A Bunkhouse Called Paradise

The last time I slept in this old bunkhouse
I was eight years old. Batwing shutters channeling southerlies,
the screen door squealing shut.

Green metal cots lined up on one wall. Thin-ticked mattresses,
swaybacked as a picket line of old mares.
Limp pillows with a sheet and a towel. Quilts folded over the bottom rail.
The sounds are the same: the music of the rapids,
turkeys whomp, whomping to the roost. The chitter of the kingfisher,
a jeep climbing to the back pasture, scattering rocks.
We swam in the stream down the hill till we had raisin fingers and blue lips–
and our hair smelled of creek. The wide plank floors looked painted
with small wet footprints.
We always nodded off in the yard of the big house,
on a gentle hill, counting shooting stars. The daddies carried us to Paradise
to sleep in the kindness of a summer Texas night.
I would awaken and look down the row:
caliche crusted kids, tangled in the covers,
sweetly drunk on long days outside.
What once held a tribe of feral children, tonight holds me-
cradled in a sanctuary of solitude, with my favorite pen
and notebook, my broke-in hat, and my creek-smelling hair.
Rusty Bend in June. The air is warm and creamy on the skin, laden with moisture from the Gulf. Andy and I sit on the porch, mesmerized by the feeding behavior of our various visitors. In wanders an elderly armadillo with a white nose, frequently out of joint as he takes offense with younger armadillos in his space. He charges and cracks against their shells, bouncing them off the yard like bumper cars.
A skunk dives for pill bugs, his tail fanned straight up like a feathery flocked Christmas tree. Behind him, stretched between two oaks hangs the tough web of the Orb Spider, ready to snarl and snag dragonflies or even a hapless hummingbird. But the most entertaining has been the cottontail, who seems never to sleep. Besides the usual fare of yard salad, he fells big grasses like a logger. Timber…. and nibbles them from base to their seed crusted tops. Then, for no apparent reason, he sprints from one side of the yard to another. Next, he practices diversionary tactics. Sprint, turn 90 degrees, sprint into the bushes. Back to the starting place, he digs tiny pockets in the dirt. Snuggles down into them like starting blocks, and away, he goes. We imagine Papa Rabbit’s injunction. “Don’t get soft, son, you are lunch for many a critter.”
Lastly, Canyon Wrens are running the Bug Brigade to the second nest on the porch. We see them snag bugs from cracks in the live oak, whack them on the wood until they hang limply, take them to the woodpile, sing a song of triumph, and deliver them to the nestlings. Cheep, cheep, cheep. Pant a moment. Then it’s time for nest cleaning. Pick up the “diapers”, fly out, bombs away! Repeat. Dawn to dusk.
When it gets really steamy, I am flooded with memories of summer days at the Hillingdon Ranch, home of Paradise bunkhouse. Growing up with no air conditioning, we spent weeks there hiding from sultry San Antonio heat. The fathers would come up on weekends while the moms and kids stayed at the ranch. We were constantly in a little pool fed by Block Creek. There was a round valve with a worm drive that would close a sluiceway. Clean, clear creek water backed up behind the gate for a nice swimming hole. If no one was looking, we’d lead an old white mare named Sugar into the water and use her sweet wide back for a diving board. We even swam between her legs. She didn’t mind, but we knew not to tell. When we got too wrinkled, we’d lay out on the limestone with thin towels around our shoulders, and watch the vultures glide high in the clouds. Such stillness.
So, when it’s hot this summer, collect a child you know, get them in the water. Let them catch little gold frogs, lay on warm rocks and watch the birds. Perhaps, like me, they will turn out to have agarita in their veins, limestone in their bones, and creek-smelling hair.
Poem, essay and image by Lucy Griffith Copyright 2017
Lucy Griffith, PhD co-manages the Rusty Bend Ranch with her husband, Andy Robinson. She also writes poetry, her muse is a tractor named Ruby. She is currently working on the story of the Burro Lady of West Texas, told in poems. Both Lucy and Andy are certified Master Naturalists from the Class of 2013. Comments welcome at doctorluz@hctc.net



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