Sunday, January 24, 2010


The Pedernales River runs through the Hill Country of Texas .The word pedernales refers to the flinty rocks found in it. This is mostly a pretty thirsty land, rolling hills of limestone with a skim of salt and pepper topsoil. Except for the shrubby cedars or live oaks with their intricate twisted branches there is little. In many places it resembles the savannahs of Africa, grassy but not lush, a land for grazing animals that can cover the miles to water or better grazing. Where there is obvious over grazing, the rocks and cactus show, and there is a lot of that. I wish I could find out what land looked like before our herds came here, when it was where only the deer and the antelope played. Along most of the rivers around here, a line of cypress trees stands right at the edge of the water, with their toes in the clear greenish river.

The river flows tranquilly by the Texas White House of LBJ, now a shrine of sorts, but still a ranch. The house is large but not at all fancy beyond LBJ’s love of gizmos, intercoms, multiple TVs, and telephones everywhere. The dining room is set with Mexican pottery and has a wallpaper mural that looks like rural VA. Our guide said Lady Bird hated his spotted cowhide office chair that he sat in while at table and hated even more that he would answer a phone hidden near it during meals. The ranch house area and the length of the banks of the river have huge old live oaks with mowed grass beneath, looking more like an English estate than Texas.

Down river from the ranch, a series of limestone outcroppings form a waterfall that must have been a grand place to play before the currents drowned too many people. The water mostly slides over sheets of smooth rocks, carves caves in the cliff on the other side and sometimes chortles and splashes its way through a narrow point. There are vast sandy areas where the bits have settled, and jumbles of cliffs on the sides.

There are large signs everywhere warning of flash floods, and a terrifying before and after photo in the office. The tranquil falls will become a raging brown thundering wall of angry water in minutes if there has been a storm up in the drainage area, and we are told to run if the water begins to rise or turns muddy. There is a nice steep stone staircase to take us up out of harms way, but it is only one person wide. I shudder to think of the scene if it was a hot summer’s day with lots of visitors. The Falls were in private hands until 1970, and it only took 7 years to close them to swimming.

Goats. There are thousands of goats out here, a good fit for the landscape as they are the closest thing to an antelope or deer that we keep, and can live on the most marginal forage. I like goats, they are thrifty, and from what I hear, hardly tamed and capable of great mischief. Their eyes have slitted pupils like a cat which is unnerving. But what are all these goats for? Since keeping them for milk requires them to come into the barn twice a day, I don’t see how a herd of 100’s of goats is going to be rounded up in a pasture that easily is 100 acres if not more. Maybe they do come in of their own, but there are many babies sucking up the milk, so I’m guessing they are for meat not milk. I have never seen goat meat in a store or a menu, so who is eating it ? Here’s some numbers about what was killed for meat during a week in Jan.

Federally Inspected Slaughter by Species and Day, U.S.
Week Ending Saturday, January 9, 2010
Day Cattle Calves Hogs Sheep Goats Equine 1/Bison
Monday 126,028 4,594 423,684 9,033 3,549 0 134
Tuesday 127,332 4,854 426,357 9,052 2,310 0 243
Wednesday 125,860 3,970 425,418 9,296 1,695 0 236
Thursday 115,353 3,745 325,903 9,149 1,585 0 286
Friday 109,549 4,572 344,904 7,251 1,762 0 268
Saturday 42,665 3 150,908 21 28 0 100
Total 646,787 21,738 2,097,174 43,802 10,929 0 1,267
%Steers 48.3 %Barrows & Gilts 96.8 %Lambs & Yearlings 94.2
%Heifers 30.0 %Sows 2.8 %Mature Sheep 5.8
%Cows 20.1 %Boars 0.4
%Bulls 1.6
1/ Bison are not covered under the Meat Inspection Act, and therefore do not
require inspection. Numbers refer to the amount killed in Federally
Inspected plants, and are not necessarily inspected.

Apparently, there are not so many goats being eaten as anything else. But still someone is eating goat if 10,929 of them were slaughtered that week.
Another study tells me that it is immigrants in the US that buy goat: pretty much everyone except Anglo Saxons. Muslims, Hispanics, and Italians all have at least a wish for goat on certain holidays, and many are willing to pay the extra to keep their ethnic food “correct”. The study says only a tiny fraction of goat is consumed by “Yuppies” (yes they said that!) or health food enthusiasts. I wondered if any goat meat was exported to other countries, but apparently not much. Google goat meat consumption if you want to know more…..

