To everything there is a season…

A quote from Ecclesiastes 3:1 and the song made famous by The Byrds in the mid 1960’s; it speaks of life, growth, sowing & harvesting, and of death. Death of loved ones, of friends, and of family.

October 31st has brought a new season into my life; a season of loss and mourning. It is the loss of a new friend, and mourning for a dear beloved friend who I lost 2 years ago.

Some of you may be disgusted by my next comment, or even the rest of this article, but some of you will nod knowingly and feel a pang in your heart for your own lost loved ones. Why do I write that? Because the friend I lost today, and my beloved friend who died 2 years ago were fur-people. Cats, to be exact.

October 31st marks the passing of a new fur-friend, Baby Girl, who I knew for only 2 months, but she was still close to my heart. She allowed me to cuddle her and deigned to sleep on my bed once or twice during those 2 short months; she demanded salmon from my plate (and no, I did not allow her to help herself. There are limits to friendship!); under chin scratches when she wanted them; and to be escorted outside so she could safely admire her tiny backyard world with full protection from the rooster & chicken living on the other side of the fence.

Baby Girl wasn’t a brave cat; I’ve been told she has run away from a skittering leaf tossed by the wind, and was terrorized by the chicken when it strayed into her yard. But she was a beautiful little cat who nudged her way into my heart when I didn’t think I was ready to love another fur-person. Thank you for that, Baby Girl. Rest in Peace, little one.

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And then… it rained.

It actually rained. After weeks, months, and very nearly years of no rain, there it was: warm, wet, and oh-so-wonderful!

It was, as a friend of mine said, a ‘rain dump’ rather than a rain shower. What is a rain dump? Well, this is something that seems to occur in this area alone- or maybe all over Texas- and it is when the clouds just let loose with all they’ve got stored in them for a fast and furious few minutes, and then… it’s done. That’s it, the clouds move on and the sun begins to shine as brightly as ever through the rapidly fleeing clouds.

But while it was raining, let me tell you, the birds were rejoicing! The Boat-tailed Grackles were dancing in the rain; they were flipping their wings open & closed, they were squawking up a storm (pun intended), and they were doing the head bob as they splashed in the growing puddles of rainwater. They very nearly smiled with joy as they danced there in the rain, and I was tempted to jump out of my car and join them in their celebration.

It rained off & on throughout the night and it was such a joy to fall asleep to the sound of raindrops hitting the rooftop; a sound I have not enjoyed since long before I left PA. What an unexpected delight that showed me yet another facet of this amazing state of Texas. The facet of water and its importance to me.

I grew up knowing that access to water was as simple as turning on the faucet, and never gave thought to where it came from; it was just there whenever I wanted it. I’ve read the National Geographic magazine articles about the women who walk 5 miles one way to gather the water that their family will need for that day; I’ve read about the ongoing droughts throughout the world; seen the photos of the dry and parched lands that have their precious top soil being blown away by the moisture-sucking winds, and I’ve taken a moment to think, ‘how sad. How hard that must be for them’ and then moved on in my life. In other words, it made little to no impact on me or my actions. But that is changing.

I’ve always known that water is a necessity and all my life I’ve taken it for granted, but here? Here in the West, you not only pay for water usage, but also for waste water recovery which is something I’ve never heard of but seems to be a normal part of Texan living. This knowledge has made me very cautious about my personal water usage; I’m taking much shorter showers, when I wash the dishes I use a bare trickle of water, and I’m so much more aware of when I actually drink it and how much it means to me. I’ve begun to realize just how important water is to life and living, and that it isn’t something to be taken for granted, but something to be thankful for.

The day after the rain, I noticed that all the vegetation seemed to be a bit greener than it had been, the birds were most definitely glossier than I had ever seen them to be, and the local plants were beginning to bud. Today, I spotted delicate white flowers gracefully waving along the roads I travel, and I noticed many sunflower plants shining brightly against the rich blue sky.

I am amazed by this state, Texas. Amazed by the resiliency of its plants & land; and by the fact that, while it’s growing cold and grey in the North East, it’s day after day of blue skies, sunshine, and 80 degree weather here.

