Catching Up, Keeping Up, And Thinking About It All

February 14, 2015

I know that, a little while back, I mentioned that the Hog Blog would be running a little sporadically over the coming days (weeks, months, hard to say).  Nevertheless, when I look at the site and realize that I’ve let the better part of the week pass without so much as a quick note, it sort of bothers me and I want to apologize to the two or three folks who actually keep up with this little exercise in ego and vanity.  But there is a lot going on lately, and so much of it has nothing to do with hogs or hunting or anything else folks want to read about.

That said, I do have one semi-relevant update.

Thursday morning, I met with my realtor and officially began the process of listing Hillside Manor for sale.

It wasn’t done without emotion, and as much as I’d like to say it was cathartic to actually pull the trigger, I’m not sure that’s quite true.  Looking around at the other properties for sale in the area, this is likely to be a long, drawn-out endeavor… which means I’m probably going to be here for a while.  So every sunset on the porch, watching the colors in the sky over the glowing ridgetops… every scotch out on the patio, watching the deer come down to the feeder… every time I look out the office window at the oak trees in the yard…  it will be a reminder that this is all about to end.  I put a lot into this place.  I invested much more than money and sweat.  Giving it up is not easy, and I’m afraid that drawing it out is only going to make it harder.

But it’s done.  It’s time to focus on the next thing.

So if you know anyone who is looking for a little piece of paradise… around 24 acres or so, to be precise… with a comfy little home, a big barn, and a couple Big axis buckof pastures already fenced, and arguably the prettiest, brightest night sky I’ve seen… more whitetail deer than a person can eat, and the occasional axis… I’ve got just the thing.  And it can be yours for well under $200K.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why it is that I’m so drawn to this place, and why it’s so painful to leave… besides the natural beauty, of course.  There’s something here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I know part of it is in the people.

The people here are pretty awesome.  They’re country folks, which brings a curious mix of hospitality and standoffishness.  On the one hand, you’re welcome to join the community, but no matter how long you stay, they’re not likely to let you forget that “you ain’t from here.”  They’ll do about anything for you if you need help, but you probably want to have an invite before you ride up past their gate.

Folks here tend to look at things simply, without many shades of grey.   That can be intellectually frustrating, but at least you always know where they stand.  And you’re more than welcome to think differently, as long as you’re willing to accept that you’d be wrong.  But don’t you dare jump to conclusions thinking they’re ignorant (some are, some aren’t) or simple.  A simple life doesn’t necessarily indicate a simple mind.

There’s an old fellow down the way from me.  I couldn’t tell you how old, but he’s seen a few winters come and go.  The first time we met, I stood out in his yard while he told me about his family’s deep, Texas history, which included a mix of outlaws (apparently something of a gang down in Corpus Christi) and lawmen (one of the early Texas Rangers).  As hard as I tried to redirect the conversation, he went on to politics with exactly the perspective and opinion you might expect from a lifelong Texan (some stereotypes are real).  He also warned me all about these newfangled, wireless electric meters that transmit microwaves and “give you brain cancer.”

By the time I wandered back up to the Manor, I’d formed an impression of him as a generally good, and very likeable person, but a little narrow-minded.  I didn’t consider him ignorant so much as I just figured he didn’t have the benefit of a formal education or of exposure to life outside of his small sphere.  From the work he’d done to his place, I could see that he was handy and practical, as well as industrious, even in his advanced years (there’s a lot of that out here, and that sense of self-sufficiency is definitely something I value highly).  In all, I had him pegged as pretty much a classic example of the type of people I’ve met out here.

But, here lies the danger of generalizations and stereotypes.  I was in the Family Dollar store the other morning (our shopping options are limited), picking up some distilled water when I ran into him in the aisle.  He had two gallon jugs of drinking water in his hands.  He looked in my cart, smiled, and proceeded to rattle off Coleridge (“Water, water, everywhere… etc.” from  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in case you didn’t guess).   I expressed my appreciation for his poetic alacrity, so he regaled me with a couple more as we made our way to the checkout counter… a snippet of Shakespeare, a little Longfellow, and finally, some cowboy poet that I’d never heard of.

Sometimes, it’s what’s beneath the surface that really makes the difference.

Beneath the surface in this rough country, there’s a cruel beauty.  The field of bluebonnets may look inviting, but think twice before strolling out there barefoot because cactus and rattlesnakes mingle with the lupines and sideoats grama.    Spread your blanket along the banks of the crystalline river, but have a care because the scorpion doesn’t think much of being sat upon.  And always overhead, the vultures and caracara wait patiently… but seldom long.

There is a very real sense of frontier.  A little over a century ago, it was still untamed, dangerous land… the land of the Comanche, Kickapoo, and Apache (among others).  You can find their traces everywhere in the Hill Country.  The rocky ground is littered with arrowheads and stone tools.  The stories are still living, passed along by the grandchildren of old settlers… tales of indian raids and white reprisal.  In the immediate area are the ruins of at least two Spanish missions, established to “civilize” the indigenous people and abandoned in failure.  It was a hard place then.  It is still a hard place now.

