The Davis Mountains

by Patrick Branyan

We travel a lot dragging a trailer around all over the place. That is, we did until Trump decided it’d be fun to let a deadly virus run wild through the most scientifically advanced nation in human history. We all know now that scientific brilliance and reason are no match for a nation’s political stupidity and moral degeneration. So, while The Donald bragged and whined and mugged like Mussolini at his homicidal rallies, we stayed home like any other non-nitwits that had the luxury to do so.

Dahna and I have no kids, no family or debt to speak of, no real responsibilities other than to our friends and neighbors to bear the simple burdens of citizenship our founders left to us in their more “enlightened” moments; that is, as free individuals and by a free press and freedom of inquiry, to use reason to govern ourselves and to know, generally, what the hell we’re doing as a people in, let’s say, the face of an historic and lethal threat. 

So, instead of going anywhere we returned to our useful training in science to best try to ascertain how to to play the odds to our favor, and for those around us, by behaving cautiously. We’d lend an ear to Anthony Fauci as he walked his swaying tightrope over an orange Niagara of bullshit, and we read and discussed some of the more technical stuff as it became available to us. And we were fully vaccinated by Valentine’s Day. Dahna called ahead.

Unlike hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, we survived, so far at least, partly by driving the 35 miles to Stephenville’s HEB supermarket for curbside delivery. We passed each time by the Bayer RV dealership (Airstreams and Dutchman) and we noticed that their lot was emptying fast. We’re thinking, ‘What’s this all about …?’ So, we asked the internet. Turns out cabin fever was ravaging the lucky, and/or, smart survivors and RVing, sensibly, seemed to be a safe way to get out of Dodge for awhile.

The rich hoovered up the Airsteams, and the rest were snatched up by rabble like us in a free-for-all similar to our successful attack on the nation’s supply of toilet paper.

Whitemouth Dayflower (Commelina erecta)

Well, Ol’ Joe Biden was president, the horrific death rate was dropping like a stone, and it was time to get moving again. Down the road and up in spirits. Suddenly, untold thousands simultaneously got the same idea. Unfortunately, the herd hasn’t stampeded to Covid immunity yet, but it has laid waste to RV, boat, and used car lots.

By the 14th of June, the ground was dry enough to pull the camper out from under its cover and up to the house for systems checks and packing. On the 18th, we headed for our intermediate stop, Lake Colorado City State Park near Big Spring. Normally, we head first to South Llano State Park, a fine place just south of Ft. Stockton. But, I wanted a change of view.

I’ve wanted to go to Big Spring since 1969 when “Midnight Cowboy” came out. That’s when I first saw the great actor and political doofus, Jon Voight as Joe Buck, quitting his job as the dishwasher in a Big Spring cafe at the beginning of the movie. One of the first of his many fine performances in a stellar film career to date.

Bractless Blazingstar (Mentzelia nuda)

We got to the park by mid-afternoon, set up like pros, and nearly died in the heat. Let’s see … What else? Umm, that’s about it. We grew up in Houston without air conditioning in the 1950s and ’60’s, but now our survivable temperature/humidity bandwidth is much narrower. When it cooled down somewhat, Dahna went birding while I don’t remember what I did. Nothing probably but a nap in the AC which is de rigueur anytime I pull 7,000 pounds of camper anywhere. Sacha peed and pooped, a champion in her sport.

Well, I bow to no one when it comes to my love of Texas, but my opinion isn’t necessarily shared by some of our friends. Especially those former natives that live in other states now. A lot of them think Texas is in direct competition with Florida for Hellhole of the World. They’ve got a point if you’re talking about the archaic period before freon existed in an important way.

Sunrise Over Lake Colorado City

But, what they’re really talking about is the politics of the place. Texas has mostly been run by conservatives, formerly Southern Dixie-style Democrats and now, ever since Pat Buchanan taught Nixon how to dog whistle, Republicans of the increasingly virulent and mutating Trump strain. But even these guys love Texas enough to pause occasionally from their tax slashing and releasing the hounds on our various minority groups to actually throw some pretty good coin, comparatively speaking, to Parks and Wildlife. 

As a result, our state has one of the best state park systems in the country, and you should check it out. We Texans are no loonier than Idahoans, and probably friendlier. At least we’re not as suspicious and our militias are far less disciplined. Come visit and you’ll find that this Lone Star park feature includes the nicely managed and equipped Lake Colorado City State Park.

