Every once in awhile I become nostalgic and take a day to revisit places that have been instrumental in shaping my ideas and philosophy regarding life and all things therein. This might include visiting our old home place on the ranch where my parents raised Rick, Patty, and I through the magical years of the 50’s and 60’s. Sometimes I will travel to the Benjamin cemetery to pay tribute to the life and times of a dear friend who left us too early but whose memory and voice still speaks within. Whenever I find myself on the Texas Tech campus I sometimes gravitate to a specific classroom where a favorite instructor motivated my intrigue for a subject of study. This “centering” can take place in many forms and each individual will have their own definition of this personal connection to a special phase of ones life.
A few weeks ago much of Texas experienced some of the worst wildfires in the history of the state. In some of my old stomping grounds on the Pitchfork Ranch a fierce fire raged across some 80,000 acres of this historical ranch, at times threatening camps and even the headquarters at one point. I had heard that one maverick fire had started near an old half dugout cow camp that I had lived in some 36 years ago following graduation from Texas Tech University ( see blog December 19, 2008). Over the years I have made pilgrimages back to the old camp for perhaps a few hours at a time to build a fire in the battered fireplace and sit in silence to remember the quiet and solitude from another time. It is important to ones psyche to revisit these places which are defined by good memories. But this time I feared that my little hut may have perished in the hellish blaze of weeks before and I was heart sick at the idea of such a loss. Thus I headed to the ranch to face the prospects of such an event.
Backfiring to check the fires advance on the Pitchfork
Through the miles of big ranch country leading to my old home the land was ravaged and barren, scorched by the wind driven wild fire of recent. During the eleven mile drive I was reminded of the phrase “Sane Men Fear a Range Fire”, words written by Texas buffalo hunter and rancher Frank Collinson in his book “Life in the Saddle”. Driving by three mule deer seeking forage on a scorched piece of ground I thought of how appropriate these words are even today, some 130 years after Collinson witnessed wildfires devouring the grassland in older times. I hoped above hope that my little camp had survived the onslaught of this fiery holocaust.
A trio of muleys searching for forage in the aftermath of the firestorm.
In descending the road to the camp I felt an urgency to get there, only two miles distant but seeming to be more like an eternity. The country seemed lifeless compared to the years of past, as not a bird or a mammal save the three deer had I seen on the trip in.
Thirty years is a long time in the scheme of human life and, like me, the face of the land had changed drastically in these three decades. Rounding the last bend in the canyon road I could barely make out the profile of the hut through a maze of dead and burned brush. Although relieved that the house still stood, the little barn and outdoor privy were but ashes in the fires aftermath. Walking into the overgrown yard I could see that the fire tried its best to devour the cabin in its insatiable quest to destroy but efforts by the valiant firefighters had saved it at the last moment. Next to the wooden walls juniper trees that I had trimmed months before were scorched and brown but had not ignited. For that I was thankful. The trimming had saved the day but at the time I thought nothing of fire, only to keep them from rubbing against the building.
The old wolfers camp as seen in the winter of 1974
Wolfers camp 2011 from same vantage point
Unlocking the door I walked in to find the old place replete with cobwebs and dust but, luckily, all intact. Quickly going to work with broom and mop I soon had the little house in good order and feeling like home once again. After finishing the domestic chores I retreated to the shaded porch, lit a good cigar and relaxed in the quiet of this hot spring afternoon. Just like three decades before the wind played softly in the mesquite trees down where the windmill used to stand and I was soon lost in the memories of older days. After an hour or two I reluctantly loaded my gear and ascended out of the canyon and headed eastward, reenergized and pleased by this last moment decision to come back home. Just as I had thought it might, a connection with the land and a much simpler life returned to my consciousness. Coming home again was a good thing…
Enjoy the photos here of those simple times we should never forget and do our best to try and revisit when the need is at hand.
Inside the little hunt in the winter of 1975
Inside the cabin May 2011
Writing field notes by the light of a kerosine lamp. 1974
Cleaning steel in camp 1974.
A lighter moment on the trapline. This one tagged and released for research purposes.
A view from the cabin door. Sunset 1974.
The old windmill that is now gone. Evening light in 1974. A pivotal time in my recognizing the importance of great light.
Experimenting with firelight photography inside the cabin on a cold winter night. 1974
A moment in the past when times were more simple. When a rifle and cold steel bought the groceries. 1974.