Gulley Road - October 2018
Growing up in south Texas, there was always a vegetable crop in season. One of the local farmers, Mr. Gulley would invite us to come over before he began harvesting the fields. We’d pile into Daddy’s old pickup truck, drive down to the Gulley farm where we would load up with whatever was in season.
Summer was especially good, and for as long as I can remember, the Gulleys kept us stocked with fresh corn, potatoes, cucumbers, green beans, black eyed peas, cantaloupes, and my favorite summer time treat, watermelon. I remember being out in the field with Mr. Gulley, walking the rows of watermelons, and him asking me which one I wanted to try. Being small, I of course, picked out the biggest watermelon I could find. Mr. Gulley pulled out his pocket knife, sawed the melon in half, and then cored out the “heart” for me. It was such a treat, eating the heart of the melon without any seeds.
Bill Gulley died in 1981. I still think of him, of his generosity, and his kindness, when I scoop out the heart of a watermelon.
This past Easter, my childhood memories of Mr. Gulley’s crop fields led me to head over there to see what was growing, knowing full well that all those fields were long gone. I spent a long time wandering around the area and I did not find one crop field. All the land in the area is now peppered with pump jacks hammering away at the earth below, desperately looking for oil.
Along FM 468 in La Salle County where it crosses into Dimmit County there are so many little dirt roads that beg you to explore. I see a lot of different types of wildlife and always something interesting to photograph. South Texas is hot in the summer but enjoys mild winter temperatures, so a lot of different wildlife thrives here. It’s not unusual to spot deer, javelinas, turkeys, coyotes, rabbits, snakes, many different species of birds, and an occasional bobcat.
As the lunch hour approached, I put down my camera and started to head home for Easter lunch, the first one without my dad. It was then that I noticed that the wildflowers were particularly pretty in this one spot, where they encircled an old cattle chute. I got out of my car and crouched down low next to the fence line and set up my shot. As I stood up, I saw a Jack rabbit hopping towards me. I’m not sure if I startled him or if he startled me but we both stopped for a second, and acknowledged each other. I realized it was the Easter bunny and a sign from my dad. I know it sounds crazy but every time I drive that stretch of dirt road, I find something interesting that I’ve never seen before and I like to think that they are things my dad is pointing out to me.
Last year, I lost my father unexpectedly to a heart attack, and I spend a lot of weekends at my parents’ home. On Sunday mornings, while my mom is still asleep, I get dressed, load up my camera gear and drive around on back roads near their home. What used to be a small town, long on boredom and short on quaint, has suddenly become a haven for photographic opportunities. The wildflowers bloom early there, migratory birds and butterflies cut through on their way to Mexico, and wildlife thrives in south Texas.
The red-dirt roads and pastures, however, still have wildlife, and I think of my dad when I’m out in the country. Daddy knew the roads in La Salle County like the back of his hand. He lived in Cotulla for over 70 years. Daddy was comfortable in a small town where his daily ritual was to check the mail, do a little book work, and piddle in the barn. Daddy rarely left the county, unless it was necessary. Daddy liked to hunt and to just drive around and he was always a good wildlife spotter.
Over the past year, I’ve seen tree branches sprout with their first leaves in late February and just last week, I saw them begin to fall to the ground as a crisp October morning greeted south Texas. The spring wildflowers are long gone, but unusually heavy summer rain fall has blanketed the area with another round of wildflowers that I have never seen before.
Up until Easter morning, I had never been interested in wildlife photography. But nature has a way of anchoring you to a spot.
In the middle of a dirt road, I watched tree branches sway in the wind and listened to the chorus of birds sing to each other. Other times in the very same spot, the air is hot and there is not a hint of a breeze. But on every visit, different birds sit atop the same old dead tree that has become my favorite spot for bird watching.
Maybe my spotting skills are getting better but the opportunities to spend time in nature have been comforting and I like to think my dad is sitting next to me, spotting wildlife for me to photograph, and enjoying the ride.
Today, would have been my dad’s 75th birthday and I wanted to share some of the sights that I’ve had the privilege of seeing in the last year on what I call “Gulley Road.”