Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's a Treasure Hunt

I went to Wyoming to ride horses and practice writing. So what did I do that first afternoon when I could have been working on my writing skills in the event the next Great American Novel was lurking about in my head? Why, dig cactus and collect rocks, of course.

My husband and kids say it is an illness, shake their heads in disbelief, go tsk, tsk, tsk, and walk away wondering, What could she possibly want with yet more cactus, and where will she put even one more rock? I, of course, oblivious to their unwarrented concerns, always strike out in search of that perfect rock, that one cactus that needs a safe home in my collection.

Things are no different here on the Vee Bar. I will blame it on Kari, who started it all when she so graciously accomodated me last year when I asked her if I could dig a few cactus and relieve them of a few rocks. The only rocks we have in Muleshoe are caliche, aren't very pretty, and tend to fall apart.With a little creative packing and a few cardboard boxes, I left last year happy as a pig in mud with my treasures: cactus, rocks, a really neat piece of wood, a shed deer antler, cast-off horseshoes, a railroad spike, a variety of Wyoming wildflowers, and a plan to construct a new area in my cactus garden to be called the Wyoming Bed.

The beginning of the new Wyoming bed, summer of 2009.

The new Wyoming bed minus anything from Wyoming! The stepping stone rocks are from Coleman, Texas, as Wyoming rocks tend to be round like balls, not well-suited for stepping stones.

The Wyoming bed, complete with everything from Wyoming in it, 2009.

My first Wyoming cactus flowers as they bloomed this spring, 2010.
Wyoming cactus, Wyoming rocks. 2010.

I dug it, planted it, and was rewarded with all shades of pink cactus blooms this Spring. two kinds of artemisia, and some iris that survived our winter. Encouraged by this success, I had no choice but to do it again.

Darcy, Hellen, Alice, Kari driving, on our way for this year's dig.

The dog, whose name has eluded me, had a good time, too.

Hellen digging for treasure.

So Sunday afternoon, here I went again, only this time I added two new partners in crime, Hellen and Darcy.The four of us headed out in the ATV and hit paydirt by the Vee Bar Ranch sign at the highway. We hopped out eager to start filling the heavy plastic trays I had remembered to bring this year. I always travel with gloves and shovel, just for emergencies such as this. At first no cactus were to be seen. But suddenly Kari spotted one and then the race was on. Cactus are funny things- at first they don't seem to show up, as if they are purposely hiding, knowing they are being hunted, But once one is spotted, it's like Boom! They're everywhere! We began to dig in earnest then, and it didn't take long at all until the trays, all three of them, were full to overflowing, and  I knew I needed to stop before someone had to remind me that I was being greedy and needed to leave some for the other children to find. So I called a halt to the gleaning only to pass three more of the little treasures on the way to the ATV. Well, I couldn't just ignore them as their feelings would be hurt to be left behind, right? So up they came and into the tray they went.

So many rocks, so little time.

The striped rock where we left it last year.

The striped rock as it now lives in Muleshoe.

We took the cactus back to the cabin and struck out this time for rocks, in particular a striped rock we rode by last year, and I turned down Brent's kind offer to pick up and take back for me. It was a little big for the saddlebag, I thought. But I paid attention to its location with the thought that perhaps it could be retrieved this year. This rock was so distinctly marked I felt like with a little luck we could locate it again, even in all those wide open spaces. Now, I forget stuff I should remember, important stuff. Apparently the location of this rock was important enough to remember because we actually found it! And of course we found others worthy of the trip back to Muleshoe, too.

All was well until it came time to load up for the trip home. We had first planned to take my little Chrysler Sebring, but with Hellen and Jenice being taller than I am and probably appreciating a roomier vehicle and Jenice's luggage to consider for part of the trip, we decided instead to take Hellen's SUV, a smart move as it turned out, since Jenice brought not one but two pieces of luggage, not to mention the fact that we would be coming home with more stuff than we took. The time for the creative packing had come. We wedged rocks in all the available nooks and crannies of that vehicle and even sacrificed the one big rock Darcy found that resembled raw meat, leaving it as a marker at our cabin with the plan to bring it home next year. Hmm, there's that next year thing again... Of course, someone with a trained eye for cool rocks is liable to gather it up before I can make it back up there, but I had  no choice- Jenice wasn't willing to leave one of her bags behind to leave room for the big rock. The trays of cactus were the last thing to go in, safely snuggled in among everything else so as not to be squashed or slide into our laps during transit.

The Wyoming bed this year, with the new rocks and cactus added.