A fascination with cacti

If you’ve been following my posts so far, you will have noticed that I’ve written a few different times about the local cacti growing in the fields here and you may be wondering why, especially if you live here in Texas, or in the West. Why focus on cacti when there are so many other wild plants here that are much more friendly to the touch, as well as prettier?

Mainly because cacti are a representation of the West to me; you just don’t find them growing wild in Pennsylvania. Potted or purposely planted, yes, but wild? No. So, seeing them growing in wild clumps scattered in the fields fills me with great joy and peace, and reminds me yet again that I now live in the West. And I am happy.

So many shades of green

(While writing this post, I referred to this site for the names of various shadings of green: http://www.december.com/html/spec/colorshades.html  I listened to Lush, a station that can be found here: http://somafm.com/listen/  Enjoy!)

It amazes me how many shades of green I am seeing here despite the fact that we have been in a serious drought for some time now. Living under drought conditions, with its mandatory water restrictions, you would think that everything would be close to dead, with dead being shades of crunchy brown and tan, and a few golden touches thrown in for good measure.

It isn’t though. Although the predominate color to be seen is tawny, there are still many spots of green throughout the area; greens that range from ‘melon rind green’ to ‘lime rind’ and ‘holly’ with so many other dusty looking shades in between them.  The massive, gallant oak trees contain many different nuances of color when looked at closely, yet when I stand away from them they appear bland, dry and lifeless. But, OH! When moving close to their trunks there are shades to be viewed with delight; shades of tan, khaki, and even the gradual mixes of amber/greens of the lichen that grow along its flowing branches. It’s leaves are a brown/green color that contain a dusty hue I’m at a loss to describe with words. It must be seen in order to understand the color I’m attempting to describe here.

There are the wispy trees that dot the landscapes in the fields I pass on my daily out-and-abouts; trees that have long fingers of leaves as though they cannot decide whether they will grow with leaves or needles. They are done in gold/greens that are surrounded by open fields of burnt gold/tan grasses that set them off beautifully; and there are my favorites: groupings of cacti, looking leathery in the harsh sunlight, but somehow vibrating with the self-contained moisture that means LIFE in these parched lands.

And what is green, anyway? It is an indication of life, the color of life; life that is sometimes hidden deep within the roots and lower stems of the vegetation, and that cannot be seen by our eyes, but it is there nonetheless. And it’s waiting. Waiting patiently for the rains to come, to slide down it’s dry weary stems and to gently soak into the ground at its roots.

It’s also the life that walks on two feet here in Austin- the people who live and play here. As I sit in a coffee shop I’m facing a bank of windows that are providing me with a clear view of life going on outside (why am I not outside with them? There are no outlets available to me, so I sit in the chilled & sterile atmosphere and observe others as they play & live & observe others). There is a beautiful open courtyard in my view that is filled with a massive oak tree, a fireplace, rocking chairs, and some tables, as well as a tiny play area for small children. One of the tables is located on the other side of the glass and one of the times I glanced up I saw some loose papers on it, but no owner in sight.  As I watched, the breeze began tossing the sheets off the table onto the chair & the ground, leaving some on the table top. A young lady and her friend began picking them up and neatly shuffled them back into a tidy pile, so I began typing again, satisfied that everything was under control. A few moments later, I checked on the situation again only to realize the papers were again alone on the table with no one in sight. Curious now, I continued to watch them interested in finding out how this little story would end. Within moments, a gentleman left the coffee shop with cup in hand, walked over to the table, then proceeded to sit down, shuffle the papers into order and begin to write on them! Those girls had nothing to do with that pile of papers, except to momentarily take the time to bless another individual

People in Austin have an abundance of Life in them; they carry a decency that causes them to reach out and assist strangers with no expectation of  thanks, but just to be helpful and to do that which is right. Texas truly is a different culture, and I am so very glad I live here now, in the heart of such a great state, surrounded by the people and environment that make it so unique.

