Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Texas Conflagration

West Texas is ablaze right now. Several parts of West Texas are, actually. It's been pretty heavy on my heart and foremost in my mind the last few days.

One massive fire this past weekend threatened my hometown, and might still be threatening it, frankly. It burned through a nearby town, where I currently have at least one friend living, and where a few friends from my youth lived. About 70 homes and structures were destroyed. I still need to get in touch with a friend of mine to check on her family's ranch. Actually, I should ask two of my friends about their families' ranches, now that I think of it. The town that burned was evacuated, and luckily, no one died, but it's still distressing. My town and another neighboring town were on alert. Sunday afternoon, a friend posted a photo of what the blaze looked like in the wee hours of the morning, from my town, facing the burning town. Scary as shit, to see the mountains silhoutted at night in a halo of orange. It looks like the forestry service has finally managed to get some of the blaze under control. But for about two days, the local NPR station was reporting on Facebook and Twitter that the fire was 0% contained. To make matters worse, the wind gusts were massive: 50 - 60 mph. That's pretty standard for a West Texas Spring - especially in the Panhandle; more on that later - but the worst part of it was not only was it spreading the fire like, well, wildfire, it was too gusty for emergency helicopters to swoop in and douse the flames with retardant.

The same friend that posted the photo of the fire at night, posted a video this morning, edited by a local photographer who captured images in the fire's wake. It's utterly sad. There are homes smoldering - one of which looks very similar to the house some good friends grew up in; I need to contact them - charred land, flames spreading in lines and independently, and in two brief consecutive shots, dead animals. Horses. One apparently dead from inhalation, the other charred. I read in an article on the Statesman (or was it MSNBC?) that a local official talked about seeing horses on fire. I'm sure many cattle were burned, too. I really feel for those animals and for their ranchers. Horses are just magnificent creatures anyway, but I remember how the rancher kids I went to school with loved their animals. Even if the cows and sheep were reared to be slaughtered, no one wants to see their livestock suffer. They're still cared for and treasured, as creatures. In the video notes, the photographer said there were many, many animal carcasses, he actually left most of them out of his video. In one shot, there's a wild turkey running down the road, while a football field away, the hills are burning. Smoke laces throughout the hills and it's amazing to me that anyone would know which direction the fire is coming from. Presumably, you probably wouldn't. My friend who currently lives in the hardest hit town was able to return to her home yesterday. Her house was spared, thankfully. I've been thinking a lot about them. Not just because they live there, but because her husband is a minister and a volunteer fire fighter. So he's got double duty: fight the flames, comfort the afflicted.

In addition to my teenage stomping grounds burning, there is an equally large fire tearing up the Panhandle. The last I read, two towns were threatened: both towns in which I have family members. One of which is where my grandparents are buried. I haven't heard from my family up there, nor have I read any reports yet about how that fire is going. Just suffice it to say, I'm very worried. I don't want to see my family harmed or their homes - including the one my dad grew up in - destroyed.

It's not like Texas - West Texas, in particular - is unaccustomed to wildfires. I remember, when we lived in Southwest Texas, each year, it seemed, wildfires would rage south, near the border, but none ever threatened us. We kept an ear out, but they never got close to us. And it wasn't uncommon to see a grassfire burning a ways off the road as we drove from town to town. I think this year has been particularly dry, though. There are several big fires going throughout the state right now. The biggest and nastiest just happen to be in West Texas. The last I checked, there was no rain in the foreseeable forecast. At least not for the SW Texas area. Which sucks. The good news is that the winds have died down, and the big town-destroying fire is partially contained. I just read of a new one, about a mile north of my town which is also large and currently un-contained. I don't wish I were there right now, but I do wish I could hug everyone affected by the fires right now. I can't imagine their anxiety.

Sorry for the bummer post, and for the stream of consciousness style writing. (More SoC than usual, anyway.) We still need to donate to relief for the Japan earthquake, but I guess we'll add the people of West Texas to our donation list. I think we'll start here: www.arcswtx.org. It looks like you can donate to Japan relief, too. So: two birds with one stone, eh?! Sigh.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sibling left behind

I just finished watching The Kids Are All Right. As movies go, it's okay. Not worth the Oscar nomination, but it was ... alright.

