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Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crowned

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.

18 comments:

Tina said...

Oh those photos, both, but especially the second. Simply stunning. I was flying into Austin yesterday at sunset and while I'm not sure the sky was quite the "Violet Crown" that Austin is known for, it certainly suggested that phenomena.

The Violet Crown is harder to catch now, but so good that you shared! Thank you for that on this drizzly day.

Kris Peterson said...

Beautiful photos, Deb, made more so by the childhood reminiscences. I've never seen an atmospheric effect like that.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: I wonder what difference (if any) it might make to be at airplane level around sunset. I'm sure it is some form of optical illusion or the other. Most information I found was highly anecdotal about the term per se as used in the press, rather than the phenomena. That's OK really. I don't want to understand it - only enjoy it.

TexasDeb said...

Kris: We get some spectacularly colored skies here other times of year when seasonal agricultural slash and burn farmers to the south clear fields. It wouldn't matter if we did or not though. I'm a sunrise and sunset watcher from the get go.

Debra said...

You are a word artist. You truly transported me to that time and place. I could smell of grass, feel the plastic threads of the lawn chairs, and hear the sounds of kids playing. All became real. Simple details lovingly rendered through the power of your keen observations. I have never heard the phrase violet crown before but it is a perfect description. Love the photos too natch. This summer we turned the AC off and simply went outside to sit on the patio in the evenings. It was so much more pleasing than listening to that horrible machine sound. We could see the sky and smell the evening flowers. We don't have a sleeping porch but I was thinking it might be nice next year to sleep outside in a tent. We'll see ...

TexasDeb said...

Debra: I experience it as a joyful privilege to be able to share with readers here, and I'm always especially jubilant when somebody connects to a particular post. I truly appreciate your encouragement.

As to sleeping outside during the summer? My first reaction is to scoff "that's crazy!" but... When I was a girl I used to shut my window unit off at bedtime and sleep with open windows regularly. I love the sounds and scents of Austin in the summertime, day or night.

jabee said...

Lovely post, thank you

Anna said...

Very nice photos and a thoughtful post. The sky has always fascinated me. Sometimes during the summer I get a crick in my neck just from sitting and staring at the sunrises and sunsets and the moon and the birds as they soar. Thanks for sharing your reflections.

TexasDeb said...

Jabee: Welcome and thank you! I'm glad you dropped by and even happier you left a note. Hope to see you here again.

TexasDeb said...

Anna: Welcome! Thanks for commenting.
I'm a sky watcher from always. As a child I used to stretch out on top of the trunk of my Mom's car after the sun had gone down, look up, and try to decide the exact moment it went from dusk to dark.

Lea said...

Nice photos, and I love the story that goes with them!
Lea

TexasDeb said...

Lea: Thanks for saying so - I sincely appreciate it. I hope you'll drop by here again sometime soon.

Pam/Digging said...

"A word artist." I think that sums you up perfectly, Deb. I so enjoyed your childhood reminiscences. (I have some similar ones from SC, and from OK visits to see grandparents and cousins.) And those violet crown photos! I've never seen it in all the years I've lived here. I'll have to be on the lookout.

TexasDeb said...

Pam: Thank you very much for the kind words. I'm encouraged you found this a good read.

Since they occur at sun rise and sun set, proper Violet Crown appreciation does not require but is enhanced by a sipping beverage and a comfy seat. To experience the phenomenon, you must be willing to sacrifice hours to quiet sky watching. Fortunately I have developed powerful sipping and sitting musculature so I'm able to put in the time needed. Let's just call it a public service, shall we?

Rock rose said...

Such an interesting post Deb and of course we have a Violet Crown garden club in Austin. I went in search of the origin of their name which was decided at their first meeting in 1924. It was named for the writer O'Henry who often referred to Austin as "the city with the violet crowned hills" Thank you for teaching me something new about our city and I will be out looking for those 'violet crowned hills'

Linda/patchwork said...

Great post and gorgeous photos.

I've never heard or seen this 'Violet Crown'. But, since I too have developed great sipping and sitting musculature, I too may see it someday.

Your tale did bring back memories of playing outside on summer evenings.

Thanks for the memories....

TexasDeb said...

RR/Jenny: Thank you! Perhaps as you are taking a bit of time off after surgery you'll catch a glimpse of a Violet Crown.

I remember talking to a newly transplanted neighbor who'd been told (by another newcomer) the Violet Crown label refers to Mountain Laurels in bloom all around town. I suppose that works nearly as well. Holding positive thoughts for you today!

TexasDeb said...

Linda: I'm so glad you liked them. Oh those summer evenings...it felt like they'd last forever, didn't it!

People fail to understand how much time and work it takes to develop the Sitting/Sipping musculature needed to properly observe certain natural phenomena. I salute you and am glad to know others are still making the effort!