Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Year with No Deer

Well, we spent from Thursday through Sunday of last week trying very hard to put some venison in the freezer.  That was after John had been to the deer lease in Mason at least three times, and had hunted at the farm as well.  (I even took a gun instead of a camera and sat in the lower  blind one afternoon.)  All our efforts were futile.  Unfortunately, 2014 will be known as “The Year with No Deer.”  John said it is the first time in over thirty years that he has failed to take a deer, and he has hunted harder than usual this year.  Apparently the rains came at just the right time to give the deer plenty of forage, and an outstanding acorn crop.  We had photos of them on the game camera, but usually in the wee small hours of the morning.  They just didn’t show up at the feeders during the day.

Another night visitor caught on “candid camera” was this beautiful gray fox. 

Feral hogs also put in game camera appearances.  

We surprised a group of them on Friday morning while we were out for a walk, but they disappeared before we could get photos.  The dogs were the first to encounter the pigs, who were rooting beneath the huge post oak known as "Bob's Tree."  The dogs were clearly puzzled by these strange animals….not cows, not sheep, not deer or bunnies.  They didn’t even bark.  The hogs trotted away and the dogs went on with their patrol.

We walked the pastures and the rocky ridge along our east side known as “the mountain.”  The trail is faint, but we are guided by rock cairns as well as branches cut to clear the path and piled on either side of the trail.

We found a few tracks, but the big mystery was these clumps of coarse, black hair.  We think they are from one of the feral hogs.  

The hair is most likely left from coyote scat, but coyotes are supposedly too small to bring down a full-grown feral hog.  It is possible a hog died and the coyotes dined on the carcass, leaving their scat strewn along the road and trails.  We'll just have to wonder.

By far the most exciting event of the weekend at the farm was the early-morning appearance of a flock of turkeys on Sunday.  John was in the deer blind and I was doing chores when Rue’s low growl alerted me.  She and Kota were looking out the bedroom door, ears pricked expectantly.  I looked out and in the golden light of early morning, I saw turkeys…lots of turkeys…streaming across the pasture below the house.

I told the dogs to “leave it” and be quiet, then I ran for the camera.  Turkeys were not only streaming across the pasture, they were peck-peck-pecking all around the yard, 

occasionally casting suspicious glances in the direction of the house.

Shooting photos through the windows since I didn't dare to open a door, I watched them work their way across the yard and along the fence on the west side.  With the grasses just about “turkey-high” they were almost invisible.

The flock then focused their efforts on a clump of flame sumac bushes just beyond our yard fence.  This beautiful (if somewhat invasive) plant has magnificent red leaves in the fall, and at this time of year its branches are heavy with berries.  The turkeys were eating the berries that had dropped on the ground, and some even flew up into the tree to feast without having to compete with their sisters.  First there was one...

...and then two...

...and finally three!

I watched them for almost a half-hour as they pecked and squabbled their way from the tree back across the pasture, and then back into the woods as they heard John leave the deer blind and head for the house.

All appeared to be turkey hens.  There were probably several older hens and their numerous progeny, now as large as their mothers.  I counted over forty birds, but there may have been more.  I'm just sorry they had melted away into the trees before John got close enough to see them.  We hope they will make an appearance the next time we visit, and again in April as the breeding season gets underway.  A turkey tryst with forty hens should be something to behold!

Friday, January 16, 2015


The death of a friend, especially someone one’s own age, brings into sharp focus the inescapable fact of our own mortality.  It also awakens the need to reconnect, to remember the way we were, full of life and joy and promise.  

This week we lost one of our own, a free spirit who touched all of our lives in one way or another.  Many of us grew up together from the time we were in elementary school.  Or, we got acquainted over the years, perhaps under the tutelage of Mrs. Sellers, in Mrs. Mac’s English class, Mr. Raibourn’s algebra, or after school at the Dairy Delight.  All of us shared our growing-up years in one way or another.  We were all part of one extended family known to us as the Class of ’61.

