Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Growing up in Austin during the 1950's, summers were quite a different prospect.  We were required to handle soaring temperatures without the benefit of central air conditioning.  The expense and relative ineffectiveness of sputtering window units meant after the dinner table was cleared but before the dishes were done, our family and most of our neighbors promptly abandoned hot kitchens and stuffy houses, spilling out to gather on one centrally located front lawn.

Teen agers took advantage of otherwise empty houses to use the telephone. Folding chairs aligned, the women of our block drank iced tea out of sweating jewel toned aluminum glasses, gossiped, and supervised while we played and our fathers watered dying lawns.  It was a time of record heat and drought. Everybody watched the skies.

As kids we were only too happy for a last chance to play before baths and bedtimes conspired to put the end to another day.  We would mostly ignore the adults, but occasionally a skinned knee or hurled insult would find me standing next to my mother's lawn chair, picking at some loose strand of plastic webbing while I nursed wounded feelings and soaked in grownup conversation.

I'd occasionally overhear the phrase "Violet Crown" used to describe a lovely purplish haze that would set up around sunset when the atmospheric conditions were just so.  As a child I loved it when the sky blazed colors of any sort, but that rare purple ring seemed especially magical to me.  The idea the sky made a crown for the place where I lived aligned beautifully with my princess-in-a-magical-kingdom world view.

Fast forward mumbledy-some years.  As decades passed, ongoing development and maturing trees combined to interrupt most of Austin's previously unobstructed sunset views.  It had been eons since I'd seen or even thought of a violet crown.  Then last November while tromping the East Austin Studio Tour, I was thrilled when my vantage point at the the last studio complex we visited afforded me a clear view of a classic Austin Violet Crown sunset.

Without my camera I couldn't get a decent shot, so I did my best with my phone.  I quietly pointed the phenomenon out to those standing around me and we appreciatively turned our eyes away from the intentionally created art for just a few moments to stop and share beauty in the sky.  
I'm unable to avoid an especially mangled metaphor to tell you, but as to conditions favorable for violet crowns?  When it rains, it pours.  Even though a much rarer occurrence than happens at sunset, Austin's iconic Violet Crown can also occur in the morning while the sun is still quite low on the horizon.

As happened to my surprise and delight yesterday. Camera at hand this time, I hustled out to capture a shot before the sun traveled high enough for the angle and intensity of the light to rinse the color out of the morning sky.
I realize all towns everywhere are beautiful in their own way, and views much grander than ours are relatively easy to find.  Maybe it represents me clinging to some last vestige of that princess mindset, but there is something so wistful and wonderful about Austin's temporarily violet skies. Something gentle, and extravagantly unnecessary. That ephemeral numinosity promises me there are mysteries yet to be revealed, marvels lingering just beyond a purple horizon.

And that's all the Happily Ever After I need.

Wildlife Wednedays