… in a time of drought are, oddly, matched only in times of flood. The Texas Hill Country is in the grip of a drought unparalleled at least since the 1950s. This drought has been so fierce that cattle going to drink at their accustomed (and empty) tanks have found themselves mired in mud so viscous and vicious that they are unable to extricate themselves from it. Even if ranchers find the cattle before they die of dehydration, they’re often as helpless as the foundered cows, unable to do anything but shoot them to relieve their misery.
While at Madroño we’ve been surveying parched rangeland and dropping water tables with dismay, we still have what now is revealed to be the astonishing gift of running water. At the far northwest corner of the property, our intrepid ranch manager Robert Selement and his gang of “coolies”—comprised mostly of his own children—have been cleaning out what we call the trout ponds, which have been choked with silt and vegetation for several decades.
The trout ponds are three dammed pools, each about 70 feet long and five to eight feet deep, which spill over at the end into Slippery Creek, which snakes its way southward down the valley until it flows into Wallace Creek. The water for Slippery Creek comes straight out of the rocks and is mostly routed through a series of lovingly crafted stone holding pens built in the 1970s and intended for raising brown trout.
As it emerges from its heavily shaded, ferny grotto, the water is astonishingly cold, cold enough to make you gasp if you have the nerve to sit in it. By the time it becomes shallow Slippery Creek, it’s pleasantly cool—to anyone but a trout, that is; the breeding venture petered out pretty quickly. (Much to their mutual surprise, our son Tito managed to pull a trout out of Wallace Creek about ten years ago, but that was the last one we’ve seen.)
But the beautiful stone work, the soothing sound of falling water, and the rich coolness remain. During this wretchedly hot summer, Robert keeps his workers going by working elsewhere during the (relatively) cool mornings and saving work at the trout ponds for the worst of the afternoon’s heat (hence, “coolies”). Several of the cracks in the rock that usually leak water are dry now, making the small, steady flow that rises from underground even more remarkable, its apparently modest output sustaining the life and well-being of countless creatures and plants. What a blessing!
N.B. We wrote and scheduled this post several weeks ago, anticipating Martin the Macho Tech Man’s absence as he marches across northern England. So I think we have actually caused the rain that’s been falling steadily for the last few days—sort of like leaving your car windows open. The drought is not yet broken, but it is certainly bent.