“The first sunny day after a rain may be the first day of the next drought ” – Jack Dunn of Circle Dot Ranch, Agua Dulce, Texas
I see now why Warren Hilliard decided to convert the place we now call home into a ranch in 1936. In those days much of our country was farmland, predominantly upland cotton, with some corn and milo maize thrown in the rotation. Hilliard was at that time the county judge, but also a cotton farmer, or overseer landowner. In the spring of ‘36 another citizen asked him “Warren, what are you putting out?” Curious to know if he planned to put out cotton or corn. Hilliard replied “I am putting out cropland into grazing land!”
This week we saw the first flood of 2017. Last year we counted nine floods. Much of this ranch is alluvial bottom land bordered by two creeks. So, when the county gets over four inches of rain on saturated soil, the creeks are inclined to “come out,” and half our land is underwater. If we had it laid open by plowing for crops, much of our soil would be on its way to the gulf of Mexico each spring.
Cattle seem to have a sixth sense about flooding, and in forty years we’ve never lost a single head from floods. Right now they’re up on top of the hill munching round bales.
The good news is that the rains make the grass grow, as well as weeds and brush and wildflowers. This means that our grazing and browsing Corriente cattle will get fat and make a lot of babies. Dad always said “basically as ranchers, we’re grass farmers.” This year already promises a bumper crop.
There are no leaves on the trees. The blackbirds are in flocks of thousands. The stock tank out front has a flotilla of ducks. Horses and cows are standing with backs to the wind, chewing. The sky is gray, and the wind whips around the corner of the house with hat snatching ferocity. The short days are filled with feeding animals, putting out hay, repairing broken water pipes, unstopping clogged drains, and putting on and taking off layers of winter clothing. So this is what we were praying for in September when it seemed that Summer would never end? Someone commented the other day that Texas weather is bipolar. We have gone from temperatures in the teens to well into the 80’s and back down to the teens again in less than a week. I wonder sometimes how nature deals with it? We have fireplaces, heaters, air-conditioners, walls and roofs. The trees, the birds, the critters, they only have bark, hair and feathers. But they seem to survive. This is a time for indoor activities, so my wife is re-organizing the house. I can’t find anything anymore. We read a lot, and take naps. Then when the sun comes out, and the wind dies down, we saddle a couple of horses and go check the cows. All in all, it’s a good life, even in the winter.
The first of every year we try to cook something special, something traditional, and something that takes all day. This year it was Pozole (Poe–soul–ee). We learned to make it in New Mexico. It’s derived from an ancient native American dish. Pozole is the Mexican-Spanish word for what in the south we call hominy. This is essentially corn kernels, with the outer skin boiled off in an alkaline solution. It looks a little like garbanzos. The rest of the dish is pork and chili. The pork is cut up into small bite-size cubes and boiled after browning in oil and then the pozole is added to the pot with some water to cover. The final addition is the chili. Now, I have a mixed family. By that I mean we have devoted chili heads, who as Bill says, have cauterized their taste buds. Then, we have civilians who have zero tolerance for spiciness. Unfortunately I was put in command of adding the chili. I strove for that rich red color in the sauce, with the aroma you smell when you drive by your favorite Mexican restaurant. It was inedibly hot! I mean, Sallie thought it was great, but we couldn’t serve it to the family. So I made a second pot. For this batch I used store-bought chili powder, guaranteed mild (why bother-right?) and I toned it down. The comment I heard was, “good, but spicy Grandpa! “
Charlie Araujo, who worked with and rode the famous cutting horse, Poco Tivio, once said “Yeah, he’s a whale of a cutting horse, but about once a year he’ll develop an attitude. Then you have to take him out behind the haystacks! And you’d better take a lunch because you’re gonna be there a while!” I’ve concluded that the human brain involved anger as a mechanism for dealing with overwhelmingly scary situations. I guess the problem is that some of us whelm more easily than others. With horses, you’re dealing with a big powerful quick-reacting animal. You can’t afford for him to be the leader. So you create the illusion that you are his commanding officer. Sometimes this requires the use of controlled anger. Maybe only once a year, but when the time comes, I follow John Lyons’ advice, and, just like a horse would do, I allow myself three seconds to make him think I’m gonna kill him. Then I make myself quit and immediately go back to caressing and educating. A friend was in the barn one day a long time ago, when, while working with a raunchy colt, the colt attempted to kick me. I reflexively reared back and threatened to kick back at him. He of course, jumped, I missed, slipped, and landed on my back under him. My friend said, “I guess you showed him ,huh?”