07 Jun The High Lonesome Along Route 66
Face it, Vega, Texas is just one big pasture, that is, the “city” (900 souls) is set in the middle of native grasslands. Hence the name “Vega” which means “meadow” in Spanish. The grasses are beautiful, even when fenced in. Buffalo, side-oats grama, sacaton, blue stem. If you want to be entertained in this small town, walk the pastures.
Don’t believe me? Just take the other day. I was walking the three acre lot that surrounds my house, eyeing the Angus cows–and one bull–that were making their way from the adjoining 32 acre pasture to the water tub between the two fields. I wanted to get around before they entered the lot. Cattle are curious, will sometimes rush and follow you. Bulls are possessive. Watching them, head turned, I rounded the corner and nearly ran into a skunk. He did the classic handstand with tail pointed skyward; I reacted by clapping my hands, but believe me, not in approval. Rear march! I strode back the way I had come thinking that would dissolve the encounter, but as I walked, and no matter how fast, I could see him parallel with me maybe twenty feet away, undulating, a striped wave, through the tall and short grasses. What was this, a race? I could already see he was winning. Honestly, no matter having to navigate the thick grasses, he was always a bit ahead. At some point, he disappeared, but I admit I cautiously finished my “walk” up to the house. That’s entertainment.
I don’t know the grasses that well and when I walk the pastures I try to identify them, remember their names. I like being in the western Panhandle in May and June when there’ a cycle of blooming. Right now the cholla cactus dot the plains in fusha and purple, the yucca rise in vanilla spikes, and a bit earlier the pastures were carpeted in blue–plains verbena–rimmed by orange caliche globe mallow.
How much of these are grazable I don’t know, outside the gramas and buffalo. But the local longhorn, very slowly coursing the pasture east of town, knows the sweetest caches. I drove up along the fence the other day to get a shot of him with my cell phone, his horns so heavy he could barely turn his head to see. Cars and trucks roared by on I-40 bordering the south side of the fence, some on their way to Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo where the time-worn and repainted art installation draws lines of vehicles almost any season. Nowadays the romance of the prairies is Route 66. Get your photo taken climbing on one of the l960s Cadillacs. Go on down the road and buy a tee-shirt that says so.
I thought of trying to take a selfie with Mr. High Lonesome, but he might not like that. He couldn’t shake his horns to say, so I just pictured him, an old West icon, steady in the exhaust of the endless semi’s.