Archive for Public Lands

Eight-foot Wire Fences

Posted in Reflection with tags , , , on August 7, 2013 by timtrue
English: Avocados (Persea americana) Français ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having grown up in California, I love the outdoors.  It helped that I lived in a relatively rural area.  My family, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog, had a small avocado orchard.  Small, yes, relatively, but for a boy it was a world to explore.

“You’re not allowed to pick avocados from the tree,” Dad warned.  Fair enough.  That meant all the fallen avocados were fair game.  And games we had, my brother and I, and often several neighbor friends.  When an avocado did fall, which happened often, it was a matter of a day or two before the unique chemistry of avocado-on-ground began to break the thing down, to form a sort of natural guacamole, albeit much more stinky.  At certain times of the year then a boy, or a group of boys, might find any number of worthy prospects on the ground, breaking down, softening, ripening, gaining stink factor, just waiting to be picked up and thrown at another, perhaps unsuspecting, boy.  Or, if no other neighborhood boys could come over for yet another guacamole stink battle, the rotting avocados always made wonderful substitutes for baseballs, as my brother Andy discovered at something like eight years old.  The awesome factor came into play here, for an avocado that had rotted enough would explode on impact, generally resulting in brownish green mush landing stinkily on the batter; but the pitcher would have to watch out for the pit, golf-ball sized, escaping from the odorous explosion.  When the game was over, or the battle, cleanliness was only a short swim away.  Dad made many a muttering complaint about the pool filter gumming up.  But we weren’t really sure what he was getting at.

When the orchard routine felt, well, routine, hikes on the local hillside began only a short walk away, at the end of the street.  Hiking here often we more than likely transgressed property lines, in hindsight, but we boys knew no such lines, and the owners of the properties transgressed apparently didn’t care, for we hiked freely–making trails; hacking manzanita, the local groundcover, to pieces; then later, home again to pick cactus needles out of arms, legs, and butts–for years without so much as a raised eyebrow from a neighbor.  Except for the grumpy guy that lived in that glass house at the top of the hill.  He was probably from Texas, now that I think about it.  But we learned this about him, that he was grumpy–I actually learned this the hard way, another post for another day–and thus avoided his part of the hill thereafter.  At any rate, during those fun boyhood excursions many a scorpion we saw, many a fossil we unearthed, many a lizard we tried to shoot with the neighbor’s pellet gun.

Driver’s licenses soon expanded this love of the outdoors and their exploration.  Now I could go to the local mountains on any given day for a hike and a swim and some cliff jumping in the local punchbowls of Santa Paula Creek.  Many miles of southern California coastline became readily accessible too within an hour of home, from south of Malibu to north of Santa Barbara.  All was free too, except for the price of gas to get me and whatever friends I happened to gather for the day there.  Snow skiing could be enjoyed a fairly short distance away too, maybe an hour and a half if the traffic permitted.  And when I had more time, say a week, the Sierras offered an incredible playground for backpacking, camping, mountain biking, rafting, mountaineering, and better snow skiing than anywhere in soCal.  Again, except for lift tickets, these places and activities could be enjoyed free.  There are large amounts of public land in California.

Compare this to Texas, the state in which I have resided for most of the last ten years.

There is some public land here, sure.  Big Bend National Park is reportedly beautiful, a great place to backpack and camp year round.  There are also a number of excellent state parks, also public lands.  But, unlike a lot of the public lands in California, these cost money to enjoy.  Where are the parking pull-outs on the sides of highways, entrance points to unmarked trails that can take you into the heart of wildernesses?  To my knowledge, these don’t exist in Texas.  Yet they are widespread in California, like the free campground on top of Pine Mountain, one of the highest peaks in Ventura County at 7800′, offering an unbelievable view to the west of the Channel Islands, one of the most stunning views I’ve seen in my forty-five years of life; or like the many nameless trails along Highway 1 between San Luis Obispo and Monterey that lead to solitary beaches.  All free!

