Friday, August 6, 2010

Casual Friday

Summer about over. Thirteen days and I’m back in front of a classroom. And the time until then will begin to fill with updating syllabi and assignments and posting them online for the 57 students enrolled in my Advanced Writing classes. More about that as the time comes.

Today I’m kicking off with a pic of a roadrunner who visited my front yard on Monday. These guys don’t stand still for long or let you get close, so by the time I grabbed my camera, he was already making tracks. Here’s both a long shot (at right) and a closeup (below).

Roadrunners have a chuckling call that sounds like something mechanical. They are the size of a very skinny small chicken, with long legs and a long tail. Like the cartoon, they can move fast.

Meanwhile, there’s no moving fast through the amount of reading and research I’d like to accomplish. This summer I began focusing on early 1900s-era writers of westerns, and that list continues to grow. But blogging here with western historians and fiction writers, I’ve been drawn in other directions, too.

So this week I picked up Mark Lee Gardner’s To Hell on a Fast Horse, which is a well-researched historical account of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. I’ll be writing about that here soon.

Another book has been Richard Wheeler’s An Obituary for Major Reno, a historical novel about the Little Bighorn. I visited the site of that battle on an overcast spring day in early May two years ago, and was moved by the experience. I will post some of the pics I took that day when I write up a review of that book.

But back to the end of the summer, which puts me in mind of how the summer began. In May I made a four-day visit to Rankin Ranch for some rural relaxation and horseback riding. The ranch is located in the Walker Basin northeast of Bakersfield, California, in the southern Sierras.

I’m devoting this Casual Friday installment to some pictures from that visit. The ranch has been in the same family since the 1850s. From the beginning, they have raised Hereford cattle and were among the first settlers in this valley, which is surrounded by mountains. Native Americans of the Paiute tribe were here before them. [As usual, click on a pic to see it larger.]

The cattle are now on grazing land elsewhere, and the original ranch buildings operate as a year-round guest ranch, with a large herd of horses for riding (corral and horse barns above). There are trail rides each morning and afternoon, sometimes across the pastures and sometimes into the surrounding canyons. Guests stay in separate cabins scattered through the pine trees, and there are three meals served each day.

May this year followed a wet winter, and so the fields and trails were thick with wildflowers. The stream along the trail above was almost hidden under watercress. The nights were totally dark except for starlight and moonlight. A family of skunks had taken up residence in a drainpipe outside my cabin. I gave them a wide berth. The ripple effect across the hillside in the pic below is actually tall grasses blowing in a brisk wind.

There was a beautiful large field of rye just down the road. I took a long walk before breakfast every day and caught that field in a couple of moods. One breezy morning, not long after dawn, it was like watching the waves of a stormy sea from the shore (above). The pic below was taken at sunrise on another morning. You can see my shadow stretching out across the grain, which is perfectly still.
The pic above looks out over the pastures and cultivated fields of the valley. The one below was taken on another morning walk. This is pasture, with some remarkable, very old cottonwood trees. There’s a hay ride out here on a flatbed wagon twice a week and a picnic, followed by a horseshoe toss. (My partner and I missed winning the tournament by a single point. Too much pressure . . .)

A pic of another early morning walk (above) shows the ranch buildings in the far distance. The pasture of a neighboring ranch, in the foreground, has filled with sagebrush. My last morning there, I took a drive around. Wherever I’ve been in ranch country, I’ve seen these clusters of homemade directional signs (below), and I’m usually stopping to take a picture as I did this time. 

Also, as an old farm boy, it’s hard to pass up a row of snail mailboxes (above). The mailbox a half mile down the farm road where I grew up, with magazines and letters from pen pals, was my one contact with the outside world. So the sight of country mailboxes is cause for more than a little nostalgia. Last, in a burst of bright yellow, difficult to capture with a camera, is a bunch of California poppies, which could be found just about everywhere around the ranch this year.

And so, life goes on. . .

Coming up: Western short stories made into films


  1. I'm 40 but you mentioning summer being over and classroom made me sweat.

    Nice pics. Never saw a roadrunner up close.

  2. Wonderful pics. Thanks so much for the tour. It was very cool to see the roadrunner.

  3. Beautiful pics, Ron. I'll have to get the exact details of the location of this Ranch because it sounds like a perfect place to go. Is the home you mention at the top your summer home? I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your posts - your blog is a wonderful addition to our "community."

  4. Great photos, Ron.

    A roadrunner figures in one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Back when I was courting my wife and she still lived in Tucson, we would take her dogs (3 Jack Russell terriers) for walks in one of the washes through town. Her #1 son, Orly, who is the oldest (16 now, probably about 10 or 11 at the time), is also a spitfire. A roadrunner dashed across his path and he was after it. The roadrunner went up the side of the wash and onto one of those three-rail metal fences that bordered a path along the upper edge. The roadrunner perched on the very top rail, looking down, and Orly was just going nuts trying to get to it. He jumped up to about the second rail and kind of high-centered himself, rocking back and forth like a teeter-totter. It doesn't sound like it in my description, but damn was it hilarious. To this day, all either one of us has to say is "Remember the roadrunner?" and we'll have fits of giggles.

  5. I expected to see the Coyote and his "Acme" rocket sled!
    Fantastic Ron! Really cool, lovely pics and as a country guy myself, really appreciate the tour. Felt sort of `jealous`?

  6. Just about the same length of time for me and It's weighing on my mind. I will start my syllabi this weekend.

    Great pics of the ranch. Looks like a wonderful place to ride.

    I haven't seen a road runner in a couple of years but I love to watch 'em go.

  7. Rankin Ranch looks like it's at the perfect elevation--beautiful photos.

    Doesn't a roadrunner say "beep-beep"? :)

  8. Thanks everybody for your comments. Yesterday was too full to get back to you all.

    David, no sweat here, just a frisson.

    Leah, thanks for dropping by.

    Laurie, Rankin Ranch is a great getaway you can drive to from LA. Look them up at

    Chris, loved your roadrunner story.

    Cheyenne, it's easy to be reminded of the cartoon character when you watch these guys.

    Charles, I'm not much of a horseback rider, and I still don't understand why horses let people ride them.

    Rich, glad you liked the pics. It's good to be able to share them.

    Sage, roadrunners only say beep-beep when they're chased by a coyote.

    Oscar, thanks for visiting.