The picture on the masthead is from my place, but it is not of my place. That field belongs to my neighbor, and is leased to the fellow up the road, who uses it to produce hay. I buy hay from him whenever I have the cash.

My place is largely a wilderness of scrub mesquite and briars. I have no idea if the briars are the same type used to make pipes; they make nodules in their roots, but I’ve never seen a pipe-shaped one. I do know they have thorns. Boy, do they have thorns. So do mesquites, especially new growth. Some of the sprouts from stumps cut last year have thorns an inch long.

Briars grow in clumps, and each clump is one plant. Their roots ramify and intertwine. Mesquites grow wherever they want, including in the middle of briar patches, and the briars then climb the tree, forming a nasty tangle.

Bruce and I spent most of today cutting mesquites and briars, and piling them on a fire. Any mesquite bigger than about three inches gets saved for fuelwood, but the rest gets burned. It’s a strenuous but oddly restful occupation. There’s little or no thinking involved — if it’s mesquite or briar it goes away, end of decision-making — and the result is easy to see: clear space. The proper tool for dealing with mesquite is a chain saw, and I have a little “consumer grade” Poulan with a 14″ bar that’s entirely sufficient (and recommended, by the way, if you should need a small chain saw). The proper tool for dealing with briars is a weedwhacker with aluminum blades instead of a string. My old Echo straight-shaft weedwhacker will no longer idle, but it runs fine at full bore and chops the briars very satisfactorily.

The best part is the fire. Most of today was clear, and the sunshine kept the temperature up, but in the shade or when the breeze came up it was fairly chilly. A fire of mesquite trimmings and briars makes a very nice compact bed of coals, a wonderful place to stand beside when the wind blows from the north. Bruce is unhappy that I don’t want an ash pile every fifty feet across the place, so we have to carry the slash to the fire, but it’s my place, my rules, and he agrees with that.

Today we got an area maybe seventy-five feet on a side cleared and the slash burned. It was about the third-worst part of the place; the worst part stays because the animals use it for shelter — wind does not blow in there — and the second-worst is along a fence line near the front, so it serves as a sort of hedge and is of low priority. The fuelwood mesquite is still in long pieces, stacked awaiting an afternoon spent cutting it into foot-long stovewood. Some of it is already dry, cut from deadwood, but most is green and will have to age a while for best use. The briars are ash. This is the best status for a briar.

So my muscles are sore and the hair along my hairline is singed, but progress is being made. Tomorrow we start tackling an easy section, mostly briarless, just a tangle of little mesquites. Life as she are lived, in the west Texas scrublands…

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