Musings and Misadventures

Return to Sender

Investment property!

Ugggh! Those words tasted like bile bubbling up the back of my throat when I opened the nice little white envelope from some lady in Austin offering to buy our farm.

I wonder what she is willing to invest?

I think of all the evenings I couldn’t stand up straight after grubbing and dragging mesquite trees all day, hands aching with poison from mesquite thorns. I think of the evenings my eyelashes stuck together with backsplash from painting all day. The days I spend working on someone else’s animals all day just to come home and attend to our own in the dark of night. The endless circles on a back-wrenching, bouncing tractor trying to whack back summer weeds or coax winter grains to grow. Flat tires and broken pins and blades and axels, leaking hydraulics and another damn tire-maybe she could invest in these, because they certainly cut into our grocery budget….

I’m terrified of heights; I wonder if she would like to “invest” in the days Jeff and I roofed these buildings?

We fought ten years of drought on this place, trying to be good stewards of the animals in our care, most of whose bones are buried on this place, but because of the natural cycle of their lives, not because we failed to provide for them. I don’t recollect anyone offering to invest in their feed.

When the drought ended, it ended in floods. And tornados. Perhaps she would like to invest an evening laying over her child in an iron bath tub while a tornado tore this house apart? Or the hours of sweat and blood it took to rebuild it over the following two years?

Every room in this house was created by the three of us, every structure built with our hands. I wonder what that investment is worth? To me it’s worth more than life itself. My life is invested here.

My ancestors settled this country when they came here with Stephen F. Austin, and in all four cardinal directions, my neighbors are my friends and family. I have rescued their cows off the highway in the dark at two AM. We have weathered storms and droughts and fires and tragedy together, funerals and weddings and births. They have appeared out of nowhere every time we needed them most and helped to set the things right that life had left in disarray. I have educated their children and they have educated mine. When I die, they will be the people to throw dirt over my bones. These are not just the people with property in proximity: we are all invested in each other. I wonder what she would invest into their lives?

While I am sure a good real estate investor would pay their ad valorem taxes, there is a little more that our children need here. I wonder if she will bake for the Athletic Booster bake sale to buy our athletes new uniforms, or lead a 4-H group or sponsor an animal for an FFA kid? Maybe she could invest her time substituting at the school or helping a teacher with the expense and work of decorating and supplying a classroom?

I guess what angers me the most about some twat from Austin offering to buy our home is the social and political contradictions our state capitol has engaged in. Its population has embraced socialism as an ideology to assuage its guilt from engaging in the worst of capitalist greed. They decry the tragedy of environmental destruction but hesitate not one instant to seize natural resources to exploit for themselves. 

It seems you can’t turn on the news these days without hearing some silly story about something some urbanite has found to be offended about. A boy that wanted to be a girl but was actually a boy was offended by accidentally being referred to as a boy or some other absurdity. You would think that in a society that takes such pleasure at discovering new ways to be offended, it might occur to them that offering to make someone’s home an “investment property “ might be offensive, but I suppose arrogance and greed reign supreme.

I know, unless some drastic event changes our course, this type will eventually buy up all our lands and cover them with spec houses. They have already come for the minerals. Next they will buy “investment properties “ to capture our water rights and direct them to urban centers. Golf courses and swimming pools will abound, but our crops and animals will perish of thirst. 

Each year a few more of our kids are stolen by crime and drugs. We have to lock our doors now, where that was once unheard of. There are so many unfamiliar faces in town, but for now we have been able to open our arms to these new country dwellers and show them how our gentle rural community exists. One day the canker of urban sprawl will envelope us, but not today.

In the meantime, Austin doesn’t quite have what it takes to “invest” here.  Tomorrow I will get up and milk the cow and feed the chickens, then make sure ten ranch horses can play their role in feeding beef to an ungrateful urban world. Friday I will spend cooking for our sick and raising money for our 4-H children’s education. Right now, this is MY investment property and these people and animals are MY life’s investment.  

It’s God’s right to judge and not mine, but I can still hope that He sees fit to sentence a certain type of investor to a brief and scabious existence.

No, you fool. You cannot buy this farm from us. We are already quite invested here. My family explained that to Santa Anna and we can ‘splain it to you!

Musings and Misadventures

The Beautiful Country: Part I

There was once a free and beautiful land. The people were led by a benevolent king who did as the people suggested. 

The people worked hard. They grew magnificent crops and built huge buildings and clever machines. They worshipped a god of love and loved one another. They worked together and they played together and they worshipped together. They believed in being dutiful to their god and their country and their family. They thought of honor, and they thought of country.

Evil began to rise in far off lands and the beautiful country sent its army and navy to protect the world. A young man sailed with the navy. The  young man fought valiantly against the forces of evil. The war raged for years and it seemed as if the forces of evil would triumph when, in a final exhausted effort, the people of the beautiful land and their allies staged a final invasion and were victorious.

The young man returned home a hero. Years past. The beautiful country mourned its dead then settled into the serious business of raising children and growing the economy. Eventually, the people asked the young man to be their king. His beautiful wife became queen and his children became princes and princesses.

The young man was a good king and beloved by the people of the beautiful country. Alas, the evil forces from the war had been defeated but not destroyed. They seeped into the beautiful country unnoticed and intent upon revenge for their defeat. They lurked in the shadows and paraded in plain sight in disguise. When the young king threatened to expose them, they murdered him. The people wept and the music died with the king in the beautiful land.

His queen stood in defiance with her small children beside her, but they were swept aside. One small prince in short pants looked on soulfully as his father was laid to rest. It was a terrible time.

But that time passed and that prince grew to manhood. He understood the monster that had stolen his father and he began to poke at it, provoking the awful beast his father had once defeated, but not destroyed. He threatened to reveal it and called its name, promising to defeat it. He underestimated the power the beast held. 

