Sunday, August 30, 2009


KIVA (KEE-vah) “In a Pueblo Indian dwelling, a large room used for religious and other purposes” from Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

“A Pueblo Indian ceremonial structure that is usually round and partly underground” from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary.

“The underground ceremonial chamber of the Hopi and other Pueblo peoples. Used for ritual, ceremonial and sometimes social activities.” from The Fourth World of the Hopis: The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in Their Legends and Traditions by Harold Courlander.

Original Cistern. Photograph taken by J. David.

It took 35 years to put this old worn out cistern to a better use. It had many cracks and no longer held water. Always reluctant to dispose of, tear down or destroy anything, I protected it as I had old boards, cedar posts, farm and ranch artifacts, kitchen utensils, tables and chairs, etc. It’s not easy to hold on to a lot of “stuff” and still keep a property looking neat and clean. That’s why we see those mini warehouses springing up everywhere.

In our travels we saw one cistern similar to ours converted into a mini tropical garden, at another location a small greenhouse. While both of these were very creative and well done, neither would work for us due to a lack of running water, electricity or just the remote location of our structure. Not until 2003 while on vacation in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona visiting Indian ruins did we actually see and sit inside a real KIVA. It wasn’t round nor partially underground so it didn’t exactly fit any of the dictionary definitions.

Originally, there was a well with a windmill that brought water up to this cistern. The water was released by a float, like the one that’s in your toilet, and filled this stone trough so that domestic (mostly goats and sheep) livestock could drink from it. Look closely on the picture and you can see the date of construction – May 19, 1936. The cistern is approximately 100 foot in circumference and 21 foot in diameter. The stone walls are 20 inches thick. This, when full, would hold between 11,000 and 13,000 gallons of water.

Doorway. Photograph taken by J. David.

We knew that whatever use we put the old cistern to, we would have to have a doorway to get into it.

Now comes 2004 and Margaret’s cancer. The prognosis is bleak – two weeks, maybe two months . . . but a miracle happened! With a drug named Irissa, Margaret’s tumor count began to drop and drop and drop. I got Leroy, Steven and Scott to cut the doorway and make the door. Every day I encouraged Margaret, “You’ve got to see the door.” – I repeated this daily as a challenge to her, to live and to see another one of our ideas beginning to take shape. . . I pushed her wheelchair to the cistern and the door. She loved it and we began talking about what came next. For me, this was a Selah moment.

Photograph taken by J. David.

It took some time to gather the stones and build the seating circle. I took Margaret daily to see the progress. Could this become an observatory? A place for story telling or singing? . . . Singing was soon tested when Mary Kay Sexton brought members of her singing group, The Fried Angels of Love, out. It was wonderful! Their harmony echoing off and around those old stone walls. . . . A few weeks later, one of our 5th grade classes from Metz Elementary School in Austin was here for three days and two nights. Colleen reversed the schedule so that I could do the family culture program at the Country Store and then to the cistern for story telling. As darkness fell and with a fall chill in the air, the fire felt good and the kids warmed up to telling stories. That night I learned that 45 kids could be seated in the KIVA. They didn’t want to leave.

J. David. Photograph taken by Carolyn Conn.

Margaret’s getting better by the day and hospice care says “We’re not needed here anymore.” Margaret returns, true to form, and invites every one of her women friends to a Winter Solstice Party – potluck dinner followed by a powwow in the converted cistern. Somehow the invitations got out of control and dozens, many unknown to us, showed up in Indian garb and with war drums! I mean EVERY word of this! I’m the only warrior in attendance. This was a powwow to be remembered! A fire in the middle was contained in a great round iron disk, inspired by wine, war drums and perhaps joy over Margaret’s recovery a conga line formed and Indian yells or maybe they were speaking in tongues – I don’t know, but I joined in! Deer hunters were awakened from a half mile away and I was told some reached for their guns!

Photograph taken by J. David.

Well, you can understand how the old cistern became a KIVA in the true sense of the word – a place for rituals, ceremonial and sometimes social events. Come and see for yourself.

