Sunday, April 30, 2006

Hatfields & McCoys

Last year, while the house was still being built, an industrious swallow couple built a nest in one corner of the back porch. They raised a small family and then moved on for the winter.

Now they're back, along with a new batch of spring flowers and the rest of the flock, but not all is well in avian suburbia. You see, another bird family has decided to try to build a nest of their own in the opposite corner of the porch.

I checked the zoning laws, and that whole ceiling is designated a residential area, so the second couple -- let's call them the McCoys -- have every right to build there. The lot's been subdivided and surveyed, so there oughtn't to be a problem. But the original pair -- we'll call them the Hatfields -- swear up and down that they have squatter's rights.

It's starting to get ugly there in the beautiful suburban village of "Under the Porch". This morning they were going at it for close to an hour, swooping and darting at each other, the Hatfileds singing out such hateful epithets as "Carpetbagging Finch Lovers!" and the McCoys angrily rebutting with "Feather-beaked Ex-Dinosaur!"

I needn't tell you those are fightin' words in Bird Country.

I'll keep an eye on them, and let you know who wins. So far there's not much of a nest going up in the new Plan 2 area of the porch, but I don't think those McCoys have any quit in 'em.

Just to be safe, I think I'll keep the shotgun locked up. It pays to be prudent when property rights get in dispute.


Saturday, April 29, 2006


There are few things more comforting and satisfying than the feeling of being safe in the midst of a storm.

The lighting outside had the insistent tempo of a disco strobelight, filling our bedroom with alternating flashes of blinding white and absolute black, punctuated by rumbling thunder so loud it rattled the bed. We have floor to ceiling windows across the entire back wall, so the storm was clearly visible during the moments when the lightning filled the sky, and with the house shaking around us we felt as if we were standing right beneath the storm.

We'd watched it roll in from the front porch, angry, heavy gray clouds scudding across the sky. The setting sun was shielded by the solid bank of clouds, but still provided a dull backlight for an hour. Eventually we felt small droplets starting to sprinkle our feet and we retreated inside to ride it out.

I briefly regretted not getting a metal roof on the house, because there's something uniquely Texas about the sound of rain on a tin roof that I love. But when the hail started, I figured it was for the best, as solid balls of ice plummeting down at high speed can be rough on tin.

I wondered how the donkeys and horses were getting on as three different bands of thunderstorms lashed central Texas. I thought about a passage from "Watership Down", that humans think they like winter. But it's not the cold they like, Richard Adams says, but the feeling of being safe from the cold. Were they out in it, like rabbits and other wild animals, huddled against the elements and fearing for their life, they would not be so enamored.

Today we walked the property, making sure everything made it through all right, and thankfully it did. Some tornadoes were reported about half an hour away but we just got high winds and 3 inches of badly-needed rain. The creek finally has running water in it, for a few days at least, and the beautiful little waterfall is once again bubbling along. The grass and the trees seem perkier somehow, as if grateful for having their thirst quenched.

A friend of ours commented that in the days before The Weather Channel and 24 hour news and Doppler Radar, they didn't have "Severe Storms", they just had weather. It was a presence to prepare for, but not fear, just part of the cycle.

I like that.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Character Portraits

One of the things I like about playing role-playing games is getting to draw the characters other people have invented. The Uberworld game I am just getting drawn into (Get it? 'Drawn' into?! You can't buy that kind of humor, folks! Of course that's because it doesn't sell, but still ...) has a lot of players and a lot of character concepts, but I've still had the chance to do a number of illustrations that have turned out well. I posted about PING earlier, but I thought I'd share some of my more recent creations below the fold -- just click the button for more.

First up is a logo I did for the science-fiction-ish campaign I'll (hopefully) be joining. I thought this came out pretty good and it looks great on the page. It's not all about muscles, sometimes I design logos too!

Next I designed a banner for the site. I thought it needed something graphical at the top, both to give it a more professional initial appearance and to clearly convey what the site is about.

The character to the right is a shape-shifter, Nightshade, invented by one of the other players. She basically turns into a bat-woman, with big ol' ears and arms that are wings. She's a young mutant, kind of like the characters in the X-Men movies. I liked the whole look of her -- drawing women is not my forte but I think she's sexy and charming.

This character is known as "The Stuntman" and I suspect he was based on a super-heroic version of Jackie Chan. His other identity is Peter Fu, and his creator asked me to do an updated image of him. I think he turned out pretty neat.

Finally, I did a spot illustration that hopefully will be used on the front page at some point. I wanted something that would quickly identify that this is a super-hero site, involving combat, and which is of a very high quality. The super-hero version of the classic "Cowboys and Indians" theme just sort of came out as I was drawing, it wasn't planned. I like it, though.

