OPEN SLEIGH, MUTED CLIP-CLOP

 

In a one-horse open sleigh, whoever is riding in it feels like it’s skating across snowy terrain.  Who wouldn’t feel happy doing that?  Forward you would move and hear the clip-clop of hooves muted to a mere crunch.

Let's Go! Sleigh Ride

Through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh . . .

The crunch crunch crunch of steps on snow . . . the traditions of Christmas holiday . . . do these ease the worries of winter?  Worries adults have.  Worries are not part of little kids’ thinking.  I’ve seen a five-year-old girl in Nashville whooping “Forward” as she zipped across the snowy downhill on a saucer toboggan for a quarter of a mile. What rare fun!

Open Sleigh and Reindeer

Icons of Winter

In Brooklyn, children had deeper snow for tobogganing.  Adults, bundled, hooded, and gloved, went walking.

If not from here originally, deep snow excites!

Layered Up Warmly Enough For A Walk In A 26-Inch Snowfall of Brooklyn

Winter affects people in quite different ways.  Have you known older folks who pretty much stay indoors between January and April?  In Memphis years ago, we had next-door neighbors like that.  As soon as spring had sprung, out came our neighbors for easy conversing on the patio, borrowing a typewriter, or sharing a wave or a chat at the mailboxes.  If we had been smokers, we could have had a cigarette with them.  A friend who moved to Memphis from Florida a couple of years ago set her mind to enjoying winter this year, and she decided to separate Christmas decor, laden with red and green, from winter decor.  The way she presented this change in perspective was to create “winter table landscapes” all through the house and invite friends and colleagues to learn how she became a certified table landscaper.  One side of the dining table was done up in dark blue, the other in pale turquoise.  Scarves decked the backs of chairs.  Mercury-glass pine trees deserved the highest praise for eye candy.

Beautiful Blue Landscaping, Formal On One Side Of Table, Casual On Other

Beautiful Blues And Silver Selected For A January Table Landscape

Winter 2015-2016 is with us.  What do you think of the winter scene, below, in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn?  Would you like to stay indoors, or would you prefer to bundle up, put on boots, warm socks, water-resistant gloves, cover your head, grab a Kleenex, and take a nice walk down the street.  Would you step into any snowbanks?

Take a walk down the street?

Snowbanks Alongside A Park Slope Street In Brooklyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TALIESIN: Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Shining Brow” (Welsh) in Wisconsin

Taliesin, built by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in his homeland of Spring Green, Wisconsin, near Madison, shone from the brow of the landscape, something like a crown. For him, Taliesin was imbued with hope and a homecoming freedom to the man’s soul. In this peaceful rural setting, we on tour understood more about architecture’s paradigm shift from Box to Prairie School visiting the genius architect’s “Shining Brow,” a structure put into the landscape, a home of many levels built from native sandstone, built into, not on, a beloved hill in the ancestral valley.  Frank Lloyd Wright (FLLW) built a house to increase the happiness of nature in one of his favorite places as a boy. In this home was hope for a life of unconventionality. Under influence of his mother, Anna Lloyd Wright, he came to build in the place where his grandparents had emigrated from Wales seventy years earlier.

We toured the grounds and structures on a warm June day in 2015, we dozen together. We were an intergenerational group, many with cameras, restricted to outside shooting. After four hours of touring, the human warmth of the 600-acre estate built from the work of its own valley’s laborers was palpable. So was its architect’s truth, and the developing American history of the first half of the twentieth century. Taliesin is indeed a treasured place in the world.

IMG_6379

Taliesin was to be a combination of stone and wood, just as they met in the aspect of the hills around about. Its color like the flat stretches of sand in the river.

Taliesin was to be a combination of stone and wood, just as they met in the aspect of the hills around about. Its color like the flat stretches of sand in the river. “The whole was low, wide, and snug, a broad shelter seeking fellowship with its surroundings,” said Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s intellectual power, natural charisma, his being self-taught in skills of farming and building, not trained to pursue a certain sweep of established practices . . .   these traits enabled the unique twists in the built structure combined with nature’s beauty, precepts that his mentor Louis Sullivan promulgated.

Readers of this post, what follows are tour notes scratched down in a four by five thin booklet, I standing and listening with gratitude to finally be where I was. Narration was by Brian, a three-decades-experienced describer of the architecture and points of personal interest of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 600 acres and the inhabitants.

Note #1  Out of the shuttlebus, we viewed the architecture design school, a sandstone building termed Hillside School. The structure once had a gymnasium, now a theatre, and wore the date 1903. The only such cornerstone adorns this building:

Frank Lloyd Wright, being Welsh, preserved a strange-spelling language by using the initials FLLW, as seen on this unique stone. Later cornerstones became red tiles. just a few. tiles

Frank Lloyd Wright, being Welsh, preserved a strange-spelling language by using the initials FLLW, as seen on this unique stone. Later cornerstones were red tiles, just twenty-one in all. They meant “FLLW approved.”

Can you imagine how thrilled members of this group felt entering the first building of the grandest Taliesin tour? Our narrator described the structure as a co-ed boarding school named Hillside Home School. It was said to have once accommodated 150 learners. Standing in the Assembly Room, we learned that FLLW’s grandfather saw to it that a phrase from the poem “Gray’s Elegy” was inscribed on the stone wall. Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard” is said to be the supreme example of eighteenth-century graveyard poetic expressions, i.e. a somber and thoughtful view of life.  I include the stanza carved into the stone wall: Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; How jocund did they drive their team afield! How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! These words bear evidence to FLLW’s Welsh heritage. Born in him was a sensitivity for the beauties and grandeur of nature. This poem, say critics, heralds lowly folk, which matches a strong take-away message of this tour–  FLLW built Taliesin with the labor of farming folk of Spring Green. He got the quarrying, stone masonry, carpentry, electrician work, and more done by members of the community, some of whose laborers possessed similar skills as did FLLW, practical skills of the farm. Of course, his enormous talent encompassed design, drawing, music, construction of  homes, fireplaces, and furniture.

HILLSIDE, built for architecture students when FLLW was about 35 (b. 1867), with influence from Welsh grandparents. Inside on a stone wall, grandfather inscribed a stanza of "Gray's Elegy" and grandmother, on a wooden beam, a verse from Isaiah of the Old Testament.

HILLSIDE, built for students when FLLW was about 35 (b. 1867), with influence from Welsh grandparents and his mother. Inside on a stone wall, grandfather inscribed a stanza of “Gray’s Elegy” and grandmother, on a wooden beam, a verse from Isaiah 40 of the Old Testament.

