On a stormy night last May, a tornado packing winds of up to 200 mph cut through the North Texas city of Granbury, destroying dozens of homes and killing six people. When that tragic news reached me the next day, I had no doubt that Granbury would recover and come back even stronger. I had traveled to Granbury for the first time the month before the tornado, and it had taken only one visit to grow fond of the place, its people, and its spirit.
It’s a dicey proposition, living in a picturesque, easily accessible town in the Texas Hill Country—in my case, Boerne. On the one hand, our population swells significantly on temperate weekends, meaning we locals relinquish our usual haunts to the visiting hordes. Plenty of folks who start out as tourists come back to stay—enough to cause an 86 percent rise in population between 2000 and 2012. And though I was one of those latecomers, I was hoping like everyone else that they’d close the gates behind me.
The cowboy rides in from the West,
mulling stanzas, lines and words.
Winter delivers a fleeting rest
from the fences, trenches and herds.
Humble and independent in nature,
his friends are the horse and hawk,
But this trip is for a matter of culture,
to honor a special kind of talk.
Suspicious of the city and its business,
the cowboy girds himself for the crowd.
He wants to give personal witness,
to share his life with the world out loud.
The cowboys on Alpine descend,
the West Texas wind blowing and swirling.
They speak and they sing and they listen
at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Dripping Springs, my old friend, I thought I knew you. After years of rolling through town on US 290, I pegged Drippin’ as a no-nonsense farming and ranching community striving to preserve its “Gateway to the Hill Country” identity next door to Austin.
Imagine you’re a young soldier in the late 1800s, assigned to Fort Davis, a military post located in far West Texas. With a life expectancy of only 48 years (33 if you’re African American), you’ve got little spare time to ponder the inevitable. Besides, you’re too busy tending to the basics of military life—practicing drills, hauling water, taking care of the cavalry horses and other livestock, cutting wood for heat, escorting citizens across the Big Bend country, or fending off attacks by unfriendly Comanches. With little time left for anything else (except maybe an occasional binge at the local tavern), you’re definitely not sweating the small stuff. But however arduous and uncertain your life may be, it’s the small stuff that constitutes your greatest danger in the form of invisible germs, present everywhere in your unsanitary surroundings.
As you approach Ten Bits Ranch Bed and Breakfast on a dusty road that bumps and swerves through slanted hills and cliffs, the beaten path tapers away and it becomes apparent that you’re venturing into the remote badlands of the Chihuahuan Desert. Most signs of human development have already receded from the roadside as Texas 118 zips down from the relative metropolis of Alpine, leading to the Ten Bits turnoff.