The sun was just setting when I drove onto the ranch nestled off one of countless back roads in South Texas. It was beautiful serenity as the sun set on a hectic week as well as the expansive wildlands surrounding me. This multiple-thousand-acre speck of South Texas was my destination that weekend as it happens to be where my Kindred Soul lives. I was thrilled at the prospect of spending some time with him in this wintry wilderness. Over the time I had there, I was reminded of the subtle charms of South Texas which had taken me so long to recognize when I completed my undergraduate degree down there. Now, the desolate mystery of South Texas rangelands holds a certain call on my heart.
For any of you that are familiar with the South Texas landscape, you know that it isn’t known for its intriguing topography. In fact, that region of our state is particularly flat. So, when you do find a rise of any sort, it is particularly treasurable. Just such a rise served as a perfect observation deck for us to take in the sprawling plains and setting sun. I fully believe that some moments in our lives are “God winks,” or moments so perfect they must have been divinely ordained. We get to be with the right person/people, at the right place, at the right time. All aspects of the moment seem to line up in just such a way that the rest of life can pause for us to breathe it in. Watching that sunset from a plateau in the plains will always stand still in my mind as just such a moment.
Grilling steaks on a barbeque is, without a doubt, a Texan tradition; grilling steaks on a barbeque in the middle of nowhere under a tapestry of stars has, without a doubt, perfected that tradition for me. South Texas skies are one of the jewels of Texas creation. At sunset, their exquisite colors accent and contrast the dull colors found in the dormant, winter landscape of brush and grasses. At night, the stars sometimes seem to be so close that they must have come down to waltz just above the brushline. In the morning, the skies serve as the curtain drawn back to the symphony of bird songs.
Ranch work doesn’t wait for the sun to rise. So, by the time the sky began to change from black to navy blue, we had been up working for quite some time. As if by the cue of a conductor’s wand, all the birds awoke in song, happily conversing of their plans for the day to come and grumpily complaining of the cold. We diligently tended a fire on the office porch in order to endure the cold ourselves.
The sun finally completed its glimpse over the horizon and we continued our duties for the day. As we drove around to check water troughs, clean facilities, etc., I was in awe of the landscape’s beauty. A recent freeze has caused most of the grasses and other plants to die or enter dormancy. As a result, the entire scene is painted in endless hues of tans, grays, browns, and shadows. The rising sun plated it all in gold. I hope I’ll never lose memory of the moments of that gold-plated morning.
The South Texas brush is teeming with life. Javelina, deer, coyote, bobcat, snakes, rabbits, and on and on and on. Driving anywhere can be a zoological expedition. On just a short trip, I saw most of the varieties which the region has to offer. Those plains offer some of the most unique biodiversity of anywhere in the state.
Walking those South Texas roads has become therapy for me; the skies, the animals, the plant life, often with my Kindred Soul by my side. Even the air of those plains is fragrant. Fragrant in such a beautiful, earthy way.
In some ways, I wish that I could fully express to you the beauty I rediscovered in that landscape. But, in other ways, I just want to hold those moments of contentment kindred in my heart. The revelation which this expedition brought me to is that I often get so busy looking ahead that I forget to look around. When I was doing my undergrad degree in this region, I cannot tell you how much I complained about being “down there.” I boasted of how I couldn’t wait to shake the dust of the plains off my feet and head for Central Texas. I was so focused on my next achievement that I failed to appreciate the serene beauty surrounding me. Now that I’m here in Central Texas, I find myself homesick for a place I never thought could feel like home.
So now, I pause with such beauty in my heart and strive to take notice of the beauty surrounding me here. Not only the physical aesthetics, but also the blessed relationships, interactions, and this time of my life in general. Sometimes, even as grad students, we need to cease from striving and relish in what we’ve already been given.
Heather is a masters candidate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.