One summer day, the Evil Ones tried to strike the young son down. His father’s generals rescued the prince saving his life. The generals convinced the young man the danger was so great that he must pretend to have died in the attempt. They disguised the young man and his beautiful bride and hid them among the good people of the beautiful land.

The prince became a bard. For nineteen years, he wondered across the beautiful land hidden as a poet. He was forced to watch from the shadows as the Evil Ones grew in power and destroyed the beautiful land. They grew toxic crops in the fields. They mocked the god of love and encouraged worship to a god of hate. They taught the people it was wrong to love their country and they destroyed the families. Honor was forgotten and duty was disgraced. The people replaced thought with hate. They became fat and indolent. 

The Evil Ones attacked the people of the beautiful land and laid blame on other nations to anger the people and cause them to attack other lands. Many people died. The Evil Ones sold weapons and reaped endless spoils of war.

The Poet Prince was saddened. One day he met a friend from his youth; a wealthy merchant’s son, who knew him through his disguise. As boys, they had known each other’s hearts; as men nothing could hide them from each other.

The Poet Prince told the merchant’s son he must become king and lead the beautiful country from its destress.

“But the people despise me!” said the merchant’s son.

“No matter.” said the Poet Prince.

“My father’s generals will stand behind you. And more people will love you than will hate you.”

“But if we are to save the beautiful country, I have to reclaim all the people, not just some.”

“Trust my plan,” said the Poet Prince.

In due time, true to the Poet Prince’s word, the murdered king’s generals elevated the merchant’s son to the throne. He proved to be a good king, even though many of the people despised him.

The Poet Prince knew the Evil Ones had lied to the people so often that nothing was left in their life they believed that was true. They were full of hate and lies and boredom. He knew his friend, the new king, could never lead them in this state. He had to change them. He had to teach them to think for themselves again, to love again and some how he had to show them everything they believed about their lives was a lie.

The Poet Prince began to change the people of the beautiful country with poetry. He hid secret messages for them. The messages were not ordinary poetry. They were riddles.

The people slowly became obsessed with the word puzzles the Poet Prince hid for them because they were great fun to solve. They poked fun at prominent people and hinted at foreknowledge of great events to come. They spoke encouragingly of a bright future full of unity and love.

To solve the riddles, the people had to work together. They could not gain fame, even if they were very good at solving the riddles, because everyone had to contribute anonymously. To understand the messages, the people had to be pure of heart. They also had to scurry about the beautiful country collecting clues. The clues they collected showed them the truth about the beautiful country and the sober truth about the lies they had been told. Some were very good at interpreting the riddles, some were horrible at the game, but together with each person contributing a little, and all relying on each other, they could decode the messages.

The Poet Prince left the people an inscribed bell from his father’s ship so the people could recognize each other by reciting the inscription. He gave them other ways to know each other as well. This empowered them because they felt special with this knowledge and were driven to learn more. In fact, the more the people understood about the riddles, the harder they worked to discover the next clue, and the more united they became.

The Poet Prince used poetic mystery to  restore the hearts of the people while the merchant son king worked to drive out the Evil Ones, who had gained power by their sheer willingness to commit evil acts, but were in fact fairly stupid people. 

The king and the Poet Prince contrived to convince the people to watch evil driven from the beautiful country as if it were a play performed on stage before them. This way the people would not be harmed as the battle between Good and Evil raged all around them.

The music that had died with the Poet Prince’s father began to drift back to the people:

Don’t let it be forgot

That once there was a spot

For one brief shining moment that was known as…

 

But the rest of the song would not come to them. Who had they been? What had they forgot?

Musings and Misadventures

Flattery or Theft?

Social media is a funny critter. It has the diurnal activities that are for public consumption and the more nocturnal texts and private-message side conversations that are hidden in the dark of the internet. 

This week I saw a blatant case of plagiarism among my barrel racing circles on social media, growled at it and decided to ignore it, chalking it up to a weak character trait of the plagiarist. Then  my inbox got flooded with some of those nocturnal communications-four different friends had decided I was the person to address the question of plagiarism-probably because they know I hate that particular type of theft.

Ugggh! Why am I always nominated the bad guy?

Maybe that’s the wrong question.Maybe  “Why do my friends know I hate plagiarism?” is a better question. 

I can’t answer for what goes through other folks minds, even my friends, but I do know what goes through mine. 

I love words. I love word-smithery; the pure art of putting syllables together to tell a story and play a reader’s heart-strings. I don’t figure I’m especially good at it, but I love it, I respect it when it’s done well and I dabble at imitating the skills of master word-smiths. Occasionally, very occasionally, I get it right. 

When I nail a good piece of prose that brings tears or laughter to a reader, a lot of stars have to align first. I need a subject that touches me deeply. I have to be inspired by the topic at an instant when I actually have time to write and enough creative inspiration to craft it. And the hardest element…enough courage to publish it. And just maybe something is receptive in the reader at the moment they stumble upon it.

It’s hard to put a piece of your soul on paper. It’s even harder to set it free on the wilds of the internet. Writing is a cathartic struggle. If it’s published, it’s a naked dance of the soul in a public place. Something intensely intimate and hard to share. If it is enjoyed with that understanding, it is art. If it is stolen, it is rape.

If you like words, you read and write. If you read and write, you gain an innate sense  of syntax and personality.  A piece of prose owns its author, and vise versa. A stolen piece of work just screams incongruity. It is an obnoxiously, glaringly wrong combination. In today’s digital world it takes less than 30 seconds to copy, paste, Google search and confirm an author has been violated.

The saying goes that imitation is the highest form of flattery. If you write something that someone else values enough to share-why that is a fine thing! But what are the rules of sharing? Do you like it so much you claim it as your own? Or do you share the discovery and credit the creator? The difference reveals  the quality of the admirer’s character. Are you going to rape and pillage an author or acclaim them and share the talent with the world? Are you a flatterer or a thief?

