Category: Florida Music

Brahma Fear

Even before the Manatee County school bus slowed to a stop in front of the dirt road leading over the railroad rail cattleguard at the entrance to the Quarter Circle A ranch on State Road 62, my brother, Smokey, and I looked out the opened windows and scanned the small four-acre pasture in front of the tree line for cattle. What we didn’t want to see were the Brahman cows.

The Colvin ranch of 10,000 acres was the home range of several hundred head of Florida scrub cattle and several breeds of purebred cattle that the Colvins bought at auctions in whatever parts of the country they happen to visit. A champion Angus Bull arrived from a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo visit one day, got out of the cattle truck, and walked right into a barbed wire he had never encountered before, requiring a local veterinarian triage visit. A few Hereford cows brought in from Nebraska required veterinarian attention several times during their first few months in the Florida heat and humidity. However, the purebred Brahman herd of about 40 cows required the least amount of veterinarian care, but were rotated through different sections of pasture land to give the cattle the best grazing the ranch could afford them. When the rotation schedule brought the Brahmans into the small entrance field leading onto the ranch or the wider pasture area around the four houses and barn of the ranch headquarters, my brother and I had to devise strategies for dealing with the herd.

The cows with their calves were usually skittish, dashed into a close-packed herd a couple hundred feet away from anyone who approached on horseback or on a tractor, and turned to stare at the intruder until they determined whether or not danger really existed for their offspring. When two small boys coming home from school began walking down the 300 yards of dusty, dirt road that disappeared into the tree line harboring Gamble Creek, the cows looked up from grazing, sometimes snorted, and, most often, went right back to grazing. A few of the 1,200 pound cows with wide-eyed curious calves on either side of the road would raise heavy heads adorned with short, very pointed horns and stare. We would freeze in place. After the closest cow lowered her head to graze, we quietly crept forward again. This cow and boy dance usually worked until we came within the last 200 feet from the tree line; then, we ran as if our lives depended on the few seconds we needed to reach the safety of the trees.

The first time we encounter the herd on the way home, we had no strategy in place and spoke nervously about running all the way to the trees or just walking like the cattle were not even there. Our chatter must have irritated the cow closest to the road. She ran several strides forward, lowered her head, and swung pointed horns at our rear ends as we screeched and stumbled in our awkward school shoes toward the lone pine 75 yards from the road in the middle of the eastern half of the pasture. The cow could not have been serious about wanting to reach us, because she halted after those first few strides and watched us scramble behind the pine. The rest of the herd gathered on the western side of the pasture to watch us exit the open field by keeping the tree between us and the Brahmans, going all the way to the barbed wire fence on the eastern edge, and climbing under the fence into the Palmetto scrub on the other side. Our journey home took three times the usual duration as we navigated palmettos, watched for rattlesnakes, and twisted through the trees along the creek to get back to the road. Smokey and I talked about strategy on the way home and decided being quiet while walking slowly after taking off our shoes would be the best plan, agreeing that we ran much faster without shoes. We had quite a few more dances through the herd over the next few years and a few barefoot races to the trees when we heard an aggressive snort or strides coming in the grass toward us that, a couple of times, left school shoes lying in the dust.

When we heard Tex Ritter sing “Bad Brahma Bull” on the car radio a few times during those mid 1950’s, my brother and I agreed that we were happy never seeing any of the several Brahman bulls, a couple of them retired rodeo bulls, mixed in with the herd of cows. They were put together once or twice a year in outer pastures removed from the area of the ranch where we typically travelled on foot.

Years later in 1974, the lines from “Brahma Fear” on Jimmy Buffett’s album, Living And Dying In 3/4 Time, “I’d like to ride the rodeo/But I’ve got Brahma fear/So I’ll just stick to airplanes/Gently pop my ears,” reminded me of my childhood moments with Brahman cattle. I, too, thought about rodeo possibilities, but I figured pain from football injuries probably paled in ctomparison to that inflicted by bulls and broncs in a rodeo arena.

In 1977, Chris LaDoux’s album, Sing Me a Song, Mr. Rodeo Man, offered an upbeat version of “Bad Brahma Bull,” and led me to find that the song was originally written by cowboy poet Curley Fletcher in 1915 as the poem, “Strawberry Roan,” and transformed into a song by Fred Howard and Nat Vincent (The Happy Chappies).  Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and Buddy Essen, Marty Robbins, and the Sons of the Pioneers recorded versions of “Strawberry Roan.” Fletcher rewrote the bronc riding song into a parody as the bull riding song in 1942.

From the 5th chapter, “Cowboy Hat,” of Growing Up Floridian:

As we started to the barn, I noticed Vick was bow-legged, and his stride was an awkward mix between a slight limp and an exaggerated right leg extension.

“Why do you walk like that?”

“Son, if you had been thrown from as many horses and bulls as I have, you might have a hitch in your giddyup too. Too many rodeos. Too many eight second rides.”

