My hood. County Road 202, Blanco County, Texas
Saturday morning. I spring from my bed with a glad cry, effect the disappearance without a trace of several cups of espresso, pack the dogs into my old kit bag, and do hie for El Rancho Deluxe, our rural seat in the heart of the picturesque Texas Hill Country.
I bring along an extra triple espresso in a go-cup. Austin is dandy in many respects, but containment of urban sprawl is not one of them. The first 20 miles of Highway 290 west of town, once some of the prettiest country in the cosmos, now comprise some fairly treacherous and depressing terrain. It’s a joyless exurban purgatory full of subdivided 5-acre "ranches" and giant SUVs doing the full-tilt rush-hour boogie on a two-lane originally built for the occasional Winnebago. Motorized commuters regularly multitask themselves to a fiery death on this narrow stretch of roiling asphalt, so I always ensure I’m good’n coffeed up before attempting any trans-Hays County crossing.
Donuts never hurt, either. I stop at the Chevron at Fitzhugh Road for a Krispy Kreme. I’m headed for Blanco County. There are no Krispy Kremes there, that I know of.
At a stoplight in Dripping Springs, TX, under a banner announcing the annual town gun raffle, I have the pleasure of observing a 40-something hottie in an iridescent black Ford F-150 apply blush to her face and pick her nose at the same time.
I whiz past the new Tractor Supply Co, which is the Home Depot for exurban "ranchers." This is where you buy your cattle ear tags and llama feed. The parking lot is full of giant SUVs.
I whiz past Tank Town, a field of rainwater collection tanks painted in goofy crayon colors by some enterprising hippies who bottle "Cloud Juice."
[At this juncture, for optimum results, please listen to
while you continue reading]
Ten minutes later I’m in Blanco County (which, as it is the ancestral home of LBJ, I like to think of as the ur-Texas), and not a moment too soon. It’s pretty sparsely populated, is Blanco County. If you, say, went off your nut and tried to fill up the Houston Astrodome with Blanco Countians, you’d have to clone each one seven times. Which is why the second you cross the county line, it’s like the acid just kicked in. The traffic vanishes, it stops raining (if it had been raining) and the sky opens up, and there’s this magnificent endless panorama of Texas, Texas, some vultures, and more Texas. Non-Texans, whom I pity, are pretty opinionated about Texas, and often not in a good way, I’ve noticed, and the reason for this is that they’ve never seen the view looking north on Ranch Road 3232.
Another reason is probably the president, who is a carpetbagging jagoff, and not a real Texan, no matter how much "brush" he "clears."
Nine miles later, just to break up the monotony of magnificent vista after magnificent vista, I meet a truck coming from the opposite direction. As we pass, we raise two fingers off our steering wheels. This is the redneck salute, which is our way of saying, "thanks for not slapping my side mirror off, asshole!"
My day becomes suddenly and quintessentially both Texan and Three Stoogian when I disembark the vehicle to fumble open El Rancho Deluxe’s ancient rusty gate. For lo there is a rattlesnake in the culvert, to whose somewhat unexpected presence I react by jumping about a half a mile sideways, alighting in an opuntia. Which would be no big whoop if opuntia were a species of daffodil, or pillow, but it is not. An opuntia is a cactus. Addressing the topic of leaping into cactuses, the state’s national song, "
" (which, if you follow instructions, you are listening to at this moment) contains this nugget of pure poetry: "The Texas plants/ are hard on pants." Truer words were never spoke by a singing cowboy, honky or negro.
Back in the truck. It’s about a mile over a seriously crappy gravel road to the creek, our destination. The plan is to take Bert, my 3-month-old Golden retriever, swimming for the first time. I smile the smug smile of a successful wildlife conservateur, for within five minutes, without even trying, I have spotted not only the rattlesnake, but three white-tailed deer, a red-tailed hawk, an armadillo of indeterminate tail color, a painted bunting, and a herd of feral burros.
El Rancho Deluxe is the summer residence of these feral burros. They aren’t really supposed to be here, but I can’t keep’em out; they wander in through the creekbed, and anyway, they present a scenic tableau. Sometimes when the burros and I cross paths, and they start loping down the road ahead of the truck, I pretend they are zebras and I am careening in a dust-colored Jeep through the Kalahari in a PBS documentary. For some reason I speak with an Australian accent when I do this.
For instance, when my dog Zippy takes advantage of my inattention (I am plucking about 2 1/2 pounds of cactus spines out of my knee), and jumps out of the truck, and peels out after the burros, I holler "Oi, mite!" My admonition falls on deaf ears, possibly because my accent sucks. The entire party disappears into a thicket of live oaks. My heart bleeds for old Zippy. A dog can outrun a burro over the short haul, but will only get a swift kick in the chops for her trouble.
Oh crap, look at the time. I was going to describe the heart-rending scene at the creek, in which Zippy rejoins the group with a pronounced limp to apprise me of trouble at the old mill, and in which it becomes apparent that I have the only Golden retriever ever born who is scared to death of water, but this little travelogue has swelled well beyond its intended boundaries, word-count-wise, and it is time for the gentleman farmer to shut up.