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Rock Lake: Rest, Beauty & Serenity

November 14th, 2019 · Tags:Arts · Cities

Recently I purchased a new iPhone, and after looking at the storage space issues I was influenced to go through and delete hundreds of old texts.  There was one text more poignant than all the others.  It was an old text sent to a young woman whom I never met, whose work I admired from afar.  We were not friends on Facebook, so I am not sure that she ever saw the text.

It simply said, “I love the murals you painted around town, and I love your dad like a brother.”

I have no words to describe the tragic illness and the courageous fight against cancer that took the life of this young painter and singer — Valerie Doshier.  She and I never met, and I have regretted that for years.  I had a chance, when I should have stopped to meet her and her friend who were painting a mural on the back of one of the buildings at the Vega Longhorns football field.  I decided it would be an interruption, so I drove on.  A year or two later, I followed her fight against cancer and the unimaginable loss through the eyes of her family, expressed in social media.

Why do we hesitate?  Why don’t we meet as many people as possible and get to know them … whenever there is an  opportunity?

That missed opportunity for friendship is key to the next ranch tour — the second in a series of three — that I want to describe here on the PingWF blog.

Doshier, Rock Lake caves

Valerie’s ashes are now scattered in a very special place — one of her favorites — a ranch called Rock Lake in the Texas Panhandle.  It is her family’s spread.  Recently, a few years after her memorial services (that featured a horseback salute from family and area cowboys), I jumped at the opportunity to see the ranch. Rock Lake is a property purported to have or share the largest playa lake in Oldham County.  The ranch is approximately 5200 acres, and the playa lake encompasses about 400 acres, visibly divided by a barbed wire fence … er unless the lake gets really full.  (For those of you who may not know, a playa lake is basically a slight drop in elevation — just enough of a “basin effect” to catch and store water when the arid, flat lands get a soaker.)  In dry years, it’s a low spot, perhaps covered in grass.  After a big rain, it’s a homegrown water wonderland … deep enough for floating a homemade raft or kayaking … IF in fact farmboys had kayaks.

My friend lost his beautiful, talented and vibrant daughter, Valerie, at a young age.  So much potential. So sad … But, so happy for the time they did have together … and what a beautiful thing that her ashes are now scattered, blowing free in this special place.

Rock Lake … It became an instant favorite of mine, first because of the name.

What child of the ’60s wouldn’t appreciate a spread called “Rock Lake?”  The name is of the same caliber as The Cowsills’ song, “Indian Lake.” Ha … as I was thinking about this blog the other day, the old western movie spoof “Blazing Saddles” aired on TV, and for a moment I got excited when the characters said something about “Rock Creek” … I got confused, so for a second I thought my friend’s ranch name might be derived from a Mel Brooks film … Close but no cigar. I digress … 

So about Rock Lake … An old newspaper man and eccentric Oldham County historian credited Rock Lake as the largest playa lake in Oldham County … a county where myriad grassland acres once fed thousands of bison, and the playas gave the beasts plenty of water to drink and all the mud they needed for endless hours of blissful wallowing.

As Panhandle ranches go, Rock Lake may not be the most secluded or the most chiseled, especially compared to the huge cattle/oil/gas properties further north along the banks and canyons of the Canadian River.  But, smack dab in the middle of its pastures is a great natural outcropping of a few, select whitish, sediment stained limestone cliffs and caves, lining a small, but ancient waterway that probably once helped to drain all the land south of the ranch and fill that playa lake after a cloudburst. So there aren’t miles and miles of rugged box canyons and seasonal creek beds, but there is a very special, scenic feature.

I visited Rock Lake at a time when it was probably at its best — the most green and full of wildflowers of brilliant red, deep purple, sky blue, springtime yellow … the overall landscape as green as any time the last decade or more.  So beautiful, but so rugged too … I have to wonder how many times artists have stopped to shoot photos or paint the rock formations on canvas … I wonder if Valerie painted this place … and how many cowboys have driven cattle out of this rocky draw heading them north toward the natural, more plentiful  water supply at the other end of the property, across acres and acres of pasture.

David Doshier

As my friend David drove and I did shotgun around the property, we marveled at all of the different wild flowers popping up at the time, dozens of varieties we had never noticed before … probably all from seeds that lay dormant for dry season upon dusty season. And then it rained and the prairieland came alive.

Probably breaking some environmental law, as we paused the truck, I hopped out and snatched up a tiny barrel cactus to take back to Fort Worth as a memento.  Actually, David’s wife Marianne fostered the cactus for me, several months, and planted it in a very cool, golden deer cup, since my motorcycle saddle bags were loaded to the gills … I digress …

David and I are somewhat new/good friends these days, having worked together on a class reunion a few years back, but our history is rooted deep — like the mesquites tunneling deep for water bordering this playa.  David and his father and their farmhands were about the closest thing my family had to neighbors when I was a kid on the farm — about five miles from Rock Lake.  (I’ve blogged about the day this novice tractor drive accidentally took out one of the fenceposts — turning a sweep plow at the fenceline our farms shared, as the neighbors watched  … to my embarrassment.) As kids, David and I were on rival teams in Little League.  Earlier, we had sat in Sunday School together from about second grade on, and before we played high school football together, David once delivered one of the hardest hits I ever felt … right in my ribs as I was about to throw a pass in pee wee football.  Funny … I remember that hit — and the sound it made when the air left my lungs — more than any of the hits in high school … even the one that caused a spinal injury … He was a baller.  And most recently, we are fraternity brothers too … but that is another story for another time.

Ha … Valerie’s legacy is everywhere! On another visit to Vega, recently, I walked into what was once the longest, continuous-operating hardware store along the old storied Route 66.  Shopping, I looked up above the southwest corner of the hardware store and there above the fence supplies and beside a huge collection of rusty, old, collectable farm and ranch tools was this colorful painting of a pretty young woman.  It is a portrait of Valerie, painted by her friend.  Of course, I thought it unusual that the hardware store had a 6X6 portrait of a woman painted on the wall … What if something happens to the building or the hardware business?  What if?

Thank you to my friend for the tour of the ranch and for inviting me to such a special family place … a place that Valerie loved and shared with her dad on many opportunities — and now her forever resting place. Overlooking the little caves and cliffs is an seemingly random little chunk of limestone rising slightly above the rocky ground and native grass, bearing the artist’s name.

Across the county, about 10 miles away in her hometown of Vega, several murals display the signature of Valerie and her artist collaborator … always a treat to see, whenever I go home. If memory serves, Valerie’s artwork can be seen on the side of the museum, a local business, at the football field and also on the side of some government building that was the doctor’s office … as I recall it from 40 years ago.

Val

Well something happened … what a cool turn of events.  The hardware — after all these years — closed, sadly.  But not to worry. The great old building was annexed by Vega’s Milburn-Price Culture Museum.  How perfect … Now Valerie is keeping an eye on the history of and the visitors to another little corner of this county that was such a part of her.

Know what I sayin?