The difference between a flatterer and a thief is explicitly described by countless style guides: MLA, AP, ALWD, Chicago, blab, blah, blah… there are countless correct methods, but the bottom line between grounds for a lawsuit over intellectual theft and appreciation of fine word-smithery are are as simple as means to proclaim “I wrote this” or “I discovered this”.

I love the current theme I am using for Rural Redoubt’s way of setting off a quote because the format is unmistakable as intellectual property not my own.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.“

C.S.Lewis

 

I may have thought something similar, but I didn’t arrange quite the fantastic syntax that C.S. Lewis composed. However; I can share it with the world by the simple addition of quotation marks and the author’s name. That addition protects me from both lawsuit and moral corruption.This simple mark, “”, means a great deal. It is the difference between flattery and theft.

May God smite me if I ever steal from another in this way. You can bet your hiney I will hunt you down if you steal from me or in front of me!

  1. screams 
Musings and Misadventures

To Cowboy or Not to Cowboy?

I love words. Big ones. Little ones. Slang ones. Ones that are so seeped in regional dialect they don’t even have the same sound as their original version. 

I love how nuanced a word can be depending on context, inflection and tradition. 

Mija is a fine word if you live along the Rio Grande in Texas. It isn’t even actually a word,

Mijas

but a combination of the Spanish words mi hija (my daughter). It packs a big wallop. If someone calls you that (or the male version, mijo), you are very special to them; inside their circle of protection. It is a very tender word used from older folks to younger ones.

 

Vuelta is another one of my favorite Spanish words that got mixed up in English. It means “turn” but turn is a dull word. But vuelta? That’s more like spinning and dancing! 

“I believe she is going to make a vuelta!”

“Let’s make a vuelta around town.” might imply a search for courtly love.

“I’m going to make a vuelta behind the mountain.” implies a search for adventure.

Anyway you turn it, that word is just waiting to be loaded with twinkling lights, smoky sunsets or wild cow chases in steamy mesquite thickets.

What a babydoll!

Baby doll is a term that just drips comforting Southern hospitality. If you get called that phrase, you just got wrapped up in a hug and a laugh. You mean as much to the name-caller as a little girl’s doll means to her. That’s a special kind of love!

Cowboy. Now that is a simple term with a complex array of meanings depending on context and inflection.

I often use it as a term of endearment to anyone young enough to be my son. It has something to do with the hordes of little boys in dirty hats and boots I live around who are constantly dragging a soft kids lariat rope around on and off a horse and attempting to trap the legs of dogs, chickens and adults wherever they go.

“Hey, Cowboy! Whatcha doing?” can go along with handing out cookies or hot dogs.

 

Of course, that exact phrase can be used as a come-hither in a more adult setting. 

Calling a man a cowboy is really pretty meaningless verbiage without context and inflection. 

“He is a heck of a cowboy” denotes rare skills.

“ Those cowboys are hands” indicates great admiration for skill and in fact may forgo gender in recognition of plurality of talent. The word “hand” in that context has nothing to with fingers and everything to do with describing a skilled horseman. It is a regional word used sparingly and only to describe great talent.

Cowboy may indicate someone whose western dreams fell short of reality resulting in a wistful sadness or a ridiculous pantomime. Cowboy can refer to someone who is more reckless than heedful. Cowboy can simply refer loosely to freedom of spirit. Cowboy is sometimes synonymous with poet. Sometimes it is just synonymous with America.

 

It seems these days there is always some hoopla going on because someone was offended by a word. It didn’t include someone or it included someone who didn’t like it. But see, here is the thing with words-their job is to describe. Some language is precise with no room for interpretation and is used for exact communication. Some language is vague and intangible. So are sunsets and dancing. So are a mother’s love and a child’s love. So is the poetry of graceful movement and the intrinsic nobility of a horse. If we cut away those words that have enough space in their meaning to encompass things that are ethereal and romantic, might we not lose the ability to share things that are ethereal and romantic? 

It is up to the wordsmith to weave words together to create meanings. It is up to the heart of the listener to find understanding.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/07/12/university-wyomings-cowboy-slogan-rustles-up-some-controversy.html

Musings and Misadventures

Burning Daylight

I guess the work is never caught up on any farm or ranch. I get up every morning and start literally running from one job to the next, terrified of falling even further behind on my chore list until eventually by evening I tire and weaken, throw up my hands in the air and go in search of a glass of wine. First thing in the morning though, the pressure gauge is running way over in the WARNING range. I swear, I’m turning into my father. I didn’t quite grasp as a kid why Daddy was constantly running around saying “Come on! We are burning daylight!”

Ok. I get it, Dad.

The summer routine around here begins, after some fumbling around for coffee and rousing a sleepy teenage boy out of bed, with the feeding and milking chores. We inherited an older ATV four-wheeler from a sweet neighbor who no longer used it. It is our all-purpose ranch chore-mobile. This machine is a particular favorite with Ruth, the Leopard Catahoula dog. 

There are two things you should understand about Ruth. One, Ruth is a large gal. She takes up quite a bit of real estate. Two, when things go wrong, Ruth freezes. She just hunkers her considerable self down, digs in her claws and waits for the storm to pass. Forget telling her to vacate-it ain’t happening.

The chore-mobile is hooked to a ramshackle old utility trailer and we back this rig up to the front porch and drag the milking machine on to it, then away we go to the barn. I drive, Ruth insists on riding on the seat behind me, Quinten rides in the trailer, the two blue heelers trot alongside and the cows and horses fall in single-file behind us as we too-da-loo-da-doo down the road to the barn. I’m sure we are a sight. All we are missing is a sign proclaiming we don’t rent pigs.

One of the items on the endless to-do list that keeps getting skipped over is pulling the right front tire off the chore-mobile and taking it to town to Anthony at the tire shop so he can figure out what to do about the giant, albeit marginally sealed, hole a mesquite stump made through the rubber. We just keep airing it up one more day after one more day. 

