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San Antonio’s Briscoe Western Art Museum – Celebrating the American West’s inspirational heritage

 

Situated on a shady stretch of San Antonio’s inviting River Walk is one of the city’s newest cultural attractions, the Briscoe Western Art Museum. Since opening in October of 2014, this attrctive and very visitor-friendly collection (comfortably and attractively housed in the fully modernized and beautifully restored original San Antonio Public Library building) has been drawing rave reviews from all those with a love of, and interest in the American West’s exciting and inspirational pioneering past. With more than 700 exceptional, singular and extremely pertinent works of art and artifacts permanently on display, the region’s rough and tumble history is thrillingly recalled in multiple, must-see galleries each dedicated to celebrating this storied territory’s very unique, compelling and robust frontier heritage. Yee ha!

Initially envisioned in 2003 by a like-minded group of dedicated art patrons, collectors, businessmen and women, historians, ranchers and others, all sharing a deep passion for the actual occurrences (and legends) of the renowned yesteryear that was the “Old West,” the substantial project was finally, and magnificently, brought to fruition ten years later thanks to the additional hard work of countless volunteers and professionals as well as lots of generous private, city and state financial assistance. And, to the thousands who have experienced the glorious result since its recent opening, all agree it was definitely time, effort and money well spent.  

Today, visitors to the Briscoe Museum (named after early supporter and former Texas governor Dolph Briscoe) rapidly become immersed in another era where life was lived on horseback and defended with bow and arrow, six-shooters and Winchester rifles. The story is vividly told through myriad works of fine art, precise recreations and actual memorabilia, all relating to this adventurous age. Everything is artfully displayed throughout nine galleries occupying three spacious floors. Beautifully rendered paintings and sculptures wonderfully recount these earlier times while massive displays of period firearms pay testament to the dangers inherent. Other intriguing Spanish, Mexican, Anglo and American-Indian artifacts (many, centuries old) beckon the visitor as well. All in all, it’s an amazing compellation that features such rarities as an actual cannon used at the Battle of the Alamo, revolutionary leader Pancho Villa’s saddle, General Santa Anna’s sword, a full-sized Wells Fargo stage coach, historical documents and many, many other invaluable, one-of-a-kind relics. Add in the well-stocked visitor shop and, with so much to see (and hear via related recordings), many guests plan on spending several enlightening, educational and, especially, enjoyable hours on the premises. So saddle on up and come on down cowpokes, because no one leaves disappointed – young or old!

Beginning on January 5 and running through the 29th, the museum will be hosting a very special San Antonio Rodeo Student Western Art Exhibition and Auction. Featuring the exceptional work of some of Texas’ most accomplished high school artists, the exhibit culminates in a heated sale when all of the entries will be put up for bid. Proceeds will be awarded as scholarships for college and higher education. A general admission ticket to the museum will allow visitors to view the creations throughout January. The public is invited to attend and participate in the auction on the 29th. For additional information visit: sarodeo.com.

And, in celebration of this year’s Valentine’s Day, from February 2 through February 11, the museum will again invite the romantic-at-heart to create personal “love letters” (either handwritten or typed on a vintage typewriter) that, within downtown San Antonio, will be hand delivered to their special recipients via “Pony Express” – AKA volunteers on “thoroughbred” bicycles. Letters destined for locations beyond two-wheeling distance will be mailed.

The Briscoe Western Art Museum  is located at 210 W. Market Street in downtown San Antonio. It is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Monday. Admission is $10.00 for adults, $8.00 for seniors and retired military and free for children 12 and younger. For additional information about the museum, including directions, to make a donation, monitor upcoming events and to visually sample some of the collection, please visit the Web site at: briscoemuseum.org.

 

Getting to Know Nature:

Nature Quest Offers Educational Look at Hill Country

Learn all about nature in the Hill Country, up close and personal, during the 16th annual Nature Quest this April.

