Saturday, April 30, 2016

To Every Thing There Is a Season

"To every thing there is a season - turn, turn, turn…."

So goes the song made famous by The Byrds in 1965.  But that wasn’t the first time those words had resonated.  Pete Seeger wrote the song in the late 1950s, but even he wasn’t the first.  Except for the title, the lyrics are taken verbatim from the King James version of Ecclesiastes Chapters 1-8, attributed to Solomon:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Today, these words are a comfort to me.  Three years ago today it was our time to lose, and to mourn the tragic death of our beautiful Nickie.  She was the source of so much comfort when we mourned our earlier losses…my wonderful mother, Evelyn Jones; our loyal Lucky Dog and our sweet Feathers.  She was also the source of much joy, our constant companion and confidant. The seven years she spent with us were gifts, as was her life.  

Though we will never forget our Nickie, with the turn of the seasons turn we have again found a time to laugh, and to take joy and peace in our other blessings.  Perhaps her purpose under heaven was to serve as a reminder never to take anything or anyone for granted, but to cherish family and friends each day.  When I think of you, Sweet Nickie, may I always remember to share a thank you, a compliment, an “I love you” or a pat on the head whenever I have the chance.  You will always be with me in spirit.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Goodbye to a Friend

The passing of a good friend is never easy to accept.  Today it is with much sadness that we say goodbye to Blue, a Great Dane with a heart as big as his formidable physique and a disposition as sweet as any dog you will meet.  Just a few days ago when we celebrated his fifth birthday, we had no idea he would be taken from us so soon.  His passing this morning, from heart failure brought on by pneumonia, is an unexpected tragedy for his family as well as his many friends.

I first met Blue when he was just a youngster, rescued by my dear friend Carol from neighbors to whom a dog was “just a dog."  Most of the time he was either confined to a crate or left in a small back yard with no shelter, little human contact and no training.  But he was one of the lucky ones.  From that point on his life was all a dog could wish for and more, with a loving home, good dog friends, plenty of exercise and a job he loved as a therapy dog.

Even as a puppy Blue was bigger than a breadbox.  As we watched him grow, the comparisons switched from inanimate to animate objects…big as a horse, gentle as a lamb.

And they were true.  Though a giant among canines, I never saw him roll his lip or show the slightest sign of aggression, or even aggravation, toward a person or another dog.  When LSDs (little snappy dogs) came yipping and nipping around his ankles, he looked at them with bemused tolerance.  When the border collies growled and air-snapped, he just cocked his head, puzzlement in his soft, brown eyes.  He even shared his cherished toys with the other dogs.  But when the coyotes howled in the greenbelt, it was another story.  His deep-chested bark threatened mayhem if they came near.  And, on one recent occasion he engaged a marauding coyote and came away with the scars to prove it.

He was no saint, however.  Even though he was gentle and careful not to step on his smaller friends, his tail could raise welts or clear a coffee table in a heartbeat.  Neither was he above counter surfing when no one was looking.  After all, kitchen counters and tabletops were at nose level for him, and often held tasty treats.  He could see no reason not to enjoy them.

Blue was loved by all who knew him, and he returned their affection.  Children ran and hugged him, squealing with delight.  At the care facility where he visited as a therapy dog, the residents waited eagerly each Wednesday for him to arrive.  At the dog park or on the street, complete strangers approached and asked to pet him or to take his picture.  

Your big paws will be hard to fill, Blue.  Rest in peace, my sweet friend.  You will be missed, but we thank God for the time we had with you.  You were a special gift, and our memories of you will always be cherished. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Turkey Talk

Here at the farm, life’s little dramas can be anywhere.  This afternoon while taking an after-lunch break to read, I heard the sound of gobbling coming from the pasture below the house.  It got nearer…then nearer still.  I slipped to the window, and saw two handsome turkey toms trying to out-strut and out-gobble each other.  

As I watched, they turned and approached each other.  They got closer and closer, each trying to outdo the other.  