This morning I headed out to the barn with the usual assembly, when I realized I had neglected to air up the tire. My mind running in full pressure gauge WARNING level, “burning daylight “ mode. I turned hard left, back to the shop for air, slid to a stop in the gravel not quite parallel to the side of the shop and leaving the engine idling and the transmission engaged, I raced for the air hose.

As I reached the compressor, it occurred to me that I had made a bad decision to save five seconds of daylight in my day. At the exact moment that I realized my error, I saw Ruth, in her excitement to get on with the morning ride on the chore-mobile, had turned around backwards on the seat. Her happily wagging tail thumping about wildly. Her tail hit the thumb-throttle. The chore-mobile jumped. Sensing an impending storm, Ruth hunkered down in the seat, digging all twenty toenails into the cushion and driving her butt firmly against the throttle.

VAROOOM! The chore-mobile climbed the shop wall. Ruth managed to keep her claws embedded long enough to ride it until it was parallel up the wall with the tailpipe in the ground before she was flung into the trailer, where she resumed her “shelter in place” operations. 

Quinten, who I’m pretty sure fell right back to sleep as soon as his boney behind sat down in the trailer, had been entirely dethroned and was sitting in the driveway with his lanky arms and legs askew and looking like a giant red-haired tarantula.

The white hen we call Chicken Little because of her constant fear of the sky falling, must have been pecking around the shop when the excitement started and been convinced her eschatological fears were coming true. Before Quinten could comprehend what had happened, Chicken Little determined the safest place for white chickens would be perched on top of the giant red tarantula in the drive and lept onto Quinten’s head screeching “Oh, woe-betide! Oh, doom!“ in loud chicken squawks.

The cows, who had been waiting in front of the house for the morning march to the barn, stood in the road observing the drama with the kind, cud-chewing placidity of Jersey cows. This must have enraged the two blue heelers, who took it upon themselves as the ranch law enforcement officers, to discipline the cows for loitering and took off after the cows nipping their heels.

Apparently Maybelle wasn’t quite awake yet either, because when she turned to flee the law, she spun straight into the side of the truck with enough apparent speed and momentum to roll herself over the side and into the truck bed, where she scrambled to her feet and recomposed her face into placid, doe-eyed Jersey cow expression.

The front door slammed open and I heard Jeff yell “WHAT…”. Apparently he had intended to inquire what the commotion was but could no longer form words with his jaw on his chest. 

The four-wheeler was on its rear wheels against the shop wall. The catahoula was cowering in the trailer, his son was sitting in the drive with a chicken on his head, the milk cow was standing in the back of the truck, and his wife was…disappearing as fast as possible behind the shop.

****

Author’s note

****

This story may or may not be fictional and names may have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent. Okay. It’s true right up to the point I reached the air compressor. The rest just went through my mind as I realized I left the chore-mobile in gear with a dog on it. The moral of the story is put the dang equipment in neutral!

Musings and Misadventures

Guns ‘n’ Yes Ma’m

Oh, you don’t need to call me ma’m, just Jane is fine,” says the visitor from out of state.

“Sit here with me on the porch awhile, Miss Jane, and I will tell you why we speak that way in Texas. Do you take sugar in your iced tea?” I reply, and once again, I began to invest an afternoon explaining to an urbanite how our culture of respect and something known throughout the South as “raisin’,” spreads outwards from households into our communities and influences how we value the lives around us and how our communities reflect our respect and care for each other.

On the weekend of February 15, my son, a shot gun competitor, was entered in the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Junior Shoot-out. Attending a youth shooting event the day after Nikolas Cruz chose to fatally shoot seventeen of his former classmates in a Florida high school meant opportunity for a lot of reflection on mass murder and guns in our culture.

By the dawns early light…

 

 

In the grey light of a foggy February morning, I sat on a metal bench with the dew soaking through the seat of my blue jeans waiting for an orientation meeting to began and pondering what drives children to kill each other and how to stop it.
The American flag rose from mourning the massacre at half-staff to salute the anthem as a pair of teenaged sisters began to sing

Oh Say, can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming?

and I thought back on those front porch explanations of why rural Texas holds certain elements of formal etiquette dear. I looked around at over 800 committed young shooters and thought, “This is the answer; guns and “yes ma’m” can go a long way towards solving our violence issues.”

Yes. I’m talking about more guns in schools. Hang on. Stop your head from exploding until I have explained why I think more school-sponsored shooting programs reduce violence. Let me walk you through how the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo Junior Shoot-out is conducted and how the procedure used in this particular competition is a salute to the broader gun culture in Texas and the values and life-preparation it represents to our kids.

Safety
Safety begins at home at every club practice. American kids don’t ride bikes without helmets these days. Safety measures are in place in every facet of their lives. It insulates them from mortality. But place a gun in a child’s hands and they are most decidedly not insulated from mortality by anything except their own discipline and judgement. The daily reminders of safety protocols do two things: it constantly reinforces that a mistake has terrible and irrevocable consequences and we trust them to be capable guardians of that power. Understanding that this activity is very different from a video game and that the consequences are very real and yet adults have confidence in their abilities to make correct and appropriate choices is both chilling and empowering. As parents and leaders we are reminded of the gravity of providing them the correct education to shoulder that responsibility. The message reaches far beyond eye and ear protection.

Message: life is both fragile and valuable and I trust you to make choices that value life.

Preparedness
Shooters need to have joined their FFA or 4-H club and have their entries submitted by December 1 of the previous year to shoot in mid-February, not to mention weekly skill practice and preparing presentations to potential sponsors to help them with the financial burdens of the sport. Organizational skills are learned. Social skills are learned.

Message: plan ahead to achieve your goals.

Timeliness
Orientation and safety meetings begin at eight am. Not 15 seconds past eight. Eight am. Be there or don’t shoot.

Message: plan to be responsible for your destination.

Community
The shooting day begins with students performing the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, a prayer, the 4H pledge which reads

I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

 

and the Future Farmers of America motto,

Learning to Do,

Doing to Learn,

Earning to Live,

Living to Serve.

