Them Texas hills


Well, it was windy again -- gusts to 40 mph. But not to worry because I was on my way to a "hidden gem" called the Welfare Cafe. It must drive Governor Perry crazy that there is a town in Texas called Welfare. It’s just got to be full of users and slackers.

To get there, I had to go south to Comfort, then east toward Sisterdale, through both First Coffee Hollow and, a mile east, Second Coffee Hollow, then south to Waring, turn left at the rustic store, and the Cafe is about five more miles. Neat little place, with a spacious and well-tended "Chicken Ranch," pet Pot-bellied pigs, and goldfish in a cattle trough next to where I sat outside. I was on the early side, so only three dogs kept me company on the deck. It was fancier and dog less inside.

Texas took a big psychological hit in 1959 when Alaska joined the Union. With the stroke of a pen they were downsized to number two, but it’s still very big country. When I finally got to the Devil’s Sinkhole where more than two million bats spend the summer, I was in a county the size of Connecticut, but with fewer people that Dummerston, Marlboro, and Guilford, combined.

I was only in the Hill Country for a week, but I formed some distinct impressions of the area after scooting around for about a thousand miles. Things work a little differently in this part of the country.

1. Transportation: The State vehicle is a full-sized, white pickup. Helps to get you through the three HOT months. One in twenty had something in the back. In my small sample, the ratio of Humvees to Honda Fits is five to two. I didn’t see any compact cars at all unless I got near one or the other of the two towns of any size.

There are more motorcycles in the little town of Leaky than there are cars and trucks. The "Three Sisters" are nearby, and these famous twisty, dippy, narrow roads draw bikers by the tens of thousands over the course of a year. There’s a road sign with bike crash mortality figures that gets updated each year. Because of all their curves (and so the name), the "sisters" produce a lot crashes. It’s Texas’ answer to the "Tail of the Dragon" at the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Bikers love a challenge, even if it kills them.

2. Roadkill: They don’t need any wolves in this part of Texas, the cars and trucks keep the deer in check. Even with six or seven foot fences along many of the roads, my rather scientific count had a deer killed by a vehicle every 22 miles. After only a hundred miles of this, I made the decision not to ride except in good daylight. The next commonest road kill was the striped skunk, followed closely by jack rabbits. The I-will-only-cross-the-road-at-the-last-minute mockingbirds seemed to have the vehicular traffic figured out.

3. Birding: The Texas State bird is, in fact, that road-savvy Mockingbird, but it ought to be the Black Vulture. Given all the carnage on the road, the many wounded and dying animals provided by hunting season, and the enormous amount of livestock, carrion-eating birds in the Hill Country are like gnats. I saw several deer hits attended by at least thirty vultures. There are also lots of Turkey Vultures, and even a few Caracaras (a marvelous, mostly Mexican scavenger). There’s plenty for everyone.

Perhaps because it was sniffing for food (TV’s use their noses to find the dead grub) I had my third case of distracted flying with one of the Turkey Vultures. We were eye to eye.

4. Landscape: I’m guessing that most Vermonters won’t find the Hill Country beautiful. The vegetation is dominated by Ashe Juniper and maybe six kinds of oaks. Nothing grows higher than 25 or 30 feet. It’s mostly a tall thicket, so if you want water and trees, you have to go to east Texas. The name "Bush" or "Shrub" is just about right for the Hill Country. However, where there are permanent streams or creeks, Bald cypresses (the same ones that live in the big swamps in the deep south) line them and provide a tallish, graceful look snaking off into the distance.

5. Driving: Texas executes more criminals than the rest of the U.S.combined. So I was careful to stay close to the pretty generous speed limits (up to 75 mph on good two lane roads). Maybe everybody else is thinking the same thing because I found the driving to be quite civilized. Nobody darted out in front of me; nobody wandered into my lane; nobody tailgated me. And a lot of people waved and went out of their way to be helpful when they saw me on the side of the road with my map upside down. Some of them knew that Vermont is near Canada. Nobody asked me about Bernie or single payer. Nobody talked about Texas secession. Nobody started tying a noose after talking to me.

6. Dining: With a few exceptions, fiber has something to do with tires down here. Lamb is considered a vegetable and sweets form the base of the food pyramid. People start having heart attacks at fifteen. Brattleboro restaurants hold up very well.

Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with his motorcycles, wife and cat.


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