It starts at Ozona, with flowers along the roadside and the desert turning to tree-covered hills. Home territory, that Steven Vincent Benet-place: “bone of my bone”. . . . I came back to it one summer from the. westin June, after a month of soaking rains. Through Pecos, Fort Stockton, all the Texas desert towns, I had been content with sunlight and great quantities Of space: I was still pleased by the western absence of things. But at Ozona the mesquites beganmiles of them, fresh and green and shiny as silk, with the white-ivory blooms of Spanish daggers scattered through them like cannon burstsand it was there, at the sight of greenery and hills, that I knew I was home. For home country does not mean relatives, or city streets, or friends of the past. That is something else again: a world made by people, complex and painful. Home country is countrya place of rocks and trees and goats and sheep; of mourning doves and cypreg -s-lined rivers; of hayfields; of pastures. \(Pastures: To go into them as a boy into the grass, the scattered flint and limestone rocks, the shadows, the leaves and dirt on the sides of ravines, the bare clearings, the green thicketswas to enter a beautiful clarity, a great sense of what was pure and real. I would walk through tall needle grassstumbling now and then over half-buried rocksand when I rested in the shade of a live oak tree it always seemed that each limb was hugely intimate, like a thought, and the tree itself like a family. I came to love treesand summer glare, and fencelines, and cedar posts Home country, hill country, the whole stretch of familiar land: I drove past shinoaks standing in the heat like demure tree maidens, heads together, their feet lost in a pool of mid-afternoon shadow; and a rancher in a beat-up hat and faded blue denims, reaching down from his horse to loosen a goat from a wire fence; and highway work-man resting in roadside shade. Closer and closer, a sweet sinking into familiar thingsand pondering them in the leisure of the passing miles. . . . A windmill, say: There it was, mounted on its commanding knoll. How many years had it turned like an all-seeing eye above that same clump of ranchhouse treesa constant symbol of possessions and home to the ranchman riding horseback across his land? Or rocks. Lying there, white as tombs, they represented all that was timeless and impersonalgeologic upheavals, erosion by wind and wateryet they did so in an entirely pleasant way. A rock in a pasture was not like a galaxy suspended in eternal night; it was a human-sized thing fit for both the hand and the mind. A rock, in summertime, was one of the beatitudes of earthenduring. as the trees, pleasing as grass. Toward Sonora the mesquites gave way to live oaks and cedarsthe tops of distant oaks looking smoky-blue in the four o’clock heatand the land was alive with the sound of birds. Occasionally a deer arched over a fence and an armadillo moved through masses of shadows and leaves. A white butterfly jitterbugged its way among wild flowers and across the green roadside. Passing still another wooden pasture gate, another windmill, another rancher on horseback, I remembered a similar-looking pasture on my grandparents’ ranch, and a similar afternoon. It had been in early summer, with a breeze drifting in from the -south, and Grandpa and I were out hunting the last of the goats to be driven home and sheared. I had gone on ahead down a long draw, and Grandpa had circled around by the fence. And I remembered coming out of the live oaks and deep shade and seeing Grandpa riding along the top of the ridge with the goats. They were a subdued little bunch for goats, following fairly well the trail to the pens. Grandpa was jogging easily behindnot exactly smiling, but it amounted to that: his hat was pushed back and there was a pleased set to his face. His free hand rested on his hip and a curl of sweated grey hair was plastered above his eye. And although Grandpa was then in his sixties and had never before, to my knowledge, tried to whistle or sing a tune, he hummed all the way across that live oak ridge. With the goats wagging agreeably along the trail and the shadows coming long and deep out of the trees and the sun lighting the tops of the yellow needle grass, Grandpa sat on his own horse driving his own livestock toward his own home lotsand was a very contented man. Near Junction the highway cascaded through great stretches of blasted rock naked white gashes of exposed limestone and entered the Llano River valley. The Llano, first of the home country streams going east, first to create its meandering Babylon of towering pecan trees and deepgreen fields. . . . I thought: Now I know why I am not a revolutionaryhave never had the desire to kick over old, established things. It’s because the hill country does not teach you the need for change. The land is always so satisfying that you want it to remain the same forever as a kind of handy immortality. I watched a pickup speed around me and then turn down a narrow farm-to-market road. It sailed past sumacs and fenceline and Indian paint brush and was almost like a fish sporting along in a sun-lit bay: trim, assured, wholly beautiful in its own calm surroundings, it obviously belonged. Sure, I thought, that’s the way it is: you stay next to the land long enough and you can’t help but develop a natural kinship with it : you blend together. It’s like the piles of brush out in the pastures: you look at them rotting theresimply, with a kind of bare, stoic dignityand you begin to feel that somehow even they add to you, complement ‘you, are an actual part of your life and meaning. As I passed a house a blonde, bushybrowned rancher’s son was getting letters out of the roadside mailbox. He was still dusty from working with stock and I could almost see him as he had looked stomping around in a crowded pen: yelling and waving his hat at the bawling, milling cows, the dust thick and swirling and clinging to his eyebrows until they finally shone in the sunlight like the hairy legs of bees clustered with pollen. . . . The lazy, hazy poetic sense of fading heat as the road curved leisurely through the hills. Small neat houses, butane cylinders, water tanks: they were stuck here and there in the green countryside like currants in a rich pudding. And everywhere the pleasant unobtrusive handiwork of peoplegateposts, barns, small by-passed bridges from simpler times. At Ingram I decided to leave the highway and cut across to my grandparents’ empty ranchhouse before going on into town. It was getting dark, and the Black Angus cattle feeding on a distant hill looked like hatchet blades driven solidly into the ground. The road dipped first into lowwater crossings, full of the smell of walnuts and sycamores, and then climbed back again to the wide ranchland plateau. I was just starting to open the gate to the west pasture of the ranch when I stopped and listened: a neighbor’s horse across the road was moving slowly through a sudan patch, the bell at its neck jingling casually. It was just an ordinary hardware store bell, and the horse was a bony-ribbed old mare, but for a moment, with the land quietening, it was like the Angelus as I had always imagined it would sound in the countryside of France or Spain: patient and solitary, a reminder for those within hearing that day was about through, that people should lay down their work and start gathering close to home. The porch of the ranchhouse faces south toward Kerrville and a line of faint blue hills. As I sat there in the early darkness, listening to katydids pulse back and forth in the surrounding trees, I tried to think a little about Grandpa and couldn’t. I knew the alive George Duderstadt–the shape of his head underneath a hat, his gait in the worn, run-over boots as he half-walked, half stumbled across the back lots. But this new one, the one . July 22, 1966 11 Home Country Elroy Bode
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