With Downcast Eyes


Sometimes it’s best to travel around looking down.

It never would have occurred to me to watch a solar eclipse at the base of a tree, but if the sun and moon are going to hook up and make shadows out of sunlight, that’s where you’ll find them. And it won’t even hurt your eyes.

The eclipse was a while ago, but since the end of June I’ve travelled a great deal with downcast eyes, my entire body on yellow alert, on the lookout for deadly hazards like sticks, rough pavement, and uneven sidewalks. My neighbors must think I’ve become even more unfriendly than ever, but I’m just trying not to fall again for a while.

Walking along like that, you see a whole universe of things you might never have noticed otherwise. From the Department of Silver Linings:

Shortly after I leave our yard, if I’m walking in the right direction, I find two bright pudgy little birds who could be made of papier mache, they’re so light. They are easily blown over, and when I find them that way I always lean down to set them right.


It appears that there has been a concerted effort to inject art into our little patch of suburbia. While painting rocks is an activity I might first associate with 10-year-old girls, some of their productions are so skilled that if it were kids that age producing them, we are indeed surrounded by genius. The pieces remind me that there is still some happiness left in this almost unbearable world.


Breathe in. Thank you for reminding me.


I’ve written before about a plot of undeveloped land smack in the middle of our suburban Heaven-on-Earth: roughly 13 acres the school district purchased when the neighborhood was being built. Too small for a school, the land went up for auction a few years ago and – what a shock – a developer placed an impressive bid, one that could never be approached by our association.

A concerted effort to discourage the developer by any legitimate means possible was launched and, mirabile dictu, succeeded. Sometimes it helps when you live just above a network of ancient caves and chasms.

Earlier this year the intrepid group of neighbors who sought to preserve the property managed an amazing deal with the school district: a high school campus in desperate need of more classroom space was allowed to “swap” some of their impervious cover allotment with our neighborhood. (Austin sharply limits the amount of impervious cover you can have on a given piece of property – an ordinance happily ignored by developers who see steep fines as part of the price of doing business.)

So, the high school miles away can build their classrooms and our undeveloped school district property can remain undeveloped. Because our plot remains school district property, schools will be able to use it for teaching purposes if they wish, without destroying any of it in the process. Grandson #2, for instance, attends a middle school with an ecology emphasis – from gardens to chickens to sustainable energy technology. They’d find plenty of opportunity for studying native prairie ecosystems on a small scale. A remarkable community win-win if ever I’ve seen one.

Anyhow, this is a roundabout way of introducing some of the little pieces of art that have started to appear in the woods there. Things I never would have seen if I weren’t watching the ground. They appear to be made of stone or clay, and run in the 4-6 inch range. They are propped against logs and rocks, nestled into the shrubbery, and tucked among the wildflowers.

We have wildlife portraits:

Welcoming structures:

And modes of transportation:

A Texas prairie, no matter how small, would hardly be complete without a buffalo, no matter how small:


There’s something in here about a collaboration between humans and nature. I don’t think we really qualify, but it’s best not to surrender all hope.

It seems an intrinsically hopeful thing to trace your initials in wet cement, especially along with someone else’s initials, especially encased in a heart. Such a gesture feels so permanent in the creation. American life being as nomadic as it is, I doubt the couple commemorating their alliance even lived in this neighborhood long enough to see their initials fade. Maybe it’s better that way. The initials in the mind are unaffected by time or weather or a hundred thousand footfalls.


Joe Flores’s construction company put many sidewalks in along the streets of our ‘hood. Looks like people who make sidewalks have a better sense of how to make their imprints more lasting. Or maybe they just have access to fresher wet cement. I like seeing creators’ names on things.


I’m always bugging Floyd to sign more of his work. Nag, nag, nag, right? I was very glad to learn he had in fact done that on the back side of a staircase he made for a wonderful couple in Santa Fe. He’d measured out there, completed the steel work in Austin, then drove the pieces to their destination, where they went into place just like that. Then the couple had walnut treads and that lovely handrail made. I can’t wait to see it in person!


But I digress, as usual. Any excuse to brag about my spouse’s artistry.

Back to things I see while trying to reassure myself that I can in fact complete a walk without ending up in surgery.

When I first moved to Texas I found a certain road sign mildly interesting. Obey All Road Signs, it said. It was hard to imagine a sign that would convince oppositional folks to obey signs, but I sort of admired the effort. Nowadays in my particular care toward scaling curbs, I see small reminders that may or may not be effective, but are rather charming in any case.

I’m trying really hard not to think about the Environmental Protection Agency right now, with obviously limited success. Having grown up with streams and rivers that looked to be filled with antifreeze, I have my doubts that American industry will do the right thing by our earth once the lawmakers leave them to their own ethical devices. Let me be wrong on this. Please.

Although I might have seen the following art piece even if I weren’t concertedly looking down, it resides behind a flowering shrub that might have distracted me. Seashells, stones, small coins and sea glass tumbling from a huge pot, and a bemused frog wondering what will become of all that treasure.



Closer to home, and somewhat closer to eye level, the Butterfly Department of the sidewalk garden has been a riot of flowers and fluttering wings. Only the flowers have thus far cooperated with being photographed.


In the back yard, a creature who evidently manages to become invisible between feedings may or may not be found, depending entirely upon turtle whim. I doubt Zippy has any idea how fetching that flowery accessory is. Zippy is quite the modest and self-effacing creature.


The seasons changed overnight. Today really feels like autumn is on its way. Recent rains have kept us well-stocked with mosquitos and fungus, many of the latter well worth a closer look.


Marco and Lucy can finally watch birds as they sit in the open window above the kitchen sink –


under strict supervision, of course, since I wouldn’t put it past them to push the flimsy screen to the ground and sail right out after it. Kitties who can in seconds remove the collars on which their names and telephone numbers have been thoughtfully embroidered should stay safely at home, satisfying themselves with non-lethal shenanigans such as dumping the basket of dishtowels to the floor and claiming the basket for themselves.


Marco could stand a lesson in self-effacement, but despite his satellite-dish ears I frankly don’t see him listening to even a very wise turtle.

Now houses, trees, and mailboxes are festooned with store-bought cobwebs and giant black spiders. Skeletons, some quite well-dressed, sit outside otherwise normal looking homes and ghosts dangle from high branches. Every year I resolve to devote a post to Halloween in the ‘hood; maybe this year I’ll look up long enough to shoot some scary portraits and do it.



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