 

Message: you are fulfilled as an individual by service to a Higher Power and a greater community. Focus on what brings us together and reject what divides us.

Life is Invaluable

Life is invaluable. Death is irrevocable. Keep your muzzle pointed down-range. The value of life is obliquely present in safety protocols on the range. There is no room for error.

Message: Act with gravity and discerning judgment.

Gratitude
From courteously expressing gratitude to range judges to signing banners and writing thank-you notes to sponsors, expressions of gratitude are encouraged.

Message: remember to be humble and to appreciate the people who help you.

Effort is rewarded
This shoot is well-sponsored. From $10,000 dollar scholarships to expensive guns and ammo prizes, winners are rewarded for their efforts.

Message: Hard work is rewarded.

Family
I have seen parents grow in these programs, myself included. There just isn’t much room for uncommitted participation. Because of the inherent danger, the responsibility of this sport is hard to foist off on nannies, coaches or grandparents. If you are dropping the ball, someone is probably going to let you know. On the other hand, a kid with desire and no family is likely to find a patron to help them excel failing the presence of a parent.

The sum total of these values is what we refer to as “raisin’”,  or displaying the characteristics of character and manners resulting from committed parenting and consistent training in morals, etiquette and responsibility. This is what gun culture is, not the fanatic blood-lust depicted by the anti-gun crowd. Gun culture is a culture of respect and etiquette.

Reports abound on the factors that trigger kids to shoot up schools; video games, desire for power and attention, no value for life, depression, in short the common element in these shooters is they lack “raisin’”. Why is it so hard to think the solution to a tool being used the wrong way is to teach the proper use of that tool?

I am so grateful for the school administrators who have had the courage to support school-sponsored shooting sports and I hope they understand the fantastic results in youth leadership they are producing with their bravery to swim upstream against anti-gun sentiment. I am grateful to people like Bill Ethridge, who conceived the idea for this competition in 2013 and has worked every year since to bring in great sponsors from the firearms industry and the local community to grow the prizes and participation. I am grateful to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for its promotion of youth shooting sports. I am grateful to untold high school agriculture teachers and 4-H leaders all around the state, who organize practices and entries, hotels, uniforms and countless other chores. I am grateful to all the great companies like Fiocchi and Blaser and countless others who have generously supported youth shooting. Thanks for helping us with “raisin’” them right!

Musings and Misadventures

New Horizons and Bumps in the Road

I woke this morning with a throbbing headache. I was up until the wee hours of the morning wrestling with technology that is mostly beyond my grasp.
For months I have been designing Rural Redoubt more or less under cover. I have shared posts with only a few friends, sworn to secrecy, so that an under-construction blog site did not get views on the internet. Yesterday, Rural Redoubt debuted on Facebook. By mid-morning I had discovered a bug in the theme. By early afternoon I had the entire site upside down. Pretty much, it was the equivalent of inviting company over for a big dinner party and having the hot water heater explode during appetizers. Sigh…
I rubbed my eyes, rolled over and fumbled for my iPad to take stock of the current state of damage. My disgust deepened. What a mess. Then I remembered there was a bright spot in my blogging life-Short Round Photography!

Photo courtesy of Short Round Photography. Look for more of Janine’s work on future posts and check her out at http://www.shortroundphoto.com/

Being a barrel racer is like being a member of a large family of girls. They are constantly competing with each other, critiquing each other, squabbling and pecking at each other, but they are the first to step up when you need a hand. There is always someone there to hold a horse for you when you need it, help you change a trailer tire or send you photos for your crashing blog site.
Somewhere in the midst of pulling my hair out with widgets and menus, I received a message full of gorgeous photos from my barrel racing gal, Janine Watson at Short Round Photography and had pretty much forgotten them. Ta-Da! Silver lining in my cloud! I’ll get this mess lined out eventually. In the meantime I have some beautiful new photos to post.
So here is to bumps in the road on the way to new horizons and friends to help you over them!

Musings and Misadventures · Projects

Our House

Our House…

That phrase always makes me think of the Cosby, Stills and Nash song:

Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard…

Except our house isn’t a fine house. In truth, it’s sort of a dump. Or it was. Now it’s more like the canvas our lives are painted upon; ideas attempted and embraced or rejected and painted over with a new idea taking its place with Fate’s ever-present hand sending us in directions we never intended. Maybe it’s not a masterpiece, but it is so woven into our family fabric, I’m not sure where we stop and the house begins.

We bought our farm in the spring 2005. Our son was six months old. My husband was still a professional polo player with a three-goal handicap playing in very competitive polo in and around Dallas, Texas. We had nearly thirty horses at the time and the farm was almost a five-hour drive away. Polo would continue five to six days a week through June and then break until September. With an infant, a demanding job, a large herd of horses and a narrow window of time to establish a new home, it was going to be a difficult move compounded by the fact the farm had no water, septic, electricity, fences and certainly no HOUSE-just rolling acres of South Texas mesquite, hack-berry and huisache. How on earth were we going to pull this off?

Building a house was out of the question. I just couldn’t see how I could work with a builder given the distance and time frame. The remaining ideas were an RV, throw up a quick barn and enclose an apartment to camp in for a while, or move in a trailer house. “No, no and maybe, just because I can’t think of anything else” were my answers.

The purchase of this farm was the end result of the dissolution of some family property in West Texas. We went in with my mother and bought this property together and divided it between us. It has been a sometimes trying and always rewarding arrangement. Someday, I’ll tell you about her house, well, errr, houses? But not today.

Most of my early recollections of the farm involve my mom. I found the real estate ad in the San Antonio Star Telegram and emailed it to my mom, who was a realtor in San Antonio at the time, specializing in farm and ranch properties.

“What about this place?” I asked.

“Oh, I’ve seen it. It’s not what we want at all. In fact, I’ve shown it to some buyers, but only from the road. There are no roads on it so you really can’t see it, and besides, it’s way off the highway.”

