What is a Rill, Anyway?

Texas Highways magazine has asked me to write an article (“IF there are museums, IF there are restaurants”) about Highway 385.  I’m talking about 385 from Vega to Boys’ Ranch, or as I still like to call it, Old Tascosa.

It’s a travel magazine, right?  So there needs to be something to see–several somethings.  The guy sending the email requesting the article allowed there might not be enough to write about.

I want to say, yes there is: this was an old bison road (bison being the proper term for the critters, not buffalo).  They traveled from Tascosa springs to Tierra Blanca Creek near Hereford.  Both still flow, barely, this in a country which once boasted maybe forty active springs before the decline of the Ogallala.

Plenty to see, according to the bison.

I want to say, yes, there’s a restaurant that serves a great variety of omelets and something called a Vega salad.  Get one, hit the road, have a picnic along the way.  There’s that great grove of cottonwoods near Tascosa.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Museums? Yes, Gregg and Karen Conn and generous donations from the community as well as you and I emptying our closets, garages, and attics have assured that.  And now Roark’s Hardware will be an addition, our own museum of memories.

There’s the turnout (oops, easy to miss with a truck on your tail at 75 miles an hour) with a Texas State Historical Marker indicating an American government expedition crossed with upwards to 2000 people headed for the California gold fields.  They knew the springs and playa sites too and navigated from Tecovas Springs to Milkweed “lake” to a site on Kim Montgomery’s land and on.

And then there’s the land itself.  The edge of the llano estacado, the storied flatlands that scared off most serious settlement until the coming of the windmill.  The easy draws, then breaks, all that blue-purple of the promised Canadian River in the distance.  The windmill’s progeny, the wind turbines.  And close to Tascosa, the site of the Antelope Creek Phase people, trying to hold the water in terraces along the backside of Saddleback Mountain.

I thought about all this last night as I watched the various celebrations of our nation’s 240th birthday on television. They were singing one of my favorite songs, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”  I remember the booming male voices filling the basement of the old Methodist Church back in the ’50s when the Kiwanis club members held their meetings.

We kids were crawling in and out of the kitchen cabinets along the floor–a nuisance to the women in the kitchen preparing the men’s meal–sneaking a biscuit or two.  But it stuck: “I love thy rocks and rills. . .My heart with rapture fills.”

Just to be clear, as the political commentators are fond of saying, a rill is not native to the Canadian breaks any more than Robert Frost’s puddingstone he wrote about in his poems.  But we’re expected to know these words, native to someone else’s place.

Rill: a small stream.

I was once told by a nationally known poet who had graciously read some of my modest poems that I would have to explain to my audience what barbed wire was and the habits of cattle.  I look forward to a time when tourists and visitors can revel in our own native terms, like “breaks” or “llano,” barbed wire or milling cattle.

After all, I read that a larger incised rill is called a gulley.  And we know what those are.  Love those rocks and rills.


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