The bouncy tune with upbeat lyrics crackled across the air waves on daddy’s old Zenith battery powered radio. I was just a little tot but I remember hearing Gene Autrey sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas”.
One phrase from the song has stuck in my head over the years….”The stars at night shine big and bright…..deep in the heart of Texas.”
I doubt that June Hershey, who penned the lyrics in 1941 ever turkey hunted in the Texas Hill Country. Obviously though, she had stepped outside and gazed skyward on a clear Texas night for her inspiration.
I saw Hershey’s big bright stars recently as I stepped out into the chill of a pre-dawn Hill Country morning. Although I was in a hurry to get on down the road where I’d heard a flock of Rio Grande turkeys fly up for the night, I was momentarily stopped in my tracks by the celestial display.
The sky flecked with millions of pin-points of light, a section of which was overspread by the most vivid Milky Way of my memory, stretched wall to wall in every direction.
I was one of a party of six hunters who drove 10 hours from Ruston to give the Texas turkeys a try. We brought down six gobblers but as good as the hunting was out there in Menard County, that section of Texas is a world apart from the red clay pine-studded hills of North Louisiana. For one thing, our pines and pin oaks make it hard to view the night sky like the one I saw in Texas.
Although the average annual rainfall for the Texas Hill country is 23 inches, for the past nine months there is a deficit of 22 inches; only a single inch of rain has fallen in Menard since last July. We lament and groan when we see our St. Augustine and centipede turn brown in August. Pity the poor Hill Country rancher who has to provide artificial sources of water and feed for his livestock under far worse conditions.
Out there now, the limestone-based roads are talcum powder; fine white dust covers everything; grass is the color and texture of shredded wheat. Only the cactus and mesquite and the tough, gnarled and stunted live oaks have the muscle to stand up to the harsh conditions.
A rancher I talked with shrugged and said nonchalantly as if it were no big deal, “We’ll eventually get some rain and when we do, everything will be green and lush again.” You have to be tough and have a positive outlook to live in that part of the world.
Not only is there severe drought, the wind blows constantly, sucking out what little moisture that remains.
Having to wake up every morning to another dry windy day, you’d think the townspeople would be boarding up shops and packing up to move to more friendly climes. Driving into Menard for supplies, I was impressed with the attitude of shop keepers and people going about their daily lives as if everything were normal. No big deal to them; “Que Sera Sera” is their theme song.
I was struck with the hidden nuggets of absolute beauty we’d suddenly see among the gray drab dryness. A vermillion flycatcher, dazzling in bright crimson, darted from a bare branch to nab an airborne insect; returning to its perch. I watched doves, both mourning and collared along with several lark sparrows gorging themselves at the feeders. I identified a first-time-for-me brown towhee.
One day driving along the dusty road, I stepped out of the truck to get a photo of a clump of breath-taking beauty. There among the rocks, brown tufts of grass and thorns, a patch of cactus exploded in red blossoms, so brilliant it almost hurt your eyes to look.
That night before bed, I stepped outside to gaze one more time to the heavens, letting the magic of those stars shining big and bright bring the day to a fitting end.
Glynn Harris Outdoors is proudly sponsored by DSK, Ltd. of Minden.