In the nineties, the nineteen-hundred-nineties that is, we searched long and hard to find land for our future retirement. Even though we lived in Michigan at the time, we focused on Central Texas for our dream acreage. Our attachment to Texas and our desire to live there again was very strong. Neither one of us had any ancestral claims to Texas, my husband being of New England Jewish stock, while I hail wholly from Europe. But our hearts were beating strongly in the rhythm of country music, with a few barbecued ribs thrown in.
The Sandhills of Monahans, the Davies Mountains, Big Bend National Park with views clear across the Rio Grande over the Chihuahua high desert. Nothing but space. Clusters of mailboxes here and there along the roadside. Stillness.
Vultures circling relentlessly. Perfection.
If you look at a map of Texas and you stick a pin into Austin, our beloved Capital, City of Music, Culture and Fast Cars, Nature and Education, and if you then turn your eyes westward, you’ll notice county names like Hays, Blanco, Comal, Kendall, Gillespie, Kerr, Bandera and so forth. That’s the “Hill Country”, the very heart of Texas. Gentle slopes, dry washes, lots and lots of juniper bushes, crippled oak, mesquite trees, and cacti.
And then there are Longhorn cattle, uncountable numbers of goats, deer and antelope, rattlesnakes, feral pigs, painted buntings, and armadillos, vultures circling relentlessly. Perfection.
Land, plots, tracts or acreage come either unimproved or developed. Developed means that someone has altered the natural state of affairs. There may be a structure like a barn, a stock tank, a well, a half-finished driveway, or, of course, a house. But improved properties were much too expensive for us, we were looking for plain, unimproved land. And on those pieces of land, well, you’re on your own! We often fought our way through shrubs so dense, we lost all sense of orientation within the first few steps. I remember clearly standing in a jungle of ferociously thorny vegetation one day, next to an agent expounding the merits of a gorgeous, if distant lake view …. “once the brush is cleared”, all the while simply hoping to get out of there alive.
Our days started around 6 AM with a quick wake-up cup of coffee so we could sneak out of town before rush hour traffic clogging up the freeways, as is usual for Austin. We would typically drive one to two hours to meet our appointments in gas stations, roadside diners or intersections near the desired viewing location. Sisterdale, Comfort, Dripping Springs, Bee Cave, Wimberley and Buda (not the one in Hungary, mind you) became household names for us. We viewed properties in Marble Falls and along the Pedernales River near Johnson City and even an especially sweet spread overlooking Lake Travis on the edge of Austin itself. Unfortunately, this particularly gorgeous piece of land was also dominated by one of these massive high voltage towers, situated right smack in the center of it – that’s what made it affordable. Anyone, who has ever been house hunting, knows how frustrating these ‘cons’ can be! We were working hard to accomplish our goal, but it wasn’t easy. Each night we discussed and noted down the merits and faults of that day’s properties and after the worksheet was balanced, we had to eliminate most candidates. Fresh bagels with lox smear from the corner deli only partially compensated for many disappointments.
It was still early in the morning, around 9 o’clock, when we were driving toward the Chuck Wagon, the warming sun to our right throwing long shadows alternating with blinding brightness. Negotiating the narrow lane, studded with patched and cratering potholes, crossing over dry washes and rounding blind corners, took much of my attention. Nevertheless, the peaceful atmosphere of these vast pastures was evident, except when the car noisily rattled across one of the cattle guards, separating different sections of the ranch from each other.
What happened next, I shall never forget. This was late May, just a little past the height of the wildflower season in Central Texas. The previous winter hadn’t been especially wet, so the carpets of riotous blooms one sometimes finds along the roadsides were sparser that Spring, but wild Texas sage, Leucophyllum sp., covered a large, open area to our left. A sea of purple blossoms glowing in the sunshine, in the midst of which a group of zebras grazed, floating like apparitions in a cloud of purple haze. Being a child of the Sixties, the connection was inevitable … as was purchasing land.
A while after our land purchase, I was interviewed by writer Lorie A. Woodward for her feature called “Imprints on the Hills” in the Texas Farm & Ranch Magazine.
In her article, she detailed the history of the Y.O. Ranch and five generations of Schreiners. She also mentioned in her article that my indefatigable sister and I viewed more than 60 properties or tracts in eight counties in 30 days. Actually, it was less than 30 days, because during the last few days of our one month lease Barry joined me in Austin so we could make our final decision together, while Diana had to return to Munich & work.