Clean-Up On Aisle Four

Yeah, this just happened:

Tree Fall Go Boom
One of two main trunks on this approximately 80-foot-tall, 100-year-old pecan tree creaked and cracked, cracked again and then thundered into the ground literally right in front of me, pretty much filling up my entire back yard.

So yeah, I can get you a deal on some of the finest barbecue smoking wood available anywhere. Just bring a chain saw and your pick-up…

Posted in Be Afraid, Country Life, Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be

Green Grass Of My Childhood

I’m late with this, of course, just as I’m lately late with all my writing. Events happen and you sit down and report on them immediately while the details still stick in your mind, so I was taught, so I thought. But events also happen and the details run together in a multi-dimentional mental patina that flavors the memories and, perhaps, ages them well as with fine wine.

Or could that be a load of toro de caca?

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We flew to Northeast Ohio, my nuclear family and me, to visit Mom, brothers and sister, nieces and nephews and a couple of old friends. We hadn’t been in a long time – long enough that my youngest son and daughter didn’t remember the old Dunn abode or the lakes or the swimming beach.

I had a great time at my brother’s place, more absorbing the vibes and pieces of conversation than actually saying anything profound, just sitting back with a couple of beers and good barbecue, surrounded by siblings and a parade of tiny toddlers I’d never seen before, but with whom I apparently share some DNA, playing Bocce Ball badly but having a blast anyway.

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It was odd, as usual, to haunt the old fishing holes and walk the streets of the old neighborhood and see the last of my wooded childhood haunts turned into backyards for houses busy churning out memories for strangers. But it was great, too, hanging with mama and the others, collating the changes and the samenesses, adding another layer to the patina, reveling in the lush, cool gardens and greenery, where 102 degrees Fahrenheit is nothing more than a bad idea.

Of course I took pictures. Too many, as is my normal. I’ve saved a few in a new gallery over here, if you care to take a peek…

Posted in Family, Kids

Salsa di Pomidoro

About that tomato sauce recipe I alluded to a couple of posts back but never produced. We traveled north on vacation for awhile but, upon our recent return, I found the garden had yielded several big tomatoes despite our absence, and lack of water and the extreme steam heat. It jogged my memory. The recipe is good, and it’s here:

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This recipe requires fresh, ripe tomatoes, and the results are lighter than the more typical Italian past gravy, but very tasty nonetheless. I much prefer using a food mill to remove the skin and seeds from the tomatoes, as it simultaneously pulverizes all the good stuff into a thick, sauce-like consistency. If you don’t have one, you can drop the tomatoes into a large pan of boiling water for a couple of minutes until the skins loosen, them drop them into a sink full of cold water, then drain the water, cut out the cores with a paring knife and squeeze out the seeds at your option.

INGREDIENTS:

– 4 to 5 pounds of fresh, ripe garden tomatoes
– 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia
– 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
– 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

– Cut the tomatoes into quarters and run them through the food mill, or follow the procedure above if you’re processing them by hand
– Pour the resulting tomato mash into a large, heavy pan. Add half of the onion, sliced thin. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool to near room temperature.
– Pour the sauce into a blender (you may have to do this in two or three batches). Blend until smooth.
– Finely chop the remaining half onion. Add the olive oil to a large, heavy pan, heat and then add the onion. Stir and cook until it turns golden yellow. Add the oregano, basil, salt and pepper and stir for another minute or two, then add the blended tomato sauce.
– Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 15 to 25 minutes.

I think this sauce is great over pasta just as it is. It’s also easily converted to pasta gravy, by adding a little cinnamon, allspice and brown sugar.

That’s our program for today, boys and girls. Happy trails!

Posted in Food, Food Preservation, Garden, Vegetables

Respite

So for once the usually dead-on weather-service prognosticators of Brazos River depths were off, and instead of a flooded weekend full of 50-foot-plus concern, the river “only” reached 46 feet. That’s high, but below flood stage, meaning my neighbors three blocks away were able to park their cars in their own driveways, and no one had to break out the canoes.

Two houses down, my friend Jimmy fashioned five trotlines, anchored them to his back fence, attached several large hooks to each line, secured bait shrimp to each hook, and slung them into the swollen river. A few nice, large blue catfish obliged him for his efforts. Free food from the outback.

As for the Brazos, this morning it is obviously dropping rapidly, and soon we’ll see just how many tons of sand and clay it decides to dump upon the newly dumped sand and clay it just left a few days ago before this crazy weather cycle started up again.

In the meantime, it was almost beautiful for a flood.

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Posted in Brazos River

Bill Me Later

I wanted to write about this simple but awesome fresh tomato sauce recipe I’ve been trying to perfect lately, honestly. The last thing I want to write about again is the damn river. I’m sick of dealing with it, you’re sick of reading me bitch about it. Still, it’s as if, say, former Microsoft chief Bill Gates came for an extended visit. Whatever you think of him, Gates is a big deal, and so you’d have to write about him. Then, if he hung around longer than either of you planned and you’d run out of things to show him and you’d already made him your best dinners and he wouldn’t even discuss open-source software and he was becoming an opinionated pain in the ass – you’d still have to write about him because, hey, Bill Gates.

Except, for us here at the One Acre Ranch, it’s like the Brazos has been our house guest. It’s like that old Zen-like song by that old Scottish singer Donovan, almost: First there is a river, then there is no river, then there is.

First There Is A River.

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Old news is that it rained nearly every day in May and eventually the Brazos River out back got angry, my friends, and swelled up and rose to a depth of more than 50 feet when it’s usually more like 11, which brought water right up to the edge of my back garden, and nearly to my neighbor’s back bedroom, at which point your mind starts wandering to a place you’d rather it not go.

Then There Is No River.