During the Nature Quest, you’ll learn from experts about all facets of the Hill Country—bats, birds, butterflies, insects, champion big trees, flowers, natural history, native plants, wildlife habitats, rivers, and more.

Around the Concan-Utopia area of the scenic western Hill Country, you’ll get to go on scenic field trips, attend workshops, and perhaps even see rare and endangered species of birds like the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. They like this neck of the woods and you will, too.

The 2016 event will be spread out over several weekends in both the spring and the fall, during migrations of birds and butterflies. The spring field trips will have a maximum of 20 participants each weekend. This allows participants to enjoy both seasons on more intimate groups for a more one-on-one experience, explains coordinator LeAnn Sharp.

You can sign up for what interests you—birding, butterflies, native flowers and plants, big trees, natural history, nature by kayak, photo workshops, and more during the day with bat flights, night birds, storytelling, and insects at night.

Dates for the 2016 spring workshops are April 15-17 and April 29-May 1.

“When those field trips fill up, we will add more weekends. Check the web site for updates and e-mail us other dates you might like to come,” LeAnn says.

Nature Quest was all LeAnn’s idea in the first place.

“It was my idea for our area to have a nature and birding event, because our area has so much nature to see and offer visitors,” she says.

At the beginning, the event was run by the Hill Country River Region, then by lodging owners, then by LeAnn and husband Anthony’s renowned Hill Country Nature Center near Utopia.

“We didn’t want Nature Quest to die,” she says. “We took it back to its basics of birding, bats, and wildflowers. It doesn’t have to be gigantic to be successful. In fact, if you’re into birding you don’t want a lot of people.”

How intimate? How about holding a hummingbird in your hand? You can during Nature Quest.

In addition to all the birding activities, visitors get to visit private ranches that are usually closed. They get to check out wildlife like aoudads. They get to see the numerous waterfalls at the headwaters of the Frio River.

All the trips begin and end at the Hill Country Nature Center.

The Nature Center is not just the place where all activities emanate from; it’s a true attraction itself. The Center showcases the natural attractions of the area with displays, maps, specimens, artifacts, and observation areas.

LeAnn’s entire family is involved in Nature Quest. How can they not be?

Her great-great-grandmother was among the first Anglo pioneers in the Frio River Valley, arriving in a seven-wagon caravan from Tennessee in the late 1800s. Her mother Lora B. Garrison, now retired, was one of the top storytellers in Texas. LeAnn’s son Bain Walker runs the Frio Bat Cave tours, champion big tree tours and kayak fieldtrips. Husband Anthony helps LeAnn run the Frio Lodging business and the Nature Center. The family also runs Hill Country Adventures, offering all sorts of nature-related tours in the region.

Guides also featured are Toni Galluci, Sage Austin, Ken Cave, and Lee Haile.

Haile is a huge part of Nature Quest. He is not only the pre-eminent  cowboy storyteller, he leads birding, insects, natural history, Champion Big Tree, medicinal/edible/native plants, nature by kayak fieldtrips. And he will entertain participants with his hilarious storytelling and singing.

“Our area of the Texas Hill Country has so much to offer Nature enthusiasts, but much of it is on private property not open to the public,” LeAnn says. “We love and enjoy everything about nature in our area, and want to share it with others so they can learn to appreciate it as well.”

 

For More Information: Nature Quest headquarters is located at the Hill Country Nature Center on FM 1050, 5 miles east of Garner State Park and 10 wiles west of Utopia. For more information, call 830-966-2320 or visit the web site at www.hillcountrynaturequest.com.

Discovering Small Towns

Luling and Gonzales Big on History

Small towns in Texas find ways to go from just a spot along the road on the way to someplace else to a distinctive stop along that road.

Luling and nearby Gonzales are good examples of that. You might just be dashing through and not notice a thing except a stop light, but stop for a bit, look around, and what you’ll find is likely to surprise you and keep you busy all day long. Maybe longer.

