A European Sort of Morning

A summer morning dawned with the usual slanted light as the sun moved north. Crisp, chilly air with a hint of flowers/urban scent/hardness eased in through the part-open window. The hour was early. At least two hours would pass, perhaps more, before it was time for breakfast. For a moment I thought I was in Central Europe.

Nope, still in the High Plains. It was a strong reminder of just how much the little details set the scene, in this case the light and the “feel” of the morning air.

I’ve spent so many Junes on the road to various places that I’ve become attuned to the differences in light. Out in the desert southwest, sunrise is at least an hour earlier than back home, wherever home happened to be at the time. So I’m up and about well before the Hour of Food, trying to sneak around so I don’t wake up those who are sleeping the sleep of the just. It’s a good time to go stretch one’s legs, take photos before the light gets too direct and harsh, and have a moment of quiet time with the birds. The wildlife, however, does require due care and consideration. The light is clear, with edges, often chilly and always dry.

Central Europe . . . In the cities, the hint of diesel exhaust is one of my markers, because trucks are only allowed to do deliveries early in the mornings. Cool soft air, full of moisture unless a cold front has passed, covers everything. The light is soft, filtered by clouds or humidity, and begins very early. By 0500 I can read without turning on the lights in the room (most of the time. Not always.) By 0530 I need a hat and long-sleeves when I venture out. Often the place is still and calm, with birds and perhaps the distant rumble of early traffic the only sounds. No, I take that back. A soft, steady Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh of a broom on cement and stone reaches my ears as an older woman in the faded floral-print uniform of matrons all over that part of Europe sweeps in front of her house or family business. We ignore each other as I pass, as one does. If she acknowledges me, I smile back. The city or town or hotel grounds are mind to meander as I please. No babble of voices comes from the market square, save on market days. The river or town stream murmurs in liquid tones as it dances through the little channels in the streets, or along its bed where the wall once stood.

Sometimes, that same light, the same cold late-spring air washes over the Texas panhandle, and for a moment I’m in a different place.

Trees Like Clouds

The wind settled, and I did not have rehearsal. Tasks awaited my attention, but instead I put hat on head, took up my walking cane, and went forth into the evening. Along with a goodly number of other people. It was spring, and comfortable out, with no wind and a minimum of dust.

This has been a good year for Bradford pear blooms. All the pears peaked at the same time, something unusual for this area, and clouds of white hovered along the streets or around houses. In the evening light, the globes and mounds of white floated over the ground like summer puffies afraid of heights. Soon they will begin to send blizzards and showers of white petals onto the yards and passing strollers, but that evening, the flowers clung tight to the branches, almost glowing a little in the evening light. The distinctive scent, not entirely pleasant but certainly noticeable, grew and faded as I walked past each tree or row of trees.

The redbud trees bloomed earlier, and had begun to fade, but the plums and crab-apples seemed to be half-way to peak. Dark purple and purple-red flowers appeared as if scattered by an enchanter along gnarled black twigs and branches. Out of nothing – flowers. “Let there be petals” and there were petals, to misquote Genesis. I can see why the Japanese and others have festivals around the blooming of the trees, because they seem to produce life from barrenness. There are fewer plums and crab-apples than pears in my neighborhood. An infestation of borers, and age, took their toll on the plums and crab-apples a few years ago, and the younger trees have not really gotten large and craggy yet. Far more white caught the eye than did red or purple.

The last freeze, in theory, will come around April eighteen. This means that the wisteria and forsythia are courting danger if they bloom early, and they have been caught before. Two years ago a very hard freeze and snow hammered the wisteria, and it seemed as if two of the neighborhood collection had succumbed. No, they straggled back, determined to prove that they can survive out here, if not thrive. The “tree wisterias” that I pass have a very few, somewhat tentative blooms, but lots of catkins that hint at a large bloom for Easter. I hope they make it. The forsythia is warming up, and tried to attack me with yellow-dotted withies as I passed. It needs a bit of a haircut, but later, after it blooms. It looks like a chest-high, brown pompom with a few yellow spots. By Friday it should be in full bloom. Perhaps.

