We said goodbye to Rick on the farm in Ballinger. We admired the little stage he and Mike built, the outhouse with Mo’s artwork, the bridge where June said he took his last stroll, the old car still waiting for him. We left some mementos to join his ashes on the hill, and Kate read a few of his Spur Creek Farm blog posts written under his Badger Bob pseudonym. The secret blog, in which he shared the tales of glorious solitude in a tiny West Texas desert oasis, was lost in the digital abyss (typewriters and paper, kids! typewriters and paper!), but Kate was able to hack up a few of them. As it turns out, along with being a fine farmhand and world-class pingpong hustler, he was also a pretty good writer. Who knew? This one was my favorite.
One of the farm’s best – and worst – features is the lack of “connection.” Out there, you have no land lines, no Wi-Fi and very little cellphone coverage (you have to be standing in exactly the right place at the right time.) If you’re by yourself and break an ankle or pause under a falling limb, you may have a long, lonely wait until someone comes looking.
The silence is deafening. The 3-D, widescreen view, even better than Blu-ray, almost seems too much. Too colorful. Too big. Too real.
The farm is small and compact. A few fields, a creek (when it rains), a small hill, pastures filled with mesquites and cactus and rocks. At first glance it’s not much to look at. But it’s full of surprises. Wonderful moments. Moments of grace.
A great blue heron lives on the middle creek. Watching it lift off – slowly, at first, skimming the water, then faster and higher – beats any televised rocket launch.
An armadillo lives farther up the hill. He’s cagey and keeps his distance, but if you’re quiet and patient and lucky, you’ll see him snuffling among the cactus, scratching and rustling.
A small tribe of deer visit the creek for water, then spend the afternoon in a thicket. It’s hard to sneak up on them. Get within 50 yards, and they’re off, bounding across the scrubby pasture, then leaping over the fence, more graceful and lovely than any ballet performance.
The best sights are the rarest.
Only once have I seen a horned toad on the farm.
Only once have I seen a red fox.
Only once have I seen a scrawny bobcat.
Rattlesnakes? A dime a dozen. The most memorable was the one who got caught up in a chicken wire fence, half in, half out. I cautiously approached, afraid he might pop out at any moment. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a snake outdoors. He knew he was in a bad way, but even so, bravely fought back, writhing and rattling, hissing and twisting, defiant to the end.
For the longest, my most memorable moment at the farm was walking through a cloud of monarch butterflies. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of monarchs had settled in a grove at the top of the hill. Alarmed by me, they took to the air, fluttering all around. I swear I could feel the wind from their wings on my face.
Recently, the farm raised the bar. Chopping mesquite on the hill, I heard a peculiar sound. I have no idea how to describe it. It sounded close. Alarmingly close. I scanned the pasture looking for signs. Nothing. Then I looked up.
An even dozen geese in tight formation flew overhead, making an unforgettable squawking honk sound. It seemed to last forever. An amazing sight. I thought I might never see another like it at the farm.
Then another group, so many I couldn’t count them, flew over. Then another and another and another. Some tightly aligned, others spread out.
My first thought was, “If I had my camera, I could put this on the internet.”
But that wouldn’t be the same.
You had to BE there, feet on ground, feeling the sun, smelling the wind. Hearing the high-pitched hellos as moments of grace fly by, one after another, after another.