Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is held at Will Rogers Coliseum each year.  Here Will rides eternally through a stand of native cactus and mesquite trees in front of the Art Deco coliseum named in his honor.  Behind the coliseum are the cattle, swine, and poultry barns, the Round Up Inn, Justin Arena, and several meeting halls like the Amon G. Carter Exhibit Halls. 

I usually dread the weeks after Christmas. The decorations come down, the festive music stops, the pace of life slows to a crawl, and the weather in North Texas turns to an unrelenting gray. But just when it seems life has become just one boring work day after another, the Stock Show rolls into town with it's cutting horses, giant rabbits, miniature donkeys, long horns, dairy cows, Grand Champion steers, and rambunctious rodeo. It perks life right up. The slogan for the Stock Show is, "Buck The Ordinary," and it certainly does.

This year marked the 116th annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. The show began in 1896 in the stock yards as a way for the local cattle ranchers to spot light their cattle to northern meat packers and to encourage the improvement of local livestock industry. Texans can't let any excuse for a festival pass by uncelebrated, so before we knew it, a parade kicked off the show, an indoor judging facility was added, a carnival and midway joined the show, and commercial exhibits went on display. What started as a local North Texas show began to draw people from surrounding states. Then in 1918 the Stock Show directors invented the rodeo. Apparently, the people behind the Stock Show were the ones who created the concept of a rodeo including choosing the name for the event.  "That can't be right!" you're thinking.  After all, cowboy competitions had been taking place on ranches for a long time. But no one had ever formalized the contests or organized them into a show or given the event a name. The people in charge of the Stock Show saw an opportunity waiting to happen and capitalized on it. That's how the Fort Worth Stock Show became the first indoor rodeo in the world. It was also the first rodeo to have Brahma bull riding. Wow! I can't even imagine a rodeo without bull riding.

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is held in the Fort Worth's Cultural District which must be one of the most unique cultural areas in the U.S.  The city's slogan is "Cowboys and Culture" and the Cultural District demonstrates why this slogan fits Fort Worth so well.  Will Rogers Coliseum is filled with horses and livestock all year round, but right across the street are three world class museums: The Kimball Museum, the Amon Carter Museum, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.  Down the street are the Museum of Science and History and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum.  Museum goers can enjoy the farming and ranching side of their heritage and the cowboys can enjoy the artistic side of their heritage. After all, in Texas, these two different lifestyles are not mutually exclusive.  
Today, the Stock Show lasts for 23 days during January and February. It features live music, 36 performances of one of the best rodeos in the country, over 22,000 head of livestock, and four acres of commercial exhibits. It's a BIG deal!

Usually, the weather during the Stock Show is miserable. Locals joke that January means "Stock Show Weather," which means snow, sleet, ice, rain, rain, rain, and freezing temperatures. But this year the weather was glorious! The high temperatures reached into the 60's and 70's, and the sun marched out and shined brilliantly. They even had to turn on the air conditioning in Justin Arena for a few days. The result was record breaking attendance. This year over one million people came to see the fabulous horses, take pictures of the cowboys, ooh and aah over the rabbits and llamas, and scarf down brisket burritos and red velvet funnel cake. A good time was had by all, and a ranching tradition lives on.

Who ever wrote, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." must have been thinking about rodeo clowns!  The cowboy gets as close to 8 seconds on the bull as he can and then high tails it away from the bull.  But the rodeo clowns run toward the bull ... and then away from the bull.  They must have a death wish.

Isn't this about the cutest calf you ever saw? 
Look at the delicate coloring of her ears and her long eye lashes. 
No wonder her owners gave her a beautiful new halter. She's worth it. 
 Farmers and ranchers only bring their best to compete in the Stock Show.

This little milk cow was so pretty, she could give Elsie a run for her money.
By the way, one of the most popular exhibits at the Stock Show is the milking demonstrations that they have several times a day.  The dairyman brings in several of his cows and hooks them up to the automatic milking machine while on the other side of the huge picture window, the little kids squeal with delight.  It's a crowd pleaser.

These dairy cows had just been bathed, toweled off, and blow dried to get them ready for the Judge's Circle.  We could still smell shampoo in the air. 
 I wonder what kind of shampoo you use for cows?