Then, off to the side I saw the object of their affections, a solitary hen peck-peck-pecking her way through the grass.  In trying to win her favor, would they come to blows, I wondered?  My dad always told the story of an encounter he witnessed many years before when two groups of turkeys met on the dam of our stock tank.  When they met, he said the turkeys in both groups engaged in a furious skirmish that lasted several minutes.  Then one group withdrew back the way they had come.  It happened in the fall…deer hunting season, not in the spring when turkeys are courting, so Daddy never knew what sparked the animosity.  Perhaps it was a territorial thing.  Nevertheless, I still have hopes of seeing another such encounter.

I was holding my breath and trying to steady the camera as the two toms came closer and closer, tails fanned, heads erect and wings brushing the ground.  Then, just as their breasts appeared to touch, the smaller of the two turned aside, “deflated” and retreated, with the victorious gobbler following in full strut. 


When he had put a little distance between himself and his rival, the loser ventured another strut, but quickly thought better of it and hurried away.

And, as you might expect, while the guys were busy huffing and puffing and competing for her attention, the hen nonchalantly wandered away, unimpressed by it all.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

BBQ and Bluebonnets

El Nino appears to have returned to Texas.  It’s been pouring for most of the day, and our rain gauge has recorded almost 4 inches since yesterday evening.  There has been some flooding in low-lying areas, and more rain is predicted with more flooding to come.  We hope the weather-guessers are wrong, and that damage will be minimal.  Fortunately for us, we are located well above flood-prone areas.

The previous couple of weeks, however, have been beautiful.  We were fortunate to have a visit with John’s sister, Judith.  Then, my cousin, Frances, and her husband, Roy, who call Estes Park home, were in town for a couple of days.  As they have done often, they came to Austin and braved the heat and humidity to run in the annual Capitol 10,000.  (I actually did that race once or twice in the distant past, but haven’t felt the need to repeat the punishment.)

Fortunately, Roy and Frances also badly needed a barbecue and bluebonnet fix.  After a typical Colorado winter, they are still getting snow in Estes Park.  And, while they may be able to get barbecue close to home, their wildflowers aren’t out yet.  

After a lazy start to the day, on Monday we headed for one of the area’s best-known barbecue restaurants, The Salt Lick in nearby Driftwood.   The Roberts family has been serving Texas-style barbecue there for more than 40 years.  They are one of only a few barbecue establishments in the country that cook their meats over an open pit fire rather than in a smoker.  The flavor is unique, and their sauces are our favorites.  

We were disappointed that the original restaurant was being power-washed, and they were serving in the adjacent dining room.  

However, we were certainly not disappointed by the BBQ.  

The pit was smoking, and the place was full…. And soon, so were we.

After lunch we continued west through Johnson City toward Fredericksburg.  The roadside bluebonnets were pretty, but not as spectacular as in some years.  Here, as at our farm outside Hamilton, many of the flowers have been overstoried by grasses that grew more quickly usual because of the wetter-than-normal spring.  

As we drove toward Fredericksburg, in addition to the roadside bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, approaching Wildseed Farms we saw vast fields of spectacular crimson poppies. 

We stopped to admire them, and to have some of Wildseed’s delicious peach ice cream.  The flower farm is family-owned, and has been in business since 1983.  It is supposedly the largest flower farm in the nation.  The business began in Eagle Lake, Texas, but in 1995 relocated to the location on State Highway 290 outside Fredericksburg.  
The facility has roughly 100,000 visitors each year between March and May during the peak of the blooming season.  The farm brings in about $4 million each year, with about $1.5 million coming from their retail facility and the rest from sale of flower seeds.  

Really full, now after enjoying our ice cream, we pressed on, marveling at the number of wineries competing for space on both sides of the road.  (We were told that about 16 new ones have opened in the last five years.)  Not all were open on a Sunday afternoon, but Grape Creek Winery was doing a brisk business. 

