The power of a word. Whenever I hear or see the words "High plains,” I get a thrill. It goes up my back and fans out over my brain. In my younger days I lived in the great plains. My marriage began there, and I got two wonderful children there. We watched hailstorms approach across the miles, then popped popcorn and sat in front of the screen door to watch the snow white hailstones bounce off the short curly Grama grass. We lived in Clovis, New Mexico, Greeley, Colorado, and Yuma, Colorado. Where we were was often so flat that we were only limited in our vision by the curvature of the earth. We were like sailors on a sea of grass. The air of the High Plains is indescribably delicious. Even when it is hot by the thermometer, a slight breeze will cool your skin. Stepping back into shade makes sense there, as it drops the temperature twenty degrees. Of course there is often more than a light breeze, and we learned to jam our felt hats on tight, even using stampede strings at times. Saddling a horse was sometimes a challenge, as the wind blew the blankets off before you could swing the saddle into place. In September, when central Texas is still soaking in heat and humidity, the High Plains begins to feel the first sweeps of cool Fall air, and the dry grass crackles under your boots. Cottonwood trees begin to turn gold to match the sunflowers growing up in deep bar ditches or bar-pits as some call the roadside ditches. Combines wheeling across a tawny field so enormous that the tractors seem to disappear before they turn around and come back harvest tons of golden grain. everything seems brighter, even cleaner in the High Plains. And sometimes just knowing that the mountains that you can't see are only a few hours drive away is comforting. I guess, though The finest feature of the otherwise featureless appearing great plains is the great people. There, miles upon miles from anywhere the people know that all they have is each other. There is a kinship and a gentle fondness for each other that even transcends differences in politics and religion.
I was watching a riding lesson, a mixed Class of adults and children. The horses were all well known to me. The riders skill levels varied from advanced beginner to just beyond scared stiff. Fascinated, I watched one particular horse whom I knew could be a fire breathing cow pony. Under his timid rider he was plodding along like a plow horse, head down, and quiet. Not every horse has this trait, or at least not all show it. Those who do have it seem to read their rider and gauge their own behavior accordingly. How does this come to pass? The truth is that no one really knows. The famous British novelist Dick Francis claimed it was telepathy. Some say it is the horse’s highly developed sense of smell – they smell fear, for instance. Of course some of it is explained by the horses mama and papa, and I am betting that it has a lot to do with how the horsey brain operates with experiences, memories, and innate herd behaviors. In addition to all these things, I can't help thinking that the rider's seat bones transmit a lot of information through the saddle to the horse's back muscles. Changes in balance, tension, and weight are definitely part of the silent language of the horse.
If Ol’ Rimrock has the right upbringing and genetics, he can sort out a rider who is fearful or uncertain and slow down to babysitter mode. Then, when a rider sits the saddle with confidence, giving clear consistent signals, with his body in balance, he can "get down and get funky.”
Doing the dishes. That that's a subject that I don't believe I've ever come across in reading all of my cookbooks. Whether it's in a family kitchen, a restaurant or under the stars at a chuckwagon, it's a pretty important part of the process of getting people fed. To me it's a combination of service to others, and a form of meditation, and a royal pain in the tookus. It keeps me from getting to the barn to ride during the cool part of the day, or it ends near midnight with me "floorizontal” on the kitchen linoleum. But the part about knowing that you're food will be healthy, served on clean plates and cooked with sanitary utensils, now that gives me a warm fuzzy deep inside my little black chuckwagon cook’s heart! Some things get washed in warm soapy water, and rinsed with clean hot well water. That's like a balm to stiff arthritic knuckles! Cast-iron needs gentle scraping, possibly also in hot water, then a light dressing of oil. We have started using flax oil. Then when everything is dry, the knives get sharpened and everything is put back where, hopefully, I can find it the next day. As I hang the dish towel to dry, I look up at the stars, or out to the pasture and let my mind unreel. Now I can rest, sit on the porch, or on a bedroll, with a cup of Arbuckle's and breathe.
I was watching a television show called Bizzarre foods with Andrew Zimmern a few nights ago. He is a delightful host who finds all kinds of ethnic foods in our of the way places. It reminded me of my youth, reared by depression era, rural background parents who frequently referred to, and occasionally cooked, vittles that are not so popular nowadays. Liver and onions were pretty ordinary, then there was braunswager, scrapple, and head cheese. At times it was a regular organ recital including tripe, sweetbreads, and other meats that would likely spoil the appetite of the fast fried food folk used to milk shakes and chicken nuggets. The old folks would, as they said, use everything but the squeal and the tail when butchering a hog. Now, after being introduced to Menudo, tripas, machitos and mollejas I find that my own diet had diverged quite a bit from the deep fat vat. As a case in point, one of my favorite snacks is mountain oysters. It's an old cowboy favorite at brandings. The process of making steers out of bull calves produces a wonderful trove of hors d'oeuvres. It takes a little work with a sharp knife to peel the light pink mushy stuff out of the tough fibrous coating, but from there it's easy to roll the little jewels in cornmeal and salt and pepper and fry them up, or just put them on a piece of bailing wire and do shish kebab in the propane flame of the branding iron heater. Reminds me of the Canadian cowboy who disappeared from the round up crew. The first night he'd asked what what he was eating. He was OK with the answer – calf fries. The next day when the cook was asked where Frenchy was he shrugged and said he left on a fast horse after he told him it was to be french fries for supper!