Farming and ranching are family owned businesses and a lifestyle that are
 passed down from one generation to the next.  Even this little buckaroo
is not too young to start learning the ropes. 

These Cutting Horse contestants are in "on deck" position.  While they wait, they are checking on their competitor's performance.  Since I love cutting horses, I sat and watched for quite a while.  One thing that struck me was how alert the quarter horses were.  As they waited to compete, they often watched the competition much closer than the riders.  If a steer broke away, they noticed and instinctively reacted even when it wasn't their turn.  Behind the "on deck" cowboys, more competitors warm up their horses.

The Cutting horses are amazing!  The cowboy or cowgirl starts by slowly wading into a herd or steers and heifers.  Then the rider and horse pick a cow and cut it from the herd.  Once the cow is separated, the cowboy "puts his hand down."  See how the cowboy in the picture holds the pommel with his right hand and puts his left hand down on the horse's neck.  He leaves it entirely to the horse to keep the cow from returning to the herd.  The steer's instincts push him to rush around the horse and rider to get back to the safety of the herd.  But the cutting horse lunges, jukes, pivots, and shifts its balance with the agility of an NFL receiver, determined to keep the cow apart.  And the horses love it!  They have the same look of zeal in their eyes as a Border Collie corralling a flock of sheep. 
Longhorns developed from abandoned cattle left by the Spanish conquistadors.  Left to their own devices on the Texas - Mexican border, longhorns became intelligent, whiley survivors, and excellent mothers.  They thrived under difficult conditions for many years before ranchers started rounding up these free-range cattle known as mavericks.  Today they are valued for all these qualities plus their lean beef, mild disposition, and their picturesque horns.  They are the emblem for Fort Worth, and twice a day the city holds a Longhorn cattle drive down Exchange Street in the Stockyards.  

One of the most fun things we saw at the Stock Show was the miniature donkey jumping contest.  First of all, mini donkeys are absolutely adorable and I want one!!!
To win this contest, the little donkeys, who cannot be taller than 36 inches, must jump over a little bar.  After all the donkeys jump the bar, they raise it another few inches.  It's sort of like a limbo contest but in reverse.  Whenever one of the donkeys knocked over the bar, he or she was eliminated.  The crowd really got into it.  Every time one of these cuties missed the jump, everyone groaned and then cheered the donkey.  We quickly got our favorites and started pulling for that donkey.  I cheered on the donkey on the left, the one with the little bobs of fur on the end of his ears.  I think his name was Jeremy.  He won by jumping the bar set at 41 inches, that's 4 inches more than his own height! Very impressive. 

Shootin' the Breeze...
Chewin' the fat...

One of my favorite times of the school year when I was a kid, was Western Day.  We would get to wear our best cowboy and cowgirl outfits to school, bandannas, boots, cowboy hats, and Wranglers.  Then, everyone received one free ticket to the Stock Show.  I remember everyone wiggling in their seats in anticipation of getting that "golden ticket."  The next day would be a holiday so that everyone could go to the show.  School kids and teachers still get a free ticket, but nowadays the School Day is on the weekend.  Not quite the same thing.

Kaycee Field got a score of 89 for this ride on the bareback bronc, "Dirty Jacket."  Even though this was a very high score, he didn't win.  What do you have to do to win?

The last event of the Stock Show and the highlight of the entire 23 day event is
the Junior Steer Judging.  This year the Grand Champion was "Spider Monkey"
 raised by Cuatro Schauer.
That's some steer!

Later that same day, Spider Monkey was auctioned in W.R. Watt Arena.  This is one of the colorful auctioneers who work the cattle sales.

Not only was Spider Monkey a champion, he was also a record breaker. 
Beverly and Dick Wallrath bought Spider Monkey at auction for an astounding $230,000.  Looks like Cuatro won't have to worry about finding scholarships to pay for college.

Hasta Luegos, Amigos!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fort Worth Botanical Gardens

The Fort Worth Botanical Gardens last September.
The Rose Gardens were built by the WPA during the Great Depression. 
The local builders used native sandstone and limestone to build the
hard-scape of the the gardens.

