Tag Archives: Texas

It’s the Last Day of Summer, Sort Of

Autumn is almost here. It’s so close I can smell the cold air already. Well, maybe it’s not exactly that close. The first official day of fall is tomorrow, September 22, but Central Texans will continue to get 90 degree weather through the end of October because that’s just Texas. So this has me thinking that the September Equinox is more about the cardinal directions than woolly scarves, Jack O’Lanterns, or Thanksgiving. Tomorrow will be one of just two days out of the entire year when the sun will be directly above one point on the equator, meaning that at 5:18 p.m. eastern daylight time we will be able to identify the true east and west cardinal directions using the sun.

I don’t know about you, but knowing that makes me feel all eerkie inside, like maybe I should go make my own modern Mayan calendar or Stonehenge replica using the perfect cardinal directions that the sun will so kindly identify for me.

I guess the good thing is that the equinoxes happen twice a year and every year. So if I don’t get to building that calendar or prehistoric monument in 2009, I know there is always next year.

But in honor of the summer of records – i.e. record-high heat, record-low rain, and record-high unemployment – I encourage all of us to take the time to reflect on our own summer 2009. What made it great? And if it wasn’t so great, what can you do to make summer 2010 even better?

I’m just trying to figure out what I can do to keep from melting away next year because, for some reason, record heat doesn’t seem so hard to break anymore.


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Poetic or Poesque: The Harry Ransom Center Brings All Things Poe

We long for ways to relate to one another. More specifically, children to teenagers to adults. Separated by generations, it’s hard to localize the things that we have in common. Take  Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Gen Y read it in grade school and they can share the experience and understanding with their parents and grandparents; but sometimes we have to look back even further to find that tissue that connects us even more.

Edgar Allan Poe is the prime example because he is probably one of the most well known literary figures. We read haunting tales like “The Raven” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and we were disturbed by his unusual marriage to his 13-year-old cousin. We know he was crazy, an alcoholic, extremely difficult to love and work with, and that his young death remains a mystery. But even in 2009, the bicentennial of his birth, Poe’s poems and short stories continue to serve as a staple of grade school curriculum, as they should be. His legacy goes on as the creator of detective fiction, a fearless literary critic, and a major influence on 19th-century writers.

The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin is a remarkable research library and humanities museum with more than 36 million manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photos, and 100,000 works of art. This fall, the HRC presents From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe, a comprehensive exhibition that commemorates Poe’s birth with manuscripts, artifacts, portraits, and illustrations that give an overview of his life, lovers, literary career, and influence.

Poe Exhibition Poster

Poe Exhibition Poster

I attended a curator tour over the weekend, and take my advice: this is the only way to truly experience an exhibition at the HRC. It is full of artifacts from five institutions around the country and includes Poe’s desk, first editions of his books, and original manuscripts of “The Raven” from the HRC collection.

First Edition of Poe's First Book of Poetry - Tamerlane

First Edition of Poe's First Book of Poetry - Tamerlane

The most astonishing  pieces were the handwritten letters and manuscripts. Simple as they seem, intact yellow-tinted sheets of paper full of words and exquisite cursive, these pages reveal the absolute innermost mind of Poe in his own hand. In a letter to a friend about the death of his cousin and wife, Virginia, Poe describes himself as we already know him: crazy, isolated, and obsessed. He writes about how his wife continued to fall ill time and time again due to tuberculosis, how he “became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity,” and that he found “the cure to [his] misery in the death of [his] wife.”

Letter from Poe - Page 1

A disturbing letter from Poe describing the death of his wife. Page 1 of 2.

In addition, the exhibition includes wonderful illustrations detailing the major themes in Poe’s tales: grief as imagined in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” claustrophobia as in “The Premature Burial,” hallucination as in “The Masque of the Red Death,” and haunted spaces as in “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

At the end of my tour, I left feeling completely engaged in Poe’s work and influence, but I think I will always be enamored with the way he lived. No one will ever know what he was really like and how his self-destructive, needy, irresponsible, annoying, and brilliant personality were somehow the basis for his remarkable work and permanence in literature.

The exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center is open until January 3, 2010, and admission, tours, and attendance to special events are free.

The HRC has also digitized their entire Poe archive so scholars and researchers can access the complete collection online at no cost.

Harry Ransom Center
21st and Guadalupe Streets
Austin, Texas 78712
(512) 471-8944

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We’re Always Happy When It Rains

It’s true. Texas has some of the most unpredictable weather known to mankind. Actually, the weatherman can predict the random cold fronts, the sudden spurts of ice and freezing rain, oh, and the hail in the spring/almost summertime. But where is this stuff coming from? It’s completely bizarre how we will be enduring months of 95+ degree days and then bam! Three solid days of rain and flash flood warnings. Maybe it’s like this in all major cities, where the unpredictable happens and then the entire population can’t seem to get over how their town has craaaazy weather patterns.

Whatever the real story is, no one can deny that for last 10 months, Texas has been under the worst drought in 50 years. Record-high heat and record-low rainfall have caused losses of more than $3.5 billion in crops and livestock and some hardcore water restrictions all over the state. Last month, the City of Austin entered Stage 2 water restrictions with a list of serious no-no’s.

Just to summarize:
1. You can water your lawn once per week, but you can water by hand or bucket anytime
2. You can wash your car on certain days and at certain times with a hand-held bucket or a shut-off nozzle on a hose
3. You may not conduct or participate in a charity car wash
4. You cannot add water to your fancy indoor or outdoor fountains
5. No automatic fill valves are allowed for pools or ponds
6. A restaurant may not serve water to a customer unless requested by the customer

Whoa. At least we still have the option to order water. But the whole thing is just sad – burnt ears of corn, dying daisies, keeled over cattle, and the fact that the USDA designated 70 Texas counties as primary natural disaster areas due to severe drought.

That’s why weekends like this, when the forecast predicts an 100 percent chance of rain and flash flood warnings, people are joyous and up in arms that it may actually rain enough for things to grow around here.

I’m not much for growing things. I’ve killed plenty of house and office plants, even an Eggling or two. But I can see how the rain transforms the sodden Earth and the things that grow naturally in our background. The ground isn’t just brown dirt anymore. The rain has made cute, little blades of grass and even a few mushroom caps start to sprout from the belly of our yard. And every time the rain stops, the sky looks and the air feels just slightly sweeter.

Green grass grows.

Green grass grows.

Flower attacked by rain.

Flower attacked by rain.

Poodles are supposed to like the rain. Not this one.

Poodles are supposed to like the rain. Not this one.

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Filed under Austin, Poodles, Uncategorized