Now fast forward to Muleshoe, where summer had arrived with a vengeance. Considering we had enjoyed 60 and 70 degree weather for the past five days, coming home to 100 degrees was a shock to our systems, not to mention the rude welcome it dumped on the little plants from the north. The next day I managed to get every cactus and wildflower in the ground, every rock strategically settled amongst the plants. I have no doubts the cactus will do fine. The little wildflowers and all, well, I'm not so sure about them. The heat and dryness, I'm afraid, have already done damage, and I fear they won't make it.  Next year, if I do go again next year, I will  leave the wildflowers alone and concentrate on a few more cactus and a few more distinctive rocks.

But the bed is looking good. I can't wait till next Spring when they will all be blooming, and Wyoming come to Muleshoe will look like a blanket of pink.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We Ate Cake

The Ace of Cakes came to Muleshoe this week to help celebrate the new police station and the police force's  Best Practices recognition from earlier this year. Mostly Chief Brian Frieda is a huge fan, as he put it, and he talked to Janet Claborn, director of the Muleshoe Economic Development Corporation, who talked to the Texas State Film Commission, who finally pulled it off. Duff Goldman and  his Charm City Cakes crew drove an RV all the way from Balitimore, Mayland, and spent three days in the MulePlex, visiting the Heritage Foundation, taking a filming tour of the city, shooting at the gun range, and managed to eat at the Dinner Bell, Mom's, and Leal's. Oh, yes,  they all took a ride on a mule, thanks to Gary Morris and Dale Griswold,  a most appropriate activity if one is visiting a city called Muleshoe. Apparently the Ace thought so, as this was one thing he requested to do while here.

Who is this Ace of Cakes, you might ask? I had to. I have never watched the Food Channel, since it was not offered on our cable package, but the rest of that story is that I still have not watched it now that we are on Dish. But I plan to, just so I can see why Chief Frieda is such a fan. I was told Duff Goldman has done this Ace of Cakes thing for about four years, but has been a chef much longer.

I was not around when they all went to the gun range, but I did make it over this morning to see the mule ride. Duff and the whole crew were also supplied with straw cowboy hats for a more authentic experience at the Good Times Arena. Duff had the honor of riding Christian, the white mule; the others rode the sorrel and brown mules.

Gary Morris and Duff Goldman at the Good Times Arena.

I don't know who rode this mule; I just thought he looked nice with his matching green accoutrements.

Duff and Christian.

Duff and Dale Griswold ride in the arena.

 The crowd arrives at the police station.

I arrived at the police station about ten minutes before the festivities were to begin and a nice crowd had gathered, somewhere between two and three hundred people. All that wind we had had on previous days was, of course, nowhere to be felt, and the asphalt became a mite hot. No one left, though. Dignitaries were introduced by mayor Cliff Black: state representative Warren Chisum and his wife Omega from Pampa; Mary Whistler and Jay Ibarra from Randy Neugebauer's office in Lubbock, and Joe Osterkamp, president of the Muleshoe Chamber of Commerce.  Nancy Cardero from the Texas Department of Agriculture was said to be in the crowd but was not recognized. Mr. Goldman came out to cheers and visited with the crowd. He also conducted a little experiment. He asked us all to put down our cameras and wave our hands in the air so he could see them. Then he broke into a chorus of  "The stars at night are big and bright...." and sure enough, automatically without having to be told,  we all clapped, bang, bang, bang, bang! and sang out "deep in the heart of Texas" to which he was delighted. "It really works!" he laughed. 

Left: Janet Claborn, Cliff Black, Chief Frieda, Warren and Omega Chisum, Mary Whister, Jay Ibarra, Joe Osterkamp.

Duff, Janet, Chief Frieda.

Crew-member Geoff, Cliff, Duff with plaque.

Crew members Jessica, Anna, Geoff.

Chief Frieda and the much-anticipated cake.

After many presentations of mule shoes and plaques, the cake finally made its appearance, a mule-appropriate straw hat with a police badge on it. Chief Frieda of course had the first piece and the rest was reserved for everyone in the police station, which was as it should be, as that cake wasn't going to feed the crowd anyway. Well, with one exception. The Ace offered a piece to Christian the mule, and after some hesitation and lots of sniffing, he did eat it. But everyone else had cake and lemonade served by United. 

Christian enjoys his piece of cake.

After the presentation, die-hard fans lined up around the police station and patiently waited for their chance at a photo-op with the Ace of Cakes. The Ace of Cakes patiently took the time to let everyone in that line have their picture taken before he and the crew pulled out for other destinations. Janet Claborn was not surprised by this. "He was a pleasure to work with, Duff and his whole crew. They were very cooperative, very nice, nice people."