An ex-New Yorker/Pennsylvanian in Texas

So I moved here about 5 weeks ago from South Central PA, here being just outside of the great capital city of Texas,  Austin. I love it here. I love the vast differences that Texas has to offer: the wide open spaces filled with spectacularly blue skies, ranges that go on for miles and elicit deep breaths from the sheer openness of it; the previously mentioned wild cactus groves; the oak trees that grow in twisted, bent, amazingly beautiful shapes, and their grey/green leaves that contrast so beautifully against the blue sky; the roadways that soar gracefully into the sky as they flow towards different destinations; the birds that creak like squeaky doors, sounding like a sort of laughter, and always bringing a smile to me, or the hummingbirds that zoom busily around, fighting & body-slamming each other with a surprisingly loud sound.

I love the hills that roll smoothly across the landscape, rising above the level ground to a surprising height at times and covered with tawny grasses waving in the constant hot breezes. There are small trees that can be seen dotting those hillsides; oaks, maybe, or scrubby cedar trees, or possibly just large bushes of some sort, interspersed with groups of cacti that show up as a golden/green in the grasses. These hills frame the wide open expanses of Texas where visibility truly goes as far as your eye can see, unimpeded by buildings & cities. It just goes on & on, exerting a draw upon my heart to explore the depths of the horizon; it calls out to me, cries out for me to drive into the distance and experience what most people would call monotonous and I call freedom.

The countryside of Texas- that’s what calls to my heart; that semi-wild vastness that seems to have no end to it. It puts me in mind of Africa, or what I think Africa looks like with its tall grasses, trees that are all trunk & branches and only a small green/grey canopy above them, and a wild, empty feeling that beckons to my spirit.

As much as I’ve fallen in love with the hill country, with the indescribably vast blue sky, and with the chuckling birds, and I have fallen deep in love with that aspect of Texas, I love the people of Texas more.

They are the heart of Texas, and a bloody big heart at that!

They are warm, friendly, and welcoming. I’ve had more people welcome me to Texas with a huge smile and handshake than I can count, and that amazes me. They open their arms and hearts to a stranger, and welcome them into their lives with what seems to be little reservation. Texans are more than ready to help others. No, that’s not quite right, it’s more that they are eager to reach out and help a stranger in need, and to make sure that not only is the need fully met, but that it is exceeded.

I’ve seen examples of this during my journey here from PA as total strangers assisted me when my car broke down by installing a new fan clutch and not charging me, by paying for a hotel room so I could get a good night’s sleep, and by checking up on me the next day to make sure the car was running properly. I’ve seen it in action during and after the many fires that cropped up 3 weeks ago in Central Texas; there were people who literally opened their homes to complete strangers and invited them to move in for as long as they need a place to live, while knowing that these strangers may need to stay for weeks before they had a home to go back to. I watched in awe as community rooms were filled with clothing, household goods, and necessities within hours of opening, filled to the point where donations were being turned away because there was no more room for them!

It’s the casual nods and smiles recklessly handed out to one another; the hellos; the way people hold the doors open for others to go through them; the genuine courtesy extended to anyone within reach. The sheer friendliness is overwhelming and delightful, and it demands that the walls of protection be dropped, that the warmth be shared. It pulls a response from me, of laughter and a heart-cry of joy, and it stirs me to the depths of my soul.

Texas is amazingly beautiful in its people and in its environment, and I am so glad to be able to call it home.

Another day, another adventure

(Robert Randolph & the Family Band’s new cd- We Walk this Way- has taken up nearly permanent residence in my car, so find it online & tune in for the full experience.)

I decided to go for a drive today so I could see more of this state I’m currently living in besides the small towns of Pflugerville, Round Rock and Cedar Creek, as well as the city of Austin. I picked a road I’ve traveled frequently, turned right instead of left and just kept on going from there. The sky was a glorious shade of blue in front of me, yet off to each side were clouds of various colors- creamy white, dove grey, and a darker grey that spoke silently of rain. The windows were down, my hair swirled wildly around me as I sped along the roads and I kept the music cranked up high.

Passing through the outskirts of Pflugerville I rapidly found myself surrounded by wide open fields filled with dusty brown vegetation and (gasp!) wild cacti! I’m still not used to seeing cacti growing wild in fields and so I get a real kick out of spotting clusters of them, a pale emerald-green shining through the drab tan vegetation. It’s even better when they are topped off with their  bright yellow flowers as they bloom merrily in the drought. The fields themselves are uncultivated and contain spotty growths of weeds that are nothing but dried withered spires reaching for the sky, but somehow they still hold on to the belief that rain is on it’s way and portray that fact in their dusty dried flowers waving in the wind. ‘It is coming,’ they seem to say, ‘it may not look like it now, but the rain is coming.’