Luling is best known for being home to the Watermelon Thump. It also has some cleverly painted oil pump jacks, is home to the Oil Museum, offers up renowned pottery in a historic ice house, and has an old mill and cotton gin museum along its Paddling Trail on the San Marcos River.

The Thump was started in 1954 to pay homage to local agricultural producers, explains Trey Bailey of the Luling Economic Development Corporation. “Luling grew a lot of black diamond watermelons back in the day,” he says. “Not as much now. But we have the only indoor spitting venue in the world and our water tower is the world’s largest watermelon.”

Held every June, the four-day Thump has music, watermelon eating contests, a carnival, a watermelon carving contest, an elaborate parade, and serves as a sort of homecoming for residents who have left Luling but return as often as possible for the Thump festivities.

They have a spitting venue because the main attraction of the 62-year-old Watermelon Thump is not only declaring a champion watermelon but crowning the world champion watermelon seed spitter.

Luling has other events throughout the year, including a chili cook-off, a Cajun cook-off, a children’s art show, a country fair, an art show, a lighted Yule trail with a Christmas Arts and Crafts show, caroling and hot cocoa all around town in December, and the Watermelon Jam music festival every January.

Also famous for its barbecue, Luling has several fine restaurants and a daily farmer’s market.

Fifteen years ago, Holly and Charley Pritchard discovered Luling. They felt a sense of the Old West in the town with its aroma of oil in the area and train whistles blowing.

Holly explains that they saw an old building that once served as an icehouse in the 1920s and knew it was the place for them to open a classic pottery shop and be able to live on premises.

Their pottery is now renowned across the state.

“Our goal is to work towards creating a uniquely Texan product, utilizing native clays and local materials,” Charley explains. “We made a leap of faith, and Luling has come through.”

Luling’s six-mile Paddling Trail offers an escape along one of Texas’s most scenic rivers, the San Marcos. Paddlers can arrange shuttles or even rent canoes at the historic Zedler Mill.

The mill museum is relatively new, offering a rustic view of 19th century life. The restored feed mill and cotton gin date back to 1874. The museum also features a park with several trails meandering under pecan trees and by the dam on the river.

The mill also has a new pavilion for events such as weddings, and across the street is the Zedler House, a guest house.

Speaking of museums, don’t miss the Oil Museum in historic downtown, showcasing the history and ongoing role that petroleum plays in Luling with artifacts, tools, photos, and more.

One thing you’re certain to notice in Luling are the oil pumpjacks. Several of them are decorated with art such as a cow jumping over the moon or a boy eating a melon.

“Pumpjacks were such an eyesore, we came up with the fun idea to cover them up,” Trey explains.

Just six miles southeast of Luling you will discover Palmetto State Park, a beautiful respite along the San Marcos River and Ottine Swamp.

The park resembles the tropics more than the coastal plains of Texas, filled to overflowing with dwarf palmettos along the nature trails. The 270-acre park opened in 1936 and the Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the stone buildings in the 1930s.

Palmetto is a family-friendly park. All the trails are relatively easy and drop-dead gorgeous and you are likely to see families with young children on them every weekend.

You can fish at Oxbow Lake or in the San Marcos. Paddle along the river or lake. Hike or bike along those several trails that will make you think you’re lost in a jungle or have stepped back into prehistoric times. Host a gathering at the picnic pavilion that features an air-conditioned kitchen.

Stop and listen. You will hear birds everywhere you turn because Palmetto is a birders’ paradise—more than 240 species of birds have been spotted in the park.

About 12 miles further down the road you’ll discover Gonzales, where the first shots for Texas independence were fired. You may have seen the flag or signs that say “Come And Take It.” Well, those words and the cannon depicted on the flag are what started the whole thing.

Gonzales was the furthest west American immigrants to Mexican Texas came in the 1830s and the first battle of the Texas Revolution was fought here in 1935. Mexican officials had demanded the Texicans give up a cannon they had but the Texicans refused. The cannon was buried in a peach orchard to hide it. When the Mexican troops arrived, the cannon was dug up, mounted on wheels, loaded with scrap metal and fired the first shot of the Texican war for independence.