Anyway, that's what I like to do in my spare time -- draw super-heroes. And lately I've been able to draw a lot more of them, so that makes me happy. Life in Nerdville is good!


Wednesday, April 26, 2006


One of my favorite country moments came shortly after we moved into the old Indian Springs place. Someone in my family needed to get in touch with me, so they called directory assistance for our little zip code.

"Hi, I'm looking for a new listing for Jeff Hebert," my family member said.

"Oh, is that the new couple that just moved in on Indian Springs?" asked the operator. "Into Steve's old place, I think it is, well you tell them welcome and I hope they like it here, sugar, now hang on and let me get that number for you."

I'd like to see that happen in New York City!


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Worst. Freudian Slip. Ever.

A colleague at work was at the doctor's office yesterday for a pre-op consultation about her upcoming surgery. After chatting about what would happen for a few minutes, the doctor said, "So when they wheel you in to the operating doom ..."

It was just a slip of the tongue, but still, that can't make you feel any better about your chances ...


Monday, April 24, 2006

Guns and Gas

I stood there at the pump, grumbling because the cheap and good grades were completely out, leaving me with only the expensive Premium gas to put in the truck. At $3.08 a gallon, even my Ranger gets expensive.

It's a decent price to pay for a study in opposites, though, which is exactly what I got.

On my side of the pump stood me, a bald and chunky Yuppie dressed in Austin casual, which means a buttondown from Goodwill, shorts, and flip-flops. My little Ford Ranger mini-truck sat there patiently, fake 4x4 styling and trim package tricking it out. I was going to be headed for my suburban office to sit around creating web graphics promoting jewelry. The cab of my vehicle was filled with Jim Croce and Indigo Girls CD's, a "Moose in the House" game for my sister's kids, and packages containing HeroMachine programs destined for everywhere between Germany and Canada so other nerds like me could make pictures of their role playing game characters. A Snickers ice-cream-bar wrapper fluttered out of my open door and limestone dust rose from the floorboard as I got out.

On the other side of the pump I could see a huge Ford 350 extended cab dualie, with the 4x4 Offroad package and rodeo styling. The other guy was a young, lean, weathered, dark-skinned man I assumed was Mexican from the way he was shouting into his cell phone in Spanish. He had on a cowboy hat, boots, and tight jeans, along with a classic long-sleeved checkered shirt. It looked tailored. Through the open door of his truck I could see leather seats and a briefcase. The cab was absolutely immaculate, not a speck of dust or out of place piece of paper.

And hanging there from the blinker column was a tooled leather holster containing a Colt .45 pistol.

I stared for a second, not sure I was really seeing what I was pretty sure I was seeing. It's not terribly unusual, Texas has a concealed-handgun license program and of course guns are part of the state character. But being that close to it somehow seemed different ... For all I knew he was cussing the other guy on the phone out and was going to get enraged at the high gas prices, proceeding to shoot the place up.

I just shook my head and kept pumping, careful to avoid looking at him or his car or to appear like I was listening in on his conversation. Guns tend to make you feel real, real polite.

I related the story to my boss, who pointed out that in Oregon (where he used to live) it is illegal both to pump your own gas and to carry a concealed weapon. It's perfectly legal to possess a gun, but you have to carry it out in the open. Here it's completely the opposite, you have to conceal your gun and someone else pumps your gas.

I don't know what all that means, exactly, but one thing's for sure -- I didn't spend much time thinking about how I was getting robbed by Mobile over the price of gas with a Colt 45 hanging five feet from me. Maybe all gas stations should do that, hire guys to walk around with one hand on a holster. It would sure keep the grumbling down.

I think next year I'm just going to ride a bicycle to work.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Humble Beginnings

While poking around the hard drive tonight, I came across this 1998 screen capture of the first attempt at HeroMachine. The file name is "Hero Maker", I'd forgotten that was what I originally planned to call it before discovering someone else already owned the moniker.

I almost can't believe how crude it is and how humble my ideas were. I look at the four pathetic little items you could change on the character and I have to laugh -- the final tally ended up at what, 35 or so? No way to change colors, no alpha values, no genres, only one figure, it's almost laughable. But it's a good reminder that even if your ideas aren't fully fleshed out yet, you should start working on them as soon as possible. The longest journey is the one you never begin.

That image represents the first code I tried to write for HeroMachine, eight long years ago. At the time I was working for 3M in tech support, making more money than I knew what to do with (can you tell I wasn't married yet then?) and finding myself with both scads of time to play around at work and the best computer resources 3M could buy me.

