Cows, and Then Some!

Dawny got an eyeful of cows and we both got some great country walks on our vacation from our vacation!  My bonus was a few extra pounds put onto my very spoiled self by our hosts’ incredible cooking, which included home made pecan pie (I pronounce that correctly now), fire-broiled steaks (of the melt-in-your-mouth variety), and meal after meal of just simple good country cookin’.  Our Texas friends, Carol and John, could not have been more gracious, generous, and accommodating.

We took a couple of day trips through the local countryside.  North Texas is beautiful.  We saw Gene Autry’s home town and drove by Randy Travis’ estate.  Pastures, lakes, and vineyards, small towns with their town squares (including the bank from the movie Bonnie & Clyde), country roads and big-city suburban traffic snarls–all painted in North Texas hues.

The area is blanketed by gently rolling hills and is home to some of the best horse country there is.  The soil is sandy, rather than the clay you find further south, and it is easy on horses’ legs and good for growing the grasses they love to chomp on.

I learned about that from Carol, who went to Agricultural College after she met John and began helping him with his ranch.  If she gets herself a lamb to raise, she will have all the agricultural animals covered.  At this point she and John have raised cattle, horses (wild ones, which Carol personally and patiently tamed), chickens, pigs, goats, and donkeys.  They have simplified over the years and now work just a small herd of cattle.

And then there’s their dog Ashley, who Dawny decided was an arch enemy in her quest to take the ranch over for herself!  I love Dawny, but sometimes I think she’s a bit of an idiot.  Ashley was wooed from a pack of wild, abandoned dogs that had been frequenting the area.  Carol and John  worked tirelessly to gain her trust and draw her into their garage so she could give birth to a litter of 12–yes, 12!!!–pups that winter many years ago.  Ashley is now firmly ensconced in her self-selected abode under the backyard shed, unless it thunders and lightenings, at which point she comes inside to cower next to John and Carol until Father Weather calms down.

FullSizeRender-609John has had his ranch for over 50 years.  Carol has been with him for over 35 of them.  Theirs is a second marriage for both.  They met while their respective children (teens at the time) played in a soccer league.  Both divorced, they recognized kindred spirits in one another and had the gumption to give the whole love connection another go.

Rarely will you meet a couple who completes and complements each other so well.  They weave in and out of each other’s sentences, completing them, or simply filling in a few words mid-sentence, bouncing back and forth, reading each other’s minds with uncanny fluency, pulling from the same memories–although from slightly varying perspectives (hence, you often get some conflicting opinions on what really happened and when, where, why and how).  It’s an amazing thing to watch, especially when the give-and-take is a loving, light-hearted, respectful dance.

Back to more mundane matters, I was hoping to get an opportunity to shoot a cow, but with all the rain, the fields were too wet to be able to move them to the pen where they do inoculations.  John and Carol did get prepared, though, by moving the herd with the young bull in it to the field that had the lone, older bull (let’s call him Hamburger), and then putting Hamburger where the rest of the herd had been.  This had to be done efficiently and quickly as the two bulls needed to be kept a good distance away from each other.

FullSizeRender-628Carol helped with the gates, and John (a.k.a. the Cow-Whisperer) led the herd to the next field by calling them, slinging out feed from a huge feed sack, and working the gates.  The picture here shows John with Hamburger, who weighs in at well over a ton.  A ton.  Of bull.  Think about it.  They are close enough to be bosom buddies there as John leads him with his sack of feed into the field just vacated by the herd and the young bull.

By the way, I just read today that more people are killed by cows than by sharks every year.  That probably mostly happens to people who are careless or don’t know what they are doing.  Or just plain unlucky.  John and Carol work very closely with their herd, though, and they know each other well.  Raising cattle is an art.  And a science.  I was privileged to get a glimpse of both.

After feeding us for a week, Carol and John sent us off with our refrigerator packed with leftovers for another week.  They also gave us a precious souvenir.  For wine-thirty, I can now sit back in my little house wherever we are and reflect upon our friends and our time on their beautiful ranch.  They gave me a wine glass with the name of their ranch etched onto it!

FullSizeRender-617So, cheers!  Cheers to Carol and John, who through their southern grace made Dawny and me feel welcome beyond welcome.  Cheers to Ashley, who protects her people and her turf with a gentle, laid-back, but firm, ranch-dog personality from upstarts like Dawny Virgil Prewash Sassy…  as well as from the coyotes we heard in the evenings singing with raucous abandon (I had to wonder what they were drinking!).

And cheers to all the farmers and ranchers throughout this country who work incredibly long, hard hours and against often capricious odds (thank you Father Weather) with a dedication and love that few know, and we would all be better off if more understood.

Medicine Mound

When traveling west through North Texas on 287 you come to a spot between Vernon and Childress where the monotony of the flat plain to the south is broken by a subtle yet startling rise of land.  Four lone mounds, miles and miles away, stand watch over the surrounding terrain and the wanderings of the Pease River.  If the land was a huge earthen throw-rug, it would only take a gentle flip of a giant’s wrist to shake out the four lumps and make it nice and smooth again.

The largest, Medicine Mound, only rises 350 feet above the plain but the sheer lack of any competition for attention makes it appear much taller.  Perhaps the stature of the mounds is also boosted by their magical, spiritual properties.  These were ceremonial sites of the Comanche Indians, with the tallest reputed to be home of a Great Spirit.  Young men ventured there for their vision quests, medicine men for medicinal herbs.  The mounds offered fresh spring water and critical views of the surrounding territory, making it nigh impossible for enemies to approach with any kind of surprise, at least in daylight.

Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped from her settler family in 1836 by a Comanche raiding party a bit south of this part of Texas.  Raised from the age of ten as a Comanche, she assimilated totally into her new tribal life.  She married a chieftain and bore three children, one of whom, Quanah, became the last chief of the Comanches.  Recaptured near the Pease River in 1860, Miss Parker was returned to her white family where she remained, grieving the loss of her Indian life and family, until her dying day.

As for Quanah, he bravely fought encroaching settlers and US Government forces until too many defeats and the loss of hunting territory and the Indians’ primary source of sustenance, the buffalo, led him to surrender and move to reservation land in 1875.  The US Government named him chief over all Comanches (traditionally, there was no such thing as a single Comanche chief, as each band had its own).  He took his mother’s surname, becoming Quanah Parker, and went on to become a wealthy rancher and investor.  He dealt with many rich, powerful white men–befriending and hunting with Theodore Roosevelt, among others–while leading his people in the assimilation process.  I wonder if his Mother’s spirit wept.

The mounds themselves are inaccessible today, sitting on private property.  That seems sad to me, like so much of the American Indian story.  On the other hand, perhaps it offers good protection from careless, hungry, modern visitors.  It is as if the sacred mounds are protected on a reservation of their own.

And as I continue my drive through drought-ridden North Texas (crossing “Wanderers Creek”–so dry that dust from lost wanderers’ bones can be seen crackling and rising from the parched creek bed), I am brought back to the reality of today’s world.  The landscape is now dotted with perpetual-motion, rust-colored machines pumping black gold from beneath the crust.  Refineries dot the distance, hard to hide in this flat landscape.

After Amarillo, I catch a breath of fresh air.  The drought here hasn’t been as harsh or as lengthy.  Fields are green.  Then I see them…  hundreds–no, as I keep going, 10, 20, 30 miles–thousands of windmills seemingly randomly placed, their three-pointed, shiny stars dancing in perpetual-motion with the delightful breeze.  At one point, they are lined up perfectly, so that if you catch their angle just right, you see only one upright stem, with a dozen spinning blades atop, doing their best imitation of a sea urchin on a treadmill.

They bring laughter back to my heart.  And remind me that the Great Spirit, whomever or whatever that may be for you, or for me, is not confined to any one place, any one people, but resides deep in each of our hearts.

(This post’s photo was taken at Copper Breaks State Park campground, which offers a distant view of Medicine Mound.  The picnic tables for each campsite are protected from sun and rain by the teepee-shaped structures you see in the picture.  A very special thank you to tipping me off to this great spot goes to Carol and John, my new Texas friends made at Bonham Lake State Park!)

Lone Star

It’s official.  I am now a member of the Lone Star State.  How cool is that!  Despite my misfortune in  picking the heat of the Summer to come down here and establish residency, I really like this place.  (You know it is hot when, after a nice, refreshing, cool shower, you break into a sweat just drying off.)  Dealing with reps in the County Courthouse, Tax Office, and Motor Vehicles Department went beyond smoothly.  It was actually a pleasant experience.  People here seem to start from a premise of being nice, unless they have reason otherwise.

Before even arriving in Texas, I had a magical introduction to my new home state via a book recommended by my dear friend and Texas native, Greg.  “Goodbye to a River,” written by John Graves and published in 1960, recounts one man’s personal memories and the cultural memories of countless others handed down largely through oral tradition.  The book’s premise is exceedingly simple:  travel by canoe down a North Texas river soon to be dammed–which would drastically alter the surrounding landscape and literally drown some of the places where these memories took root–and recount personal stories mingled with tales from the surrounding land.  It gives a priceless accounting of some of the struggles of that land, including those between settlers and indians, and is an archetypical example of the significance of the spoken and written word and the power of personal stories in shaping who and what comes after.  As Greg astutely pointed out, the book reads like a blog from 1960.

Speaking of powerful stories, I have met many lovely people at the Escapees Campground, including a number of ladies who give me great solace, encouragement, and confidence that, although I am traveling solo, I am far from alone:

  • Marsha, who left a nice, secure government job to become a full-time RV’er 17 years ago.  She is her nephew’s heroine (and a great hugger).  He must think she is the coolest thing since the iPad.  He helps her keep up with such technological trends, partly so that he can keep track of his beloved Auntie!
  • Hazel, who left Kentucky after the death of her husband to see what was “around the next corner and beyond the next hill… and kept on going.”  Sometimes solo, sometimes with a friend, she saw everything from Alaska to Mexico, California to Maine over the course of 27 years.  At 91 years old, Hazel is now a participant of the Escapees CARE program that assists members who need to come off the road for medical reasons (see previous post).
  • Dottie, who after she lost her husband, downsized from their huge Class A diesel pusher to a tiny (in comparison) Class B van and continued to travel on her own.  She is part of the original group of Escapees that helped to build the organization, the campgrounds, and the CARE center, and currently volunteers much of her time at Habitat for Humanity.
  • Dena, like me, refers to her “previous lifetimes,” which in her case includes seven children and careers ranging from nursing to trucking.  She has been solo’ing in her RV for 15 years, 127,000 miles, and counting.
  • Judi (another great hugger!) who has been full-timing since 1985, but RV’ing much longer than that.  A lengthy career as a long-haul truck driver did nothing to dampen her love for the open road as she moved seamlessly from trucking to full-time RV’ing, currently with her spouse, both of whom devote many hours volunteering at the CARE center.

May the light from these strong, independent, beautiful women–and countless like them–shine forever through their  stories, shared through family and friends, giving confidence, inspiration, and perspective to those who follow their trail as well as to those who forge their own.

(Photograph complements of my brother, Ross, a lover of kayaking and nature photography.)