Today this building houses work stations for architectural students seeking a master’s degree. Their place for drafting was referred to as the “Abstract Forest” for its dense collection of heavy structural V-shaped braces. The space was a forerunner to the Johnson Wax Building that FLLW designed.

Our tour moved in this building to include having a seat in the theatre of 120 chairs. Both a curtain like no other and a favorite quote by Walt Whitman burnished this most interesting space:   Wisdom . . . something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul. The colorful stage curtain, made of cotton, canvas, and string, was designed by FLLW but put aside for many years. The name of the curtain was “View of the Valley in Abstract, Late Summer.” Mrs. Wright, Olgiavanna, Yugoslavian last wife, eventually recruited interns to sew his design and hang the curtain as a surprise. When FLLW analyzed what the students had produced, he arranged for a few changes, such as more gold cloth and more vertical bands of black. Apparently the many blocks of green cloth pleased him. The theatre welcomes patrons for performances by the Bach Dynamite Dancing Society and also hosts the Unity Chapel Concert Series.

Note #2  There are three Taliesins– I, II, III because of two fires. The first fire was lit by a deranged gardener who had been terminated. Seven people died in the fire. The first Taliesin stood five years. The second fire, lit by lightening, devastated the eleven-years-standing Taliesin II. Again, as in the first fire, the merciless winds, FLLW exclaimed, carried the flames to a dozen places burning up the living space but not the office, place of creative genius. Local lore has it that it seemed God was dissatisfied with the architect’s character and personal life, but not his work. In rebuilding after each fire, the Courtyard  increased. The Carriage House, where horses could be watered and cared for, was moved further back. Taliesin III has 3,700 feet of courtyards, after five decades of development. FLLW stated that Taliesin would never be completed, and freely took risks to change elements. Changes were welcomed if they were governed by the concept of “Implicit Diagonality.” Our narrator said that a new term is needed, a simpler term.

In the brochure about the tour, one can read that red was FLLW’s favorite color. He wrote of stones turned red, dyed by fire and reused. He said a richness had been added. The chosen red is a Cherokee red, the color of ironstone, as trims the house and is shown in the barns for Guernsey cows, horses, pigs, and chickens. Only Guernseys were put on the estate. Being tan or brown, they colored the landscape harmoniously without dotting it, as would black and white animals.

Red was said to be Frank Lloyd Wright's favorite color. The red on the barn today is brighter than the Cherokee red, or Ironstone seen on the house.

Red was said to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite color. The red on the barns today is brighter than the Cherokee red, or Ironstone seen on the house.

Note #3  Inside the Architect’s Residence we saw the table upon which FLLW drew the famous Fallingwater Home built in Pittsburgh. The drawings were produced in three hours, just before the buyer arrived to seal the deal that had been arranged on the telephone. According to Brian the narrator, this true story evidences that the design was completely finished in the mind of the genius architect. All that remained was the “downloading” onto paper once the opportunity for the sale presented itself.

Taliesin contains seventeen fireplaces. FLLW called them strong, quiet, rectangular rock-masses from the outside, bespeaking comfort within. Some burn vertical logs, something unusual and beautiful. So much work to cut logs, then carry them in and light fires– this  was a factor in the decision to establish Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, where interns and others in service could winter, returning to Taliesin Main during warmer seasons in Wisconsin.

Taliesin houses seven concert grand pianos of Bechstein brand. FLLW’s father was a piano teacher, and young Frank received so much music. All his architectural creations were like music to him. Our narrator placed much emphasis on the musical turn of mind FLLW possessed. In the short heyday of the estate when noted architects and literati gathered, some of them also musicians, the piano, violin, and cello sang of Bach, Beethoven, and Handel. A delightful piece of plywood furniture, never seen before by this tourist, had a purpose– it positioned four seated players facing in, their wooden music stands built in. The structure was a circle. Our narrator stated that one, the last one, was built for Lady Bird Johnson, former first lady, and that she eventually donated it to one of the Smithsonian Museums.

Many large Asian statues and many wall-hangings, notably a Japanese masterpiece by Tan Yeng from the late 1400s, adorned the living space. A quote from a book purchased in the gift shop after the tour (Taliesin, edited and photographed by Yukio Futagawa, 2002, Tokyo) addresses the curiosity about the many statues:  “If the eye rested on some ornament it could be sure of worthy entertainment. Hovering over these messengers to Taliesin from other civilizations and thousands of years ago, must have been spirits of peace and good-will? Their figures seemed to shed fraternal sense of kinship from their places in the stone or from the broad ledges where they rested. For the story of Taliesin, after all, is old:  old as the human spirit. These ancient figures were traces of that spirit, left behind in the human procession as Time went on, and they now come forward to find rest and feel at home. So it seemed as you looked at them. But they were only the story within the story:  ancient comment on the New.”

Note #4  It seems to tour-goers to be true that Mr. Wright likely enjoyed life at Taliesin III with his young wife Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenburg, of Montenegro and Yugoslavia, pupil of the philosopher Gurdjieff. We imagine they spent their days in the harmonious and subtle shelter that was the third edition of Taliesin with their daughter Iovanna. A surprise is born! A late change comes– 1953! FLLW acquires steel trusses that were part of a freight vessel on Lake Michigan. A highly unusual long jut is built into the house exterior off a living-room balcony. A steel truss, a lengthy I beam girder, it is supported in the middle by a stone pylon and named the Bird Walk; it was the wife’s idea. This disturbing walkway would in no way be thought of as an abomination because of the “form follows function” genre of architecture. Its reason for being? It was the site for seeing as birds in the treetops see, a lesson in perspective. FLLW stated of his beloved Taliesin that it would never be finished and that it had no inharmonious discrepancy. A nature-loving couple, happy at home, a workshop home, a home with a school wherein architects learn from the master to take risks, this is the unique Taliesin.

Walking Away From Taliesin The Home

REGARDING COLOR IN ROOM DESIGN

 

What Six Favorite Colors Would You Fill In?  Yellow, Blue, Red + Green, Orange, Violet?

What Six Favorite Colors Would You Fill In? Yellow, Blue, Red + Green, Orange, Violet?

Taking time for literary effort in the midst of a bathroom remodel, I put down design thoughts, in preparation for selecting just the right paint for a bathroom’s walls. The bathroom is an upstairs, five- by five-foot personal space.  The tile is laid down on floor and shower walls, and it strikes me as statement tile, as in a statement piece of jewelry, now that I see the many tiles together.  “Statement” in jewelry means that the piece attracts other people’s eyes to the wearer, or has power to evoke emotions, i.e., it is not an everyday ornament.  My tiles make a statement because they have “movement.”  The thirteen- by thirteen-inch porcelain tiles, not shiny but more like very fine-grit sandpaper, are cream colored and sport tan and grey veins running through on the diagonal.  My tile-layer man headed the veins, some effused, more cloudlike than threadlike, all in the same direction.  Imagine how busy my small room could have stated itself had he done otherwise!