"This too shall pass...this too shall pass...."  I keep repeating this phrase to myself each time I drive past dried up, scorched fields with a few skinny cows looking for grass or count the growing number of brown, sagging trees that have already dropped their leaves and gone into early hibernation.

Have you heard about these?
Thundershirts are suppose to help
dogs who are scared of thunder.
Who knows maybe they work.  Nothing
helped my Border Collie but a tight hug,
and I couldn't keep hugging him
for an entire storm.
We've experienced droughts before and lived to tell the tale...we'll make it through this one, too.  Some magical night in late September, we will have one of those North Texas storms with thunder so loud it shakes the house to its foundation, sets off all the car alarms in the neighborhood, and sends the pet owners scrambling to find the doggy Prozac.  "Honey, where are those storm pills?  We're never gonna get any sleep with Sweet Baby Dog howling under the bed!" 

If we're really lucky, we might get some rain, too.

Until then, we're looking for relief,...drinking big glasses of iced tea...eating Popsicles and ice cream... hiding inside in the air conditioning.  Today, in desperation, I started looking through my photo files for pictures of cooler, moister times.  I ran across some pictures of the Fort Worth Botanical Garden.  Around here we call it The Botanic Gardens.  These photos were taken last September when weather conditions were more normal and amiable, when it actually rained, and plants had blooms.  These pictures were a sight for my sore eyes and they help me to keep believing, "this too shall pass!"  Enjoy.

Red Spider Lilies!

This spray of Confederate Jasmine looked and smelled gorgeous.

These are School House Lilies.  The early settlers planted them close to schools and churches
where they quickly naturalized and spread.  They use to be common, but they fell out of
style.  Now they are hard to find.  The Fort Worth Garden Club sells them at their
twice yearly plant sales, but you have to get there early to snag them. 

 The School House lilies were scattered all over the Gardens.

 How can a plant as beautiful as Jimson Weed be poisonous?

 A few years ago, the city raised this bronze statue to honor the brave women who
moved to Texas in the early days.  These hearty women tamed the lawless towns,
built the first churches and schools, and brought culture and art to Texas.
These pioneers were the archetype of the "iron fist in the velvet glove."

 The gardeners fill this garden with colorful annuals each season.

 Wisteria, trumpet vine, Texas sage, artemesia, and healthy St. Augustine.  Ahhh!

 Pecan trees make the best shade and squirrels love them.

 A pretty little bridge over the creek is shaded by a nice oak tree.

 This little lizard was so well disguised against the hosta that I almost didn't see it.

 Turk's Cap.  I love the bright little swirls.

 Caladiums, begonias, and wood fern may be a garden staple, but I still love them.

 One of my favorite parts of the Botanic Gardens is this shady walkway that meanders
under the live oak trees.  The arms of the live oaks are living sculptures.

This is a nice little spot to stop and be serene.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When the Bluebonnets Bloom

Everybody loves Bluebonnets!
My latest favorite song in "Bluebonnets" by Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed.  Every April the highways are lined with people taking pictures of kids, pets, and families in the bluebonnets.  It's a much loved and time honored Texas tradition.  Canada wrote the song after his young son's first bluebonnet pictures.
Here's the link.

Friday, when we reached the Texas state line, we slowed down and sang "Texas Our Texas" and recited the Pledge to the Texas Flag.  After all, we were back in the Promise Land and we were all proud sons and daughters.  "Texas, our Texas, all hail the mighty state.  Texas, our Texas, so wonderful, so great."

The Texas Panhandle Plains
There's not much to distract the philosopher from his thoughts
on that long, lonesome highway between
Amarillo and Fort Worth.
We might have been back in the Promised Land, but honestly, there was not much to see in West Texas.
There never is!  On the trip out to Colorado, we tried to pass the time in West Texas by playing I Spy.  But we had to stop after a few rounds.  There was just nothing left to spy.  It went like this.

"I spy with my little eye something brown."
"Ummm.  Is it...the dead grass?"

"I spy with my little eye something green."
"No you don't!  There's nothin' green out here."
"Uh huh!  Look at that roof on that ranch house."

"I spy with my little eye something white."
"Is it the clouds?"
"Well yea, but which one?  Huh!  Huh?"

