Some years back I ran into a testy fellow at a bookstore who snapped at me when I made a comment about summer. The month was May and I’d said it looked like summer had arrived. “Summer doesn’t start until late June,” the testy fellow blurted out. I smiled but said nothing more. But for those of you not familiar with South Texas it’s worthwhile knowing that this subtropical climate doesn’t follow the seasonal rules common to temperate regions. We have no fall to speak of, and our spring is a short-lived, humid, and often windy affair that begins while most of you living to the north are still experiencing winter. Spring is the time of wildflowers and a few spotted rains. Fall on the other hand is nothing more than a subtle feeling that prompts old timers to say, “Summer’s over.” A delicate change in the cast of the morning’s light with nights five-degrees cooler than the week before; when fall arrives there are no changing colors other than the reddish coats of whitetails and coyotes begin shifting to dark gray. Mind you that July, August and September will often see midnight temperatures in the high 80s. September brings an occasional monsoon in the form of a tropical storm. Winter heralds its beginning with one cool snap that usually blows through in the pre-dawn hours. City people may not fully understand the meaning of this first gentle occurrence but for grizzled woods rats that’ve walked the trails for six or seven decades, that first mild norther says the brushlands are reaching the end of another cycle. The whitetail bucks will already have their antlers. It’s sad how hunting has changed over the years. In South Texas, deer season means business and not much else. Gone are the times when people used to actually hunt. Now all you’ll see are dudes wearing camo uniforms, snake-proof boots, gimme caps with some outdoor company’s logo, and driving four-wheel drive pickups pulling ATVs. Long gone are the days when a woodsman entered the brush dressed in worn khaki or denim pants, a flannel shirt, a canvas fedora and cradling a Winchester .30/30 or perhaps a Savage 99 in .250/3000 or maybe even an old 92 in 44/40. They’d find a crossing and sit patiently, sometimes for hours without moving; and when the right moment came it was performed honestly and honorably. The few old timers still around can dress a deer and bone it out for the freezer using nothing more than a knife and a saw. But those are nothing more than memories. Today’s “hunter” looks like a page out of a Cabela’s catalog. So he drives his truck to a deer tower where he locks himself away peeping out a gun port. He sits there with a coffee thermos at his feet and perhaps even a cooler filled with beer and goodies. Then down a long trail, called a sendero¸ a deer or hog crosses and our hunter pokes his rifle’s barrel out the gun port and fires. The animal drops; the camo-clad dude comes down the ladder and gets in his pickup truck then drives to where the beast fell. Our dude manages to put the deer into the bed of his truck then takes a photo or two with his Smart Phone. Then he drives back to town where he drops the deer off at a butcher’s shop that cuts everything into steaks and sausage. There’s really not much to it these days.
One day, as if to say enough, winter heads back home. Perhaps it grows weary of pushing so far south, or maybe it sees the whole endeavor as pointless. Gone are the hordes of slickers who finally rumble off in their four-wheel drive pickups still wearing camo costumes and snake-proof boots. Back in the day a deer ate naturally, feeding off the shrubs growing wild in the woods. But today the business model dictates quantity over quality so the deer are shot up with growth chemicals, sometimes pen raised and nearly always fed a steady diet of corporate protein. The dandies don’t seem to care, but the old timers turn away in disgust. You know, decades ago the idea was to hunt and not engage in a contest.
A week ago a relative of mine and I sat on my front porch looking at birds feasting at my feeders and gulping water from the faucets. “I can sense that it’s going to change any day now,” I said. The mesquites were still wearing their skeletal and bone naked coats of bark and slender limbs. The winds of March had yet to kick up. Somewhere nearby a couple of green-jays began a conversation and about thirty bobwhite quail sauntered out of a granjeno mott then began scratching the ground looking for seeds. My relative still can’t believe how the quail run to me when I walk out to the woods bordering my yard. Like chickens, they follow me around. I’ll call out, “Okay everybody. I’m here. Come on everybody.”
“My dad said a mesquite never lies,” my cousin said. “Yep, never lies,” I repeated. You see, mesquites tell us when spring officially starts in South Texas. Naked one day and then loaded with Kelly-green leaves the next. Like waking up on Christmas morning and running down to the Christmas tree to see what Santa left overnight. A colorful present; spring is here. Of course that means come May we’ll be in the throes of summer. Come to think of it, I wonder what ever happened to that testy man. I wonder if he ever learned.