"Howdy, y' all"
Tis The Season
The Beauty of West Texas
Do you believe that bird dogs since the beginning of fall and know that quail season is on the way? This morning as I walked out to the dogs' run, a slightly cooler breeze touched my face and brought on a smile that I would swear was reflected in the dogs' excited expressions. They were as happy as I was about the end of the hot Texas summer and the beginning of cooler weather. I haven't always been pleased to see the hunting season arrive. In fact, quail season was an occurrence I used to view with mixed emotions because it meant my husband would leave me here in Cedar Hill, Texas, with the children while he trekked to Aspermont in far West Texas to hunt. Now there are no children at home and I have become my mate's hunting companion, although I carry a camera instead of a gun.
When I first started coming to West Texas I thought it was ugly and too harsh for my taste. After all, didn't we live in a lushly wooded area with a view of hills and Lake Joe Poole out of our den windows? Why leave such vistas for the flat plains of Aspermont? But as I started to take a closer look at the land through the lens of my camera, I came to see the true beauty of the land and the animals that live on it. I bought a field guide and learned the names of the different cacti, mesquite, sand sage, shin oak, and bluestem, just to name a few. Heavy rains had helped the growth of thick cover which promised a good quail crop for the season. In just one morning on one trip last year, I was able to photograph and observe more wildlife than I had ever seen at home.
Let me tell you about one day last year on our lease. As we started our first walk of the day, serenaded by a pack of wild coyotes, my husband handed me the binoculars and pointed up into the trees in front of us. The large birds massed together in the very tops of the trees were turkeys and as the sounds of our dogs announced our arrival, they began to fly with more grace and quickness than their size would indicate. I glanced over to the other side of the road and was surprised to see a wild mother pig in the mesquite tree clearing. She was followed into the brush by quite a large litter of piglets. These wild pigs are so plentiful now that many of the ranchers are allowing hunters to come in and clear them out, but at that moment I was enjoying the universal joy of seeing babies. There were a lot of birds on the lease that same morning and I was pleased to see a group of brightly colored bluebirds sitting on one of the branches a few yards away. As we topped a small hill covered with brush, we were startled to see a large mule deer bolt and run from behind a large thicket. All of this in one morning! I wondered how I could have ever thought that this was a barren and ugly place.
As the intoxicating aroma of blooming white brush rose around me, the first dog point of the season occurred about ten yards in front of me. As we got closer to the dogs and the quail hiding in the brush, I tried to position myself to get the best pictures I could of the dogs and my husband as he walked past their point and flushed the quail from their hiding place. No matter how many times I have taken pictures of this activity, the moment when the birds fly up from the still grass with a giant whoosh is still breathtaking and as exciting as the first time. The objective is to capture on film the exact moment when he shoots, the bird falls, and the dog leaps to retrieve it. I have only accomplished this a few times, but the perfect picture is one of the reasons I keep coming back.
As the day came to a close, we began the long walk back to the truck. I heard a distant honking and looked up just in time to see a flock of sandhill cranes flying over us. I have heard that these birds mate for life and I was reminded of the synchronicity of all living things and knew that we are just a small piece of a much larger puzzle. Being involved with nature through hunting or hiking, you come away not only with exercise for the body but with food for the soul.
The pictures I took on that day are a wonderful way to remember last year's season and to make us anxious to return this year. Someday, when we are too old to go on these trips or can only watch the dogs from the truck, we will be able to look back and say that we were once able to walk the plains of West Texas. And I will be able to say that I came to appreciate the wonderful diversity of Texas and the beauty of the West Texas plains.
Cedar Hill, Texas
Published: November 14, 2005
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