Tile having been laid, it is time to decide on wall paint color.  This is a big decision.  I believe the pleasure found in a living space is a result of the harmony of colors and structures amalgamated.  To help me find where to start, I scan through a several-years-old Architectural Digest.  One can count on design inspiration from that magazine.

A quote from the late Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, the “Queen of Paris” as the press of decades past was fond of calling her, appeals to my design preferences for layers of texture, subtle contrasts of many related colors, and the inclusion of some lustrous metal and solid black:  She said, “I love mixing things together—they always end up in harmony.”

A Medium-sized Pot With Interesting Shapes

A Medium-sized Pot With Interesting Shapes

A Turquoise Not Calling Attention To Itself

A Turquoise Not Calling Attention To Itself

Of course the amount of living space available at her supreme level, wherein the entire globe was her shopping mall, she was probably thinking of ancient materials in 17th-century paired or grouped statues, giant Grecian urns, or tapestries sold from the Massif Centrál of her beloved France, the Netherlands of her birth, or exotic foreign places.  Her station in life gave access to opulent, rare, or exquisitely handcrafted objects and furniture, textiles fringed or tasseled, Indonesian batiks, and more.  Her eponymous style of décor, le style Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, is unvaryingly associated with wealth and richness.  I encourage my furtherance in color insight with the following quote for the day, also copying it to my talented cousin in design, Robbie Hansen, who has helped our family live with good design:  The Baroness said of a newly built chalet, “When I saw it, I said to myself, Now you’ve got to do it up.”  She called in François Catroux, never far from her in such ventures, states the magazine article, and said of him, “I think a designer, no matter how gifted he is, can’t do a thing unless he has a strong personality to deal with.”

The Architectural Digest: The International Magazine of Interior Design, Collector’s Edition, May 2004, where I found the above quotes, has helped me understand what I am looking for in my five-by-five personal bathroom—a comingling of visual excitement presented by my tiles, together with a cream-colored showpiece that is my Ronbow vanity with black-granite top.  Add the unexpected solid-black recessed mirrored medicine chest (yes, these once common then disappeared cabinets are back), and the cozy comfort of a pale  straw-colored, thickly painted wall.  But, wait a minute, there’s a world of change out there, and I could take a risk . . . perhaps I’ll finish with a mid-tone deep grey purple, inspired by my cousin’s dining-room walls.  Admittedly hers are much taller walls, loaded with gold sconces, Egyptian or Roman vases, and an exorbitant chandelier.  Or maybe I’ll search out an Indonesian batik shower curtain for the end splash.  However the outcome,  the big decision of what color to paint the walls has put me deeply involved in the world of color. I am learning, and it reminds me of being in young love—you feel the vitality of being alive and able to select and finally commit.

Purple is a highfalutin color.  It is marketed as causing an intuitive mood.

Purple is a highfalutin color. It is marketed as causing an intuitive mood.

BROOKLYN VACATION IN MAY, YEAR 2012

The Brooklyn Bridge was begun in 1869 and completed in 1883.

The Brooklyn Bridge is 129 years old, construction having been begun in 1869 and finished in 1883 (for the literary-minded– 1869 is the year Tolstoy published War and Peace). The bridge’s towers, dark grey stone rectangles, heavy in demeanor, march strongly upward as though wearing heavy boots to their vertical lookout. They are topped with caps. Two arches were built into the rectangular design, from a distance giving a hint of carving. The effect is similar to the crowning arches with keystones of gothic cathedrals. The tower tops sling lighter-colored cables down creating a lacy effect. Tan lamps on tall poles add to the complexity. There are so many cables attached to the towers that observing them, one might think of a giant loom spinning wool threads. At the tip top center, the American flag waves in the breezes.

On the pedestrian walkway/bikeway, a bronze plaque reads: Erected by the cities of New York and Brooklyn, MDCCCLXIX — MDCCCLXXXIII. It lists TRUSTEES of the project, too numerous to mention, and these ENGINEERS: John A Roebling, 1869, Washington A.  Roebling, Charles C. Martin, William H. Paine, Francis Collingwood, Wilhelm Hildenbrand, George W. McNulty, Samuel R. Probasco, E. F. Farrington — Master Mechanic. A second plaque reads BROOKLYN BRIDGE RECONSTRUCTION 1954, Design and construction supervised by the Department of Public Works.

Good views of the Manhattan Bridge and the new Frank Gehry-designed skyscraper can be had walking the span of the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as distant views of the Statue of Liberty. Walking here was a truly international-feeling activity– so many languages could be heard, so many styles of wearing apparel, shoes, and purses, bags,

Brooklyn Bridge as seen from the DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area of Brooklyn.

and totes could be seen. A light mood was shared by all who walked across a great American landmark.

In my post describing Memphis, Tennessee, home for the last twenty-six years, I mention “supremely urban” New Yorkers, in the context of whether they desire more contact with grass, tall trees, plantlife, and wildlife, or if they have made their peace with soot on the bottom of their shoes and buildings and skyscrapers dominating the landscape. Of course a recent surge in incidences of bedbugs in hotels, offices, and private residences could be counted as contact with wildlife, but . . . not really, just kidding! Having spent a week in Brooklyn visiting our son and staying at the nu hotel on Smith Street, not doing blatant touristy activities, but rather enjoying the unpretentious vibe of the borough, trying to adapt our Southernness to a neutral “don’t look or smile” while passing people in miles of street walking, I can say resoundingly that I like Brooklyn!  I liked choosing interesting spots for lunch and dinner. I like that there are bars and corner grocers with fresh flowers at every turn. I liked having a chat with a butcher in a prime red meat shop in the Cobble Hill neighborhood.

Even with riding the subway trains and hailing high-cost rides from taxi drivers, I could live in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is the largest borough of New York City. So many people work in Manhattan, but can better afford to live in the middle-class borough. The neighborhood I prefer is Park Slope, but Cobble Hill, south downtown, and Carroll Gardens also had that comfortable vibe of the working middle class, those people on the street who seemed purposeful, sturdy in health, honest, and alert to creative possibilities. Young mothers stroll babies and young toddlers into the corner grocery for the few items that can be managed, while carrying an umbrella or jacket to accommodate weather changes. There seems to be an acceptance of casual dress in Brooklyn. Casual dress would contribute to energy savings through the day.

