The Where I Live series aims to showcase our diverse city and region by spotlighting its many vibrant neighborhoods. Each week a local resident invites us over and lets us in on what makes their neighborhood special. Have we been to your neighborhood yet? Get in touch to share your story.
When my husband surprised me with two Texas Longhorn heifers for my 30th birthday in 1990, I never dreamed it would lead to life on a remote Hill Country ranch and an homage to Michelangelo. We were living in Austin at the time and what began as a weekend hobby on a small family-owned property evolved into a passion.
Influenced by the movement to return to the land, 22 years ago we found our little piece of paradise where we took a leap of faith into raising heritage Texas Longhorn cattle for breeding stock and grass-fed beef. I was fortunate early on to befriend long-time preservers of the breed, Enrique Guerra, Maudeen Marks, and Fayette Yates. From them, I learned the value of the conservation of the cattle that evolved here.
I live at the midpoint on County Road 211 in Medina County, equidistant from Tarpley and Utopia. What distinguishes this “neighborhood” from those in urban areas is the size of our lots. Our houses tend to be two or more miles apart. This area is made up of ranches; livestock breeders that are slowly being overtaken by high-fenced exotic game hunting outfitters.
Perks of this Balcones Escarpment neighborhood are the quiet, tranquility, fresh air, and wildlife songs. We have dark skies strewn with stars. The view from my wooden farmhouse is of tree-covered hills and an open valley dappled with brush. Whitetail deer and Rio Grande turkey frequently walk up to the yard fence. We lost a very special, docile doe last year that I named Jane.
Sounds of a usual day include a noisy rooster whose companions give me fresh eggs, the screams of red-tailed hawks, trill and pop of vermilion flycatchers, cheep of canyon towhees, and the distant lowing of a cow calling her calf. The nasal whoosh of deer blowing an alarm is heard when quietly walking about the property. Summer brings a cacophony of barn swallows, purple martins, and black-chinned hummingbirds. Summer nights include the melodic whistle of the chuck-will’s widow, the purring trill of a screech owl, the high rhythmic buzz of cicadas, and a chorus of southern leopard frogs, the latter coming from the water feature in my yard.
In September and October, I can hear elk bugling from the exotic game ranch two miles to my south and the occasional distant pop, pop from dove hunters in distant grain fields near D’Hanis. Evenings and mornings are graced with the piercing howl of coyotes first announcing the beginning of the hunt and then just before dawn the parents call the pups to return to their den. The pups reply to the adults with high yelps as they approach.
Mexican free-tailed bats roost under the eaves of the roofline. They communicate during the day with squeaks and chirps. Several courageous feral sows have brought their young near the headquarters at night seeking the safety of barns and stacks of hay bales.
A walk across the headquarters grounds at night is likely to include a rush of adrenaline as reaction to the deep grunt of a sow giving warning to her young of an approaching intruder. There exists a harmony of all life with raccoons squabbling in oak trees at night and barn cats lazing in the shade of those trees by day. I am honored to be accepted into their society.
My days are spent running the day-to-day business of the Cattlemen’s Texas Longhorn Conservancy and checking on the herd’s water and fences. I tend a large garden that is in perpetual need of weeding and enjoy summer harvest of peaches and figs and fall harvest of Meyer lemons and tangerines from trees that were gifts from Malcolm Beck in 2006.
Tending cattle dominated my energy for 30 years. In 2020, my passions for Texas Longhorns and art converged when we began restoring a 100-year-old D’Hanis tile cabin on our property. After a 37-year hiatus from painting, what more fitting tribute could there be to my two passions than a Texas Longhorn-themed painting? Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam came to mind.
My mural is a playful composition that features the animals I love: a Texas Longhorn cow with an outstretched hoof toward a gentle whitetail doe, The Creation of Jane. The cherubs are replaced with various wild animals visitors may encounter on this property. It took approximately three months to create while lying on my back on scaffolding. This is a labor from my heart that expresses my connection with the animals in this area.
Weekends are the times when neighbors gather at Mac and Ernie’s Roadside Eatery in Tarpley to enjoy a meal and catch up on the week’s events. Special occasions are celebrated on Saturday nights at The Laurel Tree in Utopia. On Fridays, we enjoy live music and a cold beer at Postal Brews in Utopia.
The neighbors are like family, jumping to help when there is a need and always ready for a barbecue, cold beverage, and engaging conversation. Some of my fondest memories are shuttling neighbors on the tractor across high water. It takes us a bit longer to make a grocery store run. Typically, I take a big cooler and fill it up. Heaven forbid I forget something because it takes a minimum of three hours out of my day for the round trip. That is all part of the pioneer spirit we embraced with the decision to make a life in the country.