The final scene throttled me. It had nothing to do with the relationship between the mothers - which had been damaged - nor between the mothers and their daughter. It was between the younger brother and the sister going off to college. "It's going to be weird not having you around," he said. It was not entirely a throw-away line, but not a line of great heft in the grand scheme of the movie.

A pit formed in my gut and I almost started crying. Suddenly, for the first time ever, I had immense sorrow for my little brother and what he must have felt when I left for college. He was left alone with Mom and Dad for the first time in his life. When he had a shitty day and couldn't share the details with our parents, the only family member who he could turn to in the moment was no longer there. His most important peer relative wasn't there for him anymore. He must have felt lonely at the beginning. Especially since my leaving for college coincided with my family moving to another city altogether where he had to build a base of friends from scratch. Ugh. Poor kid.

I'd never really thought of how it must have felt for him because I'd never confronted it. I feel pretty strongly that people should take time in their lives to leave the confines of their family unit and develop their own interests; that it's important to one's own identity. I always looked at my personal growth experiences from, well, my point of view. It never really occurred to me how they made people other than my parents feel. Not that I necessarily would have altered direction had I sensed the loneliness that my brother probably felt - heck, he, almost more than anyone, has always been very encouraging of me pursuing my own "thing"! - but I just wish I would've had the maturity and empathy to see from his point of view, when I was 18 and leaving home. I wish I would've had them to see from his point of view as an adult.

Part of the reason I was blind to his feelings - assuming they were what I think they were - was because I have no notion of what it's like to have an older sibling. I'm the oldest. I turned to my little brother for love and support when we were growing up, but I didn't look to him for guidance, per se. That's still the case, today, for the most part. I think he probably sought that from me, because I was older. I was the buffer between him and my parents: the one that would spout "wisdom," but without the threat of punishment and with softer, or no, judgment than what my parents would've doled out. I got none of that. If I needed family guidance, I got it from Mom and Dad and if I was judged, I was judged. Because I never had that buffer, it never occurred to me that other people have it and that they might miss it. You don't know to miss what you never had.

This realization takes on more resonance for me right now, because I've had a very emotionally rocky year with my brother. There has been an (avoidable) occurrence that has put more strain on our relationship than anything ever before. We're handling it like grown-ups (I think), but it's been tremendously painful for me, and I'm pretty sure, for him, too. I don't know that the turbulence is over. In fact, in some ways, recent circumstances have made things more emotionally complicated (on my end, at least). I'm carrying a ton of unresolved pain and I worry that if I tell him exactly how agonized I am, then it'll just push him away; and then I worry that if I don't tell him how crushed I am, then he'll just drift farther away. Either scenario seems horrible to me and I effectively lose my brother, one of my top 5 favorite people on the planet.

For now, I'm keeping my mouth shut and hoping we can just work through this and all the hurt will eventually scab over and we can start anew, as it were. Imagining his grief at my leaving the house is good for me. Not out of schadenfreude or anything, but because it helps me think of ways I can relate to him, better. And hopefully heal.

photo courtesy ToobyDoo, Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In Vinto Veritas: Homesick

It's one of those nights again: I've had a little too much wine.

And it's that time of year again: when I truly pine for Texas. It's Springtime. That means South by Southwest in Austin in March and Fiesta San Antonio in April. Neither of which I've been to, but each of which I'd love to. SXSW is more on my bucket list than Fiesta, but I've been curious about Fiesta and all the ensuing pageantry since I was a little girl.

I've also been curious to see Las Posadas in San Antonio since I was a little girl, too. It's the Christmas story told on the Riverwalk. From what I understand, Joseph and Mary float down the Riverwalk seeking shelter from those along the river. I'm not sure where it ends. But who cares? It's a Mexican tradition. And a Texas tradition.