Don’t come to Texas looking for a bunch of National Parks. But we do have two and one is a doozy: Big Bend in south Texas. Be sure to visit this special place before you get divorced and nothing matters anymore. The other is Guadalupe Mountains N.P. and I’ll bet it’s terrific too—it’s on our list. Almost all the rest of the land in the state is privately owned; mostly ranches and farms protected formerly by Stetsons and .30-30 Winchesters, traded in by the latest generation for tattoos, AR-15s and camo with an ironically conspicious red cap perched on top.

Our new park out there by Big Spring was light on both flora and fauna, except for snakes, cottontails and prickly pear. A spindly coyote crossed in front right before we got to the park and right after that I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a long snake. I think it was a coachwhip by its build and speed. It seemed to know I couldn’t slow down much pulling a heavy trailer because that skinny snake was really hooking it across that two lane.

The birding was lousy consisting mostly of two very horny mockingbirds making a lewd racket and a large number of the only other species out there; grackles. Now, I have a special fondness for both of these birds. 

Some time ago a mockingbird followed me around the place for a couple of summers and would sing to me. I’d blow it a kiss in return. Dahna liked to make up dirty jokes about that bird’s desire to break an interspecies taboo, but It wasn’t a serious relationship. Just platonic.

Showy Menodora (Menodora longiflora)

And grackles. Everybody hates grackles. But, when you have a biblical plague of grasshoppers like we did in 2011, you’ll learn to love them when they flock in to the rescue. They’re nothing like the fast sweeps or sissy seed eaters Dahna spends a fortune on. Nope, they’re like Tolkien’s Orcs stomping all around voraciously gobbling up every crunchy grasshopper unlucky enough to be in their Shermanesque march of death. So, from me it’s, “Hi guys! Make yourself at home,” with a low sweep of my hat.

And, often while waiting out in the hot parking lot while Dahna roots around in some store, I like to watch them waddle by like weird little bent over penguins. Now and again one will cock its head and look you over with a mischievous golden eye, and somehow it reminds me of Groucho flicking that big cigar in his hand and those eyebrows jumping up and down. A little comedy out there on the asphalt.

On our second day at Lake Colorado City, I was getting our of the shower when Dahna wondered, “Pat? Do you remember somebody from Garner State Park named Susan …” Before she even finished her name, I knew exactly who Dahna was talking about. But, it wasn’t just a somebody. Susan was a lovely young girl I met at that magic park nearly 60 years ago.

Back in the early 1960s Garner was the place to go in summer if you were a teenager in Texas. Maybe it still is. Families would rent the musty cabins, and guys like me would sleep out in the open on the spacious grassy meadow, or in a pup tent if we had one, or in our cars with the doors open. It was two bucks per night per vehicle, and that was a good bit more than a big bottle of Bacardi across the border in Cuidad Acuña 90 miles away.

The crystal clear Frio River ran cold beside us for swimming and tubing in its swift current, and you could rent a nag and ride up in the foothills of Mt. Baldy, which I liked to do. There were all kinds of things going on under the racket of hundreds of kids laughing and joshing each other or roughhousing  just for fun or maybe guys fist fighting for keeps in the summer heat over some slight or girl.

The main event though was the nightly dance at the beautiful stone pavilion built by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s depression. We’d dance slow and close or a bit faster and slightly apart with the courtly cowboy Whip. The music was so fine from the dusty jukebox, a masterwork of mood artistry that set a romantic tone under the stars no Texas teenager could ever forget who experienced it. And that’s where I met Susan one night in the summer of 1963 when I was 15 and she about the same, maybe a little younger.

I must have gotten up the nerve to ask her to dance, or some buddy dared me to, but somehow there we were, known now to each other in the crowd. I spent a few hours over the next couple of days in her company, and I’m not sure we even held hands. But, I remember slowly walking with her through the shade of the live oaks of the pavilion and the parking lot, and I felt good beside that gentle, pretty girl.

Our time together was very brief and yet there was a little spark; enough to exchange phone numbers before she returned home to Houston with her family. And, she gave me a little hair bow with a sweet message written on the fabric in ink:

Don’t Forget Me


When I got home I pinned the bow to my cork bulletin board hanging on the wall in my room. We talked on the phone a few times and then school started and that was it. But that bulletin board and its cartoons and newspaper clippings and a few track ribbons stayed on that wall for 20 years or more. And so did that little bow pinned low and in the center.