Our son, who lives in the Park Slope neighborhood, said that functioning in Brooklyn is hard. Feeling tired with sore feet when I heard it, I took it to mean that the barage of people wanting the same things you want means that a state of constant alertness must be carried in the mind to succeed in the day’s goals. The exception?  Working-class subway patrons after quitting time:   trains are loaded with exhausted workers, sleeping with head on lap, or head tilted against the seatback.

Next in this essay, having heralded the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, I want to depict the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens of Prospect Park and the Manhattan High Line,

An artist's rendering of birdhouses accents this section of the High Line.

Delightful for over a mile, maybe two, surprises crop up every block or so. Close inhabitants create humor with cardboard statues. Small sculptures are tucked in with shrubs.

places noteworthy for the international flavor of their visitors. Walking in these places, one can hear three or four languages or more spoken by patrons. I enjoy the idea that visitors from Europe, South America, and other parts of the world are sharing the experience I am having.

"The High Line Zoo"

 

The month of May lent itself to sunshine and cool mornings and evenings. My husband and I happily walked tens of blocks carrying stuff, he a big Canon camera with a bag of lenses and a subway map, I a flat travel purse over one shoulder stuffed with a Lumix camera, bottle of water, Cocoon sunglasses (large enough to fit over eyeglasses), moleskin blank notebook and pen, lipstick, and of course our iPhones. I also tended to carry that third piece, so as not to feel chilled if a breeze came up. By the third morning starting out, I decided to wear Naot cork-footbed sandals instead of sturdy, black athletic shoes with SmartWool socks. The flatter, cooler shoe provided temporary relief, but the fact remained that older feet need horizontal rest in addition to orthotic insoles. It was during this middle part of our vacation that our son, a year-long Brooklyn resident, gave us that previously mentioned believable theme for us,  “It’s hard to live in Brooklyn.” He made breakfast for us in his flat, and we continued our walking as a threesome, which was our preference over the trains and cabs.

Off across Prospect Park and onto one of its trails we went, coming upon the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. We had a stroke of good luck– free admission for seniors on Friday. Our first stop was the array of cacti in the Desert Garden, and it  was exquisite, as were the Bonsai trees in another part of the gardens.

Having visited these lovely, well-cared-for plants, I realized that keeping my own gardens, front and back of my own property in Memphis, was indeed something that matters.

In closing this writing highlighting our Brooklyn and Manhattan vacation of May 2012, here are some last images. We went to New Haven, Connecticut after the vacation, in support of a very special friend who was receiving her MArch from Yale University. I heard an influential professor of architecture at Yale University say this in his address to the graduates:  Architecture opens people’s minds. An architect must be positive and open-minded. In all that it takes to get a building built, there is only one of all those doing the work that “loves” the building– it is the architect. I include some favorite skyscrapers of Manhattan:

Frank Gehry has built many buildings, and this is one of his latest. It seems to have twists in it.

 

 

PROPERTY MAINTENANCE: Ninety-foot Trees Artfully Trimmed

Caring for outdoor property can be richly rewarding.  Our summer of 2011 investment in the artfulness and health of our tall trees proved to be a memorable spectator experience, almost like watching performance art.  For three days, we observed a skilled Tree Crew work to beautify old oak trees of almost a hundred feet in height. The climber deftly pruned the small limbs and foliage, as though the trees were sculptures, and then his ground crew, with ropes and chain saws, gently swung any big limbs he cut onto the ground, sawed them small for carrying, and rid the yard of all debris efficiently.  My husband and I photographed the crew extensively.  I post a couple of photos for your enjoyment.

Pablo, preparing to go up 75 feet in the bucket, then walk out, spikes on soles

PABLO, Tree Worker, Climber

Four men on the ground watch the climber.

"Out On A Limb," but with harnesses, spikes, & manlifts, the meaning changes.

 

I have a habit of searching through a book I’ve had for forty years, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, for a poetic turn of phrase.  For this post in patnotes.com, I read a dozen or so quotes listed in the index under the word “trees.”   Nothing interested me much except these sentences by a Japanese writer, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694).  He lived a short life, a fact making these lines meaningful:

“My body, now close to fifty years of age, has become an old tree that bears bitter peaches,

a snail which has lost its shell,

a bagworm separated from its bag;

it drifts with the winds and clouds that know no destination.”


in Anthology of Japanese Literature, edited by Donald Keene (1955)

 

Children Playing

A Comment On The New York Times Article Of July 18, 2011

Subject:  “Safety-first” Playground Equipment– Does It Stunt Emotional Development?

This particular New York Times article, “Grasping Risk In Life’s Classroom,” gives me a launching pad for publishing a three-thousand-word story here at patnotes.com.   The original story written by me, “To Neutral,” was carefully edited and re-edited by me throughout a year or so.  Just like the other short story here at patnotes.com, this second story received no prize or praise, it was simply submitted to the mid-south magazine contest.  The story that beat it out and won a thousand dollars was set in New Orleans, the protagonist was male with a lazy streak, flaunting a trait of nonproductivity, and the author was rather well known in the mid-south.  My story, “To Neutral,” is set in the southwest, in Texas, a few decades ago, features a tomboy type of female teenager, and deals with her unquenchable desire to take a risk in outdoor play, just like the confident  high-school football players that she observed were doing.

Isn’t that just like The New York Times to give a writer (John Tierney) a revisitation of the concept of liability on the school playground?  It is the newspaper of newspapers in the sense that such thoroughly researched writing about minor topics can be found daily. We readers know, when we take the time to consider it, the problem of risk management to avoid injury is a problem present through the decades.  How do parents, teachers, older sisters and brothers, and others watch over and protect active, healthy children equipped to spread their wings and experience mastery?

The article’s title is:          “Grasping Risk in Life’s Classroom,”

and the photo caption reads:

“LIVE AND LEARN:     A bad fall may mean

a child is less likely to have a fear of heights later in life,”

MONKEY BARS

and on the second page, the heading reads:

“Life’s Classroom, The Ever-Safer Playground.”

Up front in the article, the quote set in a larger-size font hooks the reader:

“Efforts to regulate playground equipment may stunt a child’s emotional development.”

The excellence of the writing in The New York Times gives readers ideas for conversing.  I discussed this particular article with my husband, who was an “all-boy” type of kid.  He got a broken arm playing outdoors.  He remembers this risk-versus-safety conflict as a kindergartener of the 1950s– teachers set firm restrictions against climbing to the heights of the monkey bars.  This succeeded in making playground time boring, he recalls.