A West Texas Dirt Devil
Ultimately we found that resistance was futile and gave in to the mind numbing monotony.  Everyone, except my long-suffering brother who was driving, plugged in to their electronics of choice or napped.  But, I was riding shotgun.  I had to stay awake for the driver.  At first I counted dirt devils.  Next, I counted the burned out patches on the side of the road left from recent grass fires.  I found, though, that counting dirt devils and wild fire spots is a lot like counting sheep - sleep inducing.

Finally, I tuned in my mental I-Pod and noticed the words of "Amarillo By Morning"buzzing around in my mind.  It's a beautiful, but sad song with a very singable melody.  It always makes me think about a student I had a few years ago.  This kid was the "real deal."  Every morning he worked on a neighbor's ranch for two hours before school, feeding, watering, and exercising the horses.  On the weekends he rode bulls and saddle broncs in the rodeos in the North Texas circuit.  During the summer, he competed all over the country.   He'd broken more bones than I even knew we had. Once I asked him if he preferred to ride bulls or broncs.  To my surprise, he told me that saddle broncs were much harder to ride than bulls. 

"Amarillo By Morning" 
"Broncs, hey, they're smart an' mean.  They can twist on a dime and they bite.  Bulls.  Yea, they  look tuff, but you can out run 'em - most of th' time." 

He was one tough kid!

Then I started to think about all the songs about Texas and the musicians who come from this desolate area of the state.  Buddy Holly, Mac Davis, Roy Orbison, Bob Wills, and Vicki Carr just to name a few.   I realized that  I only know one or two songs about New Mexico and only four or five songs about Colorado.  There's quite a few more about Oklahoma, thanks to Merle Haggard and Broadway.   But Texas?  I could name ten songs off the top of my head, without even thinking about it. 

How many songs are there about the Lone Star State? 

I started listing songs in my head. "Waltz Across Texas." "All My Exes Live in Texas." "El Paso." "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind." "The San Antonio Rose." "Songs About Texas." "Amarillo Highway." "The Yellow Rose of Texas." "Lubbock, Texas In My Rear view Mirror." "The Bluest Eyes in Texas."

"Fort Worth Blues" Guy Clark
You get the idea. There's a lot of songs about Texas. I started to feel like Bubba in Forest Gump. "Coconut shrimp...shrimp gumbo...shrimp cocktail..."

When I got home I was still curious, so I googled "Songs About Texas."  Man alive, there were more sites than you can shake a stick at!  It seems that no one really knows how many Texas songs there are. One man said that he and his family started making play lists on their annual vacations. After five years, they had accumulated 640 titles and still weren't finished! Now I don't know if that's true - Texans are known to exaggerate a little bit - but that's a long list!

"Hum...," he thinks to himself, 
 "the lack of oxygen must be giving them the sillies!"

Colorado was fabulous!!! 

We had a fantastic time!!! 

But, whenever I come home, whether its from London, from San Fransisco, or from beautiful Colorado, I can't help but think, " it ever so humble, there's no place like home!"

Here's a  play list.

"Bob Wills Is Still The King"

"The sage in bloom is like perfume, deep in the heart of Texas..."
"Deep in the Heart of Texas"

A typical Texas A & M home game.
"You're Not From Texas" by A & M alum, Lyle Lovette

"The Front Porch Song" by Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovette
Tubin' on the Guadalupe should cure the "London Homesick Blues."  
This is better known as "I Wanna Go Home With the Armadillo" 

"Texas In My Rear View Mirror" by Mac Davis

I saw Willie Nelson in concert at Texas A & M.  Afterwards, I came upon him accidentally as he was fixing to get into his tour bus.  Overcome by awe, I couldn't move.  I was five feet away and paralyzed.  He saw me standing there frozen, mouth hanging open, and took pity on me.  He walked over and shook my hand.  Now that's a true gentleman!
"Faded Love" by the incomparable Bob Wills, but sung by Ray Price and Willie   

"Long Tall Texan"

"Pick Up Truck Song"

"When I Die" by Tanya Tucker
Just remember that old Texas saying, "It ain't braggin' if it's true!"