A Forest Service guy told me recently that at the very top, at Rustlers’ Park, the forest service has made available as much pine-wood as one can carry away, in order to clear up the aftermath of the fire. We didn’t go up that high – he told me that most of the cabins there burnt up, and it was just too sad to go see. Some of those cabins dated back to the twenties and perhaps earlier – sturdy log buildings with corrals, just breathing history – so sad to think of them as gone.
We made it down the other side, to the settlement of Portal, hungry and eager for lunch at the great little café/general store, where I have eaten many good meals. And so, guess what – the bad fairy was at work once more, and we found that the café closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays – bummer! As hungry as we were, we opted to drive the nine miles to the town of Rodeo, New Mexico, which boasts about 150 people and one café. I shall draw a veil over the café and the food – suffice to say that it satisfied our hunger.
I was reminded of a story told me by a friend when I lived in McNeal, some 38 years ago. He had met his wife-to-be in Paris, France – he lived in Chicago, and she lived in Douglas, Arizona. She invited him to come visit – he boarded a train and went west. He told me that early one morning the train stopped at a place called Rodeo, New Mexico, and he stuck his head out the window. One look was enough – he told me he said to himself – “Just where does this woman live!!!” I guess Douglas made a better impression – they got married, and later on in their married life bought a cattle ranch near … wait for it, Rodeo, New Mexico!
Thinking about my friends, I remember a visit I paid, some 30 years ago, to their newly built house, which Mary had designed, and of which she supervised the building. It was set in the middle of a large pasture, in the lee of the Chiricahua Mountains, and I was fascinated with the house and its design. The entryway was a room with solid rock walls, without windows, but with a large window in the ceiling. The room had the original earth floor, and there were several trees and bushes planted around a small pond, in the middle of which gurgled a fountain. The room opened via a large archway into the living room, which in turn had sliding glass doors showing the vista of the desert beyond. I loved the Earth Room, as Mary called it, but I was even more envious when, in the middle of our conversation she suddenly said, “Excuse me”, and went to the sliding glass door. She opened it, and a huge toad hopped into the room, and casually made its way to the pond, wherein he disappeared with a happy plop. Mary sat down and went on talking…. I felt a bit disoriented – “Wait, wait, Mary” I said faintly, “what was that?” “Oh, that’s Horace” said Mary, and explained that they built the house in the winter – and the following summer, when the rains came, this toad wormed its way out of the ground, as is their custom – and was very surprised to find himself in someone’s house. However, the surroundings were conducive to a happy life – he settled in with them, living in the Earth Room – and, when he wanted to go out and hunt for food, he would go to the door, and croak until Mary let him out…. Hunger satisfied, he returned home, secure in the knowledge that the door would be opened, and that his pond awaited him.
Mary was definitely my kind of woman – when I moved to Grapevine, for a short time I owned some kind of all terrain mountain bike, and one day, when Mary came to visit, we went for a spin on it. We had a great time, and returned home after an hour or so on the desert, covered with dust, looking like sugared almonds with raisins for eyes. It was at this point that Mary remembered that she was due to address a meeting of the local Republican Women’s Club… I don’t know how she explained her appearance – if she did…
But – back to the present….. After the meal we went back to Portal, to a lovely little place with guest cabins, and not much to do but watch birds. If birds are your thing, this is the place for you…. When we got there, we found that the office opened at 4 pm, and there was nobody in sight. We settled down on the provided chairs to watch the bird life and the visiting javelinas (peccaries) – and I dozed off until the magic 4 pm time, when a lady appeared to unlock the office cum gift shop door, and let us in. Several dollars lighter and a few acquired T-shirts later, we wended our way back home, via the Freeway, and an almost 100 mile journey. It was a delightful day, albeit a day with a lot of frustrations – and topped off by the thirty mile drive along a dead straight road connecting Portal with the I-10 freeway in the far-away distance. We met one vehicle en route, and I thought about that famous 1,000 miles of dead straight road through the center of Australia, across the Nullarbor Plain. I imagined crossing this distance in the 1800’s, with an ox wagon, at 6 miles per day – unbelievable what the early pioneers faced – and that’s not even considering the Apaches!
