Water Feature

While most of the Texas Panhandle and much of the rest of north Texas still is struggling to cope with a severe drought that began in 2010, the Divine Universe has sent our part of the state so much water this spring that our personal and local drought has literally drowned.

Here at the One-Acre Ranch in Fort Bend County, my rain gauge registered an unbelievable 19.25 inches of rain over a recent span of eight thunderstorm-filled days. To put that into perspective, that is more than the average rainfall for Phoenix, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M., combined – for an entire year. It’s been crazy, and difficult to grasp the magnitude of our wet blessing knowing that simultaneously, across the country, California’s collective suffering is increasing, from yet another year of horribly dry weather.

As one might expect, a lot of water from the recent rainstorms here ran off into the Brazos River, which has been swollen for most of the month of April, along with the Colorado River to the west. But a significant amount of water also soaked down into the ground where we needed it most.

Coupled with a cooler-than-usual spring, the result is, among other things, tomato plants chest high, and weeds almost as big. Every tree, bush and plant is on full-tilt grow mode.

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At the Polka Farm in Lavaca County, 90 miles west, we’d faced hotter, drier weather and more prolonged drought than Fort Bend, but that also has changed dramatically. On Sunday I traveled out, ironically to reprogram and activate my little irrigation system. I found that our usually dry stream, affectionately named Lost Bridge Creek, had been raging, and flooded its banks, pushing so many logs downstream that they clogged both ends of our steel-and-concrete bridge. Then the creek roared right over the top of the bridge.

At the other end of the property, the creek stacked more dead logs against the barb wire fence we share with a neighbor. The rushing water’s force snapped each wire. When I inspected the still-running “dry” creek a couple of days later, I found that the 30-foot fence section that had crossed the creek now was relocated and ran parallel to it, with the posts firmly stuck in place amongst the flood debris, and the wires strung tight, as if humans had installed it there.

While it’s wonderful to have the rain, I’m wary, as the destruction from the drought still kind of haunts me. I wish I could afford to put gutters on the farm structures and build a water catchment system of tanks to hold the run-off. Maybe I can’t afford not to.

In the meantime I’ll take what nature gives me and be super grateful for it.

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Posted in Brazos River, Farm, Garden, Nature, Self-reliance

Glory Days

I ventured east along the mighty muddy Brazos River the other morning, hoping to capture images of a few buildings of historical note before those structures crumble.

Booth and Thompsons are two tiny communities tucked into a river bend so isolated that they appear to be suspended in Time. Both are named after the wealthy men who carved them out of the woods in the mid 1800s. Both rose to some prominence before the turn of the next century, only to see their respective populations nearly melt away today.

Freeman Irby Booth established a school in his town in 1912, taking its place alongside his other ventures, including cattle, sugar cane, a general store, hardware store and lumberyard. It was this Booth Public School I came for – a distinctive stucco Mission-style building long-abandoned and standing in decay in a field of weeds. I found it surrounded by barbed wire fencing decorated with numerous No Trespassing signs, and even signs along the tiny country road nearby warning that parking was not permitted. If you want to catch a glimpse of this piece of history, Booth denizens apparently prefer you do so from a moving vehicle.

Another village road a few hundred yards east led me to the Booth Trading Post, although it appeared trades and exchanges have not taken place in some number of years. Grass had begun growing on the store roof, yet the place gave off a comfortable feeling, and I would have liked to sip an iced tea from the porch had it not been so early in the morning and me with other stops to make.

The next one was supposed to be Thompsons, but first I found a former horse ranch whose glory days obviously had come to an end. A very large sign topped with a very large equine statue stood curiously bereft of letters, such that one was left to guess at the identity of the place.

I daydreamed of designing a faux ranch logo and applying it clandestinely upon this landmark signage, while driving the scant few miles to Thompsons, at the end of Richmond’s Thompsons Highway, a.k.a. FM 2759 (for those unaccustomed to Texas, the FM stands for farm-to-market road, which is what most country roads were most often used for back in the day). The photo gallery below includes the Booth School, the trading post, the anonymous horse ranch sign, and what once was the Thompsons General Mercantile – now abandoned but in pretty good repair. Just a short trip back to another era; in 15 minutes I was back in 2015.

Meanwhile, the height of the Texas bluebonnet season is nearly upon us and, while bluebonnets are rare here in Fort Bend County, you can travel 90 miles west to Lavaca County and view wildflowers such as most humans have only dreamed of. The last gallery shot is from the Polka Farm hayfield, taken just two days ago.

Happy Trails.

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Posted in Country Life, Farm, Photography, Texas

The Awakening

The clammy “cold” of what passes for winter here nonetheless gave us a little taste of cabin fever, as it rained and remained below 50 degrees for much of the first part of March, including most of the kids’ “spring” break.

