Possibility

I find that one of the greatest things about life in this country is sheer number of possibilities to live deliberately, as Emerson put it. Brittany and I just bought our first house together, and now that the dust is finally starting to settle and our things are almost all out of their boxes and occupying their place, it’s been fun to look around me and imagine what the years will bring. I see our living room and kitchen and think of wreaths, straw, green, and every other color that will celebrate each season, and of all the smells from the thousands of meals I’ll cook for our table and the parties we’ll have. I stand in my backyard, now mostly empty, and imagine running kids, flourishing gardens, and planted trees, slowly setting in deep roots, just like us.
This is, after all, a great place to set down those roots and grow. Austin, Texas is filled with creative, thoughtful people and fun, unusual adventures. We’ve been here less than three years and made several different kinds of friends, enjoyed whiskey with one of the great Texas BBQ cooks, walked among the old live oaks in the hill country, fried Thanksgiving turkey with Cajun cooks driven by Katrina to the far eastern end of our city, steeped in culture of all kinds at my all-time favorite independent book shop, had access to my favorite live music—been around people who care about what they do. Artisans, thinkers, and friends that want to do things correctly for the sake of doing them that way surround us here. But…
On Thanksgiving weekend, Brittany’s family came to help us with our new place, and it reminded me of several things that always seep into my mind when we go to spend holidays with them in Kansas. Family, in the real sense of the word, is tough to find, man. I enjoy being with them in the far Wichita suburbs, or out on the farm. The way everybody helps each other out, no questions asked, and all of the practical skills they have from which we can learn: there are so many things I don’t know how to do, and really should know how to do. Of course, one of those is knowing when I need a smile, a kick in the ass, or when to help somebody else who needs it. We get into a groove with Brittany’s family. We sit in the garage and bullshit around, we help out with the chores, and everybody laughs, yells, and looks out for each other. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and grandma are all in and out of the house, contributing either consciously or unconsciously, and everybody knows how to work hard, when to say something, and when to keep their damn mouth shut. I look around and think: how awesome would it be for my kids to experience this? How awesome would it be for ME to experience it? Not many people in this country truly get to do so in these times. But…
Last month, Brittany and I took a trip to Ithaca, New York at the height of the fall season. It was glorious. Everything I miss about life in upstate NY was on full display: autumn with all of its crisp air, bursts of color, and hushed spaces under huge trees. I hadn’t been able to enjoy it in years, or the genius of Cornell’s campus. Now that I’ve been to many different universities, I’ve really come to appreciate the way the arts quadrangle in particular is laid out. It sprawls, but still seems to contain plenty of singular spots made for people to sit, look around at all of that gorgeous landscape, and think. We loved walking through the Newman Arboretum, and all of the stands of the many trees that flourish in the northeast. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the trees: Scots Pine, Shadblow Serviceberry, Hickory Pine, White Birch, various oaks, maples, and nut trees. It was a shock of variety. I have come to love the tough, scrubby oaks of my (now) native Texas, with their hard greens, flinty grays, and dusty browns, but I have never been so aware of how many different, absolutely beautiful trees there are in the world as I was when we walked around the woods on those quiet mornings. I remembered the muffled whitewash of the gorges in snowfall during winter with their frozen waterfalls, and the riot of bright greens in springtime. We walked around the Dewitt building with its little art galleries, music and bookstores, and quirky, delicious places to eat. We went through the farmers market and took in all of the local folks who showed off the work of their farms and hands with simple, unpretentious pride. Wouldn’t it be incredible, we thought, to walk around this town and all of its different settings, with all of its different people and events, and its gorgeously intense seasons, all the time? But…
There is the massive, dusty, surreal silence and beauty of the West Texas high desert, and the quiet brilliance and rustic craftwork of Marfa in particular, about which I’ve written several times already. To walk that whole section of the great state of Texas is to feel what the ancient Desert Fathers felt, who left the noise and decadence of society to commune and be at peace with what was truly important. Every time we arrive, it’s with a sigh of relief. When we leave, there is always regret.
And this is just America! If I had several lifetimes, I couldn’t come close to experiencing all of what life offers here. And I am talking about “life” in the deep sense. It’s one thing to visit, and scratch the surface for a few days, and glimpse this stuff for a brief moment. It’s another thing entirely to be around long enough to let the spiritual and physical dust settle on you: to change, little by little, with the wear of the daily routine and how it would be, what the mornings and evenings would bring in the air and the personality of your community.
How to settle in for a long count of those precious few years we have? But settling in is the fun part—the deep knowledge. Too many choices can distract us from ever getting to the real, wonderful bottom of things, after all. But in the end, to have these choices is a truly remarkable thing, and I count it as a blessing.

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