The hawthorn tree, however, was having none of it. It knows better. The hawthorn has a few buds, but stands in thorny determination to remain bare until all danger has passed. It got hit hard in 2011, when we had an April cold snap that dropped temperatures to 24 with screaming north winds and a dewpoint of -5. The roses turned into rose-jerky, they dried out so badly. The hawthorn lost all of its leaves. Never again. It does not bud out anymore until very, very late in April or even early May.

The tulips and daffodils were at peak as I strolled. Some Daffodils in especially warm and sunny places had already started to fade, after an early start. There are traditional King Alfred daffodils, but also a number of odds-and-ruffles. Small or tall, white or orange or yellow, they announce the arrival of spring, even if gardeners have to hurry out and brush the snow off of them.

The air smelled soft, no dusty but not crisp or moist, either. No unusual scents teased my nose. No one was doing laundry, or grilling, or running the smoker. That will be next week, with Easter, and for some, a three or four day weekend. No, it was just a lovely evening full of playing kids, dogs being walked, and people just jogging or strolling.

“…By clear shining after rain.”

A re-run. I’m in the throes (throws?) of concert prep and writing.

An unexpected shower bustled through Wednesday morning, leaving fresh-washed air and a beautiful sunrise, sweet with the perfume of local grasses. It reminded me of one of my favorite Randall Thompson compositions, which quotes King David (Samuel 23:1) talking about a just ruler and the blessings that brings to the people and the land.

Continue reading

Knowing My Turf

No, not the type of greenth gracing the lawn (Southwest Fescue Blend, if you were wondering). I’m talking about the part of a town, usually near my current abode, that I know inside and out, alley and intersection and street, park and pet.

I was thinking about this the other evening as I strolled along, making note of changes in the area and grumbling about yet another road-construction announcement on the evening news. I was walking along one the main streets prior to cutting back into a residential area. The reason for the detour was, you guessed it, road work, including torn up sidewalks. The other side of the main street is also residential, and has very nice houses, with kempt yards and nice people. Why not walk there? It’s not my turf. I’ve been over there once or twice. No one ever bothered me, and other people were out strolling. But it’s not my territory. Which is silly.

I know my area, and it knows me. I think the latter is almost as important in some ways as the former. I am a known entity (or known evil). The streets are familiar, changes catch my eye, and people nod or wave, even if we don’t speak. I feel comfortable going up to a front door to ask about a sprinkler running too long (the gent had forgotten it was on, and thanked me profusely), or a smoking hole in a lawn (something had shorted out. The home owner took care of the problem ASAP.) The people in the houses have seen me before, just not on their doorstep, and I’m probably going to be listened to.

There is absolutely nothing preventing me from roaming to the “near abroad.” I just have more than sufficient space on my own “turf” to get my exercise in. There’s also some security in knowing what is normal, what is normally abnormal (“oh dear. Mr. Doe’s driving again. Better cut through the alley to be safe.”) and what needs to be watched. Surprises still happen, like the pack of dogs that was killing smaller dogs and chasing people up trees and fences. That got ended abruptly, and no one knows anything or saw anything. I’m more comfortable in my home territory, wherever that is. I tend to establish one wherever I go, and learn it inside and out. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Folk Tales and Long Tails: When Legends Linger

” . . . and have them watch these two videos from the Tales of Washington Irving. They tie in with Transcendentalism.” Eh, actually I think Mrs P. was trying to show the students just how lucky they are to have escaped the Age of Bad Animation. The Disney musical version of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow was state-of-the-art CG compared to these. The Rankin and Bass Lord of the Rings was ground-breaking art compared to these. Yes, they were that bad. But the stories still work, and provided me with a little mental meandering fodder. Far more than the rest of the The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Esq., “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” tap much older folk-tale traditions. If you read the original, Irving mentions that people thought that thunder without obvious storm clouds might be the ghosts of Henrik Hudson, the Dutch explorer, and his crew playing bowls (nine-pins) up in the Catskill Mountains. But the tales of malign ghosts and sleepers go a very long way back in the past. Continue reading

Spring/Winter Skies

Texas, and the attached parts of North America, had a little weather last week. I believe this is called “spring.” It started with temperatures in the 80s F on Sunday, then colder weather on Monday, a thunderstorm on one side of town that became snow. The other side of town got drenched with training thunderstorms for a few hours, then snow. Come Tuesday morning, six inches of very heavy, wet snow covered everything. The temperature was 33F. Work started late, and the roads were mildly interesting because of the slush under the snow.