Yet the heavy rain was just the blessing our portion of this drought-battered state needed to recharge the groundwater and bring the reservoir levels up. The Polka Farm rain gauge was overflowing at 6 inches when we showed up last week, normally dry Lost Bridge Creek was flowing, and our seasonal pond has filled. The peach trees are in bloom and new bluebonnet plants have sprouted around the back yard.

At home I managed to carve enough time away from puppy potty training to plant some fine tomatoes and watch as the figs and the persimmon tree sprout anew. Out back, the Brazos River rose from 9 to about 35 feet, swollen from half a state’s worth of rain, yet remained within its banks, behaving itself except to drag a neighbor’s boat under water because he left it afloat with too little rope.

With luck the warming weather will hold, although the pecan trees have yet to show leaves, which the old men over at the feed store say is the surest sign that winter truly has passed.

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Posted in Brazos River, Farm, Garden, Nature

Dog Days of Winter

We drove about two hours north of Houston on Valentine’s Day, out into the Davey Crockett National Forest above tiny Groveton, Texas, where Jody Friday runs her LouKat Catahoulas kennel.

boojumpWe came back with Boudin (a.k.a. little Boo), now an 11-week-old female Catahoula pup, with what is known as blue leopard markings and tan trim, one brown eye, the other mostly green with a blue sliver.

Boo is smart, curious and vocal. I have spent the past couple of weeks on training her not to poop or pee in the house. She is making very good progress, but isn’t perfect yet. And at her age, she sometimes needs to be taken outside to do her business twice in the same night. When I say that is a lot of fun for both of us, I have turned on my sarcasm app first.

I’ve had dogs all my life, and provided each with at least some basic training including housebreaking. But when you only attempt a task once every 10 years or so, you sometimes forget the little details. Like the uncanny similarity between a puppy and an outdoor shop vac, for instance.

Yet all in all, little Boo already has incorporated herself well into our pack. I put up a little gallery where you can see her in action, right over here.

Posted in Critters

Summers Past

The winter here has been almost no winter at all; most days so far in February have been in the 60s or 70s. I have my personal strain of tomatoes sprouted and growing under hothouse lights upstairs, and I’d go ahead and move them outside except that, warm days not withstanding, we’re sure to have at least a couple of below-freezing nights yet to come before Spring truly shows up in person.

The seasonal wait has prompted me to remember the warmth of years past. I continue to make a hobby of turning photos into something more like paintings, and when I run out of new photos to work on, I can always go back and scour my hard drive for archived shots such as:

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The top one is a wrecked sailboat my wife and I found on a deserted beach on St. Croix Island a few years ago. We found it pretty incredible that, even on a weekend, so many beautiful St. Croix beaches existed sans people.

The bottom picture is a heavily processed version of a photo I took last summer, when our farm pond briefly contained sufficient water for my wife and youngest daughter to paddle upon in rubber rafts.

All too soon, I am sure, Spring will bounce past, leaving me in the steam heat where I will think fond thoughts of the possibly cool months of December and January.

Onward.

Posted in Art, Photography

The Upcoming Chaos

My family unit and I have been somewhat preoccupied lately, due to the fact that we soon will be adding another member. In the top photo, she is the spotty one front and center, with her mouth open, howling along with her brother behind her. The pups had only recently been weaned when the breeder took these shots. If you look closely, you can see mama dog on the far right. I think the pups are voicing an alternative opinion about this weaning thing.

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I have always been a dog person, having lived with, by my count, a total of 10 dogs so far over the course of my lifetime. But over the past decade, I have also become a Catahoula person. These are Catahoula pups in the photos. Originally used to herd cattle and hunt wild hogs, this breed can be used for tracking or trained to accomplish a wide variety of tasks, including safely babysitting children or other livestock. I have come to believe that the Catahoula just might be the smartest and most versatile dog in the canine world.

These sometimes-spotted and sometimes blue-eyed canines can be traced to semi-domesticated red wolves that became companions of Native Americans in parts of Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas, before Europeans arrived on the scene. Then came the explorer Hernando DeSoto, who introduced so-called “war dogs” from Spain, greyhounds and a now-extinct mastiff called the Alano, in the mid 1500s. Shortly thereafter, so it is written, the indigenous tribes whipped up on DeSoto’s men and took possession of some of his dogs, which interbred with the wolf-dogs. By the 1700s, 175 years or so later, the French began to settle into what’s now Louisiana, and brought their dogs with them – notably the Beauceron – which also did what dogs do and added their genes to the mix.

If you care for more details, a pretty fascinating historical account can be found here. In the end, the Catahoula is a uniquely American dog. They are intelligent but can at times be somewhat stubborn, and tend to want to be the boss of the pack, so early training requires firm patience. I’ll let you know how it goes with this one.

Posted in Country Life, Critters, Farm, Uncategorized

Tweak

So it didn’t take me long before I grew weary of those full-screen slideshows on my homepage. Lets do it this way for awhile, OK? I do think many photos look best displayed as large as possible, though. To that end, I’ll probably add another page just to house a full-page gallery…

Posted in Communications, Writing