“Nobody’s heard of us,” quips the lady at the Bosque Collection, an historical archive located on the courthouse square in Meridian. “They say: Where?”
Few in Austin knew anything about our intended summer retreat. Exceptions: Those who had lived in the Waco area, 45 miles to the east; those who remembered late singer-songwriter Steven Fromholz, who wrote gracefully about this area; and those who had discovered its lonely roads as back ways to and from Fort Worth.
As one might guess from the name of the county seat (population 1,500), and a long, silvery creek by the same name that runs through the southern portion of the the county, the area lies on the 98th meridian, which separates, according to late UT historian Walter Prescott Webb, the East from the West. So farms in one direction dissolving into ranches in the other.
Meridian is called the “Top of the Hill Country.” In addition to the conventional juniper-draped limestone outcroppings, the region also includes generous servings of open prairies and crosstimbers. The many-branched main waterway and the county are well named — Bosque means “forested river” in Spanish — for the river banks are crowded with thickets of very old oaks.
We stayed for two weeks at the Young Ranch Guest House, located five minutes northwest of Meridian. The 100-year-old Norse stone farmhouse catches the dry breezes in the morning and evening. The ranch itself proved ideal for running our two Labrador retrievers through still-green hayfields and down to a doggy swimming hole on the North Bosque River.
Debbie and Jeff Young, who live not far away in a more contemporary house at the crest of a hill, made gracious hosts. They delivered a gift bottle of red from the local winery, Red Caboose, and must have wondered what we would do with two weeks out here during the two hottest weeks of August.
Plenty and, at the same time, not much at all.
We read a lot. Marcel Proust for me. Hard-shell writers Elmore Leonard and John D. McDonald for Kip. We indulged in creative projects and The New Yorker. Lots of Summer Olympics on TV. Birdwatching near home, hiking at Meridian State Park; swimming at Olsen Pool in nearby Clifton; a few cultural outings, such as one to the previously visited Bosque Museum, also in Clifton.
It’s one of the biggest and best local history museums in the state, which this time offered two excellent temporary exhibits on the Civilian Conservation Corps in Texas and the German settlement of the Llano Estacado. We also learned more about the Norwegian settlers in southeast Bosque County, which left behind clear influences on language, customs, faith and enough of a connection to the Old Country that the King of Norway once visited here.
Back at the guest house, we cooked and ate light, healthy meals, having stocked up at Trader Joe’s in Austin and Fort Worth, filling in the blanks at the modern Brookshire Brothers supermarket in Clifton, and at the smaller, friendly, old-fashioned Brookshire Brothers grocery store in Meridian.
One evening, we ate out at Zur Autobahn. On Texas 22 between Merdian and Cranfills Gap, a German-American couple serve up very traditional, very authentic, very good German food.
The dogs loved the place, including the wildlife (cottontails, jackrabbits, deer, etc.) and domesticated animals (gorgeous horses on the ranch proper) that went along with mostly leash-free adventures. (We prepared them with rattlesnake vaccine in advance, just in case.)
What about the heat? Didn’t really bother us much. We stayed inside during the hottest hours. Shade and breezes and brilliant Hill Country nights did the rest.