P. S. Thanks for the many responses and prescriptions for my shingles. The pain is finally under control using very strong drugs, but they also keep me dizzy, dry mouth and extremely tired. I feel stoned all the time!

Most interesting remedy suggested: “Soak the sores with apple cider”!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What’s Happening on the Ranch?

J. David at work writing the blog. Photograph taken by Lois Sturm.

The Gallery is one of my favorite places in the house. I like to read and write there as it gives me a panoramic view of the ranch. It’s a good thinking spot. A gallery definition is a room that opens into every room in the house. Ours has sliding glass windows on three sides and is 90 foot long. Guests are usually there because of “The Code of the West”. What’s that you may ask? Well, if you’re visiting on a ranch at meal time, you’ll share a meal with us. We have very few meals alone!

Margaret began writing this blog in January of 2008. It was like a prescription she wrote to extend her life by keeping her connected to the ranch. Thanks to her planning “What’s Happening at the Ranch” gets me off the hook in writing this week’s blog.

My excuse is that I am very much under the weather with a deluxe case of shingles (Herpes Zoster). I’ve had one trip to the emergency room at Fredericksburg Memorial Hospital, more pain than I can handle. I’d exchange it gladly for water boarding – and enough pain killer prescriptions to keep me stoned through the day! Shingles are very serious. It is the chicken pox virus, we had as children, that attacks the nervous system later. The older we get the more vulnerable we are. Other things that may bring it on are physical or emotional stress or anything that weakens the immune system. There is a vaccine available now. My advice: GET THE VACCINE!! – I have never in my life had anything so painful and with the poor prospect of a long recovery.

Please check in next week. I have on my list of blog topics: ants, exclosures, fungi and lichens, greenhouse and chipper. There is much more too! By the way, shingles is only contagious to those who have never had chickenpox, so check our website for our tour and workshop schedules and come see us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What’s It All About?

I believe that everything starts from a philosophy, but it seems to me that so much of our life is gone before we have, as an individual, developed a philosophy. Just what is a personal philosophy? Is it some course taken in a college classroom or some path we chose to achieve financial success or public acclaim? Did your parents or someone you admire lead you to it? Surely, a baptism as an infant didn’t cause it – so when did you reflect on your life and adopt or develop a plan with an overall vision of your life’s purpose? If so, how old were you when this philosophy was reflected in your actions? Did you or have you stuck to your philosophy?

Philosophy is not necessarily your religion. However, all faiths share principles that are certainly vital to any plan for our lives. Thomas Jefferson said, “Ask me not about my religion, let my life reflect it.” In essence, our lives should reflect our beliefs – to me that’s a philosophy!

Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve exists here today and into the future because of my own philosophy and that of my soul mate, Margaret, who joined me in 1992. Life seems so short when you find yourself alone at 81. When you no longer share excitement over every detail of your day with someone who loves and respects every living thing as you do and is willing to share it with everyone, but my personal philosophy has sustained me through these difficult times.

As a child I well remember how poor we all were, except for Jackie whose father had a job on the railroad. So Jackie was the only source of a ball and bat. Each day we waited anxiously for Jackie to come out and, of course, bring his ball and bat. But Jackie was not any good at any part of the game and so was always the last to be chosen. I didn’t ponder this until later in my life as my personal philosophy developed. One day Jackie came out, but quickly announced that since he owned the ball and bat he got to make the rules for the game. He would get four strikes, have to run only two bases, choose the teams, etc.... It wasn’t long at all before no one sat on the curb waiting for Jackie and therefore there was no one for him to play with. The moral of this true life story is that he who owns the ball and bat and makes all the rules without sharing will play a lonely game. Thus, another part of my personal philosophy was born.

I was ecstatic a few weeks ago to be told that money was being raised by our Board of Directors for an 81st birthday present for me. It was to be a surprise, but you know how difficult that is.... There is absolutely nothing I need and I’m quite frugal having been born into poverty and from a very early age probably unconsciously listed the first part of my personal philosophy which has continued with me to this day and that is “don’t buy things you don’t really need and don’t buy on credit.” So another component of my personal philosophy was born.

