[originally published A Sense of Place, 11/07/13]
While the northern latitudes just opened the Door to the dark time, the dead of winter, we Texans greeted the cool Ancestral breath that offers welcome respite. Here in central Texas, and I can only speak to this one tiny geographical part because our state’s as big as most countries (including most of the U.S.)—now here’s a Texas Tall Tale—heck, you could fit most countries inside our borders and I would still have room for a hundred head of cattle in the back pasture! Where was I? Oh, yes…
Central Texas has two seasons, hot and cool. Notice I didn’t say ‘cold’. That’s because, while we do get Blue Northers, our cool season is what most of y’all call summer! It’s a refreshing time of year for most folks. A time to stroll outside, leisurely, without running from one speck of shade to the next. You can leave things in your windowsill without them melting. And we get to revel in the betwixt-and-between rains. Our rains generally come at the two turnings of the year: between hot and cool, and cool and hot. In this way, they align with the two major Gates in modern witchcraft: Samhain and Bealtaine. So, while European, and other northern, witches might have multiple points on their wheel, Central Texas has two.
I live north of the river in Austin; in a little neighborhood with towering trees, wide residential streets, and plenty of community feel. I ride my bike down to the local grocery where I purchase locally produced foods, or pop into one of half-a-dozen cafes to sip something refreshing, and maybe hear live music. I rise early in the morning to walk down to my bus stop, three blocks away, and marvel at the colours in the sky. My ramshackle little house has tilting wood floors, and bright walls in rooms with fun names (the Spice room, the Purple room, the Gray Lands — ok, maybe that last is rather gloomy). My gardens are an overgrowth of possibility, and I swear numerous critters live in my attic!
My physical engagement with the Place that is Austin is less about the city and more about my immediate region. In fact, I rarely travel outside my little neighborhood. I don’t own a car, and this forces me to be more embodied. It’s how I learned the different scents in each yard, those made by plants and those left by dogs, as they mark their own unique trails. My ears are not deafened by the noise of TV or radio–I don’t own either. Instead, I hear the sounds of the wind, sirens, the dogs next door, the sweet night birds and the even sweeter dawn chorus, the neighbor practicing guitar or piano, loud sex next door, and children laughing without shame. A few days ago I even heard a fox! A cry I would not have known had Fox not recently introduced herself to me, back home in Ireland, on that silent night deep in the dark down the lane.
Tonight, as I walked home from the coffee shop, I breathed in the feeling of this neighborhood, my Place in Austin.
It is a sensual experience.
One I have parred away the extraneous noise of modernity in order to BE in. Human-persons shaped this place, to be sure. Other-than-human-persons live here, as well, but this is truly a place of the Human. (As much as my little lane in East Cork was shaped by the Human–it certainly was not wild land, left in the shape Nature made her.) And I like this Human place — with her wild creativity, infectious optimism, pretentious hipness, and lust for life. We are a hot climate, and the blood moves quick and lively here. There is room for everyone, unless they are nouveau riche. Speaking of, here’s another Texas Tale.
The state built a Formula One race track just out our side door. It seems people with lots of money like to attend those races. In downtown Austin is an historic old stone building, operated under the name of The Driskill. Now, the story goes, one of those rich types waited till the last minute to book his hotel accommodations, which was lazy of him, and he rang The Driskall expecting them to make room just for his precious little self. Unfortunately, they were all full and aghast at the notion of canceling another guest just for him. So this rich guy decided he would just *buy* the hotel. The folks down at The Driskall? Well, they just laughed at him. That’s not how things work down here.
My Place is also with my People. Part of it is about cultural understanding, and influence. Culture is defined as a complex integrated system of beliefs, values, and behaviors common to a large group of people, and includes adaptive responses, a shared language and folklore, ideas and thinking patterns, as well as communication styles. Texas is a specific culture, and so is Austin. Both share much in common, but those specific cultural values shift as you move between places, even within this one state (but then again, that’s not surprising…we’re really the size of a country!).
So, as I move into the season of welcome rest and recuperation, I thank the Ancestors for sending their cooling breath. All living things around me heave a collective sigh of relief. And for the Ancestors that passed away this year, the over 300 million Trees—ancestors to us all—that perished in the Great Heat, I send a kiss and my love.
What is remembered lives.