If he wants to visit again, I don't think we'd even make him bake a cake...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Silent Ride

Part of the reason for the Wyoming retreat is to reacquaint with nature, to rediscover the colors of the wind, if you will, that we tend to lose in everyday modern life. So on one ride we were instructed to ride in silence, no talking, so that we could see, feel, and hear the things we overlook. It was amazing how hard it was to remind ourselves not to talk, and then when we started reaping benefits from the silence, it was darn near impossible not to make comments about what was being shared with us in our silence.

The moose we caught a glimpse of ealier was an unexpected and exciting surprise, and I was able to take a decent picture of it, but there was more yet to come.

As we rode along the gurlging stream, Tommy's horse lifted his head unexpectedly and shied away from the water and willows. Malcom's head came up a split second after that. And there, almost hidden in the brush, still as a statue, watching us was a mother elk and her newborn calf. Her wide eyes followed our movements but she moved not at all. The baby, a small crumpled pile of damp russet brown hair, lay equally still, unaware that he was the object of our curiosity. Sensing the mother's concern, perhaps, the horses were somehow willing to settle and stand while we admired her and the baby and took pictures. I guess she realized we were not a threat because she carefully lay down beside the calf. who had stood for his very first time and then went back down beside his mother. Respectfully and quietly we left, elated that we had been permitted to witness this gift from nature.

The silent portion of our ride was to begin now. The wind was the loudest thing I heard as it zipped this way and that, making alternating whistling and roaring sounds under the brim of my hat. Occasionally a horseshoe would strike a rock and a metallic sound would follow a softer mashing sound of grass under hoof. The birds would call to each other with a rhythmic whistle and the squeak  and clank of tack would offer accents to their song. As we moved from grass and rocks to the road, the gritty clip-clop on moving gravel was interrupted with the snorts of the horses as if blowing their hoses from allergies.

The sky was blue and seemed to stretch forever over the green mountains that would surely be soft and velvety if I could just reach up and touch them. Up ahead a rabbit glided effortlessly and soundlessly into the bushes, the bobbing white tail the only clue that he was even there before mystically disappearing. As we crossed a small ditch, the steady rhythm of the horses' hooves on the gravel was replaced with the squishing and sucking sounds of water and mud.

Up ahead other riders came into sight and we were reminded that this reverie was not ours alone and that we would have to relinquish what felt like our sole ownership of this little piece of solitude and take ourselves back to civilization and the group of human animals with which we share it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Welcome to Wyoming

Last year I attended the Literature and Landscape of the Horse, a writing and riding retreat led by Page Lambert and Sheri Griffith, held at the Vee Bar Guest Ranch in Wyoming. I had such a good time I went again this year, but this time I took my friend Hellen with me, as well as Jenice Williamson, who used to live in Muleshoe. We drove to Denver, spent the night with Hellen's daughter Christi, picked up Jenice, who had flown from Houston to Denver, and arrived at the Vee Bar, 30 minutes west of Laramie, ready to escape reality for a few days and pretend to be cowboys. Or cowgirls, I guess would be a better way to put it.

And escape we did. We were awake at sunrise, which seemed to start at 4 a.m. since the sky never really seemed to be dark, but was probably more like 5, and walked looking for wildlife, which in the mornings was usually magpies, eagles, and antelope. By 7 a.m. the wranglers, Brent, Darcy, Tommy, Conor, and Dave, had rounded up the horses and guided them into the corral by the old barn, which, in the old days, had been a stagecoach stop. The wranglers would halter the horses, which had been selected for each rider based on the rider's experience, and we could groom and saddle our mounts if we wished, or they would do it for us. I liked the grooming and brought along the tail comb I had used on my mare all those years ago and had Malcolm , my palomino gelding, looking pretty darn spiffy. And what kind of a name is that for a horse? Malcolm. Really? When ranches handle as many horses as they do, I guess names begin to be hard to come by, so Malcolm it is. But I thought it interesting that the only other Malcolm I have ever know was a childhood friend named Malcolm.


But I digress, as I seem prone to do on occasion. Stream of consciousness is a mystery, isn't it? Anyway, the grooming was a pleasure; throwing that fifty pound saddle up on a horse whose back I could not see over was something else again. The saddle I used to ride was lightweight and I was, what, 50 years younger, when I used to throw it up on another horse whose back I also couldn't quite see over. But that was then; this is now, as they say, and not nearly as easy now as I remember it to have been then.

Dave, Conor, Tommy, Brent

Kari and Darcy

We would ride in the mornings, broken down into three groups: black colts, who were the least experienced riders; the dappled grays, who were more intermediate in their skills; and the grays, the most experienced riders. Two wranglers would go with each group, and besides doing their jobs of guiding us through the rides, we got to know them and hear endless cowboy tales and tall tales of Wyoming, like Tommy's modest boast that in Wyoming if you were riding with the wind, it was liable to blow the bit right out of your horse's mouth, or that in Wyoming a wind sock was a chain with an anvil on the end of it. Darcy seemed to know a few jokes to share when the guys weren't around, and she shared some gems she had learned while hanging around other cowboys.