I talked her into looking again.

Rolling sandy hills dotted with oak trees, a wet-weather creek, some old peanut and watermelon fields with fifteen years of re-growth mesquite over them, native grasses and some virgin South Texas mesquite brush with mesquites twice as thick as my waist. It was exactly what we wanted.

It’s funny. I still remember clicking on the photos in that ad and thinking “this is where we will live…

That spring that we first moved on the farm was exceptionally beautiful. The blackberries were everywhere. Huge, shiny black orbs of sweetness distracting us from our purpose on every visit. The grass was thick and green and the wildflowers were doing their thing with extra gusto. Love bugs were everywhere; coating car grills with their squashed little bodies, sitting together on any idle surface and flying conjoined through the air. I’ve never seen so many love bugs before or since.

Mom and I did most of the initial projects because Jeff couldn’t leave North Texas and polo. Our first order of business was to find a house site. Mom and I hemmed and hawed and looked and walked and drove and argued about how to divide the property between us. One afternoon we turned off the path we were pounding into a road and made our way through the brush just to see what we could see. Low and behold, there in the midst of a mesquite thicket was a beautiful, giant, ancient oak. Home-site discovered. That tree had seen General Santa Anna come by on his way to the Alamo. It had seen buffalo and Comanches and maybe even a Spanish conquistador and now we were going to live in it’s shade.

Mom had rented a bobcat that spring and the next weekend she and I cleared and burned the brush around that oak. I ordered installation of the power poles. I got on the well guy’s waiting list. The creation of a horse farm was under way.

We had thought maybe we could buy a double-wide mobile home in foreclosure on the cheap and discard it in a year or so and build a house. Have you ever walked into one of those? I wanted a shower. Like NOW! Forget that plan. No way, Jose’!

Ultimately, I designed a house with Palm Harbor, who happened to have a factory about a mile from where we were living in Fort Worth. That proved challenging enough with an energetic kid that was getting pretty mobile on my hip-or more accurately-crawling under an office desk trying to stick his fingers in an electrical outlet or some other leprechaun-like mischief. I made some design mistakes. I got some things right. We got a brand new home, free of cooties.

July 10, 2005 with a hurricane blowing into the Gulf and a ten-month old red-headed kid in the back seat, we loaded our furniture into the horse trailer and pulled onto I-35 headed south to meet our new home under the oak tree. The day before the well guy had called to say he would be a few days late. An old client had called him in a panic. His well was out. His horses needed water, it had to be dealt with.

“His horses need water??? Mine, however, are camels, I suppose, and will do just fine until you decide to show up.” I thought.

He did show up, though. I will never forget watching the first water pump up out of that well and how cool and sweet it tasted. It isn’t far down the list of pivotal moments in my life; our wedding, the birth of our son and water flowing from that well. The flood of emotions that overwhelmed me belied the terror I had tried to ignore that there would be no water. I grew up in the desert. One thing I know is that water is a life-giving, life-affirming substance that has complete control of where and how we live-and we had it! By the time the hurricane dumped ten inches of rain on us, we were soundly sleeping on our first night in our new house with running water on tap. Water and rain-we were blessed from the start.

I have both hated and loved this house. Our plans to discard it never materialized. Instead, when I thought I could not bear living in it one more day, I waited until Jeff was gone and ripped the carpet out of a room. He came home and groaned.

“Then build me a new house.” I said.

“What color do you want to paint the walls in here?” he replied.

That’s how it began. Room by room we built our house within what we had. Our first attempts were not very good, but we learned and got better tools and the product improved. Walls came down. Walls went up. Cabinets went out. Shelves came in. Pinterest and I had a love affair that impregnated me with all sorts of ideas Jeff took on and raised like bastard children; at first with annoyance and later, as they became his, with affection.

In case we were to become over-confident in our control over our house and our lives, God would remind us how powerless we truly are. It had taken us three years, but we had recreated every room in the house. I had just embarked on a major landscaping facelift in the front yard and all that remained between us and a “new” house was to paint the exterior and convert the porch from carpenter’s shed back to a porch.

We worked on a ranch near Gonzales that day in May, on the east side of the Guadalupe River. Rains had been heavy for over a week and the river was flooded when we crossed it that morning and it was forecast to crest far out of its banks later in the day. It was hot and humid. The wind blew hard all day. The sky had an ugly, unusual, yellow overcast. It made me anxious.

We had just returned home, crossing back over the river, which by then was as high as I had ever seen it, when my mom called to tell us she could see circulation in the clouds over our house. I leaned against the sliding glass door in the bedroom to peer out at the weather and the entire sheet of glass ballooned away from the frame. I ran to the front door to call in the dogs and saw a tree flying sideways.

We had just installed an antique cast-iron claw-foot tub in the back bathroom, which is in the center of the house. I threw the kid in it and laid down on top of him. The storm roared. Jeff stood under the door frame.

Quinten wailed, “Mom, I don’t want to die!”. I’m still not sure if it was the storm he found life-threatening or the weight of his mother laying on top of him in a very small bath tub. Then, like a train moving away down the tracks, the roaring faded off to the east and was gone.

2015-05-25 18.53.22 Photo credit to my neighbor, Laura Gordon, who took this photo of the tornado as it moved away from our house

The oak tree was standing, though sorely wounded with giant branches near its heart broken away. The house was standing. The porches were gone. The roof was gone. The mesquite thicket we had lived in for ten years was flattened. Life was different. Tornadoes do that.

Our lives could have ended the day of the tornado, or could have taken a drastic turn for the worse. Thanks to our sturdy little hated and loved and re-made house, we were safe. Thanks to a wonderful insurance agency and our dear friend, Martin Saldivar and his SK Construction company, our house evolved from the drab cabin in the woods to a Coastal Plains beauty, full of character and Southern charm.

