Hard-Edged Impressionism

Digital illo from a photo: Doing My Impression of a LonghornThe steadily clear, cloudless skies of a still very warm October day in north Texas lend themselves mostly to seeing the world as a series of crisp cutouts, light and shadow unmitigated by much subtlety. But after spending the last six years living here, I have found an interesting fine-textured, mellow character that offers much of the softening effect the light might seem to steal from the scenery. It comes in those rare times, like yesterday afternoon, when my spousal-person and I have the time and leisure to wander slowly and savor those things that are uniquely alluring about this still somewhat alien terrain.

Instead of the flat and unchanging brown I had somehow come to expect from Texas when I was still a foreigner to it all, sitting up in the very northwest corner of the country and imagining I was moving to dry, unmitigated plains, this part of the state is actually a softly rolling zone, a puffy quilt as opposed to a hospital-corners flat sheet. There are little ravines and arroyos tucked into it, sliding slopes of no great height but enough curvaceous amplitude to give a sense of motion and variation. There are no natural lakes around here, but a good number of created ones, and Ray Roberts Lake is a massive reservoir with thousands of acres of state park land along its shores. The farther inland oak-and-pine forested walking paths are currently closed because of flooding, an exceedingly rare thing in this region but brought on by last winter and spring’s astonishing rain performance. So even if it weren’t for the possibility that there’d be more mosquitos in the shady walk (thanks a bunch, West Nile virus), sticking to the breezier open areas of the lakeside was more promising.

As we drove out toward the lake, I was reminded of how the tall native grasses’ and wildflowers’ color and texture, height, and movement hide the sharp edges of the landscape; how the rolling terrain lulls me; how vast stretches of these, stands of trees between ranchland pastures and open plains, and the broad blue dome of the sky all become blurs of comfortable sameness. All things gain or lose specificity of detail with our relative nearness or distance, whether physical or mental.

As we’d drive nearer to a change in the topography or flora, or a lasso of vultures would tighten in the sky overhead, the edges and distinctions becoming more defined again, our eyes and minds would shift back to notice details. As we passed through these, we would relax once more into that easeful somnolence of a Sunday afternoon’s outing and see only large patches of color, texture, movement. A leafy copse at the edge of one of the area’s sweeping ranches first looks like a dark and fuzzy blend of earthy greens and browns, then gradually coalesces into trees and grasses, then proves to be shading a small group of magnificent longhorns who graze steadily, undisturbed by the larger or smaller picture.

I am reminded once more of how small a part of any picture I am, yet how free to be a moving, changing, unique point of interest within it if and as I choose. All of us are both at once: concrete and distinct, yet subsumed in the greater whole as mere specks, little dots of disappearing solidarity within the hazy afternoon of history. I am content.

I Can’t Help It When I’m Speechless with Happiness

Other than my general adherence to food posts on Tuesday—for no particular reason on my part other than my constant love of eating—I don’t often go with the popular day of the week trends or memes or whatever they are. But what makes me happy can render even the loquacious-unto-verbose me speechless, so what better to do than shut up and hand it over with no further fuss. My gift to you, therefore: a [nearly] Wordless Wednesday. The roadside view on Saturday was simply too fabulous not to be shared.Photo montage: Longhorn Beauty Pageant

Country Comforts

It’s easy to indulge my love of the bucolic and pastoral when I live where I do in north Texas. This county is full, as it has been for generations, of farms and ranches of all sorts that intermingle freely with the towns, cities and suburbs of the area. Whenever we take a drive or go running errands, we’re just as likely to see fields full of sorghum or corn, red or black Angus cattle, or sleek tobiano horses as we are shops and schools and natural gas pumping derricks.photo montagePlenty of relics and remnants still stand that tell me it’s been this way for a very, very long time. The little bronze school bell and windmill that remain standing right next to the old Ponder schoolhouse’s clapboard walls seem perfectly ready to go back to work (with just a tiny bit of functional renovation first, of course)–or to transport me instantly backward into the nineteenth century. A small private herd of longhorns spends its days in a cozy paddock that sits directly next door to a modern brick housing development, and on the other side of it is a stretch of fields full of wildflowers and prickly pear, punctuated by the occasional gas well and electrical tower, the latter often populated by small flocks of turkey vultures.photoAll of this makes an atmosphere highly conducive to my happiness: the conveniences and riches of contemporary urban existence, conveniently interspersed with spirit-soothing farmland or ranch and historic pleasures. If I play it right, I can feel like I’m on vacation no matter which world I happen to be in at the moment.

A Little Texas Secret

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Have you heard?

When people say Everything in Texas is Bigger it’s true–up to a point. Texans in general are happy to point out the vast number of marvels, from natural resources to business and entertainment, culture and personalities, that are bigger than life in this part of the world. Is Texas full of tall grass and longhorn cattle and bluebonnets and armadillos, sizzling days and stormy nights, oil wells and roughnecks and rodeo riders? You bet.photoBut there are amazing and unexpected and even–gasp!–tiny details that also sparkle throughout the Lone Star State and help to make it far more varied and unpredictable than the image Texas has beyond its borders might lead anyone to believe. A spectacular water-lily park? Why, yes, that’s here. Masses of beautiful, delicate butterflies? Oh, yes, those too. I think it’s safe to say that not many people are likely to think of French food when Texas is mentioned, but not only does la cuisine Française exist in Texas, it’s even featured in an eatery in the also seemingly non-very-Texas named town of Humble. I mean it: Texas is full of surprises, and not all of them even Texas-big.photoSee, that’s the thing about stereotypes, archetypes, assumptions and expectations. Generalizing about any place or culture may give us a handy entré to allow us the chance of learning to know it better, but it skims the surface of reality far too much to be dependable as a gauge for the whole of the thing. On my first trip overseas I was immediately struck by the odd conversations I overheard between the locals here and there and the American travelers. It’s not uncommon for natives to ask visitors what things are like where they live; what I found out is that it’s also pretty common for said visitors to pontificate as though their limited experience of life were the standard for all and sundry where they come from–not just all the folk in their house but all in their town, county, state, region–heck, I heard fellow US citizens abroad telling foreign nationals with utter nonchalance what ‘America’ was like. Just as though every part of America were completely homogenous, every US denizen interchangeable.photoI’m perfectly happy to state that not only is that a ridiculous barrel of hogwash but I have seen evidence very much to the contrary in places all over this country. Not to mention in the great state of Texas, in our county, in our town. Yes, in our own household. Texans do like their BBQ and their tall tales, their football and pecan pie and yes, their guns. The real secret, if you must know, is that no place is precisely, and only, like its image. No matter how small or grand that image happens to be.