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February 25, 2007

Deep in the Heart o' Texas

I finished another two weeks on the road on another agricultural project, as I did last spring. This time I was in Texas - and deep in Texas - west of Austin and north of San Antonio in an area known as the Texas Hill Country. I hadn't driven through Austin since 1981, when I used to visit my friend Mark there while living in Houston.

The Alvino Rey Orchestra

The stars at night were big and bright.

(More to come...)

The soil, though, was quite different than what you find in the Midwest. Here's the field where we ran equipment tests. People who lived nearby told me it had been a cotton field last year.


The white spots in the dirt are small stones (palm-sized, not gravel). I heard this is pretty common, even in well-worked fields. The color in this image is pretty accurate: the soil's not the rich, loamy black you see in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Most of the surrounding countryside is hilly and the soil there seeme to be mostly stone and calichi. It didn't look like very promising farm country to me -- but I'm a city boy, so what do I know? I'd guess that most of the agriculture in the area involves raising livestock. I saw quite a few cattle, grazing among the prickly pears.

And I saw more white-tailed deer than I could count. But they were small; two or three of them might weigh as much as a single Missouri white-tail. It was pretty funny to see a six-point buck with a body the size of a large dog's.

This year's agricultural venture wasn't the big production that last year's was, for several reasons. There were a lot of long days but there wasn't any roadtrip part to this tour. The traveling part will come later and I don't expect to see much of it myself (assuming my prep work went as well as I think it did). I did get to see some of the people I worked with last spring, though, and I met several new folks.

One of the guys on the project brought me a jar of Kinky Friedman's Politically Correct Salsa after I wore my Kinky-for-Gov t-shirt one day. (Thanks, Allen.) Part of the money from sales of Kinky's salsa goes to the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch and there's a legend on the label reading: Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail. There's your thought for the day, animal lovers.

My base of operations this trip was a the biggest little town I've ever seen, a place called Fredericksburg. As you might guess from the name, many of the residents are descended from German immigrants. The local Chamber of Commerce makes much of this heritage and touts the area as a vacation and retirement spot. It's common to see references to 'Opa' and 'Oma' which, I gathered, are German terms for 'Grandpa' and 'Grandma'. I saw "Opa's sausage" on a menu and "Oma's Cake Kitchen" is a local bakery.

The C-of-C has been pretty successful in its efforts. The signs at the city limits say Fredericksburg has a population of 8900, or 1000 fewer than Monmouth, Illinois where I was last May. But the contrast between Fredericksburg and Monmouth could hardly be more marked. For example, I don't know how many restaurants are in Fredericksburg, but I couldn't visit them all during my two-week stay. In Monmouth, I could have visited every restaurant in town in a week. Fredericksburg looks like a town of 25,000 to 30,000. It even has a fairly respectable microbrewery called The Fredericksburg Brewing Company. Their dark was pretty good -- though a little too 'hoppy' for my taste.

I met a guy named John where I was working and he told me that while Fredericksburg itself isn't very big, there are many retirees living in the surrounding county and that they're the ones who provide the demand for the businesses in Fredericksburg. In this vein, I heard that this town of 9000 has four nursing homes.

It looked to me like Fredericksburg would be a nice place to spend a week or two in April. But I wouldn't want to be there in August.

Posted by joke du jour at February 25, 2007 12:55 PM

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