Mother Nature & Brazos Bend

As soon as possible after setting up in a new campground, Dawny and I like to get out and explore our surroundings.  While walking through our latest park, Brazos Bend State Park, something odd struck me.  No matter which direction I looked, there was a consistent, straight, perfectly horizontal line on all the trees, bushes, and undergrowth.  Close, far, no matter, the line held true.  Mother Nature isn’t usually that consistent.  She doesn’t often paint in straight lines.  She excels in curves, subtleties, and the beauty of imperfection.

Hurricane Harvey pounded the Texas coast just a little more than four months ago.  Many state parks were closed because of record-breaking flooding and damage, including Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston.  The Brazos River crested at 52 feet over flood stage and most of the park (over 5,000 acres) was underwater.

The horizontal line I saw all around me was the high-water mark on the park’s forest and vegetation.  In many places that we walked, I was weighed down with the eerie realization that the line was over my head.

I have included a few photos in this post to try to give you an idea of what it looked like, although a picture can never do the reality justice.  Especially this sort of reality.  Note the pictures that have picnic tables in them and trees nearby to get some perspective on how high the water was.  Tree lines in the distance look like a mist is hovering a few feet above the ground.  That isn’t mist.  It is Harvey’s high water mark.  Park rangers had to get around in boats.

The Texas State Park system, its workers, and many volunteers did an outstanding job getting things back in order so that visitors could come enjoy this park just a few months after such devastation.  They have been busy in quite a number of parks in southeast Texas, and much work remains to be done.

I highly recommend this campground, by the way.  The campsites are paved, spacious, and level.  Large, beautiful trees provide shade to most of the sites.  The roads (two-way) are freshly paved and easy enough for even bigger RV’s to maneuver through.  The park is huge and there are lots of nice places to walk the dog, including a number of trails.

Be sure to keep your doggy on-leash and away from the water, though.  As noted in park instructions in the picture to the left, Brazos Bend’s most popular residents are some of Mother Nature’s most interesting children:  beautiful, subtle, and very dangerous.

(Direct link to Brazos Bend State Park’s website:  https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/brazos-bend.)

Happy 25th . . . Bye Bye!

Wowzer, Bowzer!  You may not believe this, except that it comes from my very own trustworthy lips.  Er… do doggies have lips?  Of course they do.  They are on the thin side, but they are there.  And, for the most part, they are extraordinarily trustworthy.  After all, what reason do we have to lie?  exaggerate?  embellish?  None whatsoever.  That’s more the two-legged style.

Okay, that’s settled.  Let’s get back on track here.  A week or so ago, guess who drove up to our little house…  My Daddy!  Ya!  Mom and I were in this crazy campground in west Texas that was full of sand dunes, heavy winds, and prickle burrs that were unavoidably attracted to my paws.  Despite those burrs, it was a pretty neat little campground.  Especially once Dad arrived.

He pulled up in a pretty red car.  I knew him right away, even though it has been over three years since Mom and I have seen him.  I am a good leaper to start with.  My greeting that day just about sent me to the moon.  I didn’t know how much I missed my Dad until I saw him again.  As for Mom, she was really happy to be with family again for the first Christmas since we hit the road.

The three of us have spent this past week together exploring west and south Texas.  Dad is trying out the RV lifestyle to see if it suits him and, if it does, he might buy his very own little house on wheels.  He is gaining an appreciation of the simplicity and flexibility inherent in RV traveling.  As for me, I appreciate the extra cheese and other treats I can beg off of him–he was always a much easier mark than Mom.  And I love showing off my prewash skills on all the extra pots, pans, bowls, and plates that result when the human presence is doubled.  After all, when you have three residents with eight feet and forty toes combined trying to coexist and function in a small space, every one needs to do their part.

Mom says that tomorrow would be her and Dad’s 25th wedding anniversary had they stayed married.  They both agree that, in their case, it is way better to just be old friends.  So tomorrow we part ways.  Happy 25th Anniversary ya’ll.  Bye bye Dad.  May the wind be at your back, the burrs stay off your feet, and your cheese never run out.

P.S. Happy New Year to all from Mom and Me!  — Dawny Virgil

Less Talk, More Action

Have you ever heard the advice to use action words to describe your experience and assets when writing your resume?  Potential employers want to be entertained just as much as the rest of us.  They want to know what you can do and not fall asleep while reading about it.  You know, like this:

Job Title:  Master Castration Assistant and Novice Ranch Hand (Dec. 2017):

Duties:  Secured young bulls’ hind quarters via tail and one rear leg while Rancher surgically transformed them from bulls into steers.  Promoted to Junior Gate-Juggler concurrent with hind-quarter responsibilities.  Mastered teamwork necessary to help herd each nervous patient through network of increasingly smaller pens and chutes until they reached operating table enclosure.

Achievements:  Miraculously maintained steely grip on own stomach and the contents therein throughout the entire procedure.  Promoted to Ranch Hand at the end of the day.

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Not too shabby, huh?

John (Head Honcho) and his wife, Carol (Co-Honcho), suggested I add this new skillset to my workamping resume after helping them castrate this year’s bull calves.  I have mentioned these friends in other posts.  They have been raising cattle in north Texas for 55 years, and they do it the old fashioned way, doing most of the work themselves, including birthing, tagging, weighing, inoculating, castrating, weaning, and so on.

One Lucky Heifer

This visit, they let me assist during the messy task of castrating 10 bulls.  It was supposed to be 11, but one lucky calf, upon closer examination, turned out to be a heifer (see glossary of cow-terms below).  That became apparent once she was on the table and John couldn’t find what he was looking for.

When John first started raising cattle, a local teen showed him how to do the castration.  At that time, he had no special equipment beyond ropes and a sharp blade.  They literally tackled the young bulls and did the deed as quickly as possible.  He had to learn an awful lot the hard way.  A momma cow just about took him out one time with a good head-butt.

Momma’s Watchful Eye

Carol joined John sixteen years into the endeavor.  One of her early jobs before they had a network of pens to control the herd’s location and movement was to keep the Mommas away until John finished each calf.  Picture a 98 pound woman shooing off a 1,200 pound cow intent upon dealing with those mean men who just tackled her calf.  Ya.

Their calves are Angus Source Certified in accordance with USDA and Angus Association requirements.  Operations like theirs are the start of what you eventually see in your grocery store labeled as Certified Angus Beef, which is among the highest quality beef you can buy.  Great care is taken in the raising of these calves in order to meet strict requirements.  Carol is in charge of the meticulous record keeping necessary to maintain this qualification.

Whenever I visit my rancher friends, they treat me to a delicious steak grilled over an open fire.  I appreciate each year’s meal even more than the last as I learn more about the hard work and dedication that goes into raising our food, especially by small, private operations.  For the vegetarians out there, the same applies to the farmers that grow our vegetables, fruit, and grain.

A Texas-sized ‘thank you’ to all those hard workers and to my friends, Carol and John, for yet another wonderful, educational, mind-opening, resume-padding visit.  Who knows… If I time my next visit just right, I might gain another new skill for that resume:  Assistant Cow Midwife.

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Glossary of Cow Terms:

Cattle:  Generic term that covers all the members of a herd.

Cow:  A female who has given birth.  Also used generically to refer to all the members of a herd.

Calf:  Juvenile member of the herd, generally under two years old.  Refers to either male or female.

Bull:  A non-castrated male, either adult or juvenile, the latter often referred to as bull calf.

Steer:  A male castrated before reaching sexual maturity.

Heifer:  A young female who has not given birth.