I’ve been out of the country….sort of.

There is a great line in Clint Eastwood’s movie “Unforgiven” that goes something like this…. Good guy to bad guy: “I thought you were dead.” Bad guy to good guy: “So did I; turns out I was just in Nebraska.” (Uh oh, there goes the Nebraska contingent of my precious few readers).

Well, I thought I was out of the country last week; turns out I was just in West Texas. My wife and I had a very enjoyable few days in Texas, just west of Austin. It was a planned mini-reunion with three of my fraternity brothers from college and their wives. Our host was Les, a retired pediatrician who was a couple of years behind me in school. He owns a fantastic ranch there with over two hundred acres in the harsh yet enchanting foothills of West Texas hill country. He and his lovely wife Ellen moved out there a few years ago after he left his very successful practice in Austin, although he still oversees a pediatric emergency clinic that he started back in town.

A view of the top of the ranch from across the road.

A view of the top of the ranch from across the road.

The name of their little town is Oatmeal. Yes, that’s right, Oatmeal, Texas. And I’m told that their barbecue festival is to die for. And judging from the tremendous meals that Les and Ellen provided for us, I don’t doubt that one bit. But it’s a pretty good pony ride from Oatmeal to the ranch. If you’re a city-slicker, and I most certainly qualify, you are not prepared for the vastness and isolation to be found in “these here parts”, to use the vernacular.


Patty with one of the barn cats who followed us on our many hikes.

But the inherent beauty of this ultra rural area is quickly realized. One has only to stand still for a moment to enjoy the piquant aroma of the ubiquitous cedar trees wafting in on the breeze. From the verdant valleys and creeks, to the rocky hillsides with abundant brush and natural caves, you are swept into the setting of a John Ford movie, totally bereft of high-tech and the hustle-bustle of everyday life, if that’s your thing.

One of the amazing things about this area, which was ground zero in the heyday of the Comanche Indian nation nearly two hundred years ago, is the ease with which artifacts, mostly arrowheads, are still uncovered to this day. This includes items from the PaleoAmerican or Clovis period about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Les has a nice collection of these to attest.


I always knew Les was a “straight arrow” kind of guy.

Les doesn’t have any Longhorn steer on his ranch, although his neighbor does. You have to understand though, that “neighbor” is a very relative term. He does have three horses, including one that is about to foal. Again, for us city dwellers, that means have a baby. My brave wife, who used to have a horse as a teenager, was delighted to be able to ride one through the hills on our second day.

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One oddity we noticed was prickly pear cactus growing out of the many massive, adorning live oak trees that populate the ranch. When we questioned this, it was explained that raccoons often nibble on the fruit of these cactus as a kind of delicacy, then deposit the seedlings from the plant in their scat when they go up into the trees and relieve themselves in the crevices and leaf gatherings in the tree. And so goes the cycle of nature, one poop at a time.


The cactus tree

We were the interlopers here. This is the home of much wildlife. Mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, snakes, wild hog, the list goes on. In fact, on a lone walk one day, I encountered a wild hog the size of small car, or so it seemed. Fortunately, as stunned as I was, he was more afraid of me and ambled off into the cover. Later that evening, my host showed me a pair of tusks taken from a boar he had shot. It was only then that I realized why they are considered such a vicious animal….and how lucky I was. In fact, they are considered such a menace to crops, pets and farmland that there is open hunting season on them throughout the year.


Hi Al. I’m your worst nightmare.

Which brings me to the gun control issue. No matter what side of this you are on, it doesn’t take long to understand why the government will never take the guns out of Texas (or I suspect, any of this type of wide open country, no matter the state.) On our first walk to see the area. I noticed Les had a gun holstered to his side. Noticing my look of curiosity, Les pointed out that it was a “snake gun”, basically a .45 loaded with a buckshot type of ammunition in case we encountered any evil-minded and venomous critters of the genus Crotalus.


Notice the sidearm on his right side.

But what I admired most about this captivating place was how green it was. No, I don’t mean green in color, though it certainly was; I mean environmentally green. Les is a true patriot and a man of action, not words. Les’s ranch is self-sustaining. He uses several solar panels to provide electricity to his home and out buildings. He has electric lines coming into his ranch, but uses only from the electric company what energy that the panels are unable to provide. But even more impressive is his water system. It is one hundred percent rain water. He has a roof rain water collection system that is state of the art. Using large vats (one as big as a two car garage), he is able to store many thousands of gallons of water and filter it into a potable state. No wells, no water lines, just good old God-given rain water for the house, the pool, the garden, etc.


Another view of the ranch house. One of the smaller rain water tanks is on the left.

Well, we’re back in our home in Virginia. But I’m a more learned person now after visiting this area of the country and the wonderful people who inhabit there. I’ve often read about the pioneering types that founded and built this great land. This was a chance to see first-hand how that underlying spirit still resides.


A fun get together after 50 years.

44 thoughts on “I’ve been out of the country….sort of.