The article quotes someone saying, “I grew up on the monkey bars in Fort Tryon Park, and I never forgot how good it felt to get to the top of them.”  He grew up to be the Park Commissioner.  Someone was quoted as saying “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great.  As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features (going missing) that can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

My memory went to my own determination to raise independent, brave, and imaginative children.  Our first-born, a daughter, climbed high, very high in a magnolia tree in the backyard.  She went up so high (about thirty-six feet), we really did not know what to do when we saw her.  Yell out “Get down?”  What good would that do?  She became a fearless equestrian.  She taught a tall young Thoroughbred how to go into the hunter show ring.

Our other child, a boy, as a tot tumbled off a high metal slide in a nearby park, which we renamed “Pokehead Park.”  As I recall, his righting of his consciousness took less time than when he sailed off a low bed head first he was jumping on at home.  That bedroom tumble was called a concussion, and our little boy could not be allowed to go to sleep for a number of hours– doctor’s orders.  One further outdoor memory of risky business is of climbing a slightly dilapidated fire tower on a country road in middle Tennessee.  The higher we four went, the more we, parents and two children, held each other’s hands and the handrail.  The scariest view was to look down between the wooden steps.  Once on the top weatherbeaten platform, we could breathe again, and prepare for the descent, equally as scary as ascending.

Let us get on with the telling of the adventure story of Marty, strong-willed girl with time on her hands and a big imagination, during one hot Texas summer.  Previously titled “Rhapsody On Ravine And Vine,” I renamed the story “To Neutral,” and I present it here: 

Line Drawing Of Ravine


  

TO NEUTRAL

Long ago, a tree grew a branch across a ravine toward the east sun, even though its roots grew the other way.   Growing around the branch was a thick rough vine, one like Tarzan of the old movies would swing from.  For an imaginative girl, the scene seemed straight out of the Amazon forest.  The girl doing the imagining lived at the ravine’s edge.  She was the Arins’ second daughter Marty, who took extraordinary notice of that tree.  She logged many auspicious observations from the family’s backyard tree house.  “Don’t you swing on that vine, Martera Jean,” Nadine, Marty’s mother, cautioned.  Nadine’s mother Memaw helped marshal more nurturing force to tame Nadine’s second-born—Marty the adventurer, Marty the strong and the quick.

Delightful High Perch

What child wouldn't want to go in this little house?

 

 

 

A second-born girl, in her own mind, urgently needs to separate to be different from her older sister.  Marty’s sister LaWanda sat indoors playing the piano.  Thus, outdoor activity attracted Marty like a magnet.  From Marty’s perspective, a ravine in her own backyard required exploration.  You climbed down, one way or another; you were a lucky dog if you had access to a rough, natural place.  It provided opportunity for deep solitude.  People who lived in the urban cove or attended the nearby high school were not looking for an Amazon-warrior adventure.  But Marty had three wild and crazy girlfriends who would scuffle down the ravine’s side with her by rappelling, a rope flung over, sculling with a stick or two, and bracing feet against deep-rooted rocks.  It was a feat so few girls would attempt, especially LaWanda.  The two sisters would banter, “The thing to remember is to step fast so you don’t roll.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll go down there when the creek runs dry!”

“The creek is dry.  I’m not asking you to rappel somethin’ slippery.”

“Let’s just leave it as what attracts you ‘rappels’ me!”

“Well, if you would rappel down you might not be so repelled!”

LaWanda loved words and loved to make people laugh.  She was a busy twenty-something, out on her own, with a fiancé, and too much at stake to risk her neck for an urban jungle expedition.  Not Marty. From her tree-house perch, she observed the high-school football players who would come to the tree, grab the vine they had tethered, and swing to the other side, thirty feet away.  “If they can do it, so can I!” she reasoned, hearing their howls of laughter after the daredevilry.  Seeing them flexing their oversized muscles and beating their chests before they grabbed the vine and sprang off the edge, she thought of them first as monkeys, who then transformed into ghosts riding to the other side.  She told her ravine friends who risked scraped elbows, palms, and knees that one day she, too, would ride that ravine.  She just knew that one day she would go up, stand under that tree, reach for the vine, and jump.  It would be the ride of her life.

Fantasy Tree House

Who wouldn't want to go inside this tree place?

 

 

 

 

She meant it.  It was a matter of timing.  On the day that was the Day of Days for the Arins family, Marty went.  She pushed off against the steep side clutching the thick vine in no ordinary grip; the rough-edged vine became her umbilical cord to continued life above the dry creek bed twenty feet below.  Prior to doing the act, she had considered the horizontal along with the vertical:  the propulsion had to be huge; she had at least thirty linear feet to traverse.  A sufficient push would give entrée into the in-group of the tall, the brave, the experienced.  She had watched these elite riders rise up from their mighty thrusts and make it across the ravine.  Through two seasons, as she sauntered in the creek bed, emotionally bonding with the vine-wrapped tree, seeing it against pale skies, she analyzed the flight trajectory, twenty feet up, thirty feet across.

A summer breeze blew gently.  “I’m riding that ravine,” Marty announced, darkly, to Martha, Rita, and Leta.  She separated, and went to the fabled post.  At the edge, she hunkered down into reliable shoes, lucky shoes, the best sprinting shoes, toes to the starting block.  Toes ready for the push of a lifetime, Marty untethered the vine and tugged firmly on it.  It was long, and had a foot left over like a tail.

Marty went, even though doubts gathered like storm clouds:  “Don’t Marty, MARTY!”  and her ears reverberated her mother’s voice of warning, “Don’t you do what those boys’re doin’!”  She went anyway, springing off, engaging the flight . . .

OH!  The thrill! . . . She floated through the air . . . OH! . . . the freedom, the one true, free act philosophers talk about that lasts for a lifetime!  Oh, to push off and sail, to have a perfect float, that was her desire.  “Now I am the ghost . . . a faint trace of who I was . . .” she mouthed, glancing at the dry landscape under her, littered with rocks and broken limbs.  She was sailing, sailing against the wind, high above the dry bed below.

Now for the flight’s finish:  brain, in red-alert mode, fires synapses, tricky business here . . . “Stretch toes to the approaching edge, get those sneakers a toe-hold . . . c’mon, c’mon toes, get long and get a hold . . .”  “What?! . . . NO! . . . NO! . . . Can’t!!  Goll-ee . . .”  No toe-hold.  She was short, the push insufficient, job not done.  “Help us, Hannah!” Marty cried, having no  landing, no way to cross, no touching down on the other side.  Short flight, short shrift . . . the ride across to the other side got eclipsed.  Marty would be a human plumb line hanging straight.  Hands would be aching.  Palms would rub raw.  It wouldn’t be long and the ground would come up to meet her.

