Friday, January 13, 2023

Slow Change is a Natural Wonder


You’ve invited some friends to visit Round Top over the holidays. They haven’t been here in a while. Ten or twenty years, maybe. Well before anyone thought of the word “Roundtopolis.” (How about that word? We’ve always needed a name, I think, for the area that spreads out around the town. This word does so many things—evokes Superman, drips with irony, fits nicely into hype of all kinds).

But I digress.

Your friends, arriving at the square—pausing at the surprising, but welcome stoplight—will they recognize Round Top? Will they even be able to see it after dark in the glare of a thousand tiny white lights wrapping every tree? (Again, I digress.)

The bones of the town remain, of course. Fine, authentic bones. Von Minden Store, for one. (Oh, you don’t remember that? You don’t remember when Betty Schatte held court over beer drinkers meeting to tell stories and solve the problems of the day? It’s now Popi Burger.)

And Klumps—the small store where realtors now answer phones, and the larger restaurant, once an area anchor with plate lunches and Saturday BBQ. (It's now Mandito’s.)

The buildings—those bones I mention—have rarely looked better, I think.

The Stone Cellar, named for its location in what is now Lulu’s, has been transformed into wood and expanded under new ownership.

Henkel Square, formerly a greensward with exceptional live oaks and the town’s earliest buildings (rarely visited), now offers popular shops and gathering places clustered around a parking lot. Plus, next door to the square’s bottle shop, a relatively new Episcopal congregation brings life to the old Haw Creek Church. Take your dog along (at least some of the time).

Your friends will notice another change, too. The sprouting of spec houses and subdivisions.

All these changes sing to the tune of fashion and the desire of city folks to hang onto urban conveniences when they come to the country. It’s the reason “farm kitchens” in new upscale “ranch” houses have granite counters and dishwashers and a toilet for every bed.

An earlier generation of Houstonians coming here wanted contrast with urban life. In cities, the wildest creature one encounters is often a flying roach or earth-bound rat nosing around the garbage can.

Well, we have squirrels and field mice around our country place, but we aren’t seeing so many shy creatures we once glimpsed with awe. Many fewer rabbits, birds, coyotes, deer, possums, bobcats. We once knew where the jackrabbit lived on our road, and where we were likely to spot the roadrunner. And in the evening, choruses of barred owls vied with the goblin sounds of coyotes, the wildest sound of all.

No longer, though.

So why do we keep coming when the activity of developers displaces much of the reason for being here as fast as it can?

We come to touch reality, I think. To appreciate the wonder of being alive, often blurred by the distraction of cities. We come for what has been called “the rhythm of the land.” The visible, tangible life of leaves. The slow coloring of native grasses. The waves of distant sound and nearby rustling that signal migratory birds. Many fewer of those, now, too.

Here, on a porch in the woods, we feel ourselves at home in the slow, inexorable seasonal roll of nature. We make friends with ourselves as human beings and we feel grounded.

Whether we know it or not, that’s what we long for. Not the Viking Range or Insinkerator. Not the extended shopping mall that some of our pastures have become.

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