My first visit to the Hill Country was in the month of August in 2005. I came on a recognizance mission to gather as much information as I could about the area in three short days.
Upon flying into Austin-Bergstrom airport my first stop was at the rental car desk. Stepping up to the counter to sign the novel of paperwork, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was being upgraded to a convertible, free of charge.
A vision floated through my brain... music lilting in the wind, blue skies above and a cool breeze blowing through my hair. As I was getting the keys from the attendant he remarked that the car had good air conditioning. My thoughts were… "I don’t need no stinkin' air conditioner, I’ve got my convertible."
I drove south from Austin on I-35 to the Kyle exit and began traveling the back roads toward Driftwood, Wimberley and Dripping Springs. It was late morning and I couldn’t wait any longer; I pulled over and eagerly crammed the soft top into its holding bin.
All of my senses would now be able to take in the hill country experience. It was hot, but I figured the cool breeze at 60 mph would keep me comfortable. I cruised on for 15 minutes and realized that I was still hot so I flipped on the air conditioning and threw caution and gas prices to the wind.
The AC didn't help. I felt like a rack of ribs on the BBQ. I checked my watch; I had only been driving for thirty minutes -- I couldn’t take it any longer. The top was lovingly replaced and the air conditioning did its job quickly.
The heat from the end of June through mid-September is something to be reckoned with in Central Texas. I had arrived right in the middle of it - August.
Driving through the many communities and neighborhoods in the Hill Country one question pestered me. I passed homes with basketball hoops, toys in the yards and cars in the drive – where were the kids, where were the people? It felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone. The heat had driven everyone inside, into backyard pools or onto one of the lazy rivers tubing.
Summer in Texas is probably regarded like winter is in Chicago. The smart people ride it out indoors. It's a season you somehow "get through" to enjoy the rest of the year. If you're lucky enough to have a pool or a river to enjoy it in, all the better. You may even look forward to going into the office and beg to work overtime.
My favorite season in the hill country is Fall. The heat of the summer has finally broken. It's cooled off enough to be able to sit out on my front porch with my laptop and read email and write articles for the website, without sweat trickling down my thighs. The bugs are still around, but I've grown used to them and I keep a bottle of deet at my feet for the mosquitoes.
If left undisturbed by husband and kids, I can sit out front until the sun sets and never need to go inside for a sweater. The porch light comes on by timer and I just keep right on writing.
We also have a pizza oven at an outdoor kitchen in the back and we tend to BBQ three or four nights a week, with a Friday night pizza "event" thrown in as well. The kids splash in the pool while we prepare dinner and we aren't heating up the kitchen and house by having the stove or oven working.
I even do the "redneck" or "environmentally-conscious" act of hanging all of our laundry out on the line during the summer and fall. I can get through four loads and have it all dried, consecutively on the line, before the sun sets.
So the added burden of the summer and fall heat on our air conditioning unit, doesn't also have to support running the dryer. We spend about $350 on electrical during the summer/fall. Yikes! Anything I can do to keep this figure under control, I do. I keep the thermostat during the summer at around 78 degrees. Folks around here think I'm crazy, but the family gets used to it and the body learns to regulate itself.
We're just pulling through the remnants of winter this year and I have to say it's been remarkably mild this year. There were no ice-overs on the highways, no school closures, and no days at all where I had to pull out my big, heavy coat.
In Winter 2007, ice closed down the city of Austin for about three full days. Even the airports were locked down. The flyovers (highway overpasses) were incredibly dangerous and employers were encouraging folks to work from home if possible.
Hill country temperatures regularly dip into the 40s at night during the winter, with several nights seeing temperatures below freezing. This is when homeowners pull in their potted plants for the evening. You might see burlap and even the occasional old quilt flung over plants that must sleep outside.
The great thing about the Hill Country is that the weather is remarkably easy to forecast, so the weather you see crossing your screen from accuweather or the weather channel is almost always accurate and so is the forecast for up to a week out.
When we have cold weather, it blows in from the north and can move in swiftly. These are called the "Northerlies." Still, most of the time, they have been forecasted by the weather stations with plenty of time to prepare. I remember sitting outside during the winter (yes, that is possible here quite often) and within one hour, the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped by nearly 20 degrees.
Yesterday a tornado touched down 7 miles southwest of Dripping Springs. The kids spent an hour huddled in a hallway at school until the danger had passed. Flash flood warnings remained active most of the day. Flowing water closed down HWY 290 into Austin. The wind blasted across the rolling hills and the temperature dropped sharply. I went to sleep that evening hearing the wind whipping through the trees, around the corner of the house and down the slope of the land.
In the morning, I opened the door and the puppy rushed past me from behind, out into a glorious new day. She looked back and beckoned me to follow. The air was brisk and calm. The birds were going crazy with joyous chirping and calling out to one another. Francesca, our blue-eyed puppy, cocked her head and her ears flopped as she drank in the sounds surrounding her.
Emma and I dressed and ate over the span of an hour then headed out to her basketball tournament an hour north in Georgetown. Calvin and Zach had left for Houston in the storm last night for another basketball tournament. They were cozied up in the Courtyard by Marriott. When Emma's first game ended at 12:30pm we climbed in the car and drove an hour back home so we could uncrate the puppy. Francesca leapt up against her crate door when she heard us and her tail wagged voraciously. I scooped her up and plopped her into the grass out front.
She sniffed into the fresh air and immediately went into squat mode to relieve herself on the grass. I relaxed down into my barn-red Adirondack chair and leaned back. I was tired. My eyes traveled down the expanse of our land, covered with live oaks that blocked the road from my view. My gaze traveled up the trunk of a small tree and launched upwards to the sky.
I noticed the robin's egg blue overhead. There was not a cloud, cirrus or otherwise, in sight. My gaze continued north to the flags on the tall pole at the entrance to the ranches. They hung limp and somewhat tattered after last night's beating. The cicadas' buzzing grew loud and then tapered off and a soft breeze rustled the small pink flowers on the bushes in the bed surrounding the porch. The temperature was neither hot nor cold.
And I said out loud to the puppy and to the cicadas and to the birds and even to the live oaks, "What a perfect day." I let my head lay back against the chair and I closed my eyes.