Brent in the round pen.

Brent, the co-owner of the ranch, and his wife Kari, were delightful hosts. Kari didn't get to ride with us this year because she was five months pregnant with their first child and had been given orders not to ride now. But she did show us how to harness and drive the draft horses. Brent has to be the jack of all trades and master of none, he would smile and say, but it looked to us as if he knew exactly what he was doing when he had to work on the plumbing in our cabin, use the backhoe to unclog the Little Laramie river in one spot, shoe the horses, work the filly in the round pen, rope, doctor the lumpjaw on a steer, tag and band the calves, write songs and sing them like a pro. He used to teach music at a local school. I kept requesting stuff by Willie Nelson and Wayland Jennings and he would smile and say," I don't know that Texas stuff too much," but  then would launch into "El Paso" and not miss a verse of that exercise in vocal endurance.

Jenny and Elaine

We would write after lunch, sharing and talking about what we had written, what we hoped to write, how to get published. We laughed a lot and were touched by what others, especially Page, would read aloud. And all the writing was motivated in some way by horses. Hellen chose not to write but to paint with watercolors during the writing sessions, and then she would show us what she had done.

Alice, Jenice, Hellen

We have wide open spaces in West Texas. So does Wyoming. We have extremes in weather conditions. So does Wyoming, but mostly on the cold end compared to our hot end. We have beautiful views in Muleshoe-yes we do! Don't laugh; think sunsets. So does Wyoming-have beautiful views, that is. We have friendly people in Muleshoe-and so does Wyoming. We love living in Muleshoe. But visiting Wyoming is a lovely thing  to do.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Meet Perla, the only cat of our current six who technically is not a stray. But she does have ties to vagabond cats, as her parents arrived on the scene as strays traveling together, brother and sister, we suspect. She was actually born on the premises in the old metal tank that Bill turned into an above-ground incinerator.

We kept seeing these two gray and black striped cats making visits to the outdoor catfood bowl. One, the male, was bigger than the other one, but they were absolutely mirror images of each other, which is why we suspect they were brother and sister from the same litter. Turns out the female was pregnant; she might not have been incestuous with her brother, but when two of the soon to be discovered four kittens looked just like them, well, we suspect that was the case. The cats weren't too worried about it; nature sometimes works that way.

But I digress. The two of them were becoming less afraid of us, which is how we could tell the girl kitty was putting on weight; we could get closer to them. Time passed; the incinerator was full; time to burn the contents. It made sense to me that Momma Kitty, as she came to be called, might have seen that incinerator as the perfect overlooked quiet place to deliver her babies, so I crawled to the back of the old tank before we set fire to the contents. Sure enough, there she was with four little kittens. She scrambled out when she saw me but watched from a distance as one by one I handed the kittens to Bill and we moved them to a safer place.

Momma Kitty found them, moved them to a spot of her own chosing, and life went on for the little family. Well, life went on for two of the kittens, the two that looked just like mom and dad. The other two, I am sad to say, didn't make it. Over time I persevered and finally caught the kittens and Momma Kitty and had them tamed down. My stray rule is that if you come to eat my food, you have to let me pet you. So they finally gave in. Daddy Cat, however, never let me catch him.

So we named the kittens Nomar and Perla and enjoyed watching them grow up. That first year of their life, 2003, we lost Momma Kitty to a coyote and Daddy Cat to a car hit and run accident.  Dear Nomar met with an untimely accident before he was a year old. He was quite the social animal and we missed him terribly. Perla had always been a nice cat, but a bit timid around Nomar. Now in his absence Perla seemed to come out of her shell and became quite personable herself. She has the softest, silkiest hair of all the cats. I guess she is just a cat, but based on pictures and what I read, I think she might be a Maine Coon cat.

In fact, Perla has sort of become the head of the pecking order, taking Gracie Lou's place when we lost her last year. Perla is always there to greet me on our walking path as I make the laps, and when she decides she wants some attention, she won't take no for an answer, putting herself between me and whatever I am  trying to do, or when I am working in the garden, will hop up on my back and settle down, content that she is included in what is going on.

Perla loves close quarters; empty boxes, clay pots, the chimenea. She is also possessive about the barn, which she now has to share with Little Cat, but they have it worked out. So I just make sure, especially in this  past severe winter, that she is in the barn and tucked away for the night.

And that's where she is now, up on the loft in her box, tucked in and resting up for another busy day tomorrow.