By the time we graduated high school, we occupied different spheres…band, FFA/FHA, football team, basketball teams, pep squad, yearbook staff…but the spheres overlapped.  Bobby Glenn occupied several of those spheres, and touched us all.  Like those classmates who have passed on before him, Nell, Jimmy L, Ronnie G, Marie, Travis, Rex and the others, his death leaves a void in our lives.  Perhaps we didn’t talk often, if at all.  We met at class reunions or ran into each other in the grocery store or at the mall.  When we do meet, it is as if in the interim time stood still.  In spite of the years that have passed, we are always the same.  Our conversations take up where they left off, sometimes years before. 

I think one of my earliest memories of Bobby Glen dates from our sixth or seventh grade year.  Several of us were at Hardy Morgan’s house.  I think it was his birthday.  The boys wore slacks and shirts with collars, and many had those funny names that characterized our generation, Jimmy Joe, Jimmy Don, Harold Wayne, Bobby Glenn.  The girls all wore dresses and probably “bobby sox” with penny-loafer shoes.  

After dinner we were seated in a circle in the living room playing “spin the bottle.”  (Yes, we really did that.)  Someone spun the bottle (of course it was a Coke bottle), and Bobby Glenn and I were paired up to walk around the house in the dark.  As we left, I’m sure there were snickers and whispers…”Will he kiss her!?”  As we circled the house, we discussed whether or not we would share “the kiss!”  

At the time both of us wore braces, a mouthful of bands, wires and rubber bands guaranteed to hurt like hell when they were tightened and to trap bits of food on all other occasions.  We decided that kissing under the circumstances was very risky business.  After all, if we “locked braces,” we would have to return to the party in a state much worse than just a lip lock!  By the time we got back to the group, we were in stitches laughing about that possibility, and left everyone wondering what was so funny.

There are many other memories of Bobby Glenn.  All our classmates have them.  This photo, which Ronny Mc shared a couple of years ago, best encompasses my memories.  For me, the boy in the old photo is the quintessential Bobby Glenn, always full of fun and the life of the party.

Rest in peace my friend.  I’m so glad you were blessed with a loving family and enjoyed another sixty years of life and love and laughter.  You live on in our collective memory as alive as you have ever been.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Predictors and Prognosticators

Well, it is now January 13.  We are almost half-way through the month, and skies have for the most part been cloudy and the weather disagreeable to say the least.  For those folks who hail from the Frozen North…or even the Upper Midwest…temperatures in the 30s and 40s may seem balmy, but not to us Texans.  Native or otherwise, we like our winter days to be sunny and in the 60s!  Not too much to ask, one would think, but the norm has been otherwise.

The Weather Guessers had predicted either a “warm and wet” or a “cold and wet” winter.  So far it’s been on the cold side, but without appreciable rain.  I don’t know who will be right about this winter’s weather, if anyone.

Maybe we should be looking somewhere else for weather predictions.  While we were in South Dakota this summer and fall, we encountered another prognosticator.  In the fall, we began seeing these strange caterpillars.

I started asking around and found that all the locals are familiar with them.  They are called “woolly bear caterpillars,” or sometimes “woolly worms,” and are the larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).  The insect hatches in the fall and overwinters in the caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid for several months.  In the spring, it thaws out to pupate and turn into an adult moth that is dull yellow to orange with a fuzzy thorax and tiny black spots on its wings.  

According to folklore, the relative amounts of black and coppery-brown bristles on the woolly bear indicate the severity of the coming winter.  Since we found a number of these critters, with differing patterns of black and brown bristles, we couldn’t tell what they were predicting.  

This fellow seems to think it will be a severe winter, 

While his friends are predicting milder temperatures.

I just hope that they settle on “warm and wet” and that these cold, gray days end soon!

Friday, January 9, 2015

An Almost Unhappy New Year

After returning from Lake Jackson, we celebrated Christmas with My son, Brian, and his family.  In addition to exchanging gifts, we also “exchanged” our grand-dog, Louie, who was with us for a week. 

