Arrive at The Lost Madrone Ranch

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Arrival: Definition

1. an act of arriving; a coming.
2. the reaching or attainment of any object or condition.
3. the person or thing that arrives or has arrived.

Recall your emotion as you approach a favorite destination:

  • the moment along the interstate when the city skyline comes into view on the horizon,
  • walking off the plane through the terminal and exiting the airport to sights, smells and sounds different from home far away,
  • approaching the coast with eyes searching the sand dunes expecting a peek at the vast expanse of ocean on the other side.

There is a sequencing involved — the anticipation, the glimpse, the realization you have arrived.

Like reading a novel, you become acquainted with the setting, meet the characters, take twists and turns that create suspense and interest, realize the significance and power in where you arrived, recognize change has happened, and resolve what you think about it — what human value, meaning, or idea is revealed about your experience?

Sound dramatic? It is. A good novel is compelling, engaging and suspenseful. The characters interesting, flawed, and real. The plot builds and unfolds in unexpected ways. And the conclusion is satisfying whether rewarding or failed.

Visits to The Lost Madrone Ranch follow this formula.

Let me walk you through the arrival and introduce you to the setting and characters of my magical place. Let me set the stage for the twists and turns I’ll share over time through this experience of blogging.

Arrival:dsc00344
1. an act of arriving; a coming.

As I drive north from my home in San Antonio, my anticipation heightens the moment I exit Interstate 10 to Comfort, Texas. Left at the feed mill leads to historic “downtown,” a town rich in a history of people and place.

The charm lures me to linger, but Comfort is not my destination.

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A short drive from town, across the Guadalupe River, along fields of grasses, winding toward the hills — the approach to the ranch begins a powerful drama. My eyes focus — noticing changes in plant material, looking for wildlife, spotting evidence of activity since I last passed.
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Once off the county road, there are two more miles to dsc09878travel to the house.

The first mile is a passage, a literal crescendo. The road starts out flat and rocky and steadily rises as it stretches towards the peaks.

As the road becomes steeper, the ruts and rocks force an attack on the accelerator, the car surging while wheels spit rocks behind. Adrenaline rushes, commensurate with the rev of the engine powering up the hill, and when the road flattens out and the car levels off you feel triumphant for reaching the top. This is not a passage for a cautious driver. The drive is a precursor to the sense of adventure that awaits.

The main gate to The Lost Madrone Ranch is near. An unassuming entrance, the rusted metal gate is magical. It is the portal through which a physical change takes place within me. On one side is the daily life I am coming from with all the thoughts, worries, demands and responsibilities each day requires, and on the other side is the expectation of wonderment.

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My mind clears. A change always happens. No matter the purpose or duration of the visit, wonder will always occur.

Yes, the air feels different.
Yes, the scenery is stunning.
Yes, the sense of owning such a place is never unappreciated.

These senses are known, constant, and always expected when passing through the gate. It is the unexpected that I look forward to each visit. What bugs will I find, what flowers will be in bloom, what birds will I hear sing, what new place will I explore, what unexpected wonder will I discover?

Arrival:
2. the reaching or attainment of any object or condition.

We’re here. We’ve arrived. Welcome to the Lost Madrone Ranch. For over 10 years, the ranch is where my family spends most weekends. Let me introduce you.

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It’s February, so you’re meeting the ranch in its winter condition.

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A fitting season for an introduction, winter begins a procession of change that will take place throughout the year.

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A Texas winter may not look like a winter season where you live — the changes from fall to winter and winter to spring are more subtle than the seasons of textbooks. We don’t accumulate 10 feet of snow, or more accurate, any snow at all, but careful observation affirms the distinct characteristics of winter.

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The predominant coloring is brown and gray, and the sky is a cold white.

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The leaves are off the red oak and elm, but cedar and sotol, prickly pear and agarita, mountain laurel and live oaks, assure a cast of continual green.

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The harvest gold grasses of fall have turned a wintry white and thinned to expose the Karst terrain.

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“Karst” is a topography of barren ground, splayed with limestone rocks and sinkholes, and underlain by caves. Some winters, when drought prevents the fall grasses from growing, the surface looks as if you landed on the moon.

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This year the grasses were thick and lush, deceiving the eye gazing across a field, giving the illusion of level ground.

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This trick is treachery if you try walking without looking down. A walk through a field is like playing hopscotch in a sea of boulders.

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145 million years ago, the ranch was under the sea. Evidence of this is all around. Fossilized shells and oysters are embedded in limestone canyon walls that still resemble underwater reefs.

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Loose fossils are found in the dry rock creeks formed when heavy rains flush through carved out gorges.

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When I drive the second mile from the gate to the house, the views confirm why we call this region the Texas Hill Country. From afar the elevated hills appear soft and rolling,

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but up close they are layered with steep rugged slopes, cut like folds in the land and dense with cedar trees.

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I spy each fingerling of the green colored gorges and speculate about which one I will walk on this visit.

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“Gorge walking” is my favorite ranch pastime. Shady spaces to explore when the summer sun is blistering and protected places to hike when winter winds are blowing, each gorge has its own allure. Starting at the bottom, climbing up the seam of the canyon, fallen trees make obstacle courses of the path.

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Fern laden ledges and cave openings that pique my curiosity are rewards worth the challenge.

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One of my favorite gorges has a rock ledge with a steady drip, forming mounds of moss and stalactites on the face wall. I expect such formations to exist deep in caves below me, but not out in the open. Every visit to this location launches my imagination to wonder what’s under my feet where I walk.