I left home at 17, off to college then Vietnam, but I went home often to visit my parents. I’d sleep in my old bed in my old room either alone or, later, with Dahna. Now and then through all those years, I would walk up to that small piece of oak-framed cork, and I’d snicker again at the old cartoons and read my name in the yellowed sports clippings for some minor success in track or football. 

And I’d see the bow, and I would do as she asked. I’d remember her face and her kind way, and I’d silently repeat her full name to myself, almost automatically, by rote really, and I did it for years until she became a permanent part of my memory. It wasn’t anything I was trying to do. It was just a little thing, that bow, for us both.

When she contacted us I couldn’t have been more pleased or surprised. It was like getting an answer from a message in a bottle tossed into the ocean long ago, and what a day it made for me. Dahna smiled too. A lot.

Susan found the old note she made of my phone number after re-discovering her old diaries, long stashed away. With Google and a “What the heck,” she found me and Dahna. With emailing and Facebook friending, we’re getting re-acquainted again as long-lost friends with her husband James and Dahna there with us.

Susan’s Note

Susan plowed through some of our stories on Trail Writers and found that we’ve lived remarkably parallel lives. She and James have travelled the world in the summers, but also North America extensively; down many of the the same roads to the same places, and she exclaimed, “…even Nova Scotia!” 

We like the same music and they, like us, have no truck with mob rule. James had a long official career counseling troubled juveniles, and Susan just had to be a teacher too, I guess, like most of our friends and me. Both of them living their lives working with children.

In one of her emails, she said she’d taught for over 30 years, first in Houston in Home Economics and later, Pre-k in central Texas. When I saw that, a big brass Sousa band blared in my head with 76 trombones and a dozen twirlers spinning flaming batons. I say this because no one ever benefitted more from a good Home Economics teacher than I have. Ask anybody.

Dahna hated high school in Pasadena, Tx. So much so, she dropped out and sailed alone to Australia on an Italian cargo ship and lived there nearly a year. If you asked her about it, she’d say, “The only thing worth a damn about that school was Home Economics.” That’s where she learned to sew and cook and etcetera, etcetera and got the beginnings of how to do just about everything else under the sun. 

That year of Home Ec. launched Dahna’s development of the Very Large Array of Competencies (VLAC) that distinguishes her from, let’s say, me who dozed through woodshop. Need to build a house, then plumb and wire it? Maybe you just need a fast prom dress or a large wall tent. Hungry for perfect enchiladas chiapas with cinnamon buñuelos for dessert? How about pork tenderloin you can cut with a fork with a side of perfect pecan rice? Got an Organic final? Calculus killing you? What if mice chewed through the wiring on your car or your tractor won’t run because its diesel engine needs to be bled. Do what I do. Call the Dahna Help Line. 

And thank Susan too and those capable people who teach us how to do all the things we desperately need to know how to do. 

State funded Pre-K now exists, but I’m not sure it did when I was a four year old in Houston in the early 1950s. It was private “nursery schools,” then, I think. But, I can see that girl I met at Garner sitting down low with those little tykes and carefully preparing them for the wider world. Each one of the little darlings was, of course, a vast enterprise sent off to both make and meet their destinies and, perhaps, ours as well. 

Any one of them might change the world like the Georges, Washington or Floyd, but I bet every one of them remembers Susan. Well, not like I did, but still …

Later, we made our first trip into Big Spring, and it was surprisingly impressive. Big, wide avenues and a beautiful courthouse plus handsome municipal buildings scattered around made for a very nice, and pretty big, town way out there mostly by itself. It’s the kind of town where you can ease back, pull out your shirttail, and talk to the guy at the next pump about the merits of his Ford F-250 compared to your Silverado HD 2500.

Rough Nama (Nama hispida)

A caveat: If you do this at the H.E.B. gas station like we did, be sure to wear a mask even if you’re double vaccinated. I’m saying this because the pumps are heavily curbed and only spaced far enough apart to accommodate a Mini Cooper comfortably. Social distancing is impossible there. You look out across the place and every stall is occupied by a big pickup wedged in tight with nary a Mini in sight. It makes you wonder if the designer had any idea where the hell she lived. I hope her shoes are too small too.

