Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going South

I heard them long before I saw them -- geese flying in formation. They were beautiful to look at. Some fools say there is no God.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

$1.45

The most fun I've had since I came back to South Texas is filling up my pickup with $1.45 gasoline.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chicks

The chirps from the owl chicks have a hollow sound to them in the still night. Somewhere in the cavernous space of the old cement water tank a barn owl built a suitable nest in the shelter of the abandoned structure. The chicks sound small and helpless.

As a young boy I used to climb up and leap across the space between the steel frame of the windmill and the water tank, landing like a cat on top of the structure. Today, looking up from the ground, I can hardly imagine how I did it. It must have been fearlessness.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Hill Country

The day after our visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War we did a search on the Internet to see what else there was for a little boy to see and form life long memories. We came up with Enchanted Rock and Stonehenge II. We had a good time at both and the drive through the Hill Country was wonderful.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Big Guns

To a little boy a gun is exciting and a big gun is very exciting. Having parted company with this little boy when I left for Japan the guilt I felt was terrible. Now that we are settled back in South Texas it's make-up time. We took a road trip up to Fredericksburg, Texas to visit the National Museum of the Pacific War. We both enjoyed it tremendously.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Wind

Even though it was the day after Christmas the winds were gusting so strong it felt as though March had sneaked up on us and come in like a lion. The spindly branches on the mesquites were whistling like a thousand small whips slicing the air. You put that many trees together on a windy day and they can produce quite a tune. They played all day.

Then there were the leafy oaks. These produced a more mellow sound as the wind slipped through the foliage like speeding dogs chasing a rabbit. Out in the country the two harmonized to produce a unique chorus. It caused the eyes to grow heavy and inch by inch my head drew back until sleep overtook me. It was nice.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

No Snow

In the last fifty or so years it has only snowed in these parts five times. A snowfall is not a common weather occurrence here and yet year after year we hope for a dusting at the least or a little accumulation at the most around Christmas time. We must be optimists. What we usually get is a sunny day in the low eighties. It is a blessing of sorts when you consider all the poor souls who are snowbound in their homes with no electricity because of this great snow storm that blew in across the country.

The warm weather was no help to the hunters either. The white tail were no doubt napping in the shade instead of running about in the open on a cold day. It was not even cool enough to spare us running our air conditioners today. No, again it did not snow in South Texas this time around, but as sure as the sun rises we'll be looking for the white stuff every Christmas until the Second Coming.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Night

Being in the same room with this wonderful little boy and watching him unwrap his Christmas gifts was one of the best moments of the year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How Much?

A remote and economically depressed community like ours has not enjoyed the fruits of prosperity in over half a century. For the hardy citizens who choose to live and raise families here good housing for rent or sale is practically non-existence. An answer to the many housing needs is the tried and tested trailer house. Why build in a market that only offers dismal prospects of a good return on the initial investment if the homeowner chooses to sell in the future?

Since our relocation to South Texas from distant Japan the wife and I have considered the trailer house lifestyle. It is a solution of sorts; one suited to a couple who have little in the way of material possessions. We have determined that eight or nine hundred square feet of living space is pretty fair for a couple of people. A trailer house offers a bit more area than that.

"Don't you wish you hadn't sold your house?" is what many often ask.

"No," is the response. "It was too much house for us and it was beginning to need a good deal of attention; paint, trim, roof, etc. I was happy to see it pass into the hands of a nice little family. The house deserved to be a home to good people instead of just a place to sleep, eat and store things."

If an element of the American dream is home ownership, then I thank God we achieved and enjoyed it for a good number of years, but our dreams and desires have evolved. A big two-stored house filled with things no longer has a role in our lives. We have changed as well as our needs. God knows this. The Japanese housing model observed over the last four months has provided valuable lessons Americans would do well to study; think small, simple and understated. How much do we really need anyway?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mesquite

One of the great moments in heaven occurred when God gifted mesquite to us mortals on the earth. The aroma of the burning wood to a brush country man is what the fragrance of Chanel No.5 is to a woman. There is nothing else like it. It is the wood of choice for the outdoor barbecue; adding a mouth-watering flavor and a sense of outdoors ruggedness. Thank you, God. Better still, its flame keeps a man from freezing to death as he sits outdoors with friends as they stare into the fire while nursing a bottle of beer that been chilled naturally by the elements.

A Drip

The black plastic sheeting supporting the insulation underneath Mom's mobile home had a droop below the floor of one of the restrooms. That could only mean trouble. Of all days for this to happen it would be one with temperatures in the low forties and windy. On closer inspection it was evident that the trouble would be compounded by the cold muddy puddle that had been growing slowly on the ground where my back would have to lie to investigate the source of the trouble. Poor Mom, I thought, maybe this is why God brought me back to South Texas.

Some cardboard from one of the boxes mailed back from Yokosuka, Japan would have to do for insulation between my back and the muddy ground. Once on my back I reached up with a free hand to feel my way to the leak. It didn't take much of a jiggle of the plastic pipe to cause it to break free of its poorly cemented connection and spray me directly in the face with a stream of cold water. Instinctively, I turned my head only to have the gush of water plug me in my left ear. Now I was momentarily deaf on that side. This was no longer a drip. I quickly crawled out from underneath the trailer and ran to the shutoff valve that my younger brother had so expertly set up in easy reach a few steps away.

