Carrots are boiling away in a pot. My friend is cutting ginger for a soup. Through the window over his shoulder I see two humming birds, big as a fingertip, hovering at the feeder. Beyond them a cardinal flies from a tree-branch. A woodpecker takes his place and begins hammering. Two young deer approach – they eat leaves and herbs and are forever raiding the fig tree.
I know the dry beauty of Texas, but this week the rain has fallen almost without stop. At times, the rain seems to have lost all faith in the difference of one drop from another, and just falls. The grass I know as yellow and burnt is green. The streams and gullies I know as rivulets are gushing. Half the state is under a warning for flash floods. All the kinds of beauty in Texas are dangerous in their way.
My wonderfully hospitable friends have invited me out from Austin to spend the night with them. I have not seen their house since it had to be almost rebuilt after a tornado struck. It is as I remember it, but with all sorts of subtle improvements – new windows and floors, stouter walls, redesigned bathrooms. Everywhere in the house is the smell of freshly cut cedar.
And life has taken a new direction. They might deny it modestly, but my friends have become adept at yoga, and new joy seems to have come into their world. It is beyond unlikely that I will ever go down this path — I am fundamentally unbendable — but I am very happy to know that yoga has brought so much to their lives.
In this summer of Trump, I hoard up examples of people living well. One of my favorite places, Austin is itself changing and not for the better. Once sleepy and studiously weird, Austin is now the fastest growing city in America. Mopac and other highways are impenetrably gridlocked. The old honky-tