2017,  Meanwhile Back at the Ranch,  Texas Wildlife Column

My Adventures as a Ranch Hand

This article originally appeared in Texas Wildlife magazine. Join TWA to receive this publication and see my monthly column — otherwise, enjoy it here a few months later!

We have a tin roof on our old farm house, and during a storm the raindrops hammer down like a million nails overhead. This is my favorite place to be when it rains. Land, dry as a bone, springs to life in a flash, as if it remembers what to do.

My grandparents acquired our farm during the drought of the 1950s—not exactly a great time to get into farming—and reseeded it with grasses acre by acre to help hold the topsoil in place.

They built our house with salvaged bricks and made cabinets by hand. The gray floor tiles they laid keep the house cool on hot afternoons. Boots, dusty with our sandy loam soil, make a gritty sound as they slide across the floor.

I grew up visiting the farm on weekends and holidays, and these visits sparked my love for the outdoors. I fished for the first time at the old stock tank, one of my grandfather’s first improvements to the property in his struggle to control erosion. The farm is where we marked each New Year by shooting off firecrackers, and it’s where I learned to drive, hunt and fry backstrap. It’s where we raced across
peanut fields and ate fresh figs from the backyard tree. It was, and is, better than any city playground.

These days, management responsibilities have fallen to me. We farm peanuts and watermelons,
among other crops, and lease the land for grazing.

I go there to spend time outdoors and be “one with nature”—but not too one with it! In fact, the majority of my job is to keep our house from being invaded by the natural world. It seems like a blade of grass in the pavement can turn into a bush before I can get the weed-eater. One time bees took up residence in the ceiling, dripping honey onto the floor and attracting ants; another the time my mother opened a cabinet to the surprise of a rat snake looking back at her. We didn’t know which was worse, the rat snake’s presence or the fact he was clearly well fed.

Then there was the time we found a rattlesnake in the shower.

I’m constantly trying to compromise with nature—it can alter all the land beyond the fence, just leave my homestead in peace!

Farms are labors of love. They may seem romantic, but behind the scenes something always needs fixing, sweeping, hauling or exterminating. However, when I’m sitting on the front
porch in the morning, watching barn swallows swoop in to feed their young, it is worth the toil and trouble.

My children—when I have them—will never know my grandparents. All they will have are stories we tell and new memories we make here. The least I can do is to conserve and improve this gift they gave us.

Around every bend is a pleasant memory. I try to forget the close calls I have had with critters and be resilient like our fields after a rain, which I can’t wait to hear again on that tin roof.