So many Texas traditions I've not yet been a part of: Fiesta San Antonio, SXSW, Las Posadas, Tyler Rose Festival, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Fort Worth Stockyards Parade ... and I'm sure there are more. I just can't think of them all in my state: slightly inebriated and estranged from Texas for a decade.

Nonetheless, Spring is when the stirrings of homesickness begin. Probably with SXSW; just because I've been wanting to go since I was a young teen and first learned of it. Long before there was the film festival; long before the digital/interactive aspect. Back when it was just music. Indie music, at that. Not because I've ever been a great connoisseur of music trends, but because when you're 15 and live in the geographical middle of nowhere - where the local station (the only one for 100 miles, no kidding) plays only big band and bad country - you cling to every shred of anything that is unconventional. I have friends in Austin, which means I see the daily SXSW update on their Facebook feeds; I have friends who frequent SXSW, which means the same. And each time I read them, the 15-year-old still inside me who felt ike such a mis-fit - the rectangular peg in the oval hole of her small town (yes, I meant that) - tingles with a dash of envy and excitement.

There's also the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. A few years ago, my brother, on a whim, asked if I wanted to come down for a Robert Earl Keen concert at the Livestock Show. ... in case you haven't guessed: it's not a one-day event. It's several. It's huge. It's typically in February, which technically isn't Spring, but in Houston - yeah it is. I couldn't go. But I would've LOVED to. I love REK. And I luuuurrve my brother. Robert Earl Keen performing and me and my brother downing Shiner Bocks and whooping along would've been a fuckin' awesome night!

City festivals aside, there is also the blooming of Texas' flowers in Spring that lures my fancy. Whether the Honeysuckle that grew on our fence in the Panhandle - a scent which can still bring me great comfort, to this day - or the bluebonnets that start to sprout in the desert and central part of the state, or the tall yucca, or the little yellow dollops of sunshine along the roadsides in West Texas that a friend of ours used to call "Bouncing Betties," the local flora blooming brought me joy. As a teenager, I used to pluck the wild bluebonnets that grew in our yard and wear them in my hair.

And then there's the torrential weather. Great beauty cannot come without great torment. I am terrified of tornadoes. I won't lie. Less so than say, tsunamis or earthquakes, but probably because I grew up with a killer threat from the sky. But you know it's Spring in Texas when you've got torrential downpours and micro bursts and tornado warnings one day and then the most glorious God-kissed skies you could ever imagine for the next three days. We had a tornado warning here the other day, but I didn't bat an eye, because I know the tornadoes on the East Coast don't take you to Oz. They don't even take you to the neighborhood bar. The torrential weather in Texas doesn't take you to Oz. It's crazy enough that it brings Oz to you. I don't miss the storms. But I do miss the gorgeousness otherwise.

I miss the Spring in Texas: when things are just waking up and laughing. When the end of school is just weeks away. When Spring Break - typically the first or second week of March - is warm enough that you can stay put and it'll still feel like Spring: sunny and warmth a-breakin'. Except for in the Panhandle, where it's kind of hit or miss. Spring, when UIL One-Act plays around the state are being competed, as are other UIL academic competitions: it's like March Madness for nerds!

I don't know if I would still be homesick if friends didn't Tweet and Facebook from SXSW. Or if they didn't email me pictures of them in endless fields of bluebonnets when the trees are still barren here. Or if I didn't know that that by this Easter, the schoolkids of Texas would be counting down only 4 or 5 weeks to their summer escape, when the kids here still had 8 - 10 weeks to go. (I'm seriously in touch with my inner 4th-grader!) But I know these things; I receive these things. And so, I get a touch of homesickness.

March 2nd was Texas Independence Day. It's a day I don't recall commemorating much in Texas (at least not beyond the sesqui-centennial in 1986), but one that has carried more importance to me since I've lived on the East Coast. I ended up taking my daughter to a Texas-themed restaurant for lunch to celebrate. It's a poor facsimile, but we made do. And it was a warm blanket around my shoulders on that chilly day. It was my pretend Spring Break in my pretend Home. And I genuinely liked it for the little time I got to have.