Winds of Change, Part I – That Prescient Name

Detail from a painting of the lost city of Indianola, Texas ~ Shannon Salyer
Courtesy Calhoun County Museum (Click image to view the complete painting)

Today, the privilege of naming a community seems reserved for real estate developers. The names they choose for subdivisions, gated communities, or urban high-rise housing — Candlewick, Pickwick Village, The Towers — function primarily as marketing tools. While the names may reflect an area’s history, or a neighborhood’s geographic location, often they do not.

In times past, residents named their own nascent communities. If contention over the choice arose among the citizenry,  or if conflict developed between a town and the Postal Service, the history of the naming process could become as interesting as the history of the town itself.

Some places changed their name so often even residents could forget where they lived. In New Hampshire, the Plantation of Penney Cook became Penney Cook; then Pennacook; then Rumford; then Concord. In Arizona, Swilling’s Mill became Hellinwig Mill; then Mill City; then East Phoenix. Finally, the name we know today — Phoenix — became permanent.

Some names were obvious choices. Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Jackson rose to prominence as Americans honored men who contributed to the nation’s founding. On the other hand, Oxford, Paris, New London, and Winchester became almost as popular. It’s easy to imagine a little nostalgia in the naming process: perhaps even a longing to be as well-regarded as more historic cities. (more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2015 at 7:56 pm  Comments (80)  
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Ports of Entry

Old Espiritu Santo Bay ~ Indianola, Texas
Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
“Till then,” we say,
Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear,
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste.
Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
Each rope distinct,
Flagged, and the figurehead with golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors; it’s
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last
We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:
Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.
                      ― Philip Larkin,  “Next, Please” 


The Poetry Foundation provides more information on the poet Philip Larkin.   A new article about him and a review of a new biography are available here.  Comments are welcome, always.
Published in: on January 3, 2015 at 8:13 am  Comments (91)  
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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 (99)  
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Schooled by Summer

Never mind the calendar. On the Texas coast, summer shimmers into being when she will, and when she arrives, the signs are everywhere.

Store shelves begin to be emptied of Gatorade and bottled water. Bandanas and straw hats appear. Yard workers stop more often to wipe their faces, and even the Ladies Who Lunch begin to sweat. They don’t “perspire” or “glow,” as proper Southern ladies should. They sweat right along with the yard crews, and they do it at nine in the morning. 

Soon, it becomes too hot to walk barefooted on a boat deck or dock. The sharp, metallic trill of cicadas replaces birdsong, and rueful humans can’t resist asking one another,”Hot enough for you?” It’s summer for sure, no matter what the calendar says.  (more…)

A Ghost of Texas Past

The site of James Briton Bailey’s land grant, known today as Bailey’s Prairie. (Click for larger image)

Twelve years after “Brit” Bailey succumbed to cholera on the hot, humid coastal plain of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, events had taken a turn. Texas had become a Republic, and word of the opportunities to be had there was spreading, particularly among the Germans.

In November 1845, German scientist Ferdinand von Roemer debarked in Galveston. Sent to Texas by the Berlin Academy of Sciences, he had been charged with the task of evaluating mineral assets on the Fisher-Miller land grant west of San Antonio. In the process of meeting his obligation, Roemer not only established himself as the father of Texas geology, through his association with John Meusebach he became an important player in the opening of the Fisher-Miller grant to settlement.
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