The oak re-grew it’s branches and still stands tall and shady. The thicket is gone and not missed. Wildflowers grow in its place and the horses graze in front of the house now.

Martin devised an ingenious way to replace the porches and roof with a gorgeous standing-seam metal roof that secured the house to the earth more firmly than any site-built home. Two years later, when Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast, our house not only stood strong against hurricane force winds as the eye of the storm came within twenty miles of us before turning back on its tracks then slowly northward to inundate Houston, it was the refuge for our neighbors as well, who took shelter with us for the duration. It shuddered against the winds occasionally when a particularly hard gust would hit, but it sort of felt like the house was laughing and playing with the wind. This house was going nowhere.

Thanks to Martin’s ingenuity and skill, this house cannot and will now never leave this farm, and I’m okay with that.

Perhaps Graham Nash did have it right…

Our house is a very, very, very fine house

Musings and Misadventures

Two Sides of a River

Some power is collected like a squirrel gathering nuts, some power is as innate as the color of your eyes.

Oil prices define most Texans in some way or another. At $65 a barrel a dear old friend of mine went to the oilfield. By the time it hit $85 a barrel he was running a company and tapping friends for talent. One day he sent a private plane for me, trying to insert people he trusted around him as oil rocketed to a $115 peak.
We never did make that deal work, but it was a memorable trip and an experience I think back on often when I think of the Mexican border or of natural leadership.

The first morning of that trip, he and I sat in the pickup outside a little West Texas cafe reminiscing about old times while we waited in the pitch blackness for the kitchen to open for breakfast. It was still dark by the time we had fueled up on coffee and headed over to what was sufficing as an equipment yard for a rapidly growing frac tank company- a strip of cleared pasture surrounded by greasewood with a little tin shed in the corner behind a collection of typical oilfield detritus-pipe racks, big hunks of metal I couldn’t even identify in the dark, and a random flattened Lone Star beer can kicked across the gravel.

In the shed, a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling revealed about ten young men. All Hispanic. All bright-eyed and clean-cut. I immediately liked every single one of them. They were the best of what the blended cultures of the Texas-Chihuahua border breeds. Spanish commitment to God, honor and duty paired with American industrial ingenuity.

The outsider and the only woman in the room, I hunkered down into the collar of my denim jacket in the darkest corner and tried to study the situation without influencing it as they worked out the logistics of delivering frac tanks across West Texas and New Mexico for the day. My friend was a naval officer. Not only born to command but trained to command. I had worked for him, drank entirely too much wine with him, known him at his best and at his worst and sort of took for granted his ability to own the command in a room, but as I sat in the dark listening, I realized there was another dynamic force in the room.

There was really nothing in his physical appearance that set this man apart from the rest. Perhaps his dress spoke a little more strongly of Mexico; the cut of his boots, the embroidery on his belt, but nothing overtly set his appearance apart. He stood at the right of the circle of men and a step outside the group, ever so slightly aloof. He spoke very little, yet every eye went to him for approval when a decision was reached. I couldn’t stop watching him. There was real, innate, leadership in this man.

That morning was nearly a decade ago and I’ve since learned that man’s story and realized he and I each looked across that tin shack and saw the other for exactly what we were.

When I was a young girl, living in the shadows of Santiago Peak in the Big Bend of Texas, Mexican drug cartels were just discovering how lucrative and powerful drug trade could be. A three hundred mile stretch of the Texas border had come under the influence of a particularly ingenious and crafty drug lord whose business acumen gave pause to even the powerful Medallin cartel as far away as Columbia. I knew who he was. I rushed past the gas station in town where much of his trade flowed through. Hell, I knew pretty much where he lived on the southern banks of the Rio Grande because it just wasn’t all that far from my house. Most of all, I remember the day he died in a shoot-out with a joint task force of US and Mexican law enforcement because a friend working for the border patrol stopped by our ranch after the raid to tell us about it.

In the 1980s, as the drug trade heated up along the Rio Grande, it was common for families involved to send their children to live at least a hundred miles north of the border in the safety of small Texas towns. The man that so impressed me that cold, dark morning in a little tin shack was one of those children. His father was the second in command of the most powerful drug cartel in northern Mexico when he and I were teenagers on opposite sides of that muddy stretch of water that separated our nations.

As oil prices ebbed and flowed since that morning, his intelligence and natural command have stood him well and he has helped guide several start-up service companies to success with the innate ability to command I saw that morning. I’m not sure if he even graduated high school. He was simply born to be a leader of men. Although his father was an outlaw, he understood respect, honor and dignity and conveyed those traits to his son. His son used them to lead countless Mexican families to financial success in the Texas oilfields. Some power is gathered, some power is born…

He and I have a strong albeit remote, relationship. We’ve probably never shared three hundred words, but we have kept tabs on each other through intermediaries over the years, occasionally sending salutations to each other. He once called me some clever phrase that I can’t quite remember, but the gist was I was his sister from the other side of the Rio Grande and we both had brown river water for blood in our veins.

 

Musings and Misadventures

Gifts of Prose

A landed caballero and hacendado of colonial Chihuahua accompanied by his vaquero retainers riding the wild Llano Estacado of northern Tejas, a land that was once of their fathers but now was as unfamiliar to them as the Texans who through the force of arms, fate, and the iron will of their Protestant God, inhabited it.
They crossed this savage land returning from Santa Fe, where they had delivered a herd of cattle.
They rode, carrying the heavy golden proceeds of the sale of the longhorned cattle, colored like the calico of the skirts of the senoritas at the time of their quinceaneras, riding horses of pure blood in proud splendor in spite of secretly fearing the Commanche, the true lords of the llano, as well as the Texans, from whom they had stolen and then sold the cattle their lucre represented. They rode with the uneasy trepidation of one who knows he is not in his own country. The feeling, that of an unwelcome visitor returning, after many years, to the place of his birth, a place that had been lost in battle; a battle in a war that had also been lost.