It's hard to remember my life at that time. I think back on the person I was then, and I feel really happy for him. So many wonderful things wait in his future, and he has absolutely no idea. He was crazy in love with this gutsy hot blonde chick and full of hopes -- hope for the love of Annie, hope for a better, more creative job waiting somewhere for him, and hope that one day this vague idea called "HeroMachine" might turn into something. All of those dreams came true, in more spectacular and exciting ways than he dared guess.

Is it greedy to hope that, eight years from now, my future self will feel the same thing about me, looking back in time? Probably, but I think I'll hope for it anyway. After all, sometimes dreams do come true, as I've been so thankfully reminded of tonight.


Whistling Dixie

John and I were roommates in college when I was pure nerd, still untouched by country life. He came to visit us a few years ago when we were in the old ranchito, and I think seeing me surrounded by horses, donkeys, and dogs was a bit of a shock. He was a good sport about it, though, and we were happy to involve him in our country fun.

One day Annie was driving him somewhere while I was at work, and she spotted a German short-haired pointer playing on the shoulder of the road in front of a house.She immediately pulled the truck over and leapt out, calling "Dixie! Come here, Dixie!" Bewildered, John followed and together they managed to get the happily panting dog into the back seat. John noticed a little boy on the porch of the house staring and pointing at them as they roared off, Annie explaining that one of our neighbors had a dog -- Dixie, a German short-haird pointer -- that kept getting lost.

"So we rescued Dixie, she could have been killed!" Annie said happily as they sped off back towards our neighborhood, awash in the glow of having done a good deed and eager to return Dixie to her grateful family.

John was quiet for a moment, studying the dog. A bit hesitantly (because come on, he's a city boy, what does he know from dogs?) he said "Um, Annie? Isn't Dixie a, you know, a girl dog name?"

"Well, yeah," Annie said, brows furrowing in confusion.

"I just ask because, um, that's not a girl dog," John said, pointing to an unmistakably male bit protruding prominently from the rescuee.

As it turned out the dog was not, in fact, either a female or Dixie, and actually lived at the house from which he was "rescued". I couldn't help but imagine the look on the little boy's face, sitting on the porch as the big black truck slammed to a stop and disgorged a frantic blonde, who hustled his beloved pet into the vehicle and roared away. Luckily the dognapping didn't last too long, as we brought Not-Dixie back that same night in red-faced embarrassment.

Yes, sometimes rescuing animals is an ugly, dirty business, but by gum someone has to do it!


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nerdom: Superheroes

PING, my character
I've loved super-heroes since before I could read, pawing furtively through my brothers' comic books when they weren't looking and marveling at the cool pictures. I was a DC kid, which means I liked the bright and god-like heroes -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, shining icons of pure purpose and inhuman dedication. I never quite "got" the Marvel characters, with all of their human foibles and real-world problems. So Peter Parker couldn't make rent. Well guess what, neither could I! The way I saw it, comics were to escape your problems; why would I want to run to fiction to find the exact same problems -- and worse! -- confronting someone else?

This genre and those characters are responsible for most of the happy childhood memories I had. They hold out hope for a better today and a more glorious tomorrow. They get me writing, drawing, and creating, and for that I am truly thankful.

That love of the four-color world has never left me, and recently I've found a group online that lets me exercise my fascination. I get to write, draw, and play a game all at the same time, which is pretty cool. I'll probably be using this group to explore the "Nerd Side" a bit more and hopefully show those who have never been what a great place it can be. After all, this blog is supposed to be about the two sides of my world, both the country and the nerd.


Friday, April 21, 2006


Annie and our two guests (my niece Anna and her friend Felicia) were out walking the property today with the dogs when they noticed Radar, one of our border collies, stalking up to a cedar tree. His sister Echo was quietly padding around the other side when suddenly a loud rattling broke out. Once you've heard the incredibly loud sound of a rattlesnake, you never forget it.

Annie shouted for everyone to run immediately, and luckily the dogs followed. No one was hurt or even seriously threatened, but it's a sobering reminder that this isn't Disneyland or a santized suburban neighborhood. There are coyotes and snakes, scorpions and poisonous spiders, running around in and amongst the more picturesque critters.

I was at work at the time, which is probably good because I'd likely have been "encouraged" to go find and kill the snake otherwise. I shot two of them at our old 5 acre place, but that was unavoidable -- they were in amongst the dogs and horses in a much smaller area. Out here there's room for everyone to go about their business, and 99 times out of 100 a snake will leave you alone if you don't bother it. They're just trying to get along in the world, the same as us.