  1. Sounds like a wonderful trip!

    When Peter and I went to Turkey a few years back, we went Scorpion Hunting one night (Thats another story)

    Our friend who took us brought a shotgun with him! I was really worried about the size of scoppions we were expecting to come across, but it turned out the gun was just in case of wild boar.

    I think we needed the pistol your friend had too… the place we were in is called ‘Yinlanlin’ which means “Where there are snakes”

  2. Hi Al, what a charming story and great pics too. I feel wiser now knowing there is a town called Oatmeal in Texas! Thanks for the blog follow, much appreciated.

  3. I get a kick out of Texans native Texans always having a sidearm or a piece as the term is used, we love TEXAS in our home many transplanted Texans lived in our neighborhood they missed it so much when they retired home they went, We visited Austin where our daughter goes to the big SXSW festival for many years she is in the film business and loves loves and loves some more AUSTIN, so we went with her for a week, I never wanted to come to our home we have resided in for almost 37 years, the weather and the people and the place we got to stay a home out of the city and lovely bluebonnets, texas bbq the real bbq as far as I am concerned real biscuits and gravy and chicken fried steak and real steak, I never wanted to leave, the family we stayed with their oldest son is crazy for our daughter she always says they are just friends, well hee haw they are really more than friends, he is the sweetest, smartest fellow we have ever known and character and class all the way a real southern gentleman and a university of texas graduate as about all his kin to boot, we are a praying this lasts…I love your blog just found it from another blog and to me you write very well, easy to understand and I like the photos too, happy week, soon May..ciao!

  4. Loved seeing the pictures and hearing about your adventures. You were in our part of paradise. When we lived in San Antonio, we went to the hill country all the time, especially when we took the back way to Austin through Blanco and Dripping Springs. Looks like you had great weather, too.

  5. Oh Al, I loved reading about your adventures in ‘the bush’ – marvelous. You all look so happy and I love the pics. ❤ you my Bro, hugs for you and Patty. xXx

  6. Loved this, forwarded it to Pinot’s parents who also loved it and were so happy to see their beloved Texas appreciated!!

    • Thanks, Marcia. I’ve always been a Texas fan after having lived in Houston for two years as a young teen. First time in that area though. I’ll bet Pinot would have joined us on the hikes too!

  7. You certainly were lucky that hog ran away. They can be extremely dangerous. In the high heat of the summer, snakes can also be a big problem. The stark beauty of this part of the world makes up for its native dangers. Bye, from Lytle Texas.

    • What I neglected to mention was that I had their Labrador Retriever dog on that walk with me. That’s probably why the hog took off, though I doubt the dog would have had much of a chance either. Visited your area also several years ago. Loved San Antonio! I lived in Houston for a couple of years back in the mid 50’s.

  8. Great photos of my old home state. My Dad loved Texas. He packed a sidearm, but he was with the Border Patrol during WWII when he and Mom married. Mom hated the lonely country and the scorpions and the interlopers from across the border.

    Too me it still is ‘No country for Old men.’ However, you and your buddies braved it.

    People who haven’t lived in Texas don’t know how scary and wonderful it can be. Scariest of all are the storms that blow in from the Prairie or the Gulf. Mom says she was freaked out because she couldn’t keep me out of the cow patties and I loved those little “toy” scorpions. I was a wild child at a young age.

    The cat with Patty knows a friend when he sees one.

    • Actually, I lived in Houston for a couple of years when I was a teenager, but I had never been to the hill country.

      That cat had more personality than smarts. It could have been picked off by any number of creatures.

      • We lived in El Paso, San Diego, Henderson, Mount Enterprise, Longview (Where my Sis was born), Carthage, and Nacogdoches of course. Oh yes and Tyler too. Long time ago now…we had a cow, chickens, huge half acre garden, and a windmill to generate electricity to pump water. Dad left the Border Patrol and went with USDA, which is how we ended up in East Texas and began moving all over the South.

        The cat is wiser than you think. Cats are superior in that way, unlike dogs who can be really stupid.

  9. What an amazing trip. I love “being out in the wild” apart from the odd venomous snake of course, and I can well understand how special this trip must have been, and with old friends who always make any occasion that more memorable. Really enjoyed this account of your adventure. More please 🙂

  10. Thanks for the tour, Al. Your “brave wife” looked comfortable and at ease atop that horse. That is quite a collection your friend has, and being self-sustained is admirable.

    • Les is one of the most fearless and entrepreneurial people I’ve ever known. There is nothing he won’t try. He also has his own airplane. I could see this in him way back in school.

  11. Sounds like you all had a great time. It is awe inspiring when you consider how incredibly diverse this country is. I love how self-sustaining your friend is.

    • If you could see the intricate arrangement of pipes and vats for his water system you would be amazed. It cost him a bundle I’m sure, but he will never, ever be without water. He can store and process close to 50,000 gallons. And it all works on his own electrical system!

  12. Welcome back to home territory. Sounds like you had quite the adventure. It never ceases to amaze me how very different these “united” states are. Great oics and glad you had such a nice time. Even more happy that you have friends who still like you after all these years! 😉

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