We bought a few groceries and headed back to the park. I leashed Sacha up and took her for a short loop through some of the temporarily empty sites baking in the heat. This is a very nice park and the covered picnic tables were bolted to a level concrete slab. Sacha was sniffing at a couple of small holes under one of the slabs, and I was watching a boat motor slowly across the lake, far out. 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw her stiffen and dig her back feet into the hardpan. Then she pulled her nose out of the hole and violently shook her head to kill the baby cottontail she had in her mouth. I yelled at her loud enough to nearly set off a car alarm and she dropped it, eviscerated, to the ground. I backed her away a little and knelt down and stroked her saying, “Good girl. That’s my girl.” 

For the record, I am opposed to vicious baby bunny killing, but I am very much in favor of a dog that will override thousands of years of genetically encoded hunting instinct to instantly stop slaughtering and listen to my concerns. When I got back to the camper I started to brag about our terrific dog, but was cut off by a stern Dahna who had another opinion, as usual.

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)

“No! You’re a BAD dog! BAD dog!” She stabbed an accusing forefinger at the poor mutt. I leapt to Sacha’s defense, “Whoa! This is a great dog. Hell, you can’t blame her. She’s still practically a wolf!” We went back and forth with the poor dog’s head swiveling like at a tennis match. Finally, the Defense rested with, “Besides, there’s a million of those rabbits out there.” She couldn’t argue with that. Acquitted. Case closed.

Bad Dog Sacha

BTW, did you know that a baby rabbit is called a kitten? I didn’t, and it just doesn’t seem right to me. 

On our last day at Lake Colorado City S.P., we decided to risk life on a ventilator and go out to eat at the Kelley Cafe nearby. The reviews were okay, so we plugged the address into Car Play and the truck took us to a big elementary school. Huh? Well, we’re game for the bizarre, so we followed the signs, masks cinched up tight.

The cafe was in the abandoned school’s huge cafeteria. I don’t know about you, but what I remember about an elementary lunchroom is the rank funkiness of a 100 open lunchboxes, not to mention 200 sweaty little armpits. Mine was a rusty Roy Rogers, and I don’t miss it a bit. But, this cavernous room smelled really good and the tables were 20 feet apart at least, and the waitress wore a mask. In Texas! 

Pat at Kelley Cafe

We had a fine meal, a relaxing sundowner back at camp, a night of solid sleep, and got a good West Texas vibe from the whole place. Might go back, maybe in late Fall or Winter. Our trailer is a “four seasons” model and the pipes are protected from freezing. You can meet some hardy souls in cold conditions and sometimes they’re pretty interesting. Sometimes they’re just nuts. Good either way.

On the fourth day we got back up on I-20 and headed west for the Davis Mountains. Four or five hours later we pulled into Davis Mountains State Park and looked for our site. We were eager to get set up and walk down the hill to meet our old and close friends, Allan and Becky. The only thing wrong with the park is that the RV sites are wildly out of level having to do with the mountain nature of the thing. Bring extra blocks for your jacks if you come.

Davis Mountains (*)

The first time I visited the splendid Davis Mountains, it was late at night in the early Spring of 1969, and you really couldn’t see them much. A friend and I were on our way to visit a mutual  friend who was an AWOL Marine sergeant and Vietnam combat veteran who was holed up in LA with his new wife. Bill wasn’t dumb exactly in spite of the corner he was in, but his wife, Elizabeth, was cerebral and a native of Fargo. They ended up in Canada shortly after our visit, got divorced, and Bill stayed there until he was pardoned by Jimmy Carter. Bill’s aunt was Dahna’s beloved 2nd grade teacher as a matter of pure coincidence.

Dahna was recently in contact with Bill, a good man living in Georgia, on Facebook, and they had a respectful debate over politics. She was alarmed though when Bill posted a photo of himself hugging Marjorie Taylor Greene right before Trump’s failed insurrection on 1/6/21. On the 7th, Bill informed his Facebook friends he was “going dark,” and that’s the last we heard of him.

So long, Buddy. Charley couldn’t kill you with his AK. It took poison to do that.

Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park (*)

Well, I took a little side trip, but one more thing … Back in the late ‘60s, if you were dumb enough to get caught by certain people driving through west Texas with long hair in a convertible, you might find yourself sporting a brand new flat top minus the flat. And, Mike and I might have gotten close that dark night in Alpine, Tx on our way to LA to see Bill and Elizabeth.