It was an exciting way to end the visit for Anna and Felicia, though I'm pretty sure they won't miss that particular kind of excitement when they go back to college. The only snakes they have to beware of there are teenage boys, who are plenty dangerous enough for most anyone.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

In the Cellar

Scene: Our old house as it was while we were in the process of buying it. Agents and inspectors are swarming over the place, giving it a thorough going-over to make sure it's worth what we're offering.

Inpsector Guy: (crawling out from under the house and dusting himself off) "Can you tell me where the cellar is?"

Me: (With a surprised look on my face) "Wow, you guys are really good, I didn't even know this place had a cellar!"

Inspector Guy: (nonplussed) "No, the seller -- you know, the person selling the house?"

Me: (red-faced and embarrassed, in a very small voice) "Oh, them. They're over there."


Monday, April 17, 2006

Hobby Loss

Since the day I canceled my World of Warcraft subscription, I haven't had the urge to play any games at all. None. This is strange because I've been addicted pretty much non-stop to some sort of online game for the last 8 years or so. And now, nothing. No game on the market interests me at all -- I suddenly have have 2-3 hours a day that used to be filled with a certain kind of activity now utterly empty.

Why does your love of a hobby suddenly stop? Why do things that used to fascinate you lose their allure? Am I getting older, more mature, simply jaded, or what?

Whatever it is, I need to figure it out soon before something else permanently takes the place of the previous addiction. Last night I was watching "Oprah" with Annie, and for a few seconds I enjoyed it.


Somebody better fetch me a flying gryphon and a "Dire Nail of the Monkey" real quick, because I think the monkey that used to be on my back is dead.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Drought Farmonomics

The drought hanging over most of Texas continues unabated, and it's having an impact here on our little slice of heaven. Hay for the horses and donkeys used to be anywhere from $3-$4 a square bale, and that's when it's delivered right to our door.

We just had to buy some at $10 a bale, and felt lucky to have found any at all.

It's just good old-fashioned supply and demand -- since there isn't any hay to be had for hundreds of miles, what there is has to be shipped in from other states. That means more gas to get it here and less of it overall to sell. So even if you're lucky enough to find some, it's going to cost you.

What's worse is, the animals hate the new hay. It's dry and yellow, with very little nutritional content. I put out a whole bale the other day and they just turned their noses up at it. Heck, it's so bad they almost refused to pee on it.

We still have a bit put aside from the last good batch, but we're going to have to ration it out. Luckily there's a fair bit of green grass coming up, and with 80+ acres for 3 horses and 7 miniature donkeys we should be all right. Although if we don't get some rain in the next few weeks, even that's going to die off as temperatures hit the high 90's.

Droughts in the city didn't matter much beyond maybe having to not water your lawn for a few days, but out here I'm beginning to understand just how devastating they can be.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Left Behind

Annie has discovered the joys of "Craig's List", a free online bulletin board where you can sell or barter all kinds of things. She writes mini-articles about the dogs at the shelter where she works, trying to get people interested in adopting them. Along the way she sees many posts from people who are moving and claim they can't take their dogs with them. As she says, "Here is what I send to idiots who say it is breaking their hearts to have to take their dog to a shelter but they will tomorrow if someone else doesn't pick up their dog and take responsibility for it:"

It's too bad your dog isn't in charge of your move as he would not leave you behind. Dogs are loyal like that. We can learn a lot from them in the loyalty department.

And sending him to a shelter? Brilliant! Take him to a small town shelter and maybe they will use the gas chamber. It takes awhile to suffocate and the animals always struggle and claw and scratch to get away from the poisonous gas. Big dogs often collapse on smaller dogs and then those little dogs take longer to die.

Or take him to Town Lake or a bigger shelter where he will sit in a loud kennel looking for you to come back and get him for 3 days. Then, since he is a large dog and since large dogs are very rarely adopted, he will go the euthanasia room. Have you ever seen that process? I have. Dogs know something is wrong and they often panic. If they panic too much they will either be physically restrained or drugged before killed.

It's totally up to you to do the right thing for your "beloved" dog. Every city now has housing that allows pets, so saying you can't find housing for you pet is not a truth. It is laziness.

Any wonder I love that woman?


Thursday, April 13, 2006


In talking with a friend who's just taken a job at a web-based company, I was reminded of all of the crazy industry-specific terms that you have to master to get along. Each profession has its own set of words it uses as shorthand, concepts that might exist outside of that industry but which take on a whole new meaning for those "in the business". I thought it would be a good idea to provide a quick reference here so you can see the difficulties in straddling two different worlds.