I saw roads with names that had me laughing- Bluebonnet trail, Blue Goose road and drove past a place called Bert’s Dirts where they will custom blend dirt for you. How do you custom blend dirt? Mix two parts Round Rock dirt to one part Cedar Creek dirt? Hmm..  I got bored with the road I was on and turned off at the next intersection which brought me past the Travis County Expo Center where they were proudly displaying a sign announcing a Gun Show on Saturday, and I had to wonder which Saturday? There was no date on the sign and it didn’t look new, so maybe there is a Gun Show every Saturday? Well, this is Texas where owning a gun seems to be nearly as mandatory as having Texas license plates, and I suppose that I will own one in the not-so-near future, too.

Continuing on, I want past the highly amusing Hog Eye Road and I briefly considered how it got it’s name- was there a butcher shop located nearby in the past? Did they have extra hog eye’s being thrown around as an unneeded part? Blah. Moving on…

By now I was in the wilds of Texas, or so it seemed simply because I could see for miles across the empty tracts of land, land that wasn’t as flat as I’d once thought, but was rolling gently across the miles. Nothing tall enough to qualify as the great Hills of Texas, but a gradual rise and fall that produced lovely views of the road I was traveling on, both before and behind me. Some of the fields had large black steer in them and I paused briefly to watch them amble on towards their feed tubs, slow-footed but massive. They have quite a presence, these steer, and I was happy to be on the opposite side of the fence from them. I kept an eye open for long-horns, but didn’t see any on this trip. Maybe the next out & about I will spot them, and hopefully I’ll have my camera with me.

By now I’d been driving about an hour and the sky was beginning to darken so I found a handy driveway, mentally apologized to the owners of the house ‘Oh, no. No need to put the coffee on, but thanks!’ and turned around facing pretty much due west according to the sun that sullenly stared me in the face. It had settled into a cloud bank without my noticing and all that could be seen was a dull bright spot behind the cloud as I headed back towards the home site. Good time to break out some snacks, and stop at the local gas station for another bottle of water.

Refueled, I drove on this time making a point to go past the Walter E. Long lake which was much larger than I expected it to be, and kept on going down variously named roads as the light grew dimmer and dimmer, until I arrived in Manor (MAAY-nr, as the locals call it). It’s a small , very small, town that has some of the old western movie type store fronts on its main street, so I swung around the block, stopped at the stop sign and snapped a shot with my cell phone camera. Cute town, and if I ever figure out how to get it off the camera & on the laptop, I’ll post the picture.

Now the odd thing is this, I’ve been driving around for over an hour and I’m thinking I’m pretty far away from my starting point; laughably enough as I look at an online map Manor really isn’t far from the homestead at all! Maybe 15 minutes, 20 at the most. Now here’s the fun part: somehow I managed to get myself from Manor to the outskirts of Austin and I still can’t figure out how, even when looking at the map. But I did, and as I was traveling on the I35 service road I heard birds. Lots of birds. I whipped into the parking lot of some restaurant, parked in the nearest open spot, which was under the bird filled trees (so much for a clean car!), jumped out and just stared.

The trees were absolutely full of grackles that were settling for the night- calling, singing, flying and swooping around from one tree to another, it was an amazing and somewhat scary sight for someone who has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. I wish I could describe how utterly amazing it was, and how deafeningly loud they were. I spoke with a local and he said they were roosting much earlier than usual, nearly 15 minutes early and he said he thought it was because we were going to get some rain. I certainly hope so.

After that experience the trip was pretty much over, so I jumped onto I35 and pulled into the homestead so minutes later. It was fully dark by then and all told I was out & about for not quite 3 hours and a quarter of a tank of gas.

It was worth it.

Day 1 as a neophyte blogger

“So you want to blog? Well, sign up & get started!”

Inspirational words from a friend that tipped me over the edge and sent me here with nary a clue, but with a willing attitude towards learning what to do with a blog besides post comments. Thoughtful comments, hopefully.