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If caverns are below, I imagine the house is built above the dome room roof. We selected the site for its 360-degree vistas, but the house sits back from the hilltop edge, centered in a ring of trees growing around a solid rock outcropping. Here, the house is slightly more protected from wind, but more importantly protected from view.

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We subscribe to a belief in preserving hilltop scenery for all, and selfishly we didn’t want the house site to scream at us either. More house information to come when I share a ranch house design story.
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Putting setting aside, like in a novel, the characters of the ranch are the heart of my stories.

I’ll start with the birds. Sorry, Alexandra and Jimmy, birds will be part of my blog! My kids give me unmitigated grief about being a “birder.” I protest I am not one. I am not working a life checklist or traveling to exotic places to see a particular species. My interest is knowing who’s in my neighborhood. Who is around me sharing my piece of Texas? Who is singing to me as I rest on the porch? I confess. I spend a lot of time learning about the birds of the Texas Hill Country, and I rarely walk without my binoculars.

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Listen closely this time of year and you will hear wintering flocks of geese and cranes overhead, hundreds of peeps from mixed flocks of sparrows burrowing in the fields, sweet sounding chortles from bluebirds as they perch along fence wires, and I will never forget the first time I saw a hundred robins at one time filling the branches of a lakeside tree, adorning the tree like ornaments. I watched them for what seemed like an hour, continually dropping down to the lake edge to drink and on quick wingbeats flying back up into the tree limbs to stand erect and decorate the tree again. I can’t wait for spring when the colorful buntings, tanagers, and warblers return. OK, maybe I’m a birder.

Birds are not the only colorful characters populating the ranch. The cast is large and memorable, and they play intriguing roles in ranch stories. The largest of the characters — physically large and of the largest importance — are the Longhorns.

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I’ll save their proper introduction for a future blog post, but for now, I’ll share this. They are strong and sturdy and make a mark on the land.

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Their eleven individual personalities — spoiled, invisible, lucky, pushy, leader, gentle, smart, mysterious, sociable, crazy and timid — make for meaningful relationships with each other and with our family. I can’t wait to share their story.

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The supporting cast members are characters you would expect to roam the hills of Texas — deer, raccoons, armadillos, porcupines, coyotes, skunks and fox. Sightings are common in view and trace — white tail flicking through the brush seen as often as two-toed tracks along the lake shore.

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Joining them are non-native wild pigs, axis, and black buck antelope, moving into the neighborhood, asserting their influence and impact.

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Looking closer you find snakes, scorpions, centipedes, and spiders;

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dragonflies, bees, and butterflies;

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turtles, fire ants, and too numerous to count creepy, crawling insects.

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Little dramas are occurring in the dirt all around the ranch, and only when I slow to examine a spot carefully am I privileged to watch the production of the play. In Shakespeare’s monologue, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” I don’t think he intended for the creatures to share the stage, but I think God planned it that way.

Arrival:
3. the person or thing that arrives or has arrived.

Being an “arrival” means you traveled to a destination. Where did we arrive? My family comes to the ranch for fun and to work — it’s the physical place we travel to, but we are arrivals in other ways as well. Of all the places we’ve arrived in life, I know one place we arrived in common — somewhere along the path to having a better understanding and appreciation of the natural world — we feel it, we will carry the gifts from it forever, and we will always appreciate and be stewards of it.

Alexandra is the real writer in the family — poetry and creative writing flow effortlessly for her — and I’m convinced her years of playing at the ranch with a journal in hand gave her practice in expressing her thoughts and set her on her course to a college degree in English.

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Jimmy spent hours at the ranch exploring, building and problem-solving — cedar forts and campsites scattered around the ranch are a testimony to his skills. And when he wrote his college application essay describing a place of importance to him, he wrote that in nature, among scorpions and rattlesnakes, he feels safe and confident that nothing can bother him. Nature is the place where he constructs his ideas and values, that certain things cannot be taught in the classroom but must be discovered on a hilltop, that his identity and dreams are tied to what he learns outdoors at the ranch.

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When Jim is at the ranch, he comes alive — chainsaws, tractors, and trailers are typically involved — and as he nurtures nature, I know it nurtures him back.

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When I am in Comfort, I am rejuvenated, creative, active and inspired. More importantly, I have arrived at the conclusion that this place has served my family well.

In his book, “The Ben Lilly Legend,” Texas author, J. Frank Dobie, recounts a statement by huntsman Ben Lilly…

“When I am around babies, I always tote them out on my arm in the evening and let them look at the stars and feel the wind. They sleep better for that. They would sleep better still if they had their pallets on the ground. I always sleep better on the ground. Something agreeable to my system seeps into it from the ground. Every man and woman ought to get out and be alone with the elements a while every day.”

My babies have slept on the ground under the stars.

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10 thoughts on “Arrive at The Lost Madrone Ranch

  1. What a wonderful blog!! Your descriptions made me feel like I was there with you. Your photography really added to the experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts- it made my day brighter!

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  2. Reading what you write is like flowing in liquid gold…
    A very coveted compliment writers get sometimes is “the way you write is a page turner”
    Karen Greenwood “The way you write is a paragraph turner”
    I just loved arriving at The Lost Madrone Ranch with you today and I am anxious to enjoy whatever we do tomorrow!!!

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  3. Karen,
    Thanks for making us “Stop and Smell the Hill Country” what a lovely gift you are sharing, I cannot wait for more from you and The Lost Madrone Ranch. I fondly remember when you first purchased the ranch and were beginning the building process. What a treasure you have to embrace!

    Like

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