TermNerd DefinitionBubba Definition
LeverageSteal one idea to use in some other idea. "Let's leverage the marketing department's posters to promote our beer party."Use a big metal pole to move heavy stuff. "Get that fence post so we can leverage that stump outta the ground, Bobby Joe."
OwnershipAssigning someone's ass to be on the line if the project's a complete disaster. "Johnson, you have total ownership of this initiative."Where your wife will be on your riverboat cruise. "Where's Thelma? She's ownership."
The ProcessAny bureaucratic detail you can use to avoid having to do something. "I'd love to have that report for you, Bob, but it's still working through the process."To turn a deer into meat. "I had to bring that buck over to Bubba's to get processed -- gonna end up with a lot of sausage!"
PingTo check up on someone. "Nancy, you need to ping Roger on the status of his process."The new Chinese exchange student down the road. "That guy Ping sure was surprised when I asked him to help process that deer."
BandwidthHow much time you have to do something. "Do you have the bandwidth to take ownership over leveraging Marketing's process?"How wide the strap is that holds the fence closed. "Ain't no way that band's gonna hold that fence against that bull, you're gonna need a bigger bandwidth."
CyclesSimilar to "Bandwidth", "Cycles" refers to how much time something is going to take. "It's going to take a lot of cycles to get this thing right. We need more bandwidth."The one week a month you sleep in the barn. "Ethel's on her cycle again and madder than a one-eyed mule at a starin' contest."
MetricsStatistics used to measure success and avoid blame. "The metrics prove that taking too many cycles to leverage marketing's bandwidth for ownership of the process without pinging me is a failure."A stupid foreign measurement system specifically designed to make working on your car as difficult as possible. "Damn those foreigners and their Metric units, go get me an American socket wrench!"
Low Hanging FruitEasy-to-accomplish goals that take little effort but look good on a report. "I think selling our products to the homeless is low-hanging fruit that will really help the bottom line."An older woman's bosom. "If she ain't careful, Granny's low-hanging fruit's gonna come right out from under her nightgown!"


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Massive Hummingbird Rally

(AP) Bertram, TX

A riot broke out today in rural Bertram, Texas, when a hummingbird feeder was temporarily removed for refilling. As many as 15 outraged hummingbirds swarmed in protest, overwhelming local police efforts.

"They were very angry, flittering and buzzing like a cloud of extremely irritable bees," said Annie Phenix Hebert, the worker assigned the task of taking down and refilling the container of sugary water. "I feared for my life at one point."

DEA agents are currently testing the concoction for possible illegal drugs. No normal animal could achieve that state of fevered hyperactivity naturally, scientists believe.

"I'd bet on Crystal Meth," Hebert said. "If they had teeth, we'd know for sure when the teeth fell out. Meth'll do that to you. But they don't have teeth because they're birds, see, and birds don't have teeth. Although maybe they don't have teeth because all birds are on meth! You should write that down and investigate it."

So noted, Ms. Phenix Hebert. So noted.

Of course that didn't stop her from loading up another clear glass tube of liquid happiness for these smallest addicts. Maybe one day a brave hummingbird activist can break this cycle of dependence, but until then this reporter will just have to sit back and enjoy their hyperbolic, frenetic dashing to and fro.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Little Known Dog Training Commands

Annie's very good at training dogs, as she's proving now at the Lago Vista PAWS Shelter. But we do use some ... "unconventional" commands while we're doing day-to-day stuff with our own animals. Here are some of my favorites. For full effect, be sure to shout them at very high volume:

  • "Leave your sister alone!"

  • "Don't eat that poop!"

  • "Don't chase that deer and bite it!"

And my personal favorite:

Happy birthday, Annie, and thanks for bringing so much joy and love to me and the rest of the animal world for 42 38 27 years!


Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Good Country Day

My nephew Paul and his girlfriend Leah are in town for their Spring Break and we've really enjoyed having them out here. Getting to show off your home town to new people helps you see it all in a new light, and gets you out of your rut too. For instance when I lived in San Antonio, I never went to the Alamo until some friends came in to visit.

So today me, Paul, Leah, and Annie met Aunt Sharon at Colbert Ranch right here in Bertram for a day of horseback riding. We went for about three hours and had a great lunch by the creek with the most delicious strawberries and blackberries you've ever seen. The owner's nephews and niece were there as well and we had a good time getting to meet and know them.

The highlight of the ride was Leah's horse, who expelled gas at a rate rarely experienced outside of a NASA launch. Never was I so eager to be at the head of a column of horses.