The heavy overcast had begun breaking up even before dawn, revealing glimpses of dark, almost glowing blue through the rents and tears in the grey-brown clouds. The sun shone down by afternoon, causing grumbling among those who didn’t bring dark glasses. Wednesday? Howling north winds, colder, and signs and buildings fall over in the 50-60 MPH winds.

Come Thursday, everyone was ready for a break. The skies . . . For a few hours, a field of spotty snow-virga and rain-virga, as well as real snow and rain showers, swept down from the north. Calm air predominated, then a gust of wind from the collapsing showers would rush past, chased by bits of rain and snow. The clouds bubbled on top, with grey, flat bottoms trailing blue-grey sweeps of moisture across the land. They drifted over the snow-draped land, white below, grey between, and white and crisp turquoise above. A few very high ice-clouds feathered over from west to east. In the gaps between the showers, you could see forever, or at least to the edge of the higher ground.

A few birds had ventured out, including a sharp-shinned hawk that dove and rose on the wind whirls, hunting for mice and foolish young rabbits in the pastures and lake-fringe. A meadowlark reminded everyone who owned the land, while a killdeer darted across the road. The doves stayed low, trying to be invisible as an even larger raptor cruised overhead.

Veils and sweeps of light and shadow, sun and rain/snow, passed across the plains. To say that they looked a bit like opaque jellyfish doesn’t do the beauty justice. I’ve never seen anything quite like that here. Bigger storms, yes, and virga yes, but not like that, tiny snow and rain showers quietly sailing down the land.

Creative Commons Fair Use. Original source: https://www.thoughtco.com/virga-precipitation-and-dry-thunderstorms-3444323

Hard Times and Good People

A newsletter I get is based out of north Texas, not far from Weatherford. They were on the fringe of the big fires this past week, and missed the tornadoes (but not by much). The owner sent out an early update to let folks know that he and his were OK, and to provide access to a FaceBook page set up to coordinate help for the region.

It was heartening to see the responses. Lost pets and where located. Someone with a livestock trailer who would relocate horses and cattle from the affected area to some places that are taking in stock for now. Offers to help gas-up the truck pulling said livestock trailer if needed. Where to find supplies for emergency fence repairs. How to contact volunteer fire departments and what they need, if anything (water, granola bars, eye-drops, stuff like that). Someone with a big hay donation looking for transport to get it down to Texas. Two places with tee-shirts for sale, all proceeds going to particular Volunteer Fire Departments. Where to make donations in memory of a deputy who was killed. Where to report people welding badly (as in, in the grass, no spotter, no water for fire prevention, not on their own property!). Calls for volunteers and offers of volunteers. A church opening up bunks, showers, and two cabins for people who need them. A local bar having a benefit BBQ and concert. Pet food and supplies free to people who are caring for temporarily-lost pets.

In other words, local and regional people helping each other and not waiting for outside help. It’s the local churches and businesses, not FEMA or the state, taking care of immediate needs. Because that’s still what you do, at least in this part of the world. I suspect a lot of people know people who know those hit by the fires or tornadoes, so it’s a large-small community. And there’s a strong sense of “there but for the Grace and a mile go I.” We help, because we’ve been helped, or might need help. And it’s the right thing to do, if you are on the scene and have the needed expertise or resources.