Louie accompanied us and the Bagley Pack to the farm where we prepared to ring in the new year with my cousins, Kathy and Eric and my brother, Allan, and his family.  

Shortly after arriving at the farm, John and I made a New Year’s Eve trip to Meridian to sell a load of cedar posts that Allan had cut.  The post yard is an interesting place to visit.  Cedar posts in all sizes are everywhere.  

You drive in with your load of posts, and they are unloaded, measured and stacked in the appropriate bins, then resold to whoever needs them.  

One guy was unloading, sizing and stacking our posts…one by one by one (a most tedious process!).  Another cedar cutter, whose load of posts was also being unloaded, was climbing a nearby pecan tree to fill his pockets with the tasty nuts.  His dog, who looked a lot like our Louie, only skinnier, supervised.

After collecting the $249 for our posts, we stopped by the Red Caboose Winery to pick up a bottle of their newest vintage port, Some of That Red.  (Actually, Red Caboose calls it a "port-style dessert wine."  The original port wine is a fortified wine produced exclusively in northern Portugal.  Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only a product of Portugal may be labeled as port.  In the US, however, wines labelled "port" may come from anywhere in the world.)

Some of That Red is a blend of different vintages of Tinta Madeira, Touriga, Souzao, Tinta Coa, Tinta Ruiz, and Lenior. It is my understanding that all these varietals are especially suited to the Texas climate, and I believe most, if not all, are grown on premises.  We recently finished a bottle of the 2013 port, and hope this one is as good.  Per Red Caboose’s recommendations, I plan to enjoy mine with some chocolate, and John will have his with a good cigar.  (If you visit either Meridian or Clifton, be sure to stop by Red Caboose and sample the port and some of their other wines.)

A good New Year’s time was had by all.  Even though the weather was cold and drizzly, we had invigorating walks with the dogs and good family time.  

Noah and Rachel, son and daughter of my niece, Erin, were the only kids at the farm this trip.  Noah went walking with us, and looked for bones, fossils and coyote scat while Clover stood watch.  

And played with her cousins.

Rachel was having a good time with her Christmas gifts and playing card games.  

In the meantime, the grownups were sampling hot toddies and preparing to welcome in the New Year.  (However, all of us rang it in a little early, as midnight is well past our bedtime!  It’s a little like declaring happy hour a bit early so dinner doesn’t happen too late.)

Since we weren’t planning to stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square, fireworks happened as soon as it got dark.

The rainy weather continued through New Year's Day, culminating with a spectacular thunder and lightning show on Thursday night.  We were thrilled to wake and find an inch of precipitation in the rain gauge, but I was a little bleary-eyed from being up soothing anxious or barking dogs a good part of the night.  

We had a very unsettling experience on Saturday morning.  John and I went walking with the dogs (our four, Molly and Clover).  It was chilly, but no longer raining and we were having a fine time.  The dogs were looking for bunnies in the brush piles and racing madly through the pasture.

Then, as we approached our north fence line we saw a truck parked some quarter of a mile away at the neighbor's house.  That was unusual, since the people who own the property rarely visit.  We also saw a portable camouflage blind set up within six feet of our fence.  (If you are familiar with hunting etiquette, you know that placing a blind close to a neighbor's property is certainly frowned upon.)

A couple of minutes later, Molly scooted under the fence and entered the neighbor's pasture.  I quickly called her back.  She trotted back along a game trail that crosses the fence line, and started to wriggle under the fence.  She got half-way, then abruptly backed up and crossed back to our pasture a few feet farther along the fence.

I walked over to see what had stopped her progress.  The game trail on the neighbor's side of the fence was covered with corn, and hanging from the lower fence wire directly across the game trail was a thin wire noose you can see in the photo above.  It was a snare set to catch an unwary feral hog that might be lured by the corn.  Thank goodness Molly was moving slowly and not charging under the fence along the game trail.  If she had not sensed the wire in time to back away, she would have been caught and likely severely injured if not killed when the noose tightened around her neck.  

