilly.  She was just fine, loafing in the grove area underneath a live oak tree.  We were terribly relieved that it was a cactus illusion.

Getting adapted to working Texas summertime heat requires thinking ahead more than usual.  By and large, work should be done before 10:30 a.m. so that the work during the heat of the day can be accomplished in the shade or in a barn with good circulation.  Large circular fans, 10 to 15 feet in diameter can be installed at the top of a barn or enclosed arena.  We don’t have those fans, but we work on the breezy porch or in the alleyway of the stables.  I use misters in the stables.

Take a lesson from livestock during the summer.  Rest and loaf in the shade during the heat of the day.  Browse in the early morning, evening and night.

Paint Horse Lilly's Loafing Area, Cactus Illusion

Lilly's Mane Hair at Loafing Station, August 2010

Ima Lil Moore "Lilly" browsing early in the morning (8:30 a.m.) before going to her loafing area along the fence line.

For Lilly’s pedigree and other photos, click on Ima Lil Moore APHA 111214.



The Niman Ranch protocols may be found under the link for our ranch: Niman Ranch Beef Cattle protocol.

The Niman Ranch website. Here you may find a list of ranches specializing in the protocol as well as sources to purchase the high-quality meat.

We have not had a cattle herd since 2009.  We specialize in Angus cattle.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Horses