So what’s it all about? My personal philosophy sustained me throughout the biggest part of my 81 years. A big part of that philosophy has to do with my responsibility to Mother Nature and my relationship and connection to all living things. The Board of Directors of Selah are volunteers. They are people who see the value to society to protect land from fragmentation, to respect all living things, and to share this treasure of 5,500 acres with others. With their help and perhaps yours, too, this institution represented by this beautiful stone, my 81st birthday present, will be here forever.

This big stone had been laid aside from the others. It weighed over 2,000 pounds. Leroy Petri, Ranch Engineer, chained it to his loader in order to lift it since it was too big to fit in the bucket. Photograph taken by J. David.

All the stone was quarried here on the ranch – enough to build 25 houses! Photograph taken by J. David.

A concrete footer had to be poured to hold the monument upright. Photograph taken by J. David.

We had to hire a professional to do the engraving which required sand blasting with an air compressor. Photograph taken by J. David.

The final product (front view) as you drive through the gate. The lines at the bottom represent water. We plan to add some real big honeycomb rocks around the base and ends along with native lantanas. They are less susceptible to being eaten by deer. Photograph taken by J. David.

You see this side as you leave the ranch. We’ve adopted this as our logo: the oryx, grass, maple tree leaf and a bat. Photograph taken by J. David.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Something I’ve Pondered – Revisited

The July 26 posting led to a number of contributions I thought I’d share with you. I was aware of other species that acted like a chameleon but because of my love affair with the Madrone, I just restricted my thoughts to it.

Persimmon (Diospyros texana). Phototgraph taken by Scott Gardner.

Scott Gardner sent this specimen of the Persimmon (Diospyros texana) from the Browning Ranch three miles east of Johnson City. There weren’t any Persimmon here on the ranch forty years ago, until in my plan to have every species in Blanco County represented, I introduced some. Local old timers who were here to observe our restoration work thought it was a foolish thing to do, as once again on abused ranch land, Persimmons can become a problem and many considered it worse than cedar – me and the deer enjoy the delicious black fruit. It’s the seeds passing through the deer where the seeds become fully fertilized that spread the Persimmon, but this happens on mostly overgrazed land. This is wonderful landscaping plant except don’t plant it near a sidewalk or driveway as it can blacken your car, sidewalk and the soles of your shoes.

From no reply – comment:

“The only other hypothesis I’ve heard about the peeling of the bark was about solar heat. If the Madrone peels the darker red in the summer, could it be cooler for it to survive with its lighter colored bark and then go back to the darker red when the climate turns colder? This hypothesis, however, wouldn’t make sense if you posed the question to the Persimmon or even Crape Myrtle. Leave it to JDavid to always ask the good questions!!”

From another reader - How about this?

“David – It is logical that the Madrone tree sheds its bark in order to grow larger. On the other hand, maybe God gave the tree this ability so that it could have its “15 minutes of fame” and look beautiful! I shouldn’t really anthropomorphize, but you did call a tree “she” in your blog!”

In a newsletter from Friends of Friedrich Wilderness Park sent to me by Paul Cox of the San Antonio Botanical Center. This was written by Park Naturalist Wendy Cooley:

Why Does Texas Persimmon Bark Peel?

“Not too long ago a group of volunteers at Crownridge Canyon Natural Areas asked the question: Why does Texas Persimmon bark peel? Once I started doing research, I found that numerous trees shed their bark, like the Texas Madrone and the American Sycamore. One explanation is that these trees have thin brittle bark that cannot expand to accommodate new growth. The exfoliation and peeling of bark is a result of the tree growing and maturing. Trees with thicker bark, like live oaks, have bark that is generally able to expand and thus does not typically shed off in chunks. Shedding of bark is normal when it exposes new bark and not bare wood. When shedding bark exposes bare wood, then this could be a symptom of a larger problem (MSU-Extension 1999). There are many other explanations that have been hypothesized for why trees shed their bark. One that is relevant to our area includes a protective strategy against fungi, mosses, parasites, epiphytes, and lichens from inhabiting the trunks and limbs of trees. Another explanation deals only with trees in the floodplain. Trees with thick bark have a water conservation advantage and cannot transpire water as easily as thin barked trees. Thin barked trees allow for increased transpiration through their trunk (Still and Watt 2004). One final explanation involves photosynthesis in the trunks and branches of deciduous trees. This is particularly true for Sycamores where the exposed, new, and sometimes green woody parts can increase photosynthesis and thus increase growth (Still and Watt 2004). It is evident that Texas Persimmon bark sheds and exfoliates as a result of the growth occurring under the thin bark and that there are other trees that shed their bark as well for this same reason. However, the Texas Persimmon may have developed thin exfoliating bark as a protective strategy to shed its trunks and branches of epiphytes such as ball moss as well as lichens and other potential pests. Nature holds a world of wonder and as more and more naturalists come together to work and explore the Natural Areas more great questions are sure to come up.”