It’s border country.  It is not entirely unusual to see the ragged groups of illegal immigrants, sneaking through the canyon.  Late at night, along the empty highway, I’ve spotted them in the edges of my headlights, ducking into the cedars and mesquite.  In town, whispered rumors point out certain citizens as members of the “Mexican Mafia”, while others hint of smugglers and meth-heads.  From bank to barbershop, Spanish is as common as English… or at least Spanglish.  It’s not hard to think you’re in another country, not America at all.

It’s outlaw country.  For decades, it has been a place where people have come to disappear… fade into the hills, or slip across the border.  And the people here appear to know it.  Folks seem to be less interested in who you were someplace else, than who you are here and now.  It’s a place where you can come to reinvent yourself, or to rediscover the self you thought you’d already invented.

It creates a state of mind, I think, that I have never really experienced anywhere else.  To borrow from Charles Kuralt, North Carolina is my home.  It will always be my home.  But North Carolina has been tamed.  I will be happy enough to return… to be back home… but I know I’ll never again feel what I feel living here, in the rocky canyons of the Texas Hill Country.


11 Responses to “Catching Up, Keeping Up, And Thinking About It All”

  1. Catching Up, Keeping Up, And Thinking About It All | on February 14th, 2015 13:30

    […] Catching Up, Keeping Up, And Thinking About It All […]

  2. Chad Love on February 15th, 2015 08:26

    Sorry to hear that, Phil. It sounds like a lovely place. Being an Okie, I’m not supposed to admit it, but that Texas hill country area is an amazingly beautiful region. I’ve never been to North Carolina, but your feelings sort of mirror my own about central/eastern Oklahoma. It’s home, always will be, but I’m a prairie rat now. The horizons back east just aren’t big enough. Trees and people make me nervous.
    Your synopsis of rural folk is spot-on, too. People are people wherever they are: Some are affirmations of type, and some of them will surprise the hell out of you.

  3. Chad Love on February 15th, 2015 08:30

    Meant to say, sorry to hear that Phillip. I don’t have a name that can easily be shortened, but for people who do, I imagine it annoys the hell out of them when it happens…

  4. Phillip on February 15th, 2015 10:52

    I appreciate it, Chad, and no worries. As you might expect, I’ve dealt with the foreshortened name my whole life. I seldom even bother to correct it anymore.

    I guess the West gets in your blood, which would have been a strange thought to me back when I could hardly be pulled out of the Atlantic. Going back to NC definitely isn’t the end of the world, and there’s really a lot that I’m looking forward to. But I can’t get past the sense that I’m being uprooted, like a little barrel cactus, to be transplanted to a box in someone’s apartment window.

  5. JAC on February 16th, 2015 13:07

    That’s a lovely shot of the Manor. Is that an old picture or has Spring sprung in Camp Wood?

  6. Phillip on February 17th, 2015 14:51

    It’s from right after they finished my porch, John. Notice that there are no rocking chairs, and Iggy’s Command Station/Dog house isn’t in the photo.

  7. JAC on February 18th, 2015 18:56

    I think we should throw ourselves once more into the void, or vestibule, or whatever is the quotation, and hunt Texas one last time. I’m going to Payson, AZ, next weekend to iron out my GS Custom loads and, saints preserve me, I hanker to hunt, or hang out with the estimable Phillip one last time in Texas. Hunt, hang out. Hang out, hunt. I’m pretty easy.

  8. Phillip on February 20th, 2015 09:20

    John, shoot me an email when you get a bit. I’ve been cooking an idea, but so far I haven’t let it get above a slow simmer.

    And, given the market around here, there will likely be opportunities for more than one hunt before I finally get this place sold.

  9. Ingrid on March 13th, 2015 18:55

    Phillip, I don’t stop by anymore but I’m glad I happened upon an old link that led me to your space. What a poignant essay and homage to this land you love, capturing the dichotomous character — the harsh and the sweet — as exemplified by both the people and the bluebonnets. So, we connect in this ephemeral way, through the rhythm of words. I’m surprised to learn you are leaving. Didn’t you relocate to this area not too long ago, after living in the Bay Area? I hope whatever takes you to your next destination eastward is a great adventure of body, mind and spirit. Take care.

  10. Phillip on March 14th, 2015 15:26

    Thanks, Ingrid.

    I was surprised to be leaving too, but hard choices had to be made. The upside is, every new thing is an adventure if you let it be. This wasn’t in my plans, but I’ll make the best of it as I’ve always done.

    Be well.

  11. Going Home : Hog Blog on April 6th, 2015 02:22

    […] too far in the recent past, I posted a fairly whiny soliloquy about having to leave Texas.  And it’s true, I hate leaving this place.  But, it’s not all bad.  There’s a […]