Paradise = Security + Freedom

Distant Summer Storm - Before the Drought
I sit here on my deck, January 30, 2011 at noon.  It's 70 degrees and sunny.  Birds are chirping and my neighbor's peacocks are bellowing and a light breeze blows through my handmade prayer flags hanging from the metal lattice of the deck wall.  I can tell that another Texas drought has begun (or actually, continues) because the lake is bordered by, from my vantage point, what looks like white sandy beaches.  I know if I were at the water's edge that the white sands would reveal themselves to be huge limestone outcroppings uncovered as the water evaporated in the Texas sun.

Sandra the cat lounges on the deck rail, her two front legs sprawled on either side, almost as if she's hugging it.  Her crazy green eyes droop in an ongoing cat nap and I wonder if she will snooze a bit too deeply and fall off the rail and down the slope below the deck.  I should check out the video feature of my phone just in case I could capture that fun and send it in to "Funniest Home Videos" and have a chance of becoming $10,000 richer.

To my left, 20 yards or so away, is my old white wooden picnic table shaded under a canopy of live oaks and engulfed, if it was a Spring day, in a meadow of wildflowers.  When in bloom, there are thousands of Indian Blankets, Indian Paintbrush, Mexican Hats, Primrose, and Bluebonnets.  The 9th grade wildflower project was tackled successfully on this acreage and the required 30 distinct blossoms were identified and mounted and submitted for grading.  Anna's teacher was skeptical that she was able to gather her lot strictly from her own "backyard" so to speak and she had to describe her home and its surroundings in order for him to understand that she did indeed select and harvest each and every one from our little four acre homestead.

My fire pit with its natural stone border and wrought iron grate is surrounded by tall dry grass.  The burn ban that has existed off and on over the past two years due to the drought, has left it lonely and untouched for long periods of time.  My Christmas tree from this year lounges near the pit awaiting a spectacular blaze on a drizzly cool night before the arrival of the dry summer heat.

The pit has provided many, many days and nights of loud and silly entertainment.  It has been used both to dispose of excess cedar and cords of wood have been purchased to feed my pyromaniacal tendencies.  New Year's Eve and the 4th of July memories, with the pit as a backdrop to my heavy artillery fireworks displays, will never be forgotten and will always be cherished.

A giggle escapes me now as I think about Jerry setting up a large artillery shell down on the first lower level  of the property below the pit, lighting it, then making a run for it up the rocky steps to watch the spectacle overhead.  Kathleen and I have enjoyed hours of fun throwing black cats one by one into the pit. It's always a surprise when they pop, because it's unpredictable when it will happen, depending on where the black cat lands in relation to the fire.  I will never forget the year that she and I sat on the deck watching Jerry and his artillery antics while Kathleen tossed M1000's over her shoulder off the edge of the deck...until one was tossed into a particularly dry heap of brush and sent me running for a bucket of water from the tank to drench the flames.  Yes...Good times!!!

Daniel's 13th Birthday -- Airsoft Party...Nice huh?

Daniel and his buddies have, at times, enjoyed this place in ways I never could have predicted. Around the 4th of July, Daniel and his best friend Paul have been know to strap tiny plastic army men to bottle rockets and launch them into outerspace.  They would do this one at a time, then go out on "recon" to locate the fallen soldier.  Daniel has had many "airsoft" parties here.  He invited usually around five guys over with their arsenals and they run around the land in teams playing games like "Normandy" with hideouts and forts and very specific rules of engagement.  This activity was all very cute and fun when they were elementary schoolers into early middle school, but the last time they did this (which was very recently) all I could see were a bunch of what appeared to be grown men in camo and goggles shooting at each other with automatic weapons!  I wondered if my neighbors would call the authorities and whether the Travis County Sheriff's SWAT team will come barreling down my easement road!

We moved onto this land about six or eight months following the F4 tornado that leveled parts of Jerrell, Texas and spawned another F4 that cut a wide swath from the edge of the lake, up the Bee Creek valley and across Highway 71 along the Pedernales River and beyond.  The kids and I, all of our pets and a few of the neighbors' dogs, spent several hours in our closet at the house we were renting at the time in Briarcliff.  While the tornado skirted us completely, it left us without phone service for several weeks as the tornado smashed through a limestone substation a half mile behind our house.

My land sits high on a hill overlooking the lake and with a very stark view, when first acquired, of the path the tornado took across the hill country.  Since I bought a manufactured home, anchored in bedrock or not, it is still vulnerable to winds unlike a stick built home. After a few weather related scares early on, I simply insisted on adding a storm shelter for peace of mind.  The only survivors of the Jerrell tornado were those in reinforced underground shelters.  It being the first day of summer vacation, many of the Jerrell victims were kids.

After a minor amount of reserach I settled on purchasing my "bunker" from a guy in Jerrell whose daughter weathered the storm alone in a shelter he had just recently built and installed.  Soon thereafter he founded "Jerrell Storm Shelters"  I call it my glorified septic tank, because that is really what it is, an eight inch thick, solid walled concrete box with a sloping front wall, creaky steel hatch, steel staircase into the chasm and turbine venting for air circulation.  In the heat of the summer with storms threatening, I ready the shelter by getting rid of any creepy crawlies lurking down there, bring down some folding lawn chairs, flashlights and pet crates, run a long extension cord from the well house and down into the vent so I can plug in a fan and my little 8 in 1 weather radio/light/tv thingy (yea, I know, I shouldn't rely on power staying on during a tornado, but this is kind of a gage of the where we are in the weather system).Generally, the steel door remains open while we monitor the sky.

Anna hates the storm shelter.  Not too many years ago, she was at home alone while some very tornadic weather rolled in late one afternoon.  The only thing I could tell her to do was to go into the shelter when she really felt in danger.  Unfortunately, I think she feels more in danger in the creepy darkness of the storm shelter than the in the deep dark green of a severe weather event.  That particular storm bypassed the house to the east and I was blessed with an incredible double rainbow as I scurried to the rescue of my daughter.  When I walked through the front door, she says, "Well that was annoying!!"

This land has provided me with some peace and tranquility and beauty for the last several years. I have always thought that, in the end, its purpose would be to provide me with some security as well.  Security along with freedom have come to mean so much to me at this point in my life.  I keep telling myself that it is time to sell this place and move forward and yet my actions are not advancing me in the direction.  Perhaps I will embrace this land just a bit longer and see where it leads me.

"Put your ear down next to your soul and listen hard" (Anne Sexton, poet).


  1. That was beautiful! Your stories and your photos!

  2. Very enchanting and beautiful, Nancy. Your words come to life and paint vivid pictures!