“Ugh” . . . thrusting, scooting higher up the vine . . . alarm bells went off in her head, “OH! . . . Thrash, thrust, propel yourself, girl!”  She saw the plain picture of a terrible scene, “Goh . . . uh . . . ah . . .al . . . lee!”  No possibility of momentum.  No chance to touch the other side.  No redoing the thing.  No going back.  The creepy finish approached, stiller, and stiller.  Marty, neutralized, was left hanging.  A scary predicament was at hand, literally.  All she had was the rough vine scraping raw palms.  She held on.  Nothing else to do.

The girlfriends yelled.  Nadine was in the house.  Would she come, they wondered?  “Nadine!  Help!  Memaw!  Help!”  But those two ladies were old.  What could they do—drag a mattress out the back door and throw it down the ravine?  Stupid thought.

Everyone knew LaWanda’s fiance drove an ambulance.  “Get Howard on the phone!”  “She can’t hold on long!”  “Go call him; hurry up!”  Marty’s palms were moistening.  She squirmed and threw one hand over the other, wincing, as seconds ticked by.  She was at zero looking down at the spot where she would drop.  It was just a matter of time.  She wondered how soon LaWanda and Howard could rescue her.  “Stupid thought.  LaWanda can’t get down this cliff.  What’s Howard gonna do in the next two minutes before I slip off the end?”

She tried to articulate more thoughts:  “My life could be over real soon; nothing is available; friends are watching . . . I am hanging in the air utterly, completely neutralized . . . sliding . . . off the end . . . “Ah, Mama . . . Oh, Jesus . . . it was all happening fast!  ARGH!” . . . the fall came, onto a limb-littered streambed strewn with rocks, the wrong bed in which to tend the injury sustained—a fractured right elbow.  “Ugh . . . foolish . . . foolish . . . why did I bend my arm!”  A few thoughts raced on.  All 130 pounds of dead weight went onto the arm, arm screaming louder than the girls’ voices.  Nerve endings went crazy.  The lights in Marty’s awareness flickered and went out, she a plangent heap against an unfriendly floor.  Nadine came with Martha to look over the edge at her unconscious daughter.  She saw Marty’s head bleeding.  “Lord, what are we gonna do?” said Nadine.  “Call Howard.  He’ll bring a stretcher.  He’ll need Rex.”

The two men got to Marty, not without tricky maneuvers and LaWanda’s unwieldy attempts at going down.  They strapped Marty onto the stretcher, and then the bigger challenge began—where to scale the slope.  They settled on using Marty’s rappelling rope, weathered, but tied in a good spot.  Would it hold two men and some dead weight?  Good team training and with luck holding, the men got halfway up the slope then, “Oh, my gosh!  Grab her!”  Marty’s sixty-degree-angled body, flat-out against the canvas, slid through the straps, almost leaving the frame.  Howard grabbed a handful of her hair, and kept on grabbing it, all the way up the slope.  Marty felt her scalp’s screams subside as the men strode across the acre of backyard, into the street to the ambulance.  A couple of slight jostles and she was loaded and off, siren blaring out the terrible predicament all the way to the Methodist Hospital.  The young, defeated Amazon warrior got all the help she needed to survive the ordeal.  In terms of ancient mythology, however, this warrior had passed muster.  She had done the deed.

Karen's Quick Sketch

Thirty-plus years later, in a talk with a friend from the old, first neighborhood, Skyline Heights, the one before the suburban ravine neighborhood, Marty still remembered her screaming scalp, a handful of her hair in Howard’s hand, as he, Rex, and LaWanda rescued her on a stretcher.  “It hurt!  Pat, I’ll never forget my screaming scalp!  Man, it hurt!  It took my mind off my broken arm!  If I were a crier, that would have been crying time for me!”

“Why did you do it?”  Patrea, the early girlhood friend, asked her.  “Pat, I know something about myself.  I get a feeling and I can’t stop it.  Sometimes I have to go do something.  Can’t stay the same, can’t let go the feeling.  So I go on and do the thing,” Marty answered.  “Maybe you need meds!” Patrea joked.

“Naw . . . it’s not like that.”

“How come I didn’t know about it; I didn’t know that second neighborhood!”

“We were older.  I was in high school.  Neighbors changing neighborhoods had already separated us.  There was a lot of change going on.  You know, those Sixties.”

“Yeah, I know the Sixties.  Well, we should have held onto each other.  Even if it was by the hair!”  Patrea guffawed.

“We had to grow up– Avenue A where we played was . . . small homes . . . you know, nowhere to disappear in houses that small.  Our mothers beautified them, and our daddies stood up those flocked trees at Christmas.”

“Yeah.  You used to knock on my door every day.  When I was at your door, I would ask Memaw if you could come out and play. We pretended we were ranchers, fixing the miniature horses in the flowerbeds left and right of your front porch.  We arranged those little rubber horses for hours.  I don’t remember what we said galloping the horses and riders across, back and forth, ranch to ranch.  Marty piped up, “Probably, ‘See ya later, pardner; I’m headin’ to town.’  It was a safe neighborhood; nobody got hurt; well, wait . . . Glenda crashed skating downhill and got a bloody ankle.  We wore the skate keys on a string around our necks, remember?”  Patrea nodded, and continued, “Well, I should’a stayed by you; I guess I was shallow, pursuing popularity . . . maybe you wouldn’t have taken that risk . . . with your life . . . were you restless?  Did you miss me?”

“You had your friends; I had mine . . . you were in the junior high then.  What surprised me was that LaWanda actually went down that slope with Howard and Rex when they came to get me!  She nearly somersaulted, but Howard caught her by her belt.  They both fell down; Wanda got pretty scratched up, and she was already bawling.  They kept telling her, ‘Sit more; bend your knees!’ but she just flailed around until she got to me . . . my wild and crazy friends said you would have thought she was saving herself, she was so intent!  She tried to hold me onto the stretcher, but she was bleeding; oh, it was messy!  Without Rex, . . . Whew!  I don’t know.  But, I can still use my arm.  This scar on my head is small.”

“Yeah, the arm scar gets looks, I guess.  I never broke my arm.  Here– a present.  It’s a little horse and rider . . . made in Germany; it’s from an upscale toy store.  Open the card first; it has the coolest quote.”  The card Patrea gave Marty pictured two smiling girls posing, one a little taller, dressed exactly alike, except for their shoes.  It read:  ‘In a friend you find a second self.’

“Thank you.”  Marty opened the present.  “It’s so cute.  I’m going to play with it.”  She galloped the little horse and rider by rocking her hand across the end table.  “Yeah, after I got out of the hospital, Wanda morphed into a SU-PREME nurse, after the surgeon put the pin in my arm and all.”

“She’s your only sister.  She was a pretty capable big sister, I remember.”