To taunt the Mexicans, the Texicans raised a hand-made flag that depicted the canon and the words, “Come And Take It.”

You can see that very cannon at the Gonzales Memorial Museum, along with many artifacts from that period and others in Texas history. You may be surprised at just how small that cannon is.

You can also visit the Gonzales Battlefield about seven miles southwest of Gonzales and the impressive monument honoring that first battle.

People stop in Gonzales to visit the “Birthplace of Texas Freedom.”

“We hope to educate people,” says Daisy Scheske, executive director of the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce.

Although you will see Come And Take It flags all over the town, that education she speaks of involves more history than that first shot.

The Gonzales County Jail Museum, which houses the local Chamber of Commerce,  is near the historic courthouse. It was built in 1887 and features cells, a rebuilt gallows, and the sheriff’s quarters.

The Gonzales Pioneer Village is a living history center with a collection of 19th century buildings and is home to pioneer demonstrations and battle re-enactments throughout the year. Adjacent to Pioneer Village is Fort Waul, the only Confederate fort of its type built west of the Mississippi.

More history can be discovered at the Texas Pioneers Museum with memorabilia and artifacts from Texas’ first pioneer families.

Gonzales showcases several historic homes like the J.B. Wells House, the Eggleston Log House, the Braches House and more.

Gonzales also has a Paddling Trail similar to Luling’s. It’s 11 miles down the Guadalupe River where paddlers can see the confluence of the San Marcos River with the Guadalupe.

Gonzales has a disc golf course, a nine-hole golf course, a city pool, and several parks.

And the town is full of shops, restaurants and lodging.

For More Information: Luling, 830-875-3214, www.discoverluling.com. Pametto State Park, 830-672-3266, www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palmetto. Gonzales, 888-672-1095, www.tourgonzales.com.

THE LUCK O’ THE IRISH, POTS OF GOLD AND WEE FOLK

THE WEARIN’ O’ THE GREEN

The green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation of Ireland at least as early as the 1640s.  In the 1790s, rebels in Ireland adopted green, both the fabric and the shamrock, as a symbol of their unity against English loyalists.  The original ballad, “The Wearing of the Green” refers to this uprising and tells the story of a revolutionary immigrant who explains and laments that wearin’ o’ the green has been banned in his homeland.    

In Margaret Mitchell’s famous novel, Gone With the Wind, Mr. O’Hara sang the song as he escorted his girls to a barbecue.  Judy Garland and other notable singers are known for their renditions.  Through the centuries, the wording has sometimes changed, but the song has endured, and is still sung as a traditional Irish tune by performers today.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY - A PINCH IN TIME

Everyone can be Irish on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, when you must wear green or you’ll get pinched!  Rivers are dyed green, huge parades are held, corned beef and cabbage is eaten, religious celebrations are observed and there’s green beer.  Lots of green beer!

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and the celebration of his life and work is held on the traditional day of his death.  Most of the actual facts about him have probably been lost, because by some accounts, he lived from about 385-461 AD.  Most of what is known about his evangelical work comes from the Declaration, which he supposedly wrote about his life.  He was born in Britain, not Ireland, maybe to a wealthy Christian family.  When he was sixteen years old, he was kidnapped by Irish Gaelics, taken to Ireland as a slave and worked as a shepherd for six years.  

According to legend, during that time, Patrick “found God”, Who told him to flee to the coast where a ship would take him home.  He became a priest and years after his escape, believed that God was leading him to return to Ireland to convert the pagans.  The story goes that he spent the rest of his life converting the Celtic pagans and driving the snakes out of Ireland.  Actually, there were pagans in Ireland, but there were never any snakes.          

We wear shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day because it is believed that he used the three-leaved plant to teach the Holy Trinity.

St. Patrick’s Day is an official Christian feast day observed by the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and several other religions.  It is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and certain Canadian provinces and celebrated around the world.  Although it’s not a legal holiday in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day is widely observed, celebrating Irish American culture, generally as a day of merriment and cheer.

