“A word to the wise ain’t necessary—it’s the stupid ones that need the advice.” – Bill Cosby
Like most of my stories, this happened some time ago, and as usual the guilty and innocent need to remain anonymous. The Fourth of July was upon us, and a special guest was expected at our modest weekend cabin. The East Coast college I went to didn’t have fraternities; instead there were “houses” holding about 350 students. Each house had its “entries”, with about 30 students in each entry. And each entry had a resident graduate student who was supposed to be a beneficent policeman, big brother to make sure not only that we behaved ourselves but also to give us brotherly advice from time to time, usually over a weekend cocktail hour. The special guest that day was my entry grad student, who had served us well…he had been both a tutor and big brother while I was in college. The worst part was that he had been a professor at UT for 20 years and neither he nor I had made a great effort to get together. Today was the day. We were going tubing on the Guadalupe River.
So Bob arrived. He got his Ph.D. at 21 in chemistry, got bored and went into linguistics, then computer linguistics (no, I never did find out what that was). A grand reunion it was….for 20 minutes. Nearby a 45 acre piece of property had been broken into two pieces, and I had met the guy who had bought the southern piece, a pretty, heavily-wooded property. An Aggie who must have felt some compulsion to bond with nature. Like me he originally had no appreciation for the “cedar” problem, had discovered the pest, and had tried, like me, to remediate it. While small cedars are cute little Christmas trees, they can grow to seventy feet and proliferate so fast that they crowd out not only grass and flowers but can also kill native trees by blocking the sunlight. And I’ve heard that the average cedar can absorb up to five gallons of water when it rains, so long term cedar is bad for the water supply.
There was a loud knock on the door after Bob and I had told each other enough lies about the last 20 years to last us for a while. Our neighbor, let’s call him Stan, was at the door, sweating and red-faced. But it was about 100 degrees outside, so we thought he had been, like most of us city-folk weekenders, out in the heat. Not so. Stan had started to burn some cedar, but the fire had spread to his grass and to live, uncut cedar, which burns live, as attested by the annual brush fires in Texas. My spouse, a hill country native, wisely stayed behind to call the local volunteer firefighters (see below) but offered up to Stan the services of our youngest daughter, me and the professor. She equipped us with the necessary firefighting equipment—mops and brooms to stamp out the fire— and away we went in our Suburban to contain the fire while waiting for professional help.
The first surprise was driving into Stan’s property, getting out, and seeing a 25-foot cedar tree literally explode in fire. That was a message, I am sure, to be careful. After about twenty minutes Stan and the three of us were able to sort of cordon off the fire so it would not spread any further, just as the volunteer fire departments from both Blanco County and Hays County arrived. We were exhausted, so we retired to the area where Stan had installed a well and pump and got some water. I looked over to Stan and he was bright red, and I do mean bright. I figured that he was having heat stroke so loaded him into the Suburban and with the gang of three we went back to my abode. In the car my teenage daughter said “Who was the idiot who started this fire on a hot, windy day?” not realizing that it was indeed Stan. Fortunately Stan was so out of it with heat stroke that he looked as if he had not heard my daughter. When we got back Stan was still bright red and incoherent. I had no idea how to treat heat stroke, but spied the cattle tank, shaped like a big bathtub and about three feet high, near our cabin, and our garden hose. Without further ado I made Stan get into the cattle tank, which was half full of water, and turned the hose on him. He gave a huge sigh of relief and his clarity of mind returned almost immediately. Very quickly we returned, rather wet, to his place to thank the firemen, who were about ready to leave, having stamped out and watered down any smoldering ashes. I guess all’s well that end’s well, and Stan kept apologizing to us every time we saw him for the next two years.
But the sad part is that we have never seen Bob again….shortly after his hill country experience he decided to move to San Francisco! I wonder why….
Don’t play with matches. Don’t think that since you are an Aggie that you are a natural in the country. And stay inside when the temperature is over 100.