Birch bark (Betula papyrifera). Photograph taken by J. David.

In our quest for information or knowledge, it’s funny how researching something or networking leads you to something not thought of before. Just before posting this update on exfoliating trees, I was showing some friends through my house and explaining some fact or history of items you could say were decorations, but mostly just things picked up on the ranch or, in some cases, acquired from places we traveled to and served as somewhat of a museum of memories. Lo and behold, here on the stone window seat is an example of another exfoliating tree not mentioned in any of our ranch library books. . . . I’m 81 years old and collected this piece of Birch bark perhaps 70 years ago.

Picture of toy canoe. Photograph taken by J. David.

I now recall as a little boy attempting to make a canoe out of Birch bark as the Indians had done. It was beyond a young lad of 10 or 11 to do, so I decided I’d make a toy canoe and had some small success using horse hair, sticks and glue and of course a pocket knife. It was crude but it looked good as I proudly showed it to my mother and she was quite proud of me. But when launched on its maiden voyage in the spring box, it was very poorly balanced and quickly turned over. I’m almost certain that this is not the Birch bark toy canoe that I made. I have no idea how long it’s been on display in our “make shift museum”, but it is a good example of how the American Indians used some of our exfoliating trees to build their transporting vessels. There are a 105 species of Birch trees. The Complete Trees of North America by Thomas S. Elias describes 22 species but since I know this sample species in the picture came from Ohio I’m using the species “Paper Birch” (Betula papyrifera Marsh) to describe it and I quote “This tree is widely known for its use on birch bark canoes.”

Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica L.) not a true Texas native, but it exfoliates like those in discussion. Photograph taken by J. David.

I didn’t know at the time of planting that Crape Myrtle was not a native plant. I just knew that I loved flowering trees and Texas has a lot of them. They are considered a non-native species especially abundant in Australia and Central and South America. However, 4 genera native to North America occur only in Southern Florida. Originally they were introduced here for their ornamental value or to serve as windbreaks. Now they’ve become quite popular and can be found in most any local nursery. . . . Interesting for me was in 1979 having bought 12 acres on Babcock Road in San Antonio, the folks building the Fiesta Amusement Park noticed 25 very large Crape Myrtles on an old abandoned house on the property for which they paid me $2,500.00! Now, I wonder if that caused me to overlook the non-native part when I introduced 5 here on the ranch! Money sometimes does strange things to people.

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Photograph taken by J. David.

Look closely for the peeling bark as my pictures don’t show the exfoliating bark as clearly that is the “Question to Ponder” of these two blogs. Part of that is my excuse that I got around to taking the pictures a little late and the other part is I never had the same interest in these additions to the subject of the Madrone trees until you readers started alerting me. The Sycamore family contains 10 closely related species all belonging to a single genus only 3 of the species occur in the United States. I’ve noticed here on the ranch and in the Hill Country they are quite prolific and once again there are some landowners who don’t care for them claiming they clog up creeks and consume too much water. It’s of little value to wildlife, but I like its looks and smell and recommend it to you.