Black-headed Grosbreak – Davis Mountains State Park

It was three or four in the morning when we pulled into a cafe across from Sul Ross University that was a college back then, I think. When we walked in, all you could hear was the creak of leather from the belts and holsters of four or five Border Patrol agents as they turned on their barstools to stare at us. We kept our long hair that night by quietly keeping our own counsel in a booth, but those guys had a little fun sipping their coffee in the most malevolent way you can imagine. Think of Lee Van Cleef giving you the side eye every so often.

Later, as it dawned, Mike and I took Highway 54 north out of Van Horn, and you should do this too. Seriously, it’s one of the highways I’ve never forgotten; stark, beautiful and wildly lonesome, past high buttes and desert sage, going like an arrow to the Guadalupes and Carlsbad. We never saw another vehicle on that road all the way to the locked gate entrance to Carlsbad Caverns—still closed for winter back then. Take this road.

View From Fort Davis (*)

After setting up and letting our clothes dry from the sweat, Dahna and I walked down the hill, past the Airstreams to see Allan and Becky camping in their Lance pickup camper. We’ve been close to these two for 35 years. I met Allan in a terrific Historical Geology class sitting across from him. I think I made a 93 on the first exam, but a little glance told me that this kid made a 96. I was a late bloomer 37, and he was 22, already a high school science teacher going for his masters in Biology.

The pattern held held throughout the course: I’d make a 95, he’d score a 98. It was like Butch and Sundance, “Who is this guy??” Well, I never caught up with him scholastically, but we did become good friends. A year or so later we met Becky when she and I both took an Oceanography course together. 

The four of us camped together at fabulous Port Aransas, down there on a watery field trip out in the Gulf on UT’s research vessel, netting plankton to study with the onboard microscopes. Our “chaperone” was Dr. Reuben Walter, Dahna’s favorite organic chemistry professor and his wife, Mary, my lab instructor colleague and friend. The Walters, unfortunately, turned green as broccoli on that little three hour tour, but the four of us scampered around on that small ship like old tars. 

A dozen or so years later, Dahna and I would sail our ketch, Alchemy, out of Kemah to Port Aransas, and not getting seasick, even in rough six foot seas, was one of the very nice things about those trips. Apparently, the only real cure for this horrible malady is a tree, but I wouldn’t know. I’ve got problems, but that ain’t one of them. If you have a blue water boat, sail her to Port A. Best in Texas.

Speaking of water, Allan is the kind of guy that used to study by reading textbooks in the bathtub. Don’t ask me how I know that, but it’s true. He went on to get his doctorate at OU, and I can just see him looking like a prune at his orals. 

Allan and Becky

He went on to teach Botany to college kids and oldsters like me for 27 years, 23 of those at our old alma mater, Tarleton State University, as professor and, until recently, Biological Sciences department head. Allan distinguishes himself from Tarleton’s “teaching” professors by remaining a dedicated up-to-date scholar and full time research scientist; publishing over 60 peer-reviewed papers, and dozens more abstracts than that in various botanical journals nationwide. 

Allan’s the same guy who, beginning at age 12, worked after school in the grocery store as a sacker, deliverer and butcher, captained the football team as, get this, a guard, was elected Class President all four years of high school, and married his true love, the magnificent Parisian-born, French-American beauty, Rebecca, of seven siblings and a sergeant major dad. All this before walking across the little Comanche stage in cap and gown. 

Well, there are a couple of differences from then to now. For one, he and Becky can now afford a fancy hot tub. They can both wrinkle up together while looking out over the big lake that laps up on their own private beach. Pretty cool.

The other thing is that he grew up to become a genuine scientist, and he’s the kind of guy we need to listen to carefully right now regarding the virus that’s still mutating and killing our friends and loved ones. You could listen to someone like Becky too.

Becky is an artist. Sure, she draws and paints like many others do, but I’m using the term in the deepest sense I can dig down to. She’s an artist in the same sense Allan is a scientist. By nature; and in her case, by that I mean she’s grounded solidly in Cherokee mother earth. You know somebody like that and they’re in your life as the most vivid people you’ve had the fortune to meet. Dahna loves her as a sister and often asks in wonder, “She’s so amazing … Where does all that come from?” She’s fun and real funny too. A “blast” we used to say back in the Space Age.

A Sample of Becky’s Creations – Coasters Made From Dried Wildflowers

I’ll also add she spent decades as an elementary school teacher who emphasized hands-on science, rounding off the sharp edges and making it safe and a kick for those little kids. She and Allan are now in the early stages of collaborating on a field guide for the flora of South Padre Island. Allan writes the descriptions and technical keys for accurately identifying the plants; Becky illustrates them with detailed line drawings. Neither are opposed to tiny umbrellas in their drinks. A team of lovers, those two.

