In Italy, Thinking of Austin
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After a drought that hung around like the house guest from a “b” film, spring arrived with drenching rains bringing wonderful relief to central Texas. We have been reminded that the natural color of grass is green, that trees provide a shady refuge from the Sun, some plants produce cooling treats for hot weather meals and sadly, the lawn mower that has waited patiently for two years in case it might be needed, now requires major repairs. In the week leading up to Memorial Day, we harvested the first cherry tomatoes from the “volunteer” tomato plants that sprang from the memories of last year's burned out garden and read an email from a native Texan in the midst of a chance of a lifetime trip to Italy.

Italian spring this year included an apparent mafia bombing of a school and a substantial earthquake, but events that made the network talking heads take note do not show up in this correspondence. Imagine a man retired and pursuing his stone carving passion who made connections with carvers in the US who provided introductions to a master carver in Italy. The introduction blossomed into a month of study in northern Italy while his wife samples the more traditional tourist itinerary of Rome and Paris. The story in following email compares cultures, climates and standards that we like to call home.

You'd love it here.

The compound has been restored from an exceeding old stone farm house. It is situated high on a mountain side overlooking a valley defined by pastures and bordered by an ancient forest. Across the valley, and a bit below us, is a 16th century farm house with out buildings. Right now, and very often, the old farm is partially cloaked with wisping fog that drifts up onto the mountain tops, then settles lower onto the old farm and further down toward the valley floor. At times the entire valley is visible only through the fog. It is as green as anyone can imagine. And I have learned a great deal from Pasquale.

Oh, and as it has ever since we got here, it is still gently raining. And it is about 50 degrees. Each morning I put on the same two work shirts, my old sweat shirt and my beat up blue jean jacket. They don't get the job done! It is wet and cold, both inside and out, of our apartment. What we have here is a setting of intense beauty and learning, upon which sits the fallen log of personal discomfort. We work outside under a porch. It's wet and cold. My hip hurts. The only escape is to crawl under the covers. That's where Gay stays a good bit of the time. That is, when she's not in France.

Pasquale sings arias throughout the day, while under my breath, I'm humming, "Well it's cold over here. And I swear, I wish they'd turn the heat on…I wanna go home to the Armadillo!"

Ciao, baby!

Most students experience similar feelings of questioning amazing educational exposure at the expense of personal discomfort, but only a Texan can raise a veil of angst on the level of Gary P. Nunn's “London Homesick Blues”. OK, we have had two months of highs in 80's and overnight lows in the 60's. Yes, the tomato plants rose with the weeds in the garden in March and are now bushy and heavy with fruit. There are other stories of spring in Texas.

Our deck began to show signs of a bird(s) leaving droppings in a single location early in the spring. We looked into the elm tree shading the deck for a nest that would put birds in the same place regularly. No luck, but the droppings continued, no increased. During a thunderstorm, we heard a large limb crashing down from the elm. When the rain stopped, we surveyed the damage and looked up to find the source. What we found instead was a very wet and unhappy screech owl preening feathers and doing his best to dry out from the storm. His perch was directly above our marked section of deck. A week later, another storm and another limb down on the deck and our guardian owl still at his post. We see him frequently now, just watching as we go about our business.

Not long after the second limb came down, our inside dogs began what had to be an audition for the role of Banshee. Investigating the source of their concern revealed a bull snake of five or six feet in length trying to slither up the screen door in spite of din. I have wondered if this is the same creature that fell off of the top of the screen door, bounced off my head before getting pinched between the door and stoop as I jumped back in surprise. We now see this snake patrolling the front porch as a perfect companion to the owl that patrols the back deck.

Also this week, the outside dogs got in the act. The previous morning, we watched two deer cavorting in the pasture behind the back yard. One was obviously spry and agile, while the other was heavy in appearance and movement. We wondered if she was pregnant. When I went to see what had the dogs in such a lather, I saw the two deer bounding around in the trees just beyond the pasture where they had romped the day before. I watched for minute before I realized what both the dogs and deer were so agitated about. In the long grass and wildflowers near the fence, a fawn was strutting up and down in the pasture. The little one moved very well for legs that had less than 24 hours of experience and it took several breaks from the effort to lie down and become invisible in the covering grass. The dogs kept barking, the deer kept bounding in and out of the tree cover and the fawn casually looked for mom. It took several tries, but the fawn did find a place where the wall of wild flowers was short enough that it could make it back to the other side of the fence and peace was restored.

This spring, this Texas, this story is the one that inspires words like “Even London Bridge has fallen down and moved to Arizona, and now I know why”

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