“Still is.  Mostly, she knows humor.  She juiced me up, laughing so much.  She did the same thing when I landed flat on my back.

“Oh, no!  When was that?”

“I got thrown from a horse.”

“What was the horse’s problem?”

“It didn’t want to be ridden any more.”  Patrea asked for a few details, as fitting in polite conversation, then realized their time was at a close.  “I’ll hear more about that later,” she said.

“Humor is disappointment turned on its head,” Marty commented, drawing down the pleasant reconnection time.

“Wanda sees humor; she truly does.  Humor . . . I would say . . . It is liquid refreshment– like a prime juice.  It leaks out through the healed cracks of brokenness.”

“Oh, nice!  You majored in English, didn’t you?”

“It’s true, people in pain may feel they’re in a desert place, thirsty . . . or hungry,”  Patrea continued, “The LaWandas of the world are the decanters.  They decant the premium juice– humor.  Not the ordinary human juices, you know, saliva . . . but the prime human juice– humor.”

“Yeah, I get your metaphor.”

It was LaWanda who got Martera and Patrea back talking after so many years.  Those talks evolved in no time from “What is your last name now?” to talk of riding a horse in a dream, gloriously.  At the end of the face-to-face time, Marty trotted the gift her old friend had selected, “See ya later, pardner.  I’m headin’ to town.”

“Make sure you don’t try to jump the ravine up ahead.”

“Oh, I think I could ride that ravine.”

THE END

 

 

 

 

YARDWORK IN JUNE, 2011

I DEDICATE this gardening/yardwork post to my late cousin Sue who kept an immaculate home and patio with flower garden in the Dallas, Texas area.  The loving gardening and yardwork effort was rewarded with the community honor of Yard of the Month.  Needless to say, her hospitality was sublime.  Sue was so pretty, with an alluring humble nature, and a voice that engaged your interest.  She will be greatly missed by her husband, caregivers, and three daughters.  She was adored by her granddaughters, and a help to those coming her way.

SUE

Mildred "Sue," Daughter of My Mother's Brother & Wife, Euell & Blanche

In a later post, you may see a couple of attractive young women’s faces from the forties, as were Sue, her sister Lavona, my mother Louise, her sisters Inez and Eunice.  Others of that era were named Dorothy, Tressie, and Blanche.  I enjoy the sound of those names.

1940s People: Ervin & Tressie, Louise & Glenn

Well-tended Side Yard In Hillsboro, Texas, Long Ago

My maternal grandmother loved flowers! This family line enjoys gardening.

 

 

 In the family portrait below, one I have enjoyed viewing through the decades, Sue is the little girl on the right. Her parents Euell and Blanche stand behind her.  Louise and Glenn anchor the other side.

Ervin & Tressie, Glenn & Louise are also in this shot.

Beulah & Clarence's Family Portrait

 

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Gardening Equipment:  Waterproof Gloves and Ice Water, Covered

Pleasant colors that attract you and good quality in tools, such as pruning shears, help create enjoyment in gardening and yardwork.  Care of property is a good thing.

Consider these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“When I go into the garden with a spade, and I dig a bed,

I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover

That I have been defrauding myself all this time

In letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.”

 

Shovel and Dirt

 

“Garden” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American, Harvard graduate, authored a book NATURE and other books, sermons and addresses, poems, and more.  An essay “Self-Reliance” is reputed to have once been the most often quoted essay in American literature.  Hmmm . . . does that put him up there at the level of Abraham Lincoln?

GARDEN

Many things the garden shows,

And pleased I stray

From tree to tree

Watching the white pear-bloom,

Bee-infested quince or plum.

I could walk days, years, away

Till the slow ripening, secular tree

Had reached its fruiting-time,

Nor think it long.

Solar insect on the wing

In the garden murmuring,

Soothing with thy summer horn

Swains by winter pinched and worn.

[The end]

 

O N   T H E   S U B J E C T   O F   G O O D N E S S  .  .  .

I have in my blog a desire to express interest in the goodness of the individuals in my family.  Being older and in the memoir stage of life, I see the gentleness of the matrix in which I was fortunate to be reared, so long ago, when the times were slower, more deliberate.

PRESENTATION OF AN EARLY 17TH-CENTURY ESSAY

Researching Francis Bacon (1561-1626), scholar in philosophy and scientific method, I found a statement that said he considered his essay writing a kind of gentleman’s hobby.   This English major was reminded (assuming that I learned it in college originally) that Bacon wrote during the Tudor period (1484-1603) and beyond to the changeful Stuart England (1603-1700).  I have enjoyed, through the years, studying the Stuart monarchs, because of our ancestor coming through Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, involved in Charles I’s court.  My reason for including this old essay by Bacon is that it talks of a character trait not much mentioned in this day and time—goodness.  Over the recent years, emphasis on goodness seems to have become supplanted by emphasis on lies, crassness and insults, and violence.  Perhaps there is a strange wake-up call, or skin-thickening hidden benefit, difficult to find.  My first memoir, Beulah, Zelma, Patricia, Ann, came out of a desire to counter this seeming cultural trend and present goodness in family life.  The strain of goodness through one-hundred-sixteen years in four women got a grip on my writerly, reflective self.  Retired from public school teaching, I wanted to be with this material, and the desire has held over several years.

 

OWNING UP TO COPYEDITING BACON’S SENTENCES

Before posting Bacon’s essay on goodness, which I located online, I got rid of a couple of dozen meaningless commas.  I do not know why so many commas were stuck in.  They hampered the clarity of the sentences.  Also, to help patnotes.com blog readers who may tend to jump up for the dictionary, I suggested a couple of substitute words, and they are in parentheses.  All the italics are mine.  This essay goes on longer than many readers would care about, and thus I have broken it in about two halves, posting the first.

Francis Bacon’s essay:  Of Goodness And Goodness Of Nature

I TAKE GOODNESS in this sense, the affecting of the weal (public good) of men, which is that the Grecians call philanthropia; and the word humanity as it is used is a little too light to express it.  Goodness I call the habit, and goodness of nature, the inclination.  This of all virtues, and dignities of the mind, is the greatest; being the character of the Deity: and without it, man is a busy, mischievous, wretched thing; no better than a kind of vermin.