With the flow of water stopped I once more crawled back to my water-laden work area to assess the damage. Nothing had cracked, snapped, or broken. A sorry job of bonding plastic pipe to a T connector was the culprit. In little time repairs were made and I had done my good deed for the day.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Different Cold

Cold fronts plowing through South Texas paint the landscape a grayish hue. Color is diminished on the land, trees, brush, and buildings. Even people don't escape the cold's brush. The chill numbs the color spectrum under the low gray clouds that blanket the rolling plains and those who have experienced the start of winter in different parts of America say that ours is a different cold. "You feel in your bones," is how many phrase it.

What the cause is for its flesh-piercing quality no one can satisfactorily explain. Proximity to the Gulf and high humidity are most often quoted as culprits. Truth is no one knows, but even a dip into the low forties will cause many of the younger set to question whether there will be school in the morning. No one can doubt the cold's chilling effect on people and activities. The chill behaves much like fire ants on the attack. Once contact has been made with the flesh the attack is relentless. The cold will wrap around poorly insulated ankles and turn toes stone cold. It will then shoot up the legs like fast-growing jungle vine, stopping only when its reached the body's core causing the teeth to rattle like maracas at a Dia de los Muertos celebration.

The effect of chill up north on the body has been referred to as a "dry cold." It can be argued when the thermometer fluctuates above or below forty the icy penetration of the South Texas chill that torments us to our bones can be described as a "wet cold." It is different.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Good Earth

Earth is alive. Standing quietly outside at four o'clock in the morning in the isolation the ranch offers you can feel the earth's pulse and hear her breath. The wind sails over the dry grass in the field producing a long sigh. Up in the spindly branches of leafless mesquites the same wind makes the old trees sound as though they're conversing in loud whispers. At that hour the air pushes along like a stream rinsing away contaminants from the previous day's experience. Whether by choice or circumstance, those in this part of the country willing to stand alone outside at this early hour in mid December wearing little but a T-shirt and jeans, the blessing is small but lasting. It is unfortunate that not all the peoples of the world can experience this time alone with the earth. Many lack time or opportunity. Oddly, day-to-day living often separates us from experiencing the earth.

To the north the lights of Benavides appear ghostly, glowing low on the horizon. They hug the line separating the night sky from the dark shadow that is the land. The glow illuminates the heavy clouds that float past above the sleeping town. It's odd how a person can feel both large and small at the same time when it's just him and God standing side-by-side at four o'clock in the morning on the good earth.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Back in the Saddle

It was an odd sensation to climb back into the cab of my Toyota Tundra after four months. The vehicle felt as huge as a cross-country tractor-trailer rig. After a few minutes behind the wheel in traffic the unfamiliar feeling left. Once again the truck felt like a familiar pair of gloves. The truck and I operated as one, and together we were one with the road.

The freedom and accessibility that personal transportation offers cannot be beat. Better still, the truck's tank was filled today with 1985 gasoline prices. This is totally amazing and this unbelievable drop in fuel costs was totally and completely unforeseen by the so called "experts" in the news media. There was alarming talk of eight to ten dollar a gallon gasoline by year's end. The "experts" can't predict squat.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Old Life

A friend asked what would I blog about now that the life I had known in Japan was no more. Life is just life, whether it is in beautiful Japan or in slightly weathered South Texas. I'll blog about the new old life here is what I told my friend. Day-to-day existence can be interesting on any point of the globe.

The first morning back in the good ol' USA I found the sensation of walking on bare ground to be something new again. Months of walking outdoors on only paved streets, sidewalks, or manicured lawns had made the sensation of walking on caliche and bare dirt surfaces feel odd below the soles of my shoes.

The eyes had to be retrained to recognize common folk around here. The fact that I am not a physically attractive man does not escape me. Avoiding mirrors is a big help. It was all too apparent that in Japan I was at least twenty pounds overweight. On the street, trains, stores, restaurants, etc., I looked like a physical freak among the slim, trim, and well-dressed Japanese population. Theirs must be the healthiest diet on the planet. Back in the States we would do better to serve ourselves smaller portions at meal time and limit our visits to the drive-thru at McDonalds. The throngs of large Americans in line a customs at DFW put it in perspective. On the whole we are a physically large people. That's not good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mi Tierra

Thomas Wolfe declared 'you can't go home again'. Apparently, in his brief life he never had a passing conversation con un Mexicano, because we do go home again, and often. Circumstances, such as they were recently, set me back down in my South Texas roots after spending four months in Yokosuka, Japan. I am not going back there. That is not to say that the time spent in Japan was not filled with days of fun and discovery. They were. If there were two of me, one of us would return in a heartbeat. You would, too. Today I slip back into a familiar world where the comfort and love of family and good friends is only a short drive away, not separated by a vast ocean. Regreso a mi tierra.