And, of course, there are the puppies – now growing into dogs, busy and lovable. They are getting to be good watch dogs, too – Danny was just telling me that this morning Buster was near the shop, barking with a sort of different, sharp bark. Danny went to see, thinking that perhaps he had a snake treed, but found that a friend of mine was in the shop sharpening some kind of instrument he planned to use on clearing the trail – and Buster knew he was in there, doing something out of the ordinary, and was letting us know! Good little watch dog.And, talking of Buster, since I last wrote, he was unlucky enough to encounter a rattlesnake, whom he investigated with dire results. Poor little guy – he was bitten twice on the head, and I had to rush him to the doggy Emergency in Tucson at 7 at night. Luckily he recovered fast, though expensively – and I think he learnt to leave snakes alone, as, about a week ago, again he was barking a different sort of bark in Comanche’s corral. We went to investigate and look what he found – a big rattler who had just eaten a squirrel – just take a look at that bulge in its middle!!! At least it went to snake heaven happy, with a full belly… But we were pleased at Buster’s behavior – “come and see”, he said, but he stayed clear. I hope he can impart this knowledge to Bella …
And still on the horrid subject of rattlesnakes – the only drawback to the summer months here, I always think – I have recently learnt about the benefits of guinea hens. Apparently these busy little birds make great watchdogs, and just hate rattlesnakes. When they spot one, if it’s small enough they kill it, and if it’s too large for them, they let you know, so you can come and do it for them. I mean, how good is that – why didn’t I know about these useful little birds sooner! It sure would have saved me some money and heartache over the years. So, with that in mind, we are about to fix the old chicken coop that’s by the shop, and, come spring, will install a flock of baby guineas in there, with the idea that when they’re grown, they can be turned loose to eliminate the rattlesnake population around here. Not that there are that many, given we live in their country – but still, the less, the better!
I have been writing this blog in one form or another for over twenty years – what a lot of blathering, you would say!! And how many pages …. If I ever had cause to wonder at that, I have my answer now, as my friend Marilyn undertook the Herculean task of printing out ALL of the blogs, over many years, dating back to the time when they were first posted on the Internet, and she bound them all in a handsome book which weighs about 20 lbs., I think. I had no idea I had run off at the mouth as much as that! To do this she had to enlist the help of Ben, the webmaster, as lots of the blogs are now buried someplace in cyberspace, out of reach of ordinary humans – and they make very interesting reading for me, bringing back the past in a way I would not have thought possible. So many years, so many events, so many friends, both two legged and four legged…. And so many words!!! Thank you, Marilyn – this was truly the work of a friend!
And this wouldn’t be a summer newsletter without a report on the rains. I feel very hard done by in that regard – while we can’t really complain about lack of rain, other people have undisputedly received more. I heard only yesterday about some place in nearby Elfrida, where they got 19 inches – can you even believe that?? Now, that would be too much – it would wash out more than we want to have washed out – but, while we had good grass rains, and the pastures look great, we do need more to fill what we whimsically call The Lake – the tank behind the house. The top tanks of South Fork and Spooky are pretty well full, but the Lake remains stubbornly waterless. And to think that in the 90’s we actually had a boat out there year round, with lots of fish and other aquatic life! I remember one of our guys once catching 30 bass in half an hour – but, those days are no more – the dry years have taken their toll.
As for the tanks on the Flats – most of them are half full and, to last out the year, they do need more water, or we’ll be watering the herd with well water – ouch!! Still, we need to stay optimistic – we often get fall, or early winter, storms, when one day’s good rainfall can fill up those tanks to overflowing, so we are hoping …!And this wouldn’t be a good report without a final word on The Puppies… Not puppies any longer, they are now, as our friend Steve said, Young Dogs. They are coming to their senses – seem to chew up less things, get into less trouble and generally are shaping up to be super canines. And, as Danny said, by Buster’s performance at the shop this morning, they promise to be good watch dogs, which is after all, to be their main function.
Finally, I have an exciting time ahead of me. My good friend, Debbie, and I are going to visit my niece in Vermont, and then my sister in New York City, leaving here just after the fall round-up in late October. I haven’t been off the place for several years, and am certainly not looking forward to the hassle of travel – but, as I have never seen Vermont, I am looking forward to that, as well as to the train trip we propose to take from there to New York City, about an 8-9 hour journey through pretty country with fall foliage. And of course, in New York – how many museums can you fit into one day?? To say nothing of two Metropolitan Opera performances – life doesn’t get any better than that ….. unless it be on the back of a horse looking over a herd of cattle…
Till next time!!