Once you could sit in a boat right over the spring source, hemisphere of sky above, hemisphere of water below, and it would be as if you hung suspended between the elements inside a perfect globe of morning-glory blue. Once, but not now, not anymore.
It’s a kind of parlor game, a question someone asks at the after-party, perhaps, lounging on couches, shoes off, everyone half-drunk and one-quarter enamored and not ready for the long night to die. What’s your hidden talent? This is no invitation to brag—I got straight A’s in college, I can bench-press 220. Oh no no no, you win this game by trotting out your most bizarre and useless skill.
Every decent boy needs a chaotic idol, an angel of entropy. Every Tom Sawyer needs his Huck Finn. Mine was Charlie Cousins, a beaten-up-looking kid with freckles and a self-inflicted buzz cut. He was not in our bicycle gang and wouldn’t have been welcome in our tree fort back in the bamboo. He would have laughed at us anyway, with our training wheels and curfews.
Cattle rustling, signature crime of the Old West, has returned to Texas. “These days, we got more rustlers than you can say grace over,” Ranger Wayne Goodman told me. “It used to be you didn’t catch a rustler that didn’t know cattle, or at least have some kind of agriculture in their background. Now, what with the drought, it doesn’t take much skill. Cows are so thirsty you can lead them into a trailer with just a bucket of water.”
Watching a movie or television show with my husband can be vexing. He’s a scenic painter, on the hard labor side of the movie-making equation in Hollywood South, as Louisiana is often called these days, now that tax credits have made our state the number-one filmmaking destination in the country.
Not very long ago I was packing my daughter’s Hello Kitty lunchbox when I heard a squeal of brakes and a metallic crunk from the road out front. In the morning commute, a young antlered buck had been walloped in the street by a small car. The deer was still alive but lay on its side against the curb behind the parked car my wife would soon use to drive our daughter to school.
The greeting on the face of the valentine, You Dumb Bell, says more about my mother than about the recipient—my father, the putative “dumb bell.” The valentine is in the shape of a dumbbell, the weight used for exercise and made popular during the time my mother gave the valentine to my father, the early 1930s.
Because there wasn’t enough income to pay a full-time hand, all animals requiring daily care had to go. Mountain lions would eat the Boer goats if they went unsold. An emu, whom the old foreman Cruz had jailed in a derelict tennis court, I freed to earn a living in pasture. So long as they had water and grass, the cattle more or less took care of themselves until roundup.
That left the llama.