INK IN THE BLOOD
Something I read recently about Texas times a few decades ago when there were such things as streams of clear, pristine water prompted me to remember experiences that underscored the contrast between then and now.
Much of what I knew as forested land has seen a great deal of the trees removed to make room for drilling rigs in a natural gas boom that began a couple of decades back. Some of the removal, of course, predates the gas strike and was the result of natural population growth and expanded farming and ranching operations. This is particularly noticeable to me in my home county.
In my early childhood years (until age 8), we lived in a series of three rural rental houses in Freestone County before my parents felt they could afford to buy a house “in town” — Teague. My folks grew up in farming/ranching families and, following both their families’ traditions, leased additional farming land and grazing acreage from the earliest days of their marriage. Ultimately, they came to own several fair-sized tracts for a period of time and continued to lease additional land as the need arose.
Recollections of my life’s earliest years included an occasional fence-riding foray with Dad around some of the land. “Riding fence” involved going by horseback around a particular tract, checking the fence conditions while monitoring the cattle.
Of course, I didn’t know or understand any of that. I just knew I was getting to “play cowboy” with Dad on occasion when he figured there wouldn’t be a lot of chasing cows or repairing fence. Much later, I learned it was more of an exploratory trip, on his part, to size up potential problems.
At this point, I only had one younger brother (in a family that was to grow to four sons) and he wasn’t much more than a toddler when I had my grand adventures of riding fence with Dad. As my parents began to enjoy some modest success in farming and ranching, and as progress will have it, checking fences by horseback was gradually replaced by mechanized means and my younger siblings didn’t get to experience it as much as I did.
My mother was one of the most protective, attentive moms anyone could ever have. At times, all four of the sons felt some resentment about tight reins, but none of us suffered any ill effects from frequently having to champ down on the bit.
I suspect the length of time between my riding fence forays with Dad increased as her requirements for safety guarantees for “ her boys” placed some shackles on his freedom to go about his business while “wet-nursing” one of us as his “helper” for the day.
When Mom and Dad decided to allow me to take the occasional riding-fence trip, Mom asked about drinking water. Dad didn’t carry a canteen. Streams through much of his property, particularly the forested segments, were protected from some of those elements that can pollute a creek and thus could be trusted for a “clean, clear drink of water.”
Mom and Dad showed me how he cupped his hands and scooped up a mouthful of water. My hands were too small and I couldn’t put together a decent “drinking cup” in my hands. So, Mom took a sheet of notebook paper (not the coarse Big Chief tablet paper) and made a triangular-shaped cup that I could fold and keep in my back jeans pocket. When Dad and I were thirsty, we’d find a clear creek and while he used his hands, I had Mom’s triangular cup with which to drink.
Thankfully, within a year or so, I grew enough that my hands formed an acceptable cup for slaking the thirst on a hard day of riding fence. I doubt anyone would drink directly from a creek today.
Of course, soon Dad was doing the checking in a pick-up truck and he carried a huge jug of water along with a lunch.
Ahh, times got much better. We’d moved to town and gotten involved in school and sports and riding fence fell by the wayside.