We stopped to have a taste of their wines, then more than a little relaxed and happy,
made our way back home.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dog Days and Birds of a Feather

Several weeks ago Rue and I competed in the Texas Herding Association trial, and were thrilled to receive two qualifying runs.  The first weekend in April, I was optimistic, and hoped for similar results at the Texas Hill Country Stock Dog Association Highland Games Trial outside San Antonio.  This trial is special because, I am told, it is the only actual stock dog trial affiliated with one of the several highland games celebrated in Texas.  Also, it is an arena trial, run on sand in an enclosed rodeo arena instead of in an open field.  That makes the sheep jittery, and is a challenge to dogs and handlers as well.

Rue and I stayed with John's and my good friend, Keyes Hudson, and enjoyed catching up on each other's recent adventures.  In his case, they are many.  Last year he walked the Inca Trail with his son, and has another extensive trek in the planning stages.  I can't wait to hear more and see his photos when he returns.  

Alas, there were no qualifying runs were in the cards this trial for Rue and me.  I will spare you the details, but will say that I had a great time visiting with friends and watching some outstanding handlers working their dogs.  

Here are some photos of the sheep-herding action.

And here are some of the awesome dogs that participated.

Afterward, we headed back to the farm for more cedar-slaying.  John posed for me beside one of the large, multi-trunked specimens he had just cut.  He is getting to be quite a pro handling the skid steer.  It takes real skill to cut through all the trunks one at a time and fell the tree in one piece.  

The farm is beautiful in its new spring finery.  After all the rain, the creeks are running; the stock tanks are full.

The trees have fresh new leaves; Mrs. Redtailed Hawk is on her nest

and the bluebonnets are in bloom.

I even talked the dogs into posing for their annual “Bagley Pack in the Bluebonnets” photo.  

And just as I was trying to capture the quintessential dogs-in-the-bluebonnets image, I heard the unmistakable song of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.  I followed the sound of his song, and far away in the top of a big live oak tree, I saw a flash of bright yellow.  

I took several shots, but did not know until I downloaded the images if I had captured him or not.  Can you find him in the photo below?

Look hard, and enlarge the image.  There, in the middle of the photo perhaps you can see him, singing his heart out.  I hope to get closer the next time we are at the farm, in the meantime, these photos will serve as proof that he calls Goat Hill Farm his home.

Happy Spring, Everyone!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spring has Sprung

Back at the farm once again, we found the spring weather unseasonably cool (compared to the last several weeks).  We took a drive to Meridian on Sunday, April 20, to visit a local favorite, Red Caboose Winery, which was having a wine release party.  In spite of the cool, breezy weather, a number of folks took their refreshments outside to the patio to enjoy the day.  

John and I sampled several of our favorite vintages and took a short tour of the winery with our host, winery co-owner Gary McKibben.  The light streaming through the high windows and reflecting off the large vats glistening with condensation, was magical.

Back at the ranch there was another kind of magic.  Turkey love was in the air.  The gobbles of the toms and the pert-pert-pert calls of the hens echoed across the valley early each day.   Early one morning we saw this handsome fellow hurrying across the pasture

He was soon in full display, strutting along with tail proudly fanned, wings touching the ground and his long red snood swinging beside his beak.

It was soon apparent who he was trying to impress.  These two hens foraged nonchalantly among the flame sumac bushes, seemingly oblivious to his masculine charms.  

If there was a tryst among the trees, we didn’t see it, but we hope there will be turkey poults later this spring!

Late March brought our annual trip to Lake Jackson to celebrate Easter with John’s mother, Maxine, and her husband, Vic.  Here, John gives Mom a hug as we take an after-breakfast turn around the yard.

We had a wonderful time, as usual.  Their home is lovely, and their flowers were spectacular.

This time, Rue accompanied us.  She and Maxine had a good time playing with the water hose.   

There weren't as many wildflowers as usual alongside the road this year.  However, where there were pretty patches, they were well utilized.  Just outside Bastrop several families were getting their spring photos.

Not sure, I suppose, that Dad's big camera would do a good job, this mom leaned over his shoulder to capture a few cell phone images.

The girls obliged with big smiles...when they weren't picking the flowers.