But it gets worse.  Drive along the highways and byways of the Hill Country, arguably the most scenic part of Texas, and look out your side windows.  More often than not you’ll see high wire fences, like eight feet tall, preventing people, livestock, and so on, from transgressing property lines.

I used to think this high fencing was to keep deer out.  There are a lot of deer in the Hill Country (a higher concentration of white-tail deer here than anywhere else in the country in fact, according to Neil Peart in his book Far and Away–a good read for motorcycle- and rock-and-roll enthusiasts, by the way).  There are also a lot of winemakers, like the world-class Becker Vineyards.  It makes sense that people like Dr. Becker would want to keep deer out, certainly.  So an eight-foot wire fence surrounding vineyards is one thing.  But there is far too much eight-foot fence on any given highway in the Texas Hill Country for it to be about keeping deer out in the hope of a good vintage.  What gives?

I learned the answer to this question last weekend when I visited a ranch with a couple friends deep in the heart of the Hill Country (where the stars at night are indeed big and bright).  Beautiful place, by the way, with something like forty acres bordering the Frio River–frio for cold, meaning that it flows at seventy-five degrees in the summer, cold indeed compared to the something like ninety-degree (nearby) Guadalupe River–and refreshing.

“So if this is a hunting ranch,” I asked as we sped down a two-lane highway flanked on both sides by parallel eight-foot wire fences, “why would the owner want to keep deer out?”

“It’s not so much to keep deer out as it is to keep deer in,” my lawyer friend answered.

“Okay,” I acknowledged, trying to act as if this made sense.  I was with a lawyer after all, and I wanted him to think I knew a thing or two.  Perhaps if I thought about it a second or two the answer would occur to me, logically.  I waited for it.  And waited.  Nothing.  So I gave up on the machismo logic thing and confessed, “I still don’t get it.”

“Breeding is big business on hunting ranches,” my other friend, a real estate agent, chimed in.  “A rancher will pay a lot for the right stock.  Like a dog show.  The best bred dog wins, yeah?  The rancher with the largest, best-looking stock can charge the highest price for hunting leases.”

What he didn’t say, yet what I felt, was, “Jeez, Tim, you tree hugger!  Don’t you know anything?  All Texans know that–from birth!  Clearly you’re not from here, are you?”

“So a rancher buys the best stock he can,” the lawyer continued, “fences it in, and after five or six years of breeding, you’ll find a large buck worth lots of money.  After ten years or so you might even see a record buck–if the rancher manages everything well enough.  The fence keeps in what the rancher wants; but it also keeps out what the rancher doesn’t want.  I used to lease on a ranch where some guy paid $15,000 for a prize buck last year.”

And I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud: Really!  Fifteen thousand for a deer!  That might pay for enough eight-foot wire fence to surround a few more hundred acres.

English: Cypress trees line the waters of the ...

Frio River (photo credit: Wikipedia)

On this trip I also learned the deal with waterways, like the Frio River, which are considered public land in Texas.  That is, you can float down a river on an inner tube, for instance, right through the middle of someone’s private property and, as long as you stay in the water, not be considered a trespasser.  Imagine then, if you will, you and your significant other enveloped in the wonderful combination of Texas heat and relatively chilly water, floating in “toobs” down a cool, clear river lined with limestone, flanked on both sides by parallel eight-foot wire fences.  Beautiful!  And refreshing!  Ah, the elements; and tangible evidence of managing them!  The trouble, however, is access to water.  If all the access is privately owned–heck, for that matter if all access is owned whether privately or publicly–the owners have the right to charge admission (and they do), for ingress and egress, meaning you might even have to pay a fee to exit the watercourse after paying someone else to enter it.

In the end I’ve decided I still don’t get it.  I don’t really get the way Texas and Texans deal with public lands.  That’s my point.  But who am I to say anything about it?  I wasn’t born here after all.  I was born in California, along with a whole bunch of other tree huggers.  Jeez!