After we met up and hung out awhile, Dahna cooked tacos al pastor, and we drank a couple of rounds of Old Crow. But we were all a little tired (we were not drunk), and so we went to bed early. Early for us night owls, anyway. In the early morning, Dahna tried to get Sacha out to pee without waking me up, but I could hear the little doll prancing on the Lino in the doggie version of, “ooh! ooh! ooh!” as Dahna slipped the collar on.

Canyon Towee

So, I got up and Dahna went birding with her new camera that weighs as much as a medium anvil. Her results were pretty good, as you can see,  because she’s beginning to master the incredible complexity of this pricy Nikon. I flipped open my laptop, connected with the park’s wifi, amazingly, and let the cursor hover over several news sites. I learned during our self-imposed quarantine that even moderately rational persons can play themselves like a fiddle by exercising what some religious people mistake for free will.

Vermillion Flycatcher

So, I asked myself: ‘Shall we start with pathetic straw clutching rising to thin, but hopeful, optimism? Or are we up for raw fear and panic descending into white hot rage and helplessness?’ Well, it was a little too early for rage, so I opted for happy crap. I clicked on the appropriate web site and, sure enough, there was Ol’ Joe smiling that crooked smile and looking straight at me with those tired, squinty eyes. And beside him was Jill, no pole dancing trophy wife, but, as he might say himself, the real deal. The best deal he ever made to be sure. Hopefully, there’s more to come.

I was wise in my choice, and the day went along swimmingly with minimal cursing. We had pre-grilled hamburgers for lunch with Allan and Becky, and then we all jumped into my truck and started climbing the wonderful Skyline Drive. The drive is a little vertigo-inducing, and the tight switchbacks call for slow and careful maneuvering up the narrow two lane grade. Once you’re up there, boy, what a view. We were alone except for a young couple who quickly left, probably because of Allan’s pandemic Duck Dynasty beard. He calls it his John Muir beard, but those kids were taking no chances.

Bighorn Sheep – Davis Mountains

From the height of over 8,000 feet, it’s not hard not to grasp the idea that the Davis Mountains contain their own micro climate, thrust up as they are from the desert below; an anomalous extrusion of now-cooled volcanic magma into various igneous rocks along with broken chunks of limestone from the ancient seabed below. The higher elevation of the mountains receives about twice the annual rainfall than the surrounding “Trans-Pecos” desert, and that supports a larger variety of more temperate flora and fauna such as piñon pine and black bear. The Davis Mountains have been classified as a rare “sky island,” one of the very few in Texas.

Black-throated Sparrows

We took in the 360° panoramic view while Sacha picked her way through the spiky flora and, finding the proper spot, let ‘er rip. I had a poop bag in my back pocket, but there were no trash cans, and while I was scratching my head over what to do, Allan dropped a flat rock over the evidence. Problem solved, and no doubt some human-like creature will discover a fascinating coprolite some millennia hence.

Indian Lodge From Skyline Drive

I downshifted to ease the truck back down the mountain, and, since the day was still young, we took my favorite drive: the Scenic Loop. If you Google it, you’ll see it’s about 75 miles of two lane that goes through and around the sky island, and you get a number of perspectives. Going out of the state park, you’re up and down in the mountains already. Soon you’ll pass famous McDonald Observatory where you can arrange a viewing of the dark night sky by the astronomers that work there.

The Mountains Await (*)

Moving on, you wend and wind your way around through the mountains’ forest groves, sometimes graced with a spring but often dry. Then you descend down to the Chihuahuan desert floor where from a distance you can pan across the plain and see the mountain skyline. I think it’s best if you do it like I do at 45 mph with all the windows down so you can smell it too.

Blue Grosbeak – DMSP

If you’re younger, you might want to ride a good bike. There’s very little traffic and you can hear us old farts coming a mile away. Plenty of time to pull way over on the bunch grass which is a good idea to do often anyway. Use the clarity of your young eyes to see and not just look. Like Becky does. Spend a little more time with it in your mind like Allan does. Learn, then teach.

