As I drive south and east on Texas state highway 36, through Washington and Austin counties, I’m treated to that annual phenomenon of Texas putting on her Easter dress.
The bodacious bluebonnets compete with the intrepid Indian paintbrush along the roadside and in the uncultivated fields
Wisteria and dogwoods peek out from the pines in the sandy country. Fresh lime green leaves are popping out on oaks, elms, and hickory.
The freshly turned earth if the Brazos bottom carries the wonderful deep aroma of fertility, as the corn and cotton are bedded down for yet one more try at profitable production.
The ballpark is now populated with youngsters doing batting practice, as our neighbor works his roping horses out tracking calves on his now not so muddy arena.
Best of all the shiny deep green of grass that looks like it belongs in and Easter basket veritably squirts up out of the moist ground! Happy cows and horses! Central Texas springs back to life, and the birds sing praises to spring. Time to hit the road and enjoy one of the most delightful seasons of central Texas !
I am starting to make plans for trail rides on our place this spring. We have lots to do. The winter storms and floods made a few of our trails impassable. Some are still under water. Then, there is the brush problem, as branches and vines have grown across trails and will need Sallie’s talents with her patient ‘ol pony and her loppers.
A few gates need to be rehung, lest they remind riders of the Yorkshire gates described in “All Creatures Great and Small.” Of course the main variable over which we have no control is the weather.
Trail riding in Texas is a big deal. Some are highly organized, like the Saltgrass. Most are far less so, and consist of groups of friends, their horses—and beer. Usually things go well, if you consider going well a minimum of falling off horses, refusals to cross streams, and horses sticking feet in gopher holes.
The reward at the end of the ride is usually barbecue, and if your group enlists one of the many “low and slow” cooks, really good and juicy barbecue. Like Carl says, every country road crossing has a barbecue pit, and not just a few churches also have permanent pits. But, I digress!
I remember my dad telling about a trail ride he hosted in Welborn ( Webern). It was a bunch of A&M profs, including Nat Keefer, and B F Yates among others. It was probably in the late sixties. They were all saddling up at the barn. Dad was just “viztin’“ with B.F., and while Yates was tightening his cinch his stirrup sweat leather was flipped up over the saddle. Not knowing Yates very well, dad asked if he had been riding long. At first BF didn’t answer, then when he flipped the stirrup leather down, dad read the inscription carved into the leather, “Champion Calf Roper 1956”!
Sitting on the porch watching the Mexican cliff swallows zoom in and out as they refurnish their mud nest in the southwest corner of the porch roof, we realized that in a day or two we will pass through the Vernal Equinox.
The old Celtic grandfathers in Northwest Europe called it Ishtar. That sounds a lot like Easter doesn’t it? So, we get that it’s a time of rebirth. It’s a time of rebirth of spiritual strength. It’s also a time of planting, and rebirth of green crops. Birds and cattle are starting the new cycle of nesting and calving to produce a new crop of younguns.
It’s kinda cool and mystical for those of us who mostly live outdoors that this equinox comes with a full moon. Now we get longer days and even a night light! These warmer days will get the grass growing and our horses will start to shed winter hair and fatten up again.
Of course my mind goes to having trail rides. The Spanish plums and wildflowers are already perfuming the soft spring air, and bright green leaves are starting to dress up the oaks, ash, and elms. I guess what’s being reborn in a cowboy’s heart is all the natural world around him. Winter is over and we can get back to the business of living outdoors, sitting on a good horse at sunset. “Thanks, Boss!”
One piece of equipment that every rancher or cowboy inevitably carries and cherishes is his or her dependable pocket knife. Regardless of regional differences such as hat shape, size, color, boot height, or heel design; there will be a knife somewhere on his person.
It may fold up and actually be in a pocket as the name implies, or it may reside in a small sheath attached to a belt, and may even resemble a small hunting blade. Be that as it may, it will be a utilitarian device that is employed for everything from cutting hay string to cleaning fingernails.
The handle may be bone, diamond wood, space age materials, deer horn or almost any material suitable. The blade is usually steel, but may be from a broken hoof rasp, ball bearing steel, stainless, or good German knife steel. Whole conversations may center around which hold an edge better. Most fastidious ranchers pride themselves on keeping their blade sharp enough to shave the hair on their arm. While the rest of us sharpen in on a brick, corral pipe, or tractor bale fork when we discover we can’t cut a hay net off a round bale, or relieve a young bull of its family jewels as it fights to retain them.
Once, when hog hunting with my friend Angel (an-HELL) he asked to borrow my knife to butcher the pig as he said his own had become dull. Upon attempting to cut the tough hide, with no success, he simply used mine as a sharpening steel for his and went back to work on the carcass.
Two cowboys sparking up a conversation might compare pocket knives, and sharpness almost as if it were a sign of a man’s character. Which reminds me of the story about the hiring of a barn manager for the Cal Poly Horse program. An older horseman had been assigned the position of horse program director and was told to interview candidates for barn manager. After hiring a really good one the dean asked how he’d accomplished the feat. The man said that it was pretty simple. He planted a piece of baling wire in the barn hall, and waited to see if the candidate saw it and picked it up. Then he asked if they had a pocket knife, and if they did he asked to see it. Those who didn’t carry one were instantly eliminated. The rest were sorted as to who had the sharpest blade!