Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blessed Rain, And Landmarks on Road Home

I sat in my office this morning and gazed out the window at a rare sight. Rain came down in gentle sheets. The live oak trees across the avenue seemed to be smiling. So was I. For the first time in the six months working on campus, I had to use my oversized comic-strip umbrella to walk from the parking garage to the office. Hours earlier, in the pre-dawn darkness I happily got soaked on my morning walk.

Perhaps the drought is over. We can only hope and pray that the experts predicting a second year of cracked earth and barren pastures are wrong. For now, gray skies and a soaking rain are a treasure — after nearly a year of incessant blue and the most brutal summer in memory. In Austin, the temperature topped 100 degrees one out of every four days in 2011. Now that’s just absurd.

It is startling ¬— and heartening — to see how quickly things begin to green up — as we say in East Texas — once a bit of rain arrives. The small city park down the street from my house looked like a dust bowl when I moved into the neighborhood in mid-October. Brown patches of grass and expanses of dirt lay below the live oak trees clearly in distress. Now, though winter is knocking on the door, grass is sprouting all over the park. One has hope, at least temporarily.

I was walking to work in the rain and heard one student complain to another about the inconvenience, that her feet were soaked. “Hush, child,” I was tempted to say. “Don’t you know what a precious gift rain is these days?”

Driving back to East Texas, as I do most Friday evenings, I look for the landmarks that mark my four-and-a-half hour journey, up to Waco on 1-35 where I cut across on state Hwy. 31, bordered by pastures, and furrowed blacklands awaiting the spring crop. If it is still daylight, there will be two horses tethered to a fence post on the north highway shoulder, somewhere near Kerens. The owner has taken advantage of the state’s grass for at least a couple years, since I have been regularly making this trek. Apparently, alarmed motorists have called the sheriff’s office, thinking the horses have gotten loose because recently a crudely painted plywood sign appeared at the gate stating, “Horses are tied up!” Good to know.

I always look for the four toilets filled with faded plastic flowers at the driveway entrance of a ranchette outside Hubbard; that marks the halfway point back to Longview from Austin. The pond in the front yard of the ranchette has nearly disappeared in the drought, but the toilets have held up well. I have been tempted to stop and inquire about the provenance of this commodious yard art.

A few miles west of Corsicana on the south side of the highway lies a small white-frame house with a detached garage and a chain-link fence. “DIVORCE,” reads the sign planted at the driveway’s edge, along with a phone number, and the attorney’s name nailed on a board beside the front door. I wonder if he gets much drive-by business, an unhappy spouse whizzing by, seeing the sign and whipping into the driveway ready at last to split the blanket. Probably not.

On the loop in Athens, two old Metropolitans cars are parked in a pasture occasionally populated with cows or round bales of hay. They have been there, advertised for sale by a sign on the fence, for at least a couple of years. I keep threatening to take a photo of them when the light is right. The combination of pasture, cows, cars and aesthetically accommodating sky might make an interesting photo. So far, I haven’t found the perfect light. I hope I capture that scene before the cars are sold.

By the time I get off that loop and turn left to return to Hwy. 31, I’m just over an hour away. It’s tricky driving from here to the other side of Tyler, speeding up and slowing down as I pass through the small towns of Murchison, Brownsboro and Chandler — watching out for the local law invariably lurking about, trying to nab someone who forgot the speed limit just dropped from 70 mph to the double-nickel.

I will make that trip again after work Friday, music playing, my mind meandering, heading back to the family I love. I hope it is still raining.

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