That did bring to light the fact that both Paul and I, as children, used to "Engage the Fart Boosters" while riding bikes, putting on a furious burst of speed after lighting the afterburner, so to speak. This never occurred to any of the females in the group during their entire childhood, proving once again that boys are smarter than girls. Or something.

Sharon was then nice enough to take us on an exploration of Longhorn Caverns, where she works as a tour guide. The transition from vibrant, ever-changing surface ranch world to serene, constant, geologically-slow underground complex was both jarring and moving. Seeing the steady work of millenia up close and personal really brought home how brief our time on this planet is. Sharon did a great job of bringing to life the cataclysmic history of the region and I couldn't help but come away with a sense of appreciation for the living, slow-breathing planet we live on.

We are but hangers-on, clinging precariously to the outermost layer of this massive planet. But in our small little shell we still find the excitement of pounding hooves, thundering blood, wild joys and fierce friendships. What a brief, wonderful, amazing ride we get, here on the skin of Mother Earth.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

The One Nostril Salute

Walking around in the country on even a small portion of land prompts two primal urges in the male of the species. The first is to urinate on something, a behavior you often see in canines but usually not in human adults. Get a man outside where he's reasonably sure no one can see him, though, and in the absence of a high head wind he'll soon be marking his territory.

The second grotesquerie men in the wild seem to enjoy is the art of the One Nostril Salute. You accomplish this maneuver by placing one finger along one side of your nose, completely closing off that passageway. You then cock your head and exhale forcefully through the nose as if you were blowing into a Kleenex. This forces any obstructions in the unblocked nostril to be propelled at a high rate of speed through the air and onto the ground. Repeat with the other side of the nose for a complete clearing.

I learned the One Nostril Salute from my father, who unfortunately insisted on unleashing it in the car. While he was driving. And I was in the back seat. It also taught me how to roll a window up really, really fast.

Thus concludes this episode of "Men in the Wild: A Study in Disgustingness".


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bad Beats

Horseback riding is inherently dangerous, as anyone who's heard of Christopher Reeve knows. You accept the risk when you decide to get into it, much like skydiving or motorcycle riding or, heck, even getting behind the wheel of your car.

But it's always the risks you don't anticipate that get you. That's what happened to a friend of ours, horse trainer Ricky Moore.

Ricky before the accident

Ricky after the accident
In poker there's something called a "bad beat". It's a game of luck, of course, so you always know there's a risk you could lose even with a great hand. But a bad beat is more than just losing. It's losing when you have the other guy completely dominated, when the odds of you losing are so small they barely register, when you've put all your money on a sure thing and suckered your opponent into doing the same, and you're absolutely certain you're going to win ... and then you don't. The very last card they turn over is the one card in the deck that could screw you, and it comes. It's the completely unexpected shot in the dark that dashes your hopes.

Ricky was always a risk taker, an old-school cowboy if you ever met one. He'd ride from sunrise to midnight, on anything with four legs. He never met a horse he couldn't tame or a dare he wouldn't take. He's been bucked, bit, kicked, and thrown more times than you can count and he always kept coming, with a big smile and hearty laugh. He's tough as nails and has a kind, giving spirit that makes animals and little kids instantly trust him.

He trains horses for a living, so he's dealing with the worst of a species that's very dangerous to begin with. But it wasn't a horse that hurt him.

No, he was just touring the new Austin City Hall and fell off a rail two stories. He fell on his head and suffered severe injuries to the brain and broke every bone in his face. His memory was shot and he's going to have to spend some time learning the basics again like speaking, walking, and remembering who everyone is.

Ricky got one of the worst of bad beats, but knowing him he'll keep on playing, happy to be in the game and ready for the next challenge. Our thoughts and hopes are with him, and we hope you'll do the same.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Items in my Truck

The cd cases strewn across the cab are nothing too unusual, and I often had coats and hats and gloves back there even when I lived in the city. Discarded Snickers wrappers, loose change, and my Sirius remote control are relatively new additions, but nothing too out of the ordinary even for an urbanite.

The crushed tailgate from a different truck and the loose spare tire in the back, however, I can only ascribe to my new country life. I imagine it will only be a matter of time before I have a couple of dogs and a broken refrigerator back there.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spring Ranch Update

Photos courtesy of Cousin Jill from last spring. I'm still waiting on my camera to come back from Canon for new images.

Spring has sprung everywhere at the ranch except (ironically) in the spring; we're well into month 7 with no water in the creek, and however lucky that is for people who like to dump their vehicles into it, we'd really like some relief.

