Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Water, Desert, Thirst, and Betrayal

By (C) Russ Barnes; Photo by Russ Barnes

It’s mid-summer and dry. Below you will find a fragment of a piece I wrote while at Hickory Pass Ranch near Marble Falls, Texas, a 3500 acre ranch at about 1300 feet altitude. Water and dryness. For travels to the desert those are themes always in front of you and to be contemplated. What is your experience of thirst and quenching it with cool, real and metaphorical water? This little piece is part of a larger story. Sign up to follow the blog and you will see other pieces from the ranch and many other places, from me and from others. Any thoughts about water rights?

WATER: from “Alligator Stew”

Water is not taken for granted. It becomes precious. It fills you. Cow Creek often dries up during the summer months.

John Steinbeck observes in his book, Travels with Charley, that civilization and social activity thrive around places with abundant water. Steinbeck noted this while crossing the wide swatch of Texas in his van, Rocinante, with his dog, Charley. Intellectual ideas and spiritual experiences, he perceived, are more likely to flourish in the minimalism of dry places.

Joe, catching a sight of flowers in the brittle sedge, said, "It’s as dry as a popcorn fart out here, and it’s bloomin’. It’s so dry, the trees are lookin’ for dogs."


Meditating a bit on Steinbeck’s observation, my thoughts turned to the early desert fathers of Egypt came to mind as I roamed the range at Hickory Pass. One of those desert fathers pointed out, “The man who flees and lives in solitude is like a bunch of grapes ripened by the sun, but he who remains among men is like an unripe grape.” I’m way not that stringent. But the old father has a point.

The individual thrives in the desert, in dryness. Society breeds around water.

Karen is reported to have asked Joe, "Is Russ becoming a hermit?"


It was another father -- Jacqueline’s father, Jackson C. Mouton -- who decided on the site at the top of the hill for building the Hickory Pass Ranch house. At its altitude, there is no natural running water; so he drilled down to bring water up. Beneath the Hill Country and beyond, is a mighty, but delicate, underground river called the Edwards Aquifer. That underground source of water is fed by surface water filtered by the geological layers through which it seeps, and then that pure water is stored in the cool and running waters below.

The desert fathers applied prayer and contemplation to drill deep through their metaphoric desert to quench their thirst, to allay betrayal. Jacquelyn’s father used an oil drill. The object in both cases, it occurred to me, is not entirely dissimilar: to slake thirst.

When you drink from the tap or take a shower at Hickory Pass Ranch, the water is pure, particularly in comparison to the water supply of, say, Washington, DC At the highest point on the hill, near the guesthouses, sit three squat, round cement towers. These house a pump system, which fills a huge stainless steel cistern. Gravity then serves to provide the water pressure needed to service all three ranch buildings.


The desert? Lack of water. Betrayals surfaced in conversations between me and Joe. Betrayal is what leads one to the desert for resolution. Joe said, “I came here broke. He paused honestly. Well not completely. My bride came with me. More. Then the school found me. I felt like a duck falling on a pond.” “I understand,” I said to Joe.


Anonymous said...

Welcome to the blogosphere. It's work, fun and I hope you find success.

Mark Wolfinger

Russ Barnes said...

Thanks Mark. Got to see your blog. After all water is a commodity.