He wore a silver belt buckle adorned with a cowboy on a bucking horse that read Saddle Bronc Champion 1942, one of many I saw over the years. I learned that Vick Blackstone was a well-respected rodeo performer when he was young and still had to ride once in a while in competitions despite being almost 50, an age when most riders had retired from all rodeo events. Vick did not talk much about himself to us, but we overheard conversations or his responses to questions about where he earned the championship belt buckle he wore on any given day. He was respected as a five-event cowboy, a competitor riding bulls, riding broncs bareback, riding broncs with a saddle, roping calves, and bulldogging. For twenty-five years, he won championships on the rodeo circuit across the country from when he was seventeen in 1930 until he was well into his forties. Once, a truck driver delivering feed to the ranch asked him about “that Largo rodeo when you won all five main events.”

 

Sandhill Crane population seems healthy locally

Seven different pairs of Sandhill Cranes herded offspring around the River Run Golf Course last Friday. The chicks ranged in size from about 10 inches to over 4 feet tall. Two family groups less than 100 yards apart loudly proclaimed their rights to the territory for about five minutes. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contends the resident population of Florida Sandhill Cranes is between 4 and 5 thousand birds, while another 25,000 greater Sandhill Cranes migrate to Florida in the winter. There are six subspecies of Sandhill cranes—greater, lesser, Florida, Cuban, Mississippi and Canadian with the Cuban, Mississippi and Florida subspecies of Sandhill cranes being non-migratory. National Wildlife Federation link with subspecies info.

 

Link to Will McLean’s “Courtship of the Sandhill Crane

 

From the 23rd chapter of Growing Up Floridian :

The loud rattling kar-r-r-r-o-o-o I often heard at sunrise as a boy on the central Florida ranch immediately brought to mind the image of an elegant, gray bird of almost five feet in height that stalked both the marshes and flat open land I roamed. The long black bill, white cheeks, and brilliant red cap marked the sandhill crane as the classiest member of my favorite Florida birds. Long running strides the bird used at takeoff coupled with the powerful wing strokes that propelled the crane aloft were athletic moves which defined the stately bird as a beautiful symbol of wild Florida.

Although I often saw Sandhill Cranes on golf courses up and down the state in later years, my most enjoyable view as a child was a sunrise takeoff when several of the birds were silhouetted against the red-orange sky as they gave their rolling calls that bounced off the tree line and came echoing back. Several others wading in a marsh below, would looked up, and give an answering call. Several times in more recent years, I have observed a pair of cranes sail overhead across I-75 into the sunset as I returned to Florida from a trip north. Each of these sights was a classic National Geographic moment I have enjoyed over and over again.

A take on “Floridays” by Don Blanding and Jimmy Buffett…plus a tribute to both

Chapter 27 of Growing Up Floridian, “Who was Jimmy Buffett’s Unpopular Poet?” takes a look at my early connection to Jimmy Buffett, and Buffett made an interesting connection to an artist who was famous a bit before his time.

Don Blanding  (1894-1957) was a poet, novelist, and artist of the Tropics. He wrote Floridays in 1940.

  

 

 

 

 

“To You”

A book of sounds and scents and sights
Of Florida-days and Flori-nights,
Flori-stars and Flori-moons
And Flori-suns of Flori-noons.
Flori-fragrance on the breeze
And blended blues of Flori-seas.
Patterns drawn with pen and words
Of Flori-folks and Flori-birds.
An hour of friendly chit-and-chat
Of flori-this and flori-that
With pictures when you care to look.
I hope you like this Flori-book.

Don Blanding, “Im Mo Ko Lee”
Fort Pierce, Florida, 1941.
From Foridays.

——
“To Jimmy Buffet” (In the style of Don Blanding)

Buffett’s songs of rhythms and aromas and crazy ways
Of Flori-beaches and Flori-bays,
Flori-boats and Flori-jets
And Flori-casts of Flori-nets.
Flori-catches in the Keys
And bleached blondes in a Flori-breeze.
Measures sung with guitars and drums
Of Flori-tales and Flori-chums.
Melodies of camaraderie in tropical climes
Of Flori-bliss and Flori-rhymes
With images that grab your eyes
And take you on trips through Flori-skies.

——

“Floridays”
by Jimmy Buffett 1986
For Don Blanding, Wobby Wiemer and “Groovula”

I come from where the rivers meet the sea
That’s part of why I’m so wild and fancy free
I was early into crazy ways
My folks said, “;It’s just a phase”;
They were hopin’ for better days

Now in my line of work I seem to see a lot more than most
Write ’em down, pass ’em around
It’s the gospel from the coast
Reflections not just replays
Takin’ time to escape the maze
Lookin’ for better days …

Pale invaders and tan crusaders
Are worshipping the sun
On the corner of walk and don’t walk
Somewhere on U.S. 1

I’m back to livin’ Floridays
Blue skies and ultra violet rays
Lookin’ for better days

I’m back to livin’ Floridays
Blue skies and ultra violet rays
Lookin’ for better days, lookin’ for better days
Lookin’ for better days
Lookin’ for Floridays

(Better days, better ways)
Everybody’s lookin’ for
(Better days)
Somewhere beneath the shinin’ star
(Better days)
Take me won’t you take me to
(Better days)
Sure could use a few
(Better days)

Floridays…

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