Family Get-togethers

Whilst walking in the park recently, I heard a rustling noise in the scrub and saw something scurry away. I hurried along the pathway and then saw, through a gap in the bushes, the long, narrow face of a coyote looking at me, his pale face harmonising well with the wintry colours of the landscape. By wintry, I mean that the shrubs that line the park’s pathways and that in summer are full of tiny white blossom, are now bare and their tangled mass of thin branches appear a fawnish haze in the bright morning sun. Also at this time of year, the prickly pear cactuses take on a softer, blue-green hue.

Not long ago we all celebrated Thanksgiving and this year it was with Mike’s youngest daughter, her husband and two little ones who had come to stay with us for a few days. On the special day itself we eschewed the traditional turkey and Mike cooked beef fajitas over charcoal of mesquite; we ate them with wheat and corn tortillas, several delicious types of salsa, black beans, guacamole and salad, followed by fruit pie and a chocolate-pumpkin cake. Little Teddy, Mike’s six year-old grandson, helped me make the guacamole and he was rather concerned at first that I had put too much lime juice into it. I hadn’t but I did add more serrano chili pepper than I had intended, making it rather hot; consequently, poor Teddy had to drink copious amounts of water in between demolishing large dollops of the bright-green mush on blue-corn tortilla chips.

Just before Thanksgiving, Mattie and I travelled to far west Texas for a few days. En route we first visited the wild underground caves at Kickapoo Caverns State Park, in the middle of nowhere. Not only were the caves fascinating but a real workout too as we climbed up and down rocks whilst hanging onto our flashlights. Our tour group consisted primarily of boy scouts and looking back, I was probably the oldest one there. It was interesting to see inscriptions, dating from the 1880s on some of the huge stalactites and other formations, which had been engraved by soldiers out on daytrips from nearby Fort Clark.

The following morning, after spending the night at Comstock, a tiny ‘one motel, one restaurant’ town just this side of the Rio Grande river (I would call it a village but they don’t say that here), we later joined a tour with another group of boy scouts to see the rock art of prehistoric Indians at nearby Seminole Canyon State Park (The boy scouts’ leader, it turned out, was none other than Michael’s dentist from back home in San Antonio). After a picnic lunch, Mattie and I travelled two hours to our final destination of the Gage Hotel in another tiny town, Marathon. Whilst Mattie skyped a friend on her ipod, I cycled the mile or so to Iron Mountain Ranch. Scores of quail in the fields scattered here and there as I rode by, a jackrabbit bounded through the scrub and several handsome horses and a large bull looked on as I approached the ranch gates. I was surrounded on all sides by mountain and hill ranges, the sky was a cloudless clear blue and there was complete silence. It was idyllic.

During the next two days, Mattie and I enjoyed hikes in Big Bend National Park and also a few hours’ pottering around nearby Alpine and Marfa. I had an excellent margarita and Mattie a ginger ale in the bar of Marfa’s historic Paisano hotel; the film ‘Giant’, starring Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean runs for 24 hours non-stop in the hotel lobby – the cast stayed at the hotel when the film was shot on location nearby. It was dusk when we later drove back towards Marathon. There was a huge, full moon in the violet sky and we thrilled at the sight of a family of javelinas crossing the wide, empty road.

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