  But why do you get pinched if you don’t wear green?  Well, everyone knows that if you’re wearing green, the fairies and leprechauns can’t see you.  But if they see you - because you’re not wearing green - they’ll sneak up and pinch you for fun!     

LEPRECHAUNS, FAIRIES AND OTHER WEE FOLK

The pagan Celts believed in the existence of wee folk and actually, there are lots of people in Ireland and the U.K. (and maybe elsewhere) who still believe.  According to legend, leprechauns, fairies and other tiny men and women have magical powers, some good and some evil.  

Gnomes, elves, leprechauns, pixies, fairies and other wee folk are said to inhabit forests and flower gardens.  Many great writers, including Shakespeare, have included them extensively in their stories.

Leprechauns dress in green clothes, a red cap and leather apron and mend the other tiny peoples’ shoes and maybe even humans’ shoes, too.    If you catch a leprechaun and even blink for a minute, he’ll vanish.  They are cantankerous and crafty, often playing tricks on others in order to protect their own treasures and pots of gold.  Who knew you could make a fortune repairing shoes?

In the Gaelic language of Scotland and Ireland, the wee folk are called sidhe (and various other spellings), which is pronounced “shee”.  But that word can also refer to their dwellings in little mounds or hills.  They’re usually thought of as peaceful folks, unless the humans disturb them, which can cause consequences.      

Fairies can enchant humans and take advantage of them by casting spells.  However, fairies are also reported to help with farmwork or housework.  So, if you need a little dusting done, you might watch for them.    

LUCK O’ THE IRISH

We often think the phrase means that the Irish are lucky, but originally, it meant just the opposite.  The Irish people were beset by famine, foreign invaders and conquerers, so ironically, “the luck of the Irish” was pretty bad.  Then as they prospered, perhaps during America’s historic goldrush days, when some  Irish immigrants and first generation Irish-Americans became rich, “the luck of the Irish” changed into a rather scornful meaning, insinuating that their good fortune was more through sheer luck than intelligence or talent.  

But as with most sayings and colloquialisms, meanings sometimes continue to change.  So “luck o’ the Irish” can also mean that the Irish went through it all and came out the other side with a positive attitude, a good sense of humor and changed bad situations into good ones!  

No shamrocks, rainbows, or pots of gold on your front porch?  So what.  Instead of counting your wealth, count your blessings.  It’s what you make of life that “counts”!

Aye, today can be your lucky day!

 

Social Market Places

From Mercado Central to Texas Hill Country Farmers Markets

When I was a little girl growing up in Central America, I loved going to the Mercado. I was blessed to have a Costa Rican mom and an American dad, which resulted in spending the wonder-filled days of my childhood in Costa Rica. We lived in the capital city of San Jose and its Mercado Central is huge, taking up a full city block. As a child I still remember the many colors of the fruits, vegetables, herbs and other wares and all the hustle and bustle, combined with the fear of getting lost in the crowd. I remember the smells of food cooking, coffee brewing, leather and raw meat. I remember the noises, the loud voices of vendors shouting and customers haggling over prices and usually some form of music…maybe a man playing a Marimba with a bowl set out to collect coins. Going to the Mercado was a symphony of multi-sensory delights and always an adventure for me.

When farmers markets started making an appearance in towns throughout the Hill Country, I hoped that I might find some of what I experienced in my childhood market experiences. I wondered if going to a farmers market might be worth more than just the usual weekly spin through the produce aisles at my local grocery store. I wasn’t disappointed.

I started out with my hometown farmers market in Fredericksburg, which gathers on Thursdays. I was delighted to find some of the same aspects that I remembered from my childhood. I could hear a guitar playing as I got out of the car. I was met with booth after booth of colorful seasonal fruits and vegetables. There were also coffees, wines, honey and organically grown meat.  I took a bite of a sweet apple from the vendors at Apple Valley Orchards and had a small cup of savory, Tomato Basil soup from another booth. The smell of pizza baking drew me to the JoJu Bakery booth where I also found a variety of freshly baked breads. I kept bumping into local townspeople, who had come to shop, enjoy the open air eating, and socialize with one another. It was clear they had come here to enjoy the people as much as the produce.

