Sixteen years ago this week I was unpacking boxes in my first Austin apartment after U-Hauling it from Ohio with my friend Cynthia. There was a Nissan Sentra hitched to the back and the man who hooked it up said, “From here out out, there is no backing up.” I drove away from Cincinnati in a Rosie the Riveter t-shirt and with no idea what I was heading toward. We crossed into Kentucky and Tennessee, saw the Mississippi running below the bridge and commented on the bad roads in Arkansas. And then I was in the state I’d call home for decades to come. On August 12 I wrote in my journal, “My mind of late is on setting up house, and on bugs. Things flying and buzzing and crawling in this house. Welcome to Texas.” I’m amazed I made it this far.
The photo is from my Cincinnati going-away party, where I was given a cake in the shape of Texas. Really and truly, I’d never felt so special.
August 13, 2015
I knew nothing of Sirius, Orion’s dog, when I climbed into my car after an afternoon meeting and thought dog days. If the stars are revealing themselves at sunrise, though it is the only time to get out there and move, I was unaware. I only knew that there was for a long time a kind of faith in altered weather. Spring into summer and it rained and rained and things grew tall and deep green. This was, the Austin people hinted, how it had once been here. Mild. Steamy. Shaded. But it was myth, the belief that we could return to another time when August didn’t scorch. Our fig tree is dangling its last leaves, the grass turned crisp. And maybe Homer had it right:
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
August 12, 2015
Instead, a smattering of what life has brought my way. An old friend in front of an old painting. A wedding, a message, and century plants towering against a stormy sky.
Meanwhile, back home, the daily continues. We shave and brush and swab and spread. We read Nora Ephron’s prescriptions of marriage, shared by a friend in a wedding card. We fail to sit on the living room furniture and fail to sell it on Craigslist. (Vintage rattan could be yours.) And the CSA basket keeps coming and cornichons go into vinegar and pickling spices and we can’t stop eating them.
In Austin the rents still rise and a few places, against the odds, keep the faith.
And, finally, a spin through Waco on the way home. A wedding ring store leaves me with far too much to say.
In the hotel breakfast room, girls competing in a national cheerleading competition scooted away from their moms. They congregated in ponytails, flannel pajama bottoms, sweatshirts decorated with glitter. Then someone said, “I had to come all the way to the South for snow,” and we all turned our heads toward the windows. The storm was here.We thought it was charming when we wiped off the windshield, caught a photo of a cactus dusted in white. But the ride home was long and slow. Semis insisted they merge as the lanes narrowed. The highway detoured onto the access road and then back onto the highway. Bridges slowed us while snow whirled above the road. It was nearly Waco before the highway was dry and back to its usual levels of danger. Snow in Texas — novel and tricky to navigate.
February 27, 2015
Spring comes to Texas sooner than we planned, each and every year. Before we know it, the leaves will be back on the trees, the blue bonnets blanketing the medians, the SXSW crowds arriving with their skinny jeans and plaid shirts. First, the old is cleared away. I admit it wasn’t us who cut back the dead branches, bagged up the soggy leaves. But when it was done, the deep brown mulch spread across the beds, I started planning for the new season. Another cenizo sage? More banks of four-nerve daisies? Will this be the year I plant tomatoes again?
February 16, 2015
The day I moved to Austin with a U-Haul full of books and used furniture, the temperature hit 104 degrees. That first fall I kept waiting for rain, my life having been spent on the east coast and the damp Ohio River Valley. The skies were perpetual blue for a month, two. I was new here. I wondered at the ancient seashells embedded in the limestone, the live oaks holding their leaves through winter. One early spring I walked my neighborhood noting and working to name the flowers, the bluebonnet and Indian paintbrush. My friends had sent news of their new son and I was humming with happiness, everything in bloom. Today that boy is quickly becoming a man, two boys have followed him, and the news from those friends is harder. A surgery, a fight. I gather up my prayers as the spring approaches. And after work I pull to the side of the road at the sight of primrose jasmine. In large bushes and trailing cascades, it still blooms.
February 10, 2015
Winter in Texas isn’t so bad. While photos of houses trapped behind drifts of snow and stories of school closings populate my news feed, we come off a weekend in which people strolled by the lake in t-shirts. But sometimes the cold finds us, and I’ll mark this winter in my mind by the walk I took with friends from Colorado before work one morning. It was 23 degrees and the air was crystalline. We paced the boardwalk almost alone, most people driven inside by the cold. It was hard to describe how rare it was to people who live with the cold all winter. I felt apologetic that the weather hadn’t cooperated for them, and a little thrilled that it offered us such an extreme. The walk to work and back on Monday was more typical of winter here. Chilly, but not frigid. The sky gray, the leafless trees befitting the season. It won’t be long before the primrose jasmine are a tumble of yellow again. And the century plants standing sculptural in gardens keep their noble gray-green no matter the temps.
February 2, 2015