On the third day Becky asked me to go down and visit Allan. One of his graduate students had to defend his masters thesis early in the next week, but the guy wasn’t prepared, and Allan, who is also, I forgot to mention, a shepherd, was fretting as shepherds do when one of their lambs goes astray. There’s nothing worse than hanging with a shepherd who’s constantly wringing his hands, so I got it across as well as I could that he had no choice but to go home early and help this dumb idiot out. 

Bract Milkweed (Asclepias brachystephana)

“Okay,” he said. “But we’re taking you and Dahna to that Mexican place for your anniversary before we go.” So, they left a day early and it was a relief, especially for that kid. Before they got home, they stopped by our house, unasked, and fed the cats, the deer, the birds and watered the plants. Once they got to their house on the lake, Allan jumped into the old Prius and silently roared off to Stephenville to meet Thesis Boy. The kid successfully defended because … Allan, and now he’s off to the PhD. program at Rutgers, I think it was. 

White-breasted Nuthatch


Well, we got home too, two restful days later. It was a long, slow drive at 65 mph with the trailer and we were tired but happy. Good friends, old and new, plus new birds for Dahna and a favorite desert drive for me. Of course, it’s always good to be home again, and so it was.

A Personal Note
On this Fourth of July, Dahna and I were sitting out on the porch with Sacha and the cats listening to the scattered and desultory pops and bangs from a few folks setting off fireworks. There used to be a grand fireworks exhibition  in Comanche, but that ended five or six years ago when the beloved chiropractor who set up the display was killed when his trailer exploded just as he began to set up another performance. The shock wave rattled the windows of our house and me too, remembering another explosion in 1968 that took my arm in Vietnam, fighting for democracy in my young mind.

I try not to dwell too much on the violence in our nation’s past, but I am fully aware of it. It’s what I feel looming ahead of us that I think most about now. It’s true that we are now living in a time of our history when thousands of Americans, armed to the hilt with the kind of weapons like the one I once used, hear that old siren song of civil war. A spasm of violence to give them release from an evil fever dream stoked by the worst among us.

I told my old friend Sally last night that I’m optimistic and happy about the election, but that, like her, sometimes I sink a little into despair. January 6th made a lot of people feel that way. 

I’ve done some bad things and behaved poorly, but I’ve tried to become a better man as I watch the years go by. But I’ll tell you now, I’ll never be as good as some I know personally that honestly would never wish harm on another human being. An anonymous commenter on the Washington Post wrote at the bottom of an article about the heroic medical efforts to save the life of a uniquely bad man:

“What fresh Hell is this that in a time of plague, Trump lives and John Prine dies?”



Lesser Goldfinch (Often Referred to as the Bernie Bird)

(*) Marked Photos Courtesy of Susan

One thought on “The Davis Mountains”

  1. Dahna, the pictures were spectacular. Your bird images just get better and better! The landscapes and plants were beautiful, too.

    Pat, you have done it again with the writing. Thanks for the nice things you said about Becky and I! Made us feel good. If you only knew how our friendship with you guys has influenced and helped us over the years. I wish I could write 1/2 as good as you but luckily scientific writing is pretty dull and easy to do.

    Here are some of the greatest phrases in this jewel of a blog:

    “swaying tightrope over an orange Niagara of bullshit”

    “the herd hasn’t stampeded to Covid immunity yet, but it has laid waste to RV, boat, and used car lots.”

    “Texas has mostly been run by conservatives, formerly Southern Dixie-style Democrats and now, ever since Pat Buchanan taught Nixon how to dog whistle, Republicans of the increasingly virulent and mutating Trump strain.”

    “Almost all the rest of the land in the state is privately owned; mostly ranches and farms protected formerly by Stetsons and .30-30 Winchesters, traded in by the latest generation for tattoos, AR-15s and camo with an ironically conspicious red cap perched on top.”

    “On our last day at Lake Colorado City S.P., we decided to risk life on a ventilator and go out to eat at the Kelley Cafe nearby. “

    “Allan’s pandemic Duck Dynasty beard. He calls it his John Muir beard, but those kids were taking no chances.” Hey, I resemble that remark! It is a “protest beard” as I am protesting how sorry the state’s higher education retirement plan is and how crooked the rethuglicans are that started it!

    The “Don’t Forget Me-S.M.E.” story is truly amazing! And your writing captured our wonderful time in the mountains and deserts beautifully!

    The saddest part of your writing is the reporter’s quote, “What fresh Hell is this that in a time of plague, Trump lives and John Prine dies?” This is so true. Our world would be much better if Trump had passed and John Prine had penned and sang a song about it!


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