When asking a local organic farmer friend, Becky Ottmers, about the various places they sell their produce, she raved about the Pearl Brewery Farmers Market in San Antonio that operates on the weekends. My daughter and I decided to make the drive to check it out.  After we found a spot to park, we followed the noise, the smells and the crowd to find the lines and lines of vendors tucked in along the streets around the old brewery plant.

We found booths selling all kind of produce, honey, soaps, breads, meats and baked goods.  We sampled a delicious chunk of freshly baked bread dipped in olive oil from Sol Y Luna Baking Co. and we shared a hot chicken empanada from Artisan Empanadas. We were tempted by the Nutella Crepes at CrepeLandia, but refrained because the line was so long. There was a musician crooning his tunes surrounded by tables of people eating the various offerings of the market booths.

We finally found my friends’ Ottmers Family Farm booth.  I looked over their tomatoes, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, leeks, onions and eggs. It all looked so good. I finally settled on a variety of squash to buy.

I found that going to a farmers market is still an adventure and a delight to your senses. I plan to explore a few others in towns nearby. I encourage you, as well to check out a Texas Hill Country farmers market!

 

Texas Hill Country Farmers Markets

Fredericksburg Farmers Market

Thursdays 4pm-7pm

May-Aug at Market Platz Square

Oct-Nov at the Pioneer Museum at 325 W. Main

www.fredericksburgfarmersmarket.com

 

San Antonio-Pearl Brewery Farmers Market

Saturdays 9am-1pm

Sundays 10am -2pm

Year Round

312 Pearl Pkwy, San Antonio, TX 78215

http://atpearl.com/farmers-market

 

Burnet Farmers Market

Saturdays 9am-1pm

May-Oct

211 E. Jackson Street, Burnet, TX 78611

(956)286 7775

www.farmergeorge.market

Round Rock Farmers Market

Saturdays 9am-12noon

Year Round

201 University Oaks Blvd, Round Rock, TX 78665

(956) 286 7775

www.farmergeorge.market

 

Sun City Farmers Market

Tuesdays 9am-12 noon

Year Round

2 Texas Drive, Georgetown, TX 78633

(956) 286 7775

www.farmergeorge.market

Bastrop 1832 Farmers Market

Tuesdays 2pm-6pm

Saturdays 10am-2pm

Year Round

13202 Chestnut Street, Bastrop, TX 78602

(512) 360 4799

www.bastrop1832farmersmarket.org/

 

San Marcos Farmers Market

Saturdays 9am-1pm at 155 E. San Antonio Street

Tuesdays 3pm-6pm at 312 E. Hopkins Street

Year Round

(512) 757 2000

www.sanmarcosfarmersmarket.com/

 

Wimberley Farmers Market

Wednesdays 3pm-6pm

Year Round

14050 RR 12, Wimberley, TX 78676

(512) 264 1637

www.visitwimberley.com/marketdays/wimFM.shtml

 

Drought’s End

It was a hot afternoon this past July and you could feel the sun beating down, as relentless and burning as a Biblical plague. The grey-bearded old man found the shady spot he was looking for, then slowly began preparing his rig.  It took longer than normal because it had been years since he’d been able to fish this spot.  

His gear showed signs of disuse — line, twisted; hooks, rusty and dull; and you could see a wisp of cobweb on one of the rod guides.  He cut off a few feet of frayed line, added 18 inches of fluorocarbon leader, and tied on a small chartreuse and white jig.  He sharpened the hook, then pitched the bait a few feet in front of him.  