I’m somewhat sorry that my penchant for projects and challenges has kept me a conservationist rather than a biologist all these years. So I don’t speak genus and species very well, but I have a world of experience in doing things to help Mother Nature along and I appreciate all this modern stuff that allows us to share information and work together to create natural places for all living things other than us to live a long, happy and useful life.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Drought Continues

Before you begin this post, you may want to look at my postings of June 7 and June 14th concerning the drought.

Water transfer. Phototgraph taken by J. David.

The seriousness of this drought cannot be overstated. Four households on the ranch now depend on a spring that is now producing slightly less than a gallon per minute. At best, that’s 1,440 gallons or 360 gallons per household per day. We can easily get along with this, but the dry, hot weather continues with no end in sight and the spring flow weakens daily. Last week all livestock, principally cattle, were removed from the corrals and traps around the pens. Would you believe that one cow can consume 25 gallons of water per day? Here is the method we developed to transport 500 gallons of water per trip. We were transporting water from the west side of the ranch where we had only one household to the east side where we have four. This task required 8 hours each day. Scott Grote, Ranch Manager, solved this by moving all the cattle to the west side, but herein lies another problem: because of the drought there isn’t much forage available over there for them. Well, that’s ranching! You can only hold out so long and then the cattle must be sold. Buying feed for cattle in July, August, September – this early in the season is a guaranteed prescription for financial failure. Selling cattle in a drought also hurts because the market is flooded with cattle experiencing the same conditions.

Watering trough. Photograph taken by J. David.

I’ve bragged for years that because of the restoration here, we had no functioning water wells. This was true, but not now. An old inoperative well that delivers small amounts of gipwater - non potable water – has been explored and equipped with a submersible pump. While it’s only good for a few gallons per minute, we’re using it in watering troughs and carrying it into waterless pastures for wildlife. It’s a bit ironic that we’re struggling to keep deer, turkey, raccoons and other critters alive so that we can shoot them during hunting season!

Math Camp – Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

Fortunately, our “people ranching” is over until September. These large groups of young people were challenged by Colleen Gardner, Executive Director, to use our solar toilet as it requires no water. She’s been making the challenge all summer, but I think this group of Math Camp kids from Texas State University broke the record - 283 uses saving the ranch 1,132 gallons of water. There were 68 kids.

There is a long spoken phrase “everyone talks about the weather, but no one can do anything about it.” If you believe as I do that global warming – climate change – is for real then the statement is not totally true. Our actions as a society are the cause and we can do something about it. Time is running out though, so we need to act. What an opportunity this nation has to provide the model, the leadership to the world. Let’s quit wasting lives and resources on war and lead the world by example.

Spanish Oak. Photograph taken by J. David.

Bald Cypress. Photograph taken by J. David.

Pecan. Photograph taken by J. David.

Bigtooth Maple. Photograph taken by J. David.

Carolina Buckthorn. Photograph taken by J. David.

Wafer Ash. Photograph taken by J. David.

Escarpment Cherry. Photograph taken by J. David.

Fig. Photograph taken by J. David.

The Spanish Oaks (Texas Oaks) have taken the worst beating of the drought. I counted 113 dead from the Wildlife Preserve to the Chiroptorium. That’s a small area when you consider 5,500 acres. Robert Edmonson of the Texas Forest Service said we’d probably lost 1,000!

I looked closely at these trees. It may be, that some have “shut down” to save themselves – we won’t know until next spring although I’m not encouraged. There are 47 Bald Cypress suffering. A lot of these shut down last year and came back, but with basically no water this year I don’t see how they can survive. I have pushed the Cypress to the limit by planting at higher elevations than nature did. The Pecan is a surprise. This is probably a 50 year old tree. Only three of the Bigtooth Maples look this way. I’m surprised at the Carolina Buckthorn and the Wafer Ash as they are naturals. I didn’t plant them. The Cherry and Fig I planted and they have been watered, but the extreme heat seems to have won.

Last year I stuck stubbornly by my preaching and refused to water trees I planted after their first summer. I lost a beautiful Monterrey Oak. It was 18 foot tall with an 8 inch diameter trunk. This was in the “forest” across from the Country Store. While I still teach this principle, I now agree that if it’s one or two trees in your yard or some strategic place then go ahead and water it.