The last three nights have been in state parks, where the sites are far apart, there are no pools or golf courses and lots of hiking trails ( dogs allowed here in TX) after the all night rumbling and thumping of trucks on I-35 in Hillsboro, and the dense population of the Airstream community there, this solitude is wonderful. I sat at the picnic table yesterday and brushed the fuzz out of the dog’s coat while 5 young deer came very close and supervised. A number of small birds twittered in the cedars and I could see no other campers. At night there are millions of stars and it is utterly still except for some rustlings and once a ?raccoon sat outside my window and chattered in the dark. He was probably reporting that I had left not a crumb of edible debris.

Tonight, I am in what amounts to a dirt parking lot in Fort Stockton, and the wind has been howling for most of my drive out of the Hill country and down into the true desert. Nothing to stop the wind for miles. If it doesn’t stop at nightfall I’ll have to put down my stabilizers to keep from rolling out of bed. It is gloriously hot, although a front is coming through and it will apparently rain and get very chilly here in the desert.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mouse Plans

Plans gang aft aglee. To tell the truth, I don’t think I really had a plan, I think I was just coasting on the plans made last spring. Since working at the North Rim was good, we decided to put in to work at Big Bend. So I sent in my application on Nov 14, way after their season began, figuring that the turnover would leave me an opening.

My stay in Hillsboro TX dragged on and on. It was a good place to be for the holidays, but it has been very very cold, too cold to go do stuff. I insulated and wrapped up my outside connections and hunkered down. I went through a 40 lb tank of propane every week and will have to write a fat check for electricity to my host. And still no word from Big Bend, so I called.

Two possibilities had turned up, one a full time store manager job (August =110 degrees, not in a trailer) and a Front Desk job. I phone interviewed for that, felt qualified and confident, and then got a message that I didn’t get it. Crushed, I called the HR lady, and found that I would have been hired, but they had no RV space open.

After a week of trolling around, I was turned down for 4 more campground situations. I began to think I was worthless, washed up, etc etc, and have deep sympathy for folks looking for work. In truth, the campground and resort world work on a seasonal clock, and trying to find a place in January is hard, actually impossible!

Is there meaning in all this? I’m inclined to want to believe that something is running this show from behind the scenes. My Roman Catholic upbringing would say it is a trial sent to test me and make me strong, maybe a test of my faith that a Being (or a number of heavenly beings) has ordered up to improve the muscles of my immortal soul. Or maybe there is a plan that has been set out, the maze of my life, that is preset and my job is just to wander it. I generally feel very blessed (lucky?) about my past, sometimes I even feel a little guilty, or even afraid that the other side of the good stuff of my life will soon be evened up by bad stuff.

What about earning the good stuff? Do we get rewarded for being good, by racking up points which will somehow cancel out the bad stuff? The RC church in the past (?still?) allowed something called indulgences, whereby prayers and good works including donations, would get you time off from purgatory. Purgatory is where we serve out our jail time for minor sins before being clean enough to go to heaven. Reincarnation holds out the promise that if we are good, we will come back in an improved body, and if bad I would come back as a lesser being. (Can I be a horse, please….) It would be nicer if our good works would be a hedge against bad stuff here on earth.

Right now it feels like I’m some sort of model train layout that is being run by an unseen hand. Watching the switches come up, thinking that this one will be it, the job, the place to spend the rest of the winter, but the train rolls right on by.

So I dropped down another level on my list and emailed to Habitat for Humanity about builds in the area. I did one day of this during an Airstream International Rally, and liked it, plus the idea of actually building a house for someone who needs it is just the kind of work I want to do. On the good works scale, it is clearly a 10, whereas serving the needs of vacationers is probably about a 3 or 4 at best. And lo, I am to turn up Jan. 31 in Las Cruces, NM and work for 2 weeks. So now I have something to DO. And an even stronger suspicion that my fate is being managed somehow. (This morning, one of the “filled” camper jobs called up and wanted me…..)

So in the next few days I’ll leave here and mosey in that direction, doing a little tourist stuff like Carlsbad Caverns on the way. It will be good to be moving again, and the weather is decent and will get better as I go south.