-Anonymous Son of Texas-

Musings and Misadventures

Texas’ Daughter

Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, but Mexican Texas remained wild and uninhabited and few were willing to face both the natural dangers and those posed by the outlaws and native tribes who did inhabit the region. The General Colonization Law was enacted in 1824 by the Mexican government enabling heads of households to obtain lands in Texas. By that time Stephen F. Austin had already obtained a land grant and brought three hundred families to Texas as the first Texas empresario. These families are commonly referred to in Texas as The Old Three Hundred.

Guadalupe River
Guadalupe River crossing about three miles upstream of the site of the Battle of Gonzales

I am Old Three Hundred. I am a direct descendant on my mother’s side of John Borden. He and his brother, Gail, came to Texas with Austin and in 1835 established the Telegraph and Texas Register, one of the first printing presses in Texas. On my father’s side, I am a direct descendant of William Becknell, who is credited with forging the Santa Fe Trail. Captain Becknell heard of the trouble in Texas and having ties to Texians, he came south over the Red River as fast as his horse could travel. He was trying to join the Texan forces but was just behind them as they fled toward the Texas coast, finally joining them in the aftermath of the battle of San Felipe. He was asked by General Sam Houston to guard the captive General Santa Anna and his subordinates as Houston feared his own men, in their rage over the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad, would kill them before a treaty could be signed.

Many of my friends and neighbors are also Old Three Hundred descendants. It’s rather awe-inspiring to think that our families have been loving and building Texas together for two hundred years. Living half-way between what was once known as San Antonio de Bexar and the Dewitt colony settlement of Gonzales, the tangible tracks of our ancestors are everywhere; from the names of roads to the ruins of a cabin. Sometimes when I stand and look over a horse’s back at the horizon, I think about those early Texans and their lives and my imagination takes hold. Today, I was thinking of spring and the Runaway Scrape and this thought about the lasting power of Texas women came to my mind.

She stood on the porch

Empty rifle in her hand

Listening quietly for a soft hoof beat stirring in the sand

A feathered arrow could steal her breath

It wasn’t that she feared it, she just lived every day with Death

No threat of Comanches, wolves or hunger

Could force her to resign the beauty of a storm full of thunder

 

Oh Eliza, you lived your time on the edge of the bluff, on the edge of the river, at the edge of life

No moment certain, no tomorrow sure

No greater calling than a daughter, a mother and a wife

 

South of the Arkansas, South of the Red

Clear to the Rio Bravo, her horizons led

A brother dead on the riverbank in Bexar

Another fled from the Bahia nightmare

 

Oh Eliza, you lived your time on the edge of the bluff, on the edge of a river, at the edge of life

No moment certain, no tomorrow sure

No greater calling than a daughter, a mother and a wife

 

Catkins dance through the burning embers

“Leave de Cos no standing timbers”

“Oh Bill, my boys are hot with blood-lust.

Guard those prisoners well or all we’ll have is dust.”

 

Oh Eliza, you lived your time  on the edge of the bluff, at the edge of a river, at the edge of life

No moment certain, no tomorrow sure

No greater calling than a daughter, a mother and a wife

 

Blood on the wagon floor, a daughter borne

Pretty little Rose without a thorn

In the corner of the graveyard where the catkins play

Sags a crooked stone from another day

 

Oh Eliza, you lived your time on the edge of the bluff, on the edge of a river, at the edge of life

No moment certain, no tomorrow sure

No greater calling than a daughter, a mother and a wife

 

 

Musings and Misadventures

“The Scarlet Letter” or “The Shamed Catahoula

Ruth Ann Mero never leaves the backyard without invitation, in spite of the fact she jumps the back gate with alacrity and ease. Or at least she thinks we think that. We do occasionally come home to find that she has sojourned abroad, but the instant she hears tires on the drive she beats a hasty retreat to the back gate, jumps in, rushes around the house to meet us at the front gate; a complete picture of innocence. We chuckle. Her tail wags.
Today we came home to find IMG_0885Miss Ruth on the front porch (our back yard decidedly does not encompass the front porch) with a cat food bag stuck over her head. She began to convulse in horror when she heard our return, eventually flinging off the evidence of her gluttony and fleeing post haste to the back gate and trying to compose her best innocent face as she rounded the corner to meet us at the front gate, where her pretense of innocence was greeted by disapproving looks. She is currently self-punishing by forgoing her comfy bed and laying at my feet on the cold, hard floor begging forgiveness. Sadly, I did not obtain videographic documentation of her misdeeds-because it was so freakin hilarious all I could do was watch and laugh and pray she wouldn’t fling herself into the pool thus requiring a frigid rescue.

Sent from my iPhone

Backroads · Musings and Misadventures

Crows, Cows and Horsehair

My brother made a profound remark to me recently. He is the head farrier for an international Thoroughbred stud and racing stable based in Ireland. Farriery has led his life around the globe, while it has allowed me to remain firmly planted in rural Texas. On a holiday trip home he said “I hate shoeing horses, but I love being a horse shoer.” I knew immediately what he meant.
6176689248_IMG_0040

I have no love for stinking, muddy feet, tugging against a bored creature ten times my size or hard physical labor in oppressive South Texas summer heat. But there is a moment in every day that I stand and press my face into a horse’s shoulder, close my eyes and breathe in their dusty horse smell and listen to the sounds around me. A horse snorting the dirt out of it’s nose, a cow calling back an errant calf and always somewhere in the distance the conversations of crows. I think the soundtrack of my life is a soft “caw, caw” on the humming of the wind. It plays in the background every day and goes mostly unnoticed except for a few moments when I bother to be quiet and listen.

I never take money from someone I don’t like. I never take orders from anyone. I work on days of my choosing and arrive at the time of my preference. A rafter of wild turkeys lazily crossing a gravel road is about as close as I come to sitting in traffic. And every day I breathe in horsehair and listen to the music of cows and crows. I hate shoeing horses, but I love being a horse shoer.