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Over the past several days the rains stopped and the river very gradually dropped, until just yesterday it had almost disappeared from the rear edge of our property. In its place were several tons of sand and mud, accompanied by gnats and mosquitoes, but hey, things were drying out and headed in the right direction.

Then Bill showed up.

Not Bill Gates, but almost as bad: Tropical Storm Bill. Yesterday, Bill came ashore probably 70 miles south-southwest of us, packing not all that much wind but a lot of rain. It swirled, as such storms do, sending fat tendrils of thunderstorms up and out from the center, especially on the east side of the storm, what they call the “dirty” side. That was the side we were on, but there was this area between the main storm and the biggest bands, an area that didn’t get as much rain, and hardly any lightening. We were in that calm area, and we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune.

Except that the areas of heaviest gully-washing downpour, yesterday and again today, right now, include mostly the area in east-central Texas drained by the upper Brazos River. Which of course turns into the lower Brazos River. As in, right out back.

Then There Is.

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So this morning I see that the good folks at the National Weather Service’s river prognostication headquarters are predicting that, by Monday, the good old river is going to rise, coincidentally, to precisely the same 50.1-foot depth from which it just began shrinking a few days ago. That depth is about 2 inches less than the all-time deepest modern recorded depth. What are the odds you’d have a 100-year flood twice in the same month? Is that fair?

It’s approximately like walking down the Ark’s gangplank after having successfully survived that Biblical disaster only to have the Lord realize He hadn’t quite snuffed out all the miscreants yet, and so He orders everybody back on board for another Thunder Cruise.

And then you find out Bill and Melinda Gates are on the guest list.

Posted in Be Afraid, Brazos River, Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be

Aftermath

After the flood: Mud.

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Our near-month of torrential cloudbursts, and the subsequent flooding of the Brazos River, came to an end. That river, which some may recall runs up against our property, washed right over a lot of it, rising from a channel depth of about 10 feet to a crest last week of 50.1 feet, just a couple of inches shy of a modern-day record set in 1994 at 50.3 feet.

I felt compelled to commemorate the topping of the 50-foot mark by wading into what used to be the back yard behind our other back yard, and coaxing my wife to take a few photos of the event.

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This is something, I must say, that you kids should not try at home. However, I wasn’t out as far from dry land as the photo may appear, and there was very little current in this area. On the other hand, the river swallowed many thousands of acres of wild animal habitat, and one had to be very careful not to run afoul of snakes, rats and other vermin displaced by the flood.

Out in the center of the river, by contrast, the Brazos was flowing at up to about 85,000 cubic feet of water per second, which is just crazy. About three days before it crested, the waterway looked like this:

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While water came lapping up near my back garden, our back yard proper stayed high and dry. The dead-end portion of our road, however, – less than a mile from the bridge above, and the equivalent of two blocks from our house – began filling with water once the river hit about 48 feet.

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That water gradually backed up toward our place as the river rose to 50 feet, getting close enough that water began filling the ditch at the front of our property, although the road stayed completely dry and passable.

Even the homes pictured above never took on water; their owners just couldn’t drive in or out of their driveways for a few days. And as far as I have been able to tell, no one, even in a couple of trailer parks that bump up very close to the river, took on water in his or her home.

The basketball tournament, however, was canceled.

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All that’s left now is to wait – wait and wait and wait for the huge load of mud, sand and clay to dry. From past experience, I expect this will take several weeks. The river dumped tons of sand at the back of my neighbor’s yard, some of it finding its way to my property. This is good, as far as I’m concerned, because it’ll probably serve as a barrier in floods to come.

But our lawns are going to look very shabby indeed for a long while to come, as it’s not easy to mow through a 6-inch covering of mud – wet or dry. Not to mention the stray tree limbs and timbers and trash left behind. All told, I don’t mind. If I have to wade through muck and haul off stray logs every 20 years or so, it’s a fair trade for being able to live along what ordinarily is a wild and beautiful body of water.

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Posted in Brazos River, Nature

That Old Stevie Ray Vaughan Line

Oh, it’s floodin’ down in Texas,
All of the telephone lines are down
Oh, it’s floodin’ down in Texas,
All of the telephone lines are down.
I been tryin’ to call my baby,
And I can’t hear a single sound.

Since last I reported on happenings within the Texas rainforest, things got more so, only crunchy. As in 10 inches of rain over about six hours Monday night and Tuesday morning, inside a slow-moving and intense lightening storm complete with down-drafts of wind fierce enough that they pulled an electrical transformer off of its wires on a nearby power pole and flung it to the ground, before ripping out a neighbor’s pecan tree and pushing it across the power lines.

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The fire department blocked off traffic, the school district decided to close and a fair percentage of Houston apparently was under water. We got to try out the new propane-powered electric generator, once it became apparent that 100,000 people from here to Houston were without power, and the electric utility did not consider our little neighborhood a particular priority, notwithstanding power lines lying in the road.

The generator works great. Enough to run the freezer, refrigerator, an upstairs window-unit AC and various laptops and phone chargers, with power enough to spare that we had fresh coffee.

The power came back on at about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, but the crew just performed triage – obtaining electricity for the neighborhood but leaving the tree across sagging lines, and the power pole out front leaning precariously.

Meanwhile, out back, the Brazos River has been absorbing the past few weeks’ statewide downpours to the point where the river is expected to crest above 49 feet on Saturday. That might put it inside my neighbor’s back garden, close enough to the house to elicit sober reflection, I am sure, but not so high as to trigger the packing of suitcases and an evacuation. (Hope I didn’t just jinx us).

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The area above recently was a part of my far back yard. I am sorry for the bluebirds. More pictures (and, unfortunately, mosquitoes) as the flooding progresses.

And remember: “Stop, drop and roll” is not a proper response for every sort of emergency.

Posted in Brazos River, Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be, Texas