Seven in the morning and it’s twilight in the Sunrise café. The curtains are still drawn on the city of Dripping Springs, Texas.
City? Population 3000?
‘It’s an old building,’ says our waitress, terser than you’d expect. She’s probably been up too long already. ‘Gets hot when the sun shines. Gotta keep the windows covered.’
I’m eating a damn fine breakfast burrito. Beans, eggs and sausage, in a corn tortilla. Even the water tastes good. Could be from the dripping springs – you never know.
I step out into the blinding light of day and cross a wide, quiet road at an amble. No-one seems in much of a hurry.
No, today we’re seeking armadillo wisdom. They’ve been digging up Thelma’s plants. Is there a cure? Other than lock and load, that is.
A bale of hay attached to a ve-hic-ule is parked outside the store. We climb the steps and I’m about to step inside when a poster stapled over the weather-crackled paint stops me in my tracks.
Heck. You don’t get that kind of thing in the leafy shires of home.
Inside Rippy’s, the hay-bale owner leans across the counter. In the grey light of the shady shop his cowboy hat glows buttery pale. He tips it back and scratches, then tips it forward. Lifts it off his head, scratches, puts it back on. Talking real slow.
A sausage dog wanders out for a look at the strangers in town. He doesn’t bark. We’re not a threat. Not a single gun between us, much less another dog. And we don’t bring Elvis shopping. He’s a house cat.
I’m itching to take a ride on Trigger – 25 cents it says. I shrug and walk away. Eccentric’s my thing on a good day, but falling off a rocking horse – uh-uh. Too big a risk for just a shake of the head and a ‘what now?’
A couple of men, Mexican Americans, shift feed around in the back. One wears a baseball cap, one a cowboy hat. I nod with a smile.
‘May I take a picture?’ I ask cowboy-hat-man.
He doesn’t understand me. My bro-in-law translates. The guy shrugs a yes. I click the first attempt and make to take another. He grins.
‘Too ugly,’ he says.
I wander round the shop, running my foreigner’s eyes over lasso ropes, shepherds’ crooks, cow’s feet. They alight on another piece of paper stapled to another wooden wall.
Hunting with hounds.
Not everyone’s idea of sport, but killing the fox ain’t the point, it says, for the Walker Fox Hounds. Most often they leave the critter to hunt another day.
Barking. That’s what they like. They hunt to hear the hounds.
By dark of night or foggy day they’ll be out there, the dogs ‘just trailing’ – barking a slow bark. As the hunt moves on, numerous doggy voices, deep and high, bark faster, ‘Yeah, they jumped ’em’.
And in the end the hounds bark up, into the starry sky, or the misty-moisty morning. ‘He’s treed.’
The huntsmen call the dogs to their sides with a cow bell, ending the chorus of ‘Mountain Music’. That’s what they call it, the barking, Mountain Music.
Romantic types, these cowboys.
I pick up a cow bell from the shelf above the cow feet. Brass, wrapped in plastic, it clangs with a melodious, mountain clang.
I look to see where it’s made. Connecticut. Not China.
So the language of the bells is Yankee and not yer Mandarin. Makes sense. The hounds’ll understand them better. And the cows.
What’s that? Oh yes, the armadillos.
‘Wear yer t-shirts fer a few more days then lay ’em round the base of yer plants. They don’t like the smell o’humans.’