The Warmth of the Frio

The Rio Frio came by its name honestly. Spring-fed, shallow and clear, it’s a cold river: perhaps the coldest in Texas.  It can slow to a trickle in summer heat, and, when in flood, puts roadways underwater in a flash.  But if the Frio is flowing well, singing steadily over the rocks, its coursing is pure pleasure.

Other Texas rivers — particularly the Guadalupe, the Comal, and the San Marcos — are famed as venues for kayaking and tubing, but they flow through urban centers. When the season ends and river rats dry off for a final time, there still are dance halls and concerts, festivals, antique shops, and galleries to entertain the crowds.

Along the Frio, things are different.  As the weather turns and school begins, provisioning companies shutter their doors until spring.  Families continue to gather at Garner State Park for weekends of camping and fishing, and birders flock into the valley to track the autumn migration. Hunters fan out into ranchlands in pursuit of whitetail, while autumn bikers test themselves against the famous hairpin turns and steep grades of the “Twisted Sisters.”  Still, the pace of life begins to slow. As it does, the Frio and her people show a different face to the world: a face filled with unexpected beauty and warmth.
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Published in: on December 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm  Comments (97)  
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Life in the Land of Reasonable and Proper

U.S. Highway 34 in South Central Iowa – Curbs, But Little Enthusiasm

When our Kansas City kin traveled north for a visit, at least half of their trip involved Iowa roads. Inevitably, the experience tempted my sanguine uncle toward grumpiness. We knew what to expect within an hour of his arrival, and the question rarely varied. “So,” he’d say. “You think there’s a chance they might decide to give you something besides those concrete cow paths you call roads?”

Driving south from Minnesota, crossing the border into Iowa to do some clothes shopping or purchase the margarine that was illegal in their state, a friend’s father always asked a similar question. “Whatsa matter with these Iowa farmers? Can’t they build a road?” (more…)

Published in: on November 16, 2014 at 3:53 pm  Comments (69)  
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Then, They Came for Steinbeck

Pulling the slim, canary-yellow volume from my parents’ bookshelves, I admired the bold, blue printing along the spine and across the cover. Running my fingers over the cover’s roughly-textured cloth was such pleasure I put off opening the book, but in time I did open it, and began to read.

It wasn’t an especially hard book for a fourth-grader, at least in terms of vocabulary, but there were words I’d never encountered. “Flophouse” was one. It made me giggle, imagining as I did a house filled with children,  jumping and flopping on beds.

I found the word again, then twice more: “flophouse.” Curious, I closed the book and went running downstairs to the bridge party taking place in our living room.

Sidling up behind my father’s chair, I waited. Eventually, he sensed my presence and said, “Need something, sweetie?” I needed a definition. “What’s a flophouse, Daddy?” I don’t remember if he paused, but he never looked up from his cards when he asked, “What are you reading now?”
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Where the Show Still Goes On

In retrospect, it seems fitting that Barnum and Bailey circus rider Josephine DeMott Robinson presided over the naming of the baby giraffe.

Working in tandem with acrobat Zella Florence, Josie already had encouraged an assortment of female animal trainers, wire walkers, hand balancers, dancers, and strong women (including Katie Sandwina, the “female Hercules”) to hold a suffrage rally at Madison Square Garden. Barnum & Bailey’s presentation of an elaborate, Cleopatra-themed show during its 1912 season seemed a perfect opportunity to introduce the world to its first circus suffrage society, not to mention the giraffe, soon to be named “Miss Suffrage.” (more…)

Feeding Bodies, Sustaining Souls

Many years younger, fairly well-traveled but still impressionable, I arrived in Berkeley during the 1970s: a relatively peaceful decade sandwiched between the tumultuous events of the University of California’s Free Speech Movement and the slightly less shattering Livermore earthquake.

Despite the unfortunate closures of the original Fillmore and Fillmore West prior to my arrival, there were consolations to be had. Afternoons, I lingered at Caffé Espresso, breathing in the scents of eucalyptus and French roast. Weekend trips across the Bay allowed for exploration of San Francisco’s tourist sites (Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown) as well as increasingly confident forays into neighborhoods filled with fabulous architecture, tiny galleries, and expansive views.

Atop the Berkeley hills, views were as varied and compelling as anything available across the Bay. To the east lay Mt. Diablo, wheat straw dry or dusted with sunlit snow. To the west, San Francisco’s skyline shimmered by day and sparkled by night. In season, tendrils of fog twined their way around and through the Golden Gate, wrapping the Bridge in silence and the easy breath of dreams.
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