Enraged doesn't come close to describing my reaction, and John was equally upset, but fortunately a bit calmer.  He wisely suggested I take the dogs back to the house while he walked over to talk to the people who had set the snare.  After all, we had no idea if there were other traps set in the area and what other dangers there might be.  

Before leaving, I disabled the noose and took photos of the snare set-up.  

While I was doing so, someone drove across the pasture in a pickup.  He stopped a few yards away and would not get out of the truck to talk.  He then turned around and left.  It's probably a good thing.  

John did go over to talk to the hunters, who when confronted were very apologetic.  John explained (forcefully, but much more tactfully than I would have) that what they were doing was highly inappropriate, if not illegal.  In the first place, they had no control over what animal might be caught in their snare.  If they had caught a feral hog, it would have probably torn up the fence in its struggles to get away.  If a small deer had been caught, they would have broken the law by taking a deer by illegal means.  And, of course they might well have killed an unwary dog.  They removed the snare and said that they would also clean up the corn they had spread as bait.

As it turns out, the hunters were not the landowners but friends of his from the Dallas area who had been told they could go hunting there.  That they were ignorant, uninformed friends  does not excuse their actions, which certainly reflect badly on the landowner who allowed them to hunt there as well as on them.

We were shaken by the experience, as were my brother and his family when we told them.  We try hard to put safety first in everything we do on the place, but it's hard to anticipate what someone else might to.  We just feel very fortunate that there was no real harm done.  John will contact the landowner to make sure he is aware of the actions of his "guests."  And we hope we never see them again.

Fortunately, in spite of "what could have happened," we had a great weekend and look forward to a wonderful 2015.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Very Merry Christmas

November quickly gave way to December and we were busier than ever.  The weekend of December 6-7 found Rue and me at a herding clinic near Florence, Texas.  The weather was disagreeable, but the people and facility were top-notch.  It was a great learning experience.  In fact, you could almost believe Rue (in the foreground) and Wisp were paying close attention to the instructor, Kathy Knox.  (Actually, they were focused on the sheep just outside the picture — sort of like watching Sheep TV.)

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas we also had good visits with two couples we know from our Heavy-Duty Truck group.  Bruce and Lorni, who were spending a month near Dripping Springs, came first.  They brought along dog-friend Zoe who had a great time with the Bagley Pack.

Then a few weeks later Janet and Raymond were able to join us for dinner from their temporary home near Canyon Lake.  It was great to spend time with all four, and we hope to see more RV friends before they all leave Texas.

We made several trips to the farm…still trying to catch up on all the chores that we didn’t do while we were on the road.  One visit, in mid-December, was like an early Christmas for Kota.  In the midst of lots of dog adventures with her packmates and Cousin Molly, Kota found a just-old-enough-not-to-smell deer hide.  It was, however, eminently chewable.

And she wasn’t about to share.  She gnawed away, with the Bagley dogs and Cousin Molly hovering nearby hoping she would put it down.  

Colt and Rue soon grew tired of waiting and went on to other pursuits.  Molly, however, stood close by, tail wagging, salivating in anticipation.  

Soon Molly pointed her nose skyward and howled a pitiful plea.  Kota was unmoved, but I asked John to cut off a small piece of the hide for poor Molly.  She was thrilled and trotted off wagging her stubby tail.  The last I saw of her Prize, she was burying it under a cedar tree.  Apparently just having it was enough.

Soon the holidays were upon us.  We traveled to Lake Jackson, TX, to spend Christmas with John’s mother, Maxine, and her husband, Vic, as well as John’s sister, Judith.  The weather was quite chilly, so we stayed inside most of the time.  We did, however, get out to attend Christmas Eve services at First Presbyterian Church, where John attended as a child.  It was a very special time with family, and we feel so fortunate we were able to be together.