Where's the cheese?
We were just driving around one day, taking roads that we've never taken before, just to see what's there. Surprises everywhere. Down one particularly lonely stretch, around a curve there is a view of a watering hole off in the distance, and groups of horses walking over to the hole to drink. Straight out of a western movie or a nature documentary. Get out the binoculars for a better look. Oops, those aren't horses; they're goats. A large herd of goats. But walking and prancing and drinking just like the horses in the movies. Goats.
Around a couple more curves, we find the emu ranch next door. Yes, emus. Actually, I've seen a half dozen ranches raising ostriches or emus around the area. Have not seen it on the menu anywhere in Texas, though I have in Oregon. Are they a commercial livestock?
A couple miles further on, it's cotton country. Some was still in the fields, not quite ripe yet, I guess. Some other fields were picked clean, and every couple hundred yards there is a truck-size block of new cotton, a huge, white loaf of fuzz covered with a blue plastic tarp, and the owner's name and numbers graffiti-spray painted on the side. By "truck-size," I don't mean pickup truck or Econoline truck. I mean tractor-trailer truck. If you ask someone to "Lift that bale," he better be a crane operator. These must be the droppings of some enormous cotton-eating cow, munch munch munch, munch munch munch, flop, munch munch munch, munch munch munch, flop. Presumably, some even larger scarab beetle of a truck or railroad car will come along later to swallow these giant pills. I remember reading, long long ago, that Texas was one of the largest producers of cotton, but this is the first time I've seen any. Ms. T., too. Small irony: she worked for Cotton, Inc., in New York for several years, a marketing group for the entire cotton industry. You know the logo and the ad campaigns. But she had never seen a real cotton field until now. We were both struck by the sparsity of the planting. How many acres did the picking machine have to ingest to make one of those mondo-bales.
Back to the goats, Ms. T. and I both thought, naively, that where there were many goats, there would be goat milk. And, where there is goat milk, there would be goat cheese. Right? We have not discovered where the goat milk goes, and we can't find a local cheese industry. Where's the chevre?
The prickly pears are getting ripe. You see them all the time, driving around the Austin area. Prickly pear cactus seems to grow in large clumps, up to maybe six or eight feet in diameter, all over the place. I'm told that ranchers hate it and consider it a weed. Not even the goats will eat the cactus.
Some areas are seriously choked with it, while others have almost none. Driving west into the hill country, we notice that a difference in elevation of just a hundred feet or so, or moving from the east side of a ridge to the west side, will completely alter the density of prickly pear cactus in the fields. I'm guessing that it is the slightly higher precipitation at the higher elevations, or on the west-facing slopes, that enables some local plants to keep the cactus out.
In any case, driving to work and back a couple months ago, I noticed that the cactuses were all flowering, pretty much at the same time, at least along that road. And now, a few months later, the fruit is ready. You've seen pictures of it, I'm sure: a barrel-shaped red-purple fruit, maybe three inches long and one and a half inches in diameter. Looks sort of inviting. Some hardy souls make jelly out of them. I've had it. Don't bother.
Copyright (C) 2000, 2001, 2002, Richard Landau. All rights reserved.