Now, a week or so later, the next “ring” of people have gotten moving. Baptist groups and others have collected lumber, tools, and expertise, and are moving toward the area to help rebuild, repair, and restore. I suspect the Mennonite Disaster Relief also has teams getting ready to come in from Kansas, the Dakotas, and elsewhere. Just like will happen, is happening, in Louisiana. No one’s waiting for “someone in authority” to give instructions or approve projects. They are on the move, ready and willing to do what’s needed to help folks having a rough patch.

Because that’s what people of good will do.

I had to laugh . . .

So there, I was, driving Down State to visit friends last week. I could see the smoke of a grass or range fire a long time before I got close. I also had a CD in the stereo(Ghostlights by Avantasia).

Just as I got into the smoke, close enough to smell that it was mostly grass with a little brush, the chorus of “Babylon Vampyres” began.

Babylon is burning, shining from afar
Babylon is burning
From sunset to sunrise
Babylon is burning
and you‘re glowing like a fiery star
And no one can tell if we’ve been for real
Yeah

(Tobias Sammet “Babylon Vampyres”)

I laughed. The timing was just too perfect. Yes, the Universe has quite a sense of humor!

Little Square Churches

You find them all over the Panhandle, and elsewhere. Generally small, brick or wood, and often square or rectangular, only the stained glass windows and/or cross in front tells passers-by that they are not old schools or businesses. Around here they are usually Methodist, Baptist, or Church of Christ (if Protestant.) The Catholic Churches generally have a steeple. There are traditional “church-shaped” churches around, but also a number of little square churches, all standing firmly in small towns, holding down the corner of a town lot and defying fashion, time, and weather.

The Methodist Church in Claude, Texas is a solid example of the type.

First Methodist, Claude, TX. Creative Commons Fair Use: https://res.cloudinary.com/faithstreet-production/image/upload/c_fill,h_286,w_286/v1533670557/vck7bciyfyzsufkomykz.jpg

As soon as you had a few families, and a traveling minister, a church was built. Sometimes denominations shared, sometimes you had a (brief) monopoly. Below is the Methodist Church in Channing, TX, north of the Canadian Breaks.

Stucco over brick, and sturdy. http://www.texasescapes.com/Churches/Images/ChanningTXUnitedMethodistChurch308TJnsn5.jpg

Perryton, Texas just had to be a bit different, and went neoGothic.

From the northeastern corner of the Panhandle. https://live.staticflickr.com/1004/928639389_5a5d6e775a_b.jpg

Although the Methodists were one of the first Protestant denominations in the area, The Church of Christ was not far behind, and in some cases arrived first. Here’s the Church of Christ in Panhandle, TX.

Photo by Tyler Brassfield. Creative Commons Fair Use, from: https://is5-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/Purple123/v4/d6/8c/4f/d68c4f13-6e9a-32fe-74c9-66860c354a25/source/512x512bb.jpg

And in some cases, the Baptists were first on the scene for the Protestant side. Catholic priests and missionaries had been active in the area since the early 1600s, with mixed success until after 1873. The area is still considered a mission area, but the Catholic Church is solid and trying to expand, like the others.

St. Ann’s in Canyon Texas. Another solid church. https://bgrarchitects.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/StAnns1_web.jpg

If you get the sense that churches in this part of the world are built to withstand a lot, you’re right. But the building is just part of the story. Some buildings are newer (like St. Ann’s), some have been around since the beginning, almost (First Baptist’s old building in Amarillo, the Methodist Church in Channing, Jenkins Chapel in Amarillo) but all have endured drought, flood, depression, war, the 1960s and 70s, and changes in ecclesiastic fashion. They’re still here, as are their parishioners. Some churches are fading, others are growing, but the little solid churches remain important to the community. They are a living link to the past, to the saints who have gone before, to harder times and better times.

There are a few places where only the church remains of a once living town. Ranchers and farmers around the church keep it repaired and “alive,” using it for special services, weddings, funerals, and gatherings.

Little square churches. Solid and serene, they weather the storms inside and outside, providing a reminder that “upon this rock” a church was built, one that will outlast scandal and success. Good times, hard times, little square churches are there, ready, waiting.