Goodness answers to the theological virtue charity (substitute “love”), and admits no excess, but (does admit) error.*  The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall:  but in charity (aka love) there is no excess; neither can angel, nor man, come in danger by it.  The inclination to goodness is imprinted deeply in the nature of man; insomuch, that if it issue not towards men, it will take (go out) unto other living creatures; as it is seen in the Turks, (by past reputation) a cruel people, who nevertheless are kind to beasts, and give alms to dogs and birds; insomuch, as Busbechius reporteth, a Christian boy, in Constantinople, had like to have been stoned for gagging in a waggishness a long-billed fowl.  *Errors indeed in this virtue of goodness, or charity, may be committed.  The Italians have an ungracious proverb, Tanto buon che val niente:  so good, that he is good for nothing.  And one of the doctors of Italy, Nicholas Machiavel, had the confidence to put in writing, almost in plain terms, that the Christian faith had given up good men in prey to those that are tyrannical and unjust.  Which he spake (this) because indeed there was never law, or sect, or opinion did so much magnify goodness as the Christian religion doth.  Therefore, to avoid the scandal and the danger both, it is good to take knowledge of the errors of an habit so excellent.

Seek the good of other men, but be not in bondage to their faces or fancies; for that is but facility, or softness; which taketh an honest mind prisoner.  Neither give thou AEsop’s cock (rooster) a gem, who would be better pleased, and happier, if he had had a barley-corn.

[First Half Installment of Francis Bacon’s perspective on concept of goodness]

 

NATIVE TEXAN BRINGS TEXAS CACTI HOME TO PLANT IN MEMPHIS

Texas Cacti Planted in Tennessee

WHAT DO YOU SEE ON AN I35E ROAD TRIP THROUGH TEXAS?

Have you driven up Interstate Highway 35, traveling east between San Antonio and the remaining ninety miles of the State of Texas before reaching Arkansas?  If you like a road trip of many hours, say ten, then read on, you may have fun.  Frequently, as native Texans with interesting relatives who still live there, we head to Texas via I30W out of Memphis, take the 440 Loop around Little Rock, Arkansas, pass through Texarkana, stop for a barbeque lunch at Ramage Farms in Hooks, Texas, and before you know it, have spent seven hours and arrive in the Dallas area.  We recently went on to Fort Worth, instead of stopping in Dallas, for a change.  We spent a couple of nights, and then headed via I35 to San Antonio, and ultimately Boerne, a country-living small place in the Texas Hill Country.  A neat bumper sticker for sale at the Flagpost Cafe reads “Life is too short NOT to live in Boerne.”  Returning home to Memphis after a few days, I jotted some notes of what my eyes took in on I35E on that familiar Texas highway.  I hope readers enjoy imagining a road trip in Texas, headed east from the San Antonio area.

If you left the Boerne Hill Country/San Antonio Urban area before 10:00 AM, you exit toward Austin by 10:15 AM.  That is your first segment, allowing for a good bit of traffic, which is common.  You may desire a coffee break just past the billboard advertising Gruene, a historic town geared for tourist activity, and past New Braunfels’ Rueckle Road Exit.  New Braunfels is an old German city, larger than the old German town of Boerne.  For the tasty java from the approaching Starbucks, take the Niederwald Exit.  Time will be about 10:55, or less than an hour from departure.  That particular Starbucks has the biggest round logo sign you have ever seen.

Back on the highway again with your Grande bold and vanilla scone, you are not far from Austin, a popular large city, next in size to Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.  Occasionally, traffic on I35 through Austin is horrific!  I take care to have a pit stop before entering greater Austin.  You can choose the high road or the low road, as both are I35 straight through.  Either way, you see some of The University of Texas campus, some skyscrapers, and the dome of the Capitol Building.  The capital city of Texas is a residence desired by many Southerners, Midwesterners, and others who think of Austin as rather freewheeling.  After all, this is Tour de France Seven-time Champion Lance Armstrong’s home town and home of The University of Texas, which has over fifty thousand students.  It goes without saying that big universities impact an environment.  Even small ones do.  Austin bears the claim to fame of “Live Music Capital of the Country,” not to be confused with Nashville’s distinction as “Country Music Capital.”

Leaving Austin headed toward Waco, home of Baylor University, traffic thins out.  I saw a billboard stating that I need the info to be found at Texasbytrain.org.  The billboard surprised me by promoting the light rail concept.  Good for Texas!  I did not know Governor Rick Perry was interested in the “separate country” of Texas adding light rail transport (jus’ kidding).  Coming toward the cities of Belton and Temple, I notice that a town named Moody, and one named Lorena are in McClennan County.  I am familiar with the neighboring Hill County, where my maternal grandparents settled.  My paternal grandparents lived in McClennan County.  In that stretch of road, at a seventy mile-per hour drive-by, I noticed some giant concrete statues– a pig painted pink and a rooster.  These were huge; you could not miss them.  There were many other shapes, but I was past them in a high-speed flash.  I also noticed the trees became bright green and thick in foliage coverage, so thick it reminded me of the “Music Highway” between Memphis and Nashville, very green, claustrophobically lush for me, a lover of the Texas scrub landscape.  The live oaks and cedars with their scrappy, worn-out trunks, look like antiques, some close to death and discarding, eaten up by moss balls.  A billboard lettered with stately block style reads “BAYLOR + WACO = PROUD PARTNERS.”

As driver-passenger team, we tend to take note of road construction.  Living away from Texas, our birth state, we go gaga at the forty- or fifty-feet-high overpasses engineered by Texans.  Rumor has it that the Texas government has run out of funds for highway construction.  Those funds lasted a long, long time.  If you haven’t seen such unspeakable tons of concrete, the Texas overpasses will amaze you.  On down the road a bit, I see three more billboards.  I am not sure I believe the message on one of them:  “Great things are happening in Texas Public Schools;” “Fossil Rim Wildlife Center;” and “Taqueria Arrandes.”  We sometimes stop in Waco and eat at Taco Cabana for a TexMex flavor treat:  tacos with picadillo, frijoles refritos, rice, chalupa with guacamole, or fajitas, chicken or beef.  The price of Exxon gas in Waco was $3.59, same if bought from Valero, and the Brazos River looked high.  A most interesting fact about the unusual part of Texas that is Waco is this– a miniature Brooklyn Bridge exists there, as a historic landmark.

Driving on, a billboard advertising a Texas fruitcake tradition originating in Corsicana reminds you:  mail order plenty of Christmas fruitcakes to friends and family from Collin Street Bakery.  I have tried to like them, through the years, but . . .  Next site popping up is LoneStar Windmills, wherein dozens of faux windmills are for sale, some as tall as twenty feet or so.  Next, I notice Superstar Fireworks as we head into West, a Czech town near Hillsboro, a larger town.  Do you like Czech pastries called “kolaches?”  Pull into the Czech Inn, the Czech Stop Bakery & Deli, the Czech American Restaurant, or the Village Bakery (Their claim:  since 1952– “The original Czech pastries”), all conveniently accessed from I35E.

(More to come.)