This was his favorite fishing spot, a deep hole in Lake Buchanan which he knew like the back seat of his old Chevrolet.  He watched the bright yellow braided line carefully, counting the seconds as the lure fell vertically through the water.  Many years’ experience told him a 1/16 ounce jig would fall about one foot per second.  He reached 15 when the line stopped moving.  His arm tensed, his grip on the rod tightened.  This water was well over 20 feet deep.  It should take another five seconds  before the lure could possibly reach the bottom.   But the line had stopped moving. 

And then it moved again — off to one side.

He felt excited.  This was the first time he’d been able to drop a hook in this spot in almost 4 years.   It would have been useless to fish here just a month ago, before the lake rose.  If you were here in Texas you know exactly what I’m talking about.  For the last several years we had been in the dusty grip of an epic drought, the worst in more than 50 years.   What had once been great fishing holes on reservoirs like Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis, had become mere mud puddles. Or quagmires.  Or worse — dust bowls.

You can argue about when the drought began, but in January 2011, Travis’ water level stood at 668 feet above sea level, or about 13 feet below the 681 foot level considered full.  At the same time Buchanan’s level was right at 1010, or about 10 feet low.   Normally, spring rains push lake levels up, but we didn’t get much rain.  By July, Buchanan had fallen to 1000 and Travis had plummeted another 27 feet down to 643.5.  It got worse and worse until by Christmas 2014, Buchanan was 34 feet low and Travis was down almost 60 feet.  Canyon, Medina, Georgetown, Brady, and most other Hill Country lakes suffered as well.  Only Lake Austin, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, and Inks Lake were able to maintain constant levels.  

You could still catch fish, but because so many ramps lay high and dry, in many places it became virtually impossible to launch a boat.  And if you figured out how to get your fishing rig on the water, you had to be very careful not to beach your boat on a gravel bar, or rip open the hull on a submerged rock.  Many an angler either moved on to greener (and wetter) pastures, or quit fishing altogether.  Even the Vanishing Texas River Cruise had to suspend operations because there wasn’t enough water to take sightseers into the scenic upper reaches of Lake Buchanan.

This is by no means the only drought we’ve experienced.  They’re normally not as drastic as the most recent one, but they show up every few years, rather like the seven good year/seven lean year cycle mentioned in the Bible.  Droughts are no laughing matter.  Wildlife suffers, agriculture declines and in Texas it often seems like the dry spell will last forever.  Fortunately, weather moves in cycles, the wheel always turns, and the waters finally come back.  We had a wetter spring in 2015 and lake levels began to climb.  Finally in the second week of July, torrents of rain fell in the Abilene, Brownwood, Brady and San Saba area — enough to bring most Central Texas lakes closer to normal.  As I write this Canyon Lake is more than full.  Buchanan is down only 12 feet and Travis, 10.

Rising waters made boat ramps usable again.  In fact, three ramps on Lake Buchanan have been greatly improved with the addition of courtesy docks donated by the Lake Buchanan Conservation Corp  (www.lakebuchanancc.org.)  You’ll find the new docks at Llano County Park, Burnet County Park, and Shaw Island.  

Rising waters also enabled the Vanishing Texas River Cruise to start up again. Cruise tour guide Tim Mohan said they were seeing lots of bald eagles as well as a wealth of other wildlife.   Tim also told me that the July flood created a huge, impenetrable log jam at the narrows, just upstream from the village of Tow.  Fishing boats can work their way in the shallows around the jam, but larger craft like the Vanishing Texas Cruise can only go so far.  Still, if you’re a birder or wildlife watcher, it’s well worth a trip.  Here’s their contact information: phone: 1-800-474-8374; web site: http://www.vtrc.com

And it was the rising waters that brought the old man back to his favorite spot.  He watched the bright-colored line for half a second, then his reflexes took over.   He raised his rod tip until he felt a bit of resistance and then with a quick flick of the wrist, set the hook.   His ultra-light spinning rod throbbed with the weight of a fat crappie.  

His wrinkled face broke into a smile.   Happy days were here again.  The drought was truly over.