The Texas Renaissance Festival

“Leaf me alone,” says the Fall Faerie

So, I was in Houston this past weekend, visiting my sister Julie. Hurricane Harvey had something to do with this trip. After it dumped its biblical portions of rain on the Houston area, Julie and I carved out this time—a grateful acknowledgment of the fact that she and her husband were spared any flooding.

It took a little while for our schedules to coalesce. I had the trip to Greece last month, and Sister Julie had a bunch of work travel that just wrapped up. She flew to three continents over a four-week period, I think. One of her trips was supposed to commence the week Harvey hit, but airport closures pushed it forward.

As the fates would have it, I found myself in Texas during the Texas Renaissance Festival, for its Highland Fling-themed weekend. A note about this fair: Wikipedia tells me it began in 1974, on the location of an old strip mining site. Julie has lived in Houston for the past twenty-five years, and has been an avid fan of the TRF since she discovered it, shortly after her arrival in the Lone Star State.

Through the years, there’s been an assortment of our family that’s joined her on her annual trek to the festival, held every autumn, fifty-five miles northwest of Houston. I’ve been with her once before, five or six years ago, when I purchased a little owl figure at one of the shops.

There is a specific reason behind my relatively new fascination with owls. Shortly after I began this writing journey, I dreamt I had an owl as a pet. More a familiar than a pet.  In the dream, the bird was trying to tell me in an owl-lie type way that I needed to adjust my focus, and pay more attention to writing. As motivation, it sorta backfired—while I definitely give writing more focus these days, I also get easily distracted by images or depictions of owls whenever I encounter them.

Original Owlie, plus a new sibling from Greece

Anyway, Sister Julie was in a reflective mood at this year’s festival. It might have been the effect of finally alighting at home after her round-the-world travels. Or maybe because her children are all grown now. Her daughter, Niece Emilie, would almost always join her for the Highland Fling weekend. Em just started a graduate program at Yale, so a trip back home to Texas just for the Fling was too hard to swing. 🙂

Julie pondered aloud about why she’s always loved the TRF. Was it the time of year, the South Texas air finally turning cooler? Was it the clothes and costumes? Was it Tartanic, the group that bills themselves as “Insane Bagpipe/Drum/Dance/Comedy” performers? Personally, I’d put in a vote for the scotch eggs and pear cider.

I reminded her that she’s always been drawn to that historical period:

“Remember the term paper you wrote in high school, ‘Was Medieval Woman Really…”

“Mid-Evil?” she finished my sentence. “Yeah,” she said, “How do you remember that?”

“I guess that’s the kind of stuff I remember.” Growing up the youngest of seven kids, with a nascent ambition to write, I paid attention to my older siblings’ term papers, short stories, plays, impromptu comedy skits…

Really, it’s enough for me that the Texas Renaissance Festival is just something my sister loves. As well as a lot of other people, apparently—it was packed this past Saturday. And I love seeing all the costumes, which span far beyond the Renaissance period. (For more casual togs, I was not the only one in a Star Wars t-shirt. And Astros fans were also out in force.)

And finally, I like to think of the “reawakening” meaning of renaissance. Here is an old strip mine, reborn as a verdant, pastoral, place. And what a lovely venue, and event, for the people of Houston to return to each year.

Outfitted for Highland Fling
Blending in
Worlds collide
Admiring Julie’s new hair clip while waiting for the swings
The swings
Sunset at the TRF

Birthdays and Hurricanes

A cow that escaped its trailer in my sister’s neighborhood

My birthday was yesterday. It was a little hard to savor the start of another year on planet Earth, due to some personal reasons. All reasons entirely outside my control, and most having to do with said planet and its climate. But having no one person or thing to blame really doesn’t lessen the emotional impact.

Blaming Harvey and what he’s done to Houston won’t accomplish much, because, in the end, he’s just weather. Really horrible, destructive, biblical-type weather, but weather just the same. He might have forced my cousin to evacuate her home south of Houston in an airboat, but it wasn’t weather that came to her rescue. It was the good will and good intentions of human first responders.

My sister, west of downtown Houston, is sheltered in place and waiting to see what effect the release of the Addicks reservoir will have on her home and neighborhood.

And completely separate from the weather and half a world away, there was the loss of a very good chap. On Sunday, Tim and I discovered that one of our good friends had died while on vacation, visiting family in the U.K.

I’m used to forgoing birthday celebrations for things far outside my control. When your birthday falls at the height of the hurricane season, you get used to altering plans.

While watching everything unfold in Texas, it’s hard not to recall what happened in New Orleans, on my birthday, twelve years ago. Tim and I were in Shreveport, Louisiana, with a sizeable chunk of his family at Sam’s Town Casino. (That’s where we had evacuated to.)

Just as we’ve done this week, we watched from afar as the catastrophe unleashed. I distinctly remember watching the news on Monday, August 29, 2005, after Katrina had come ashore, and thinking that New Orleans might have escaped the worst of it. It was either that night or the next morning that we received the news of the levee breaches.

I can’t remember precisely what my immediate plans were supposed to be back then. Tim and I had anticipated being back in New Orleans in about three days time, I remember that much. And returning to the normal routine of our lives. Instead, we made it back very slowly, spending the first week of September in Baton Rouge, then the rest of the month outside New Orleans in Metairie, the suburb where we were both raised.

We were back into our 2nd floor apartment across from City Park in early October, as I recall. (Miraculously, the apartment building was like an island in a vast sea, and never flooded).

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into “Katrina memory time.” And I by no means intend to play compare and contrast. My thoughts and prayers and heart go out to all the people in Houston, my family included, plain and simple. I hope they will accept whatever service I can offer, that would be most useful to them.

The lesson that was so forcefully delivered to me on my birthday twelve years ago was to not take anything in this life for granted. It’s a lesson I hold close, and it’s a lesson that the losses of these past few days have highlighted in garish colors.