Nonetheless the plants and animals are definitely in a springtime frenzy. I mentioned earlier that trees and grass have started blooming again. The crepe myrtles in particular are beautiful and the wild plum trees are also bursting with color. The oaks have dropped their leaves, which seems weird to me, but everything else is alive with greens, pinks, and whites.

The last week has also seen the return of our hummingbird swarm. Where these little guys spend the rest of the year I don't know, nor how they managed to survive without our containers of sugary water, but they're sure out in force now. We've counted up to 11 at once swarming around. This morning one had gotten stuck in the garage. Apparently having a brain the size of a very small raisin isn't conducive to figuring out how to escape a window. I had to scoop him up in a pitcher and carry him outside, learning in the process that hummingbirds can fly really, really high. I thought they were ground-huggers, kind of like bees with beaks, but they can definitely get up there.

We've got the two standard donkey females (jennets in the lingo) locked in the barn area, Annie thinks they're close to giving birth. Since they don't crave ice cream and pickels or complain about bloated feet, we have to use less sure signs like swollen teats and such.

The temperatures are going up but for now they're tolerable, in the upper 80's and there's usually a decent breeze going. We get very few weeks of nice weather before summer roars in with temperatures in the high 90's and low 100's for months on end. We've been walking the dogs most every day and trying to enjoy it while we can.

The wildflowers are coming back, though not in great numbers, and the air is alive with possibilities. I can see why cultures have celebrated spring with rites and festivals for thousands of years; you really feel like anything can happen and the best is yet to come.

Of course, this is also the time of year the IRS wants their tax money, which blows the metaphor all to hell. And they say there's no such thing as irony!


Sunday, April 02, 2006


(For today's installment of "Idiot City People in the Country", I will be writing in first-person, present tense, to give a feel for what goes through the mind of someone in the middle of acts of appalling stupidity. See if you can spot all the points where we could have done things differently to avoid disaster! I'll mark them with asterisks but I bet I missed some you (or any five year old child) could spot. The plan was to get some big fencing panels to the back of the property to plug some holes in the fence line.)

Geez, these fence panels are awkward. "Let's put them sideways in the truck bed and drive them over, and you sit on them so they don't fall out," Annie tells me*. Yes, excellent. Good to know my fat butt is good for something. Into the truck and onto the panels. Much better than carrying them to the back fence, that would take forever.

Oof, bump! Ouch! Keep your fingers out of the fence openings or you're gonna lose a thumb, Hebert*. There's that big drainage pipe, gotta take that one ssslllllooooowwwww *WHAM!* "Jesus!" Not quite enough padding on that rump after all!

"Should we carry them across the creek bed or try to drive the truck down that gully?" Annie says. Down the gully? Jimminy Christmas, are you kidding, that's no gully it's a CLIFF! Now wait, get down, take a look, maybe it's not ... Hmmm, not too bad after all. Fairly shallow, but those rocks ...

"What do you think?" I ask, though from the way she's heaving rocks out of the way I think her mind's made up. "Let's give it a try, it'll be fun!" she says*. Fun, right, it's about a bazillion degrees and a thousand percent humidity, but anything's better than lugging this crap all the way out there. Let's just get this over with. "I dunno, it looks pretty steep. But ok, we can try it," I say.

"Let's just promise not to get mad if it gets stuck," she says. Maybe I could use that rationale at the beginning of each day -- "Let's agree not to get made at me if I do something wrong!" That could be the Ultimate Marriage Solution!

Focus, Hebert, she's driving down*. Take it slow there, take it ... look out for that tree! "SCCCREEEEECCCHHHH!" "Hang on, the fencing's caught on the tree!" I shout. I leap off the back of the truck at the last instant, narrowly avoiding severing my thumbs on the sliding panels.* We pull them off (the panels, not my thumbs) and set them aside. Things aren't looking good, the front of the truck is pretty close to slamming into the opposite bank. "Should we keep trying?" she asks. I shrug. What the hell do I know about trucks and mud? "Your call," I say. So she guns it again* and hey! Mud can fly FAR! Now the back of the truck is slipping sideways, are trucks supposed to do that? Probably not. "Better get out, let's take a look," I sigh.

Definitely stuck.

Yes, the ass end of our truck is jutting out of what now looks to be a ridiculously steep ravine. The Grand Canyon has nothing on this thing. What the hell were we thinking?! "We're gonna have to call Leon," Annie says. Noooooooo! The pinnacle of male embarrassment, having to call a neighbor to get you out of a stupid jam. "Couldn't we just suck it up and call a tow truck?" I ask desperately. No way my male ego survives having to get Leon to haul our fat truck out of our own river. "That would be stupid," Annie replies. Dammit, I hate when she's logical!

So it's back to the house and on the phone. Of course Leon will come! Who wouldn't want the chance to laugh at another man's astounding mistake? Hell, I could probably sell tickets. So here comes Leon in his John Deere, all cool competence and friendliness. Why couldn't he mock me so I could hate him properly? As it is he's just a really good guy helping me out and salvaging my pride with his compassion.

I hate that.

In five seconds flat the giant F250 is hauled out by the small John Deere and all is well. It's not the first time we've gotten the truck stuck, and with a sinking feeling I suspect it won't be the last.

Now how can I turn this into a convincing argument that Annie should let me buy a tractor ...?


Saturday, April 01, 2006


Today, April 1, is the anniversary of my father's death. I've put together some thoughts about him and me below the fold ... it's pretty raw and heavy, so don't click on the button unless you're ready for that. The short version is that I miss him more now than I did while he was alive, and appreciate the fact that he raised seven great kids and greatly contributed to his community. I also mourned and came to peace with the fact that my idea of what I needed as a father died long before his body did.

James Hebert (Dad) in the Navy

Dad in his later years.
My relationship with James L. C. Hebert was complicated while he was alive, and has only gotten moreso since his passing. Now that I am the same age he was when I was born, I realize how difficult life must have been for him and Mom. Seven children by the age of 36, and him without a college degree or a steady job. Yearning for the freedom of the open road and no obligations, even while overloaded with them. Driven by the loss of his own father while forced to be a dad for seven little ones. Destroying his body with alcohol and cigarettes while unknowingly being eaten from the inside out by asbestosis.

Of course I knew nothing of that as a child. Children, like animals, aren't terribly interested in your burdens or your demons, in what happened to you when you were younger or in how hard your life has been. Children need love and security, and I got little of either from Dad growing up.

Dad was less a person while I was growing up than a kind of elemental force of angry nature. Life as a child for me was spent figuring out how to avoid his rage. My most vivid early memories of him are of yelling -- at me, at my siblings, at my mother, at people on the phone. I remember a birthday party of mine (maybe I was seven?) when I was apparently acting like a brat, whining and sullen. I don't remember why I was being rotten, but I am pretty sure I was.

I do remember Dad hauling me inside the little entry to our house while the other kids were outside playing Red Rover. He started spanking me, yelling at me to shape up. I remember it hurting, but it was probably more from the emotional trauma than that the blows were terribly hard. He spanked me into a corner and I was crying so hard I peed in my pants. At my own birthday party. I had to go change and then wipe my eyes and pretend that I was happy to be there.

That was probably the lowest moment.

There were good memories too, of course, but honestly, not very many. Most center around him bringing stacks of comic books home ... maybe that's why I love super-heroes so much. The idea of a person with amazing powers, able to escape whatever mundane troubles plagued their secret identities to become a crusader for justice and righting wrongs. Plus it was about the only thing Dad and I could share, so that made it even more special.

He and Mom took my sister Donna and I to Dogpatch, USA, which was fun mostly for the scene of him in a centrifugal force ride. It spun so fast his toupee flew off his head and stuck to the wall. That was pretty priceless.

I still think of his lessons about road manners. He spent a lot of time travelling as a salesman for one thing or another, and had good insights about how you should act on the road. I still thank him whenever I flash my lights at a semi to let him know that he can move over safely.

It's tempting, when talking about someone who's died, to suppress the bad and emphasize the good, to end on a positive note and wrap things up in a nice neat bundle with ribbons and good cheer. But life's more complicated than that. When he died I didn't really mourn. I didn't have crying jags, or get terribly depressed, and I couldn't understand why.

I finally came to realize that the father I had needed and longed for as a child had died long before in my mind. In fact, in some ways he'd never been allowed to exist. The hugs and the love weren't there when I needed them, as a scared and lonely little boy, convinced his father despised him and yearning for approval that was never to come. When I was no longer a child, I had already buried that idea of a Dad.

What replaced it was respect for a man who did the best he could, and who (all things considered) did pretty damn well. Along with Mom he helped raise seven great kids, who have all gone on to success and happiness. He helped hundreds of drug and alcohol addicts recover and move on with their lives. He brought happiness and love to his siblings and his mother and his grandchildren.

It gets easier, with each anniversary of his death, to concentrate on those things and not on the father I needed, but never had, as a child. I feel sorrow for the people I love who miss him, and I hope against hope that he is in a better place now, free from the burdens and pain that dogged him throughout his life, able at last to hit the open road with a clear conscience and a happy heart.