Saturday, March 6, 2021

Texas notes: Not All Who Wander Are Lost


     It just occurred to me: if she is no longer in Texas, what will we call our Saturday report from Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey? "Texan-in-exile?" "Return of the native?"

    The first time I heard the tap tap tap of their strong beaks at the bottom of the glass door, I was confused. No one knocks on my door these days. I looked out, and there they were. Heads cocked, alert round eyes staring at me. Thelma and Blanche, the youngest of our nine backyard chickens.
     As I prepare to move out my temporary tiny house rental refuge, I realize more and more how much I will miss this whole deal. A brand new high-ceilinged tiny house with a washer/dryer unit and a bidet. Not to mention an electric bed that doubles as a couch and the largest flat screen TV I’ve ever had, taking up much of the wall across from the couch bed. Then there’s the remote control Venetian blinds on the red glass front door, floor to ceiling screened windows that roll open letting fresh air circulate, and a sleek (yes, remote control operated) ceiling fan. 
     To make it even more appealing, it’s backed up to a park in a fabulously walkable Austin neighborhood called Brentwood. Birds chirping all day long. Owls at night. Hawks playing with the wind.
     I’ve decided to use my last walks as an Austinite (for now) to notice what I am grateful to this city for, and to say goodbye. As I walk her streets—over 11 miles yesterday—I am taken by how much of the landscape I have grown attached to. (Austin is either a she, queer, or nonbinary. If she has any he in her, it’s more on the feminine end of the range and somewhat gender fluid).
     On the 11 miler I visited one of my favorite finds. Penny Pocket Park, aka Sparky Park, which I happily happened upon during early COVID walkabouts. It’s tucked into a residential neighborhood and appears to have sprung up organically outside of a now defunct City of Austin Substation. As you enter the park, to the right is a sturdy, wavy and bumpy stone wall where people leave offerings in the little nooks and crannies. A blue marble, a recovery chip, kewpie dolls, photographs, tiny plastic toys and any other bauble imaginable. The wall fits seamlessly into the landscape, and is the entryway to a grassy (well, brambly here in Texas) field. There’s a bench built for two nestled under a live oak in the back corner of the field. Penny Park is always worth a brief stop.  
     Prior to Snowmageddon ’21 copious yucca plants peppered our lawns and parks. When flowering they boast sturdy stalks that shoot up eight feet or more from the center of the plant.  I remember seven years ago when I first moved here, seeing my first yucca flower at Natural Gardener (a more prolific version of Gethsemane Gardens in Chicago, which houses wild turkeys, a goats or two, and a guitar-shaped labyrinth). It was a century plant, meaning it flowers once each 100 years. Everything is Bigger in Texas is a motto that can be fun sometimes. (Not so as far as the roads peppered with trucks the size of the tiny house). 
     After February’s ice, snow and cold shocked, terrified, and beat our foliage into submission, the detritus is a grim reminder. Some formerly well-manicured yards full of native plants are now a mess with giant monocot leaves turned into mushy piles of xylem and phloem. Other yards are the aftermath of a slasher movie— thick cacti leaves the size of a horse’s head mercilessly chopped to the bases of the stems with machetes.      Maybe the storm was the last catastrophe in a long year of destruction that will make way for something new. While I doubt that we are out of the woods, hope springs eternal in my indomitable spirit. I have a plan to say goodbye to the south at the end of April, road trip for a month (to free standing, COVID relatively-safe Airbnb rentals) as I make my way back north to the land of the Yankees, where I might just belong. I get my first dose of the Moderno vaccine today— I will volunteer for seven hours directing traffic at an '80’s themed vaccine “party” (oh yes, there are certainly parts of this fun, music-obsessed city that will be hard to say goodbye to). I’ll come back to you in one piece and in many ways a more well-rounded person than I was in days gone by. For now I can live with cacti and cowboys and it ain’t so bad y’all.


  1. Sweet Home Chicago. Welcome back!

  2. Replies
    1. Wow! Well done, and perhaps.

    2. In the late Sixties, around 1968, the eastern section of the neighborhood (near the lakefront) had an "underground" hippie newspaper called "The Roger Spark." Didn't last long, but the name has been stuck in my cabeza ever since.

  3. And instead of being the Austin bureau chief, maybe you can be the Roger Sparkler...

  4. I like that! Roger Spark. As a kid my nickname was Sparkle Plenty. Hmmmm...?

  5. Great volunteering with you at the vax-a-thon, Caren. Safe travels back north, come back to Austin anytime!

    1. Thanks Jack! That was amazing. Please keep reading- every Saturday.


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