Sunday, April 23, 2017

River trails

Guadalupe River in Kerrville Texas
Fish among the cypress knees, Tranquility Island, near Lemos Street, Kerrville
I walked along the riverbank behind our print shop today, a rough stretch of bluff above me, and the green Guadalupe just below. I wonder how many times my feet have found their way there.
The river has a smell there, across from Louise Hays Park. It is not an unpleasant smell, but it does remind you that the water is filled with many creatures, most of which you cannot see. Looking at the river from beneath the canopy of trees, the water seems to glow. Among the cypress roots below the water, where the light shines through the roots, you can often see the outline of small fish. Perch, mainly.
The trail beside the river also has a smell, because it is heavily traveled by an assortment of animals. People occasionally wander down there, but mostly it's other animals who pass by. Most mornings when I look over the bluff I see deer parading in line along their time-worn trails. I've seen other animals, there, too: skunks, rabbits, armadillos, opossums, squirrels and, just once, a porcupine. A friend tells me she often sees foxes around our building at night.
Today I saw a little snake, much less than a foot long. It was black with a yellow ring around its neck, a harmless snake. I've seen many snakes down there, though I'm sure more have seen me than I have seen.
It's important to remember as you tromp alongside the river the snakes live there; we're just passing through their home. Some of the snakes I've seen down there include moccasins and coral snakes, either of which could ruin your day.
Several feral cats live in the neighborhood, and I often see them down there, too. I suppose they help keep the snakes in check, and plenty of the songbirds, too. One of the feral cats born behind the shop was tamed by my son and now lives inside the print shop -- a lanky black and white tom named Safety Officer. We've paid to have several generations of this cat's family neutered and spayed and SO is the last survivor of that clan.
Our section of the riverbank has few history stories to tell. Our family is only the sixth family to own these lots.
One of the earliest families to own our little stretch of riverbank was the founding family of Kerrville: Joshua and Sarah Brown. In fact, they lived on or near our print shop property, somewhere between our press room and the library. The giant oaks between the print shop and the old A. C. Schreiner mansion were standing when the Brown family lived here. I like to call those oaks "Founders' Oaks," and I hope they can be preserved as the property is developed. Those trees have survived since before there was a Kerrville.
Another of the families who lived on this lot was the Parsons family. They bought the lots in 1878 and owned them for the next 80 years. (In comparison, our family has only owned portions of the property for about 52 years.)
Dr. G. R. Parsons was an interesting guy. Despite fighting with the Union Army during the civil war, he was quickly accepted into our community. In fact, he was elected Kerrville's fifth mayor.
He was also responsible for hundreds of other families making Kerrville their home. He arrived in Kerrville very sick -- dying from tuberculosis. Somehow he recovered. He spent decades writing to national medical journals, telling others about the health benefits our climate offered those suffering from tuberculosis. He built the area's first tuberculosis sanatorium, which stood where Peterson Plaza is today (at the intersection of Water and Sidney Baker streets).
Many local families can trace their arrival in Kerr County to an ancestor who was afflicted with consumption, who came here seeking health. Most came because of the efforts of Dr. G. R. Parsons.
My parents bought the lots in three separate transactions over a period of decades, the first in 1965, then another in 1970, and then the last from the remnants of the old Charles Schreiner Bank, after it failed, around 1990. During these years we put ink on a lot of paper, and we still do.
It's different below the shop on the riverbank, though. It's not busy. While that stretch has seen some changes, it's still mostly wild. The foxes who come out at night are hardly concerned which family currently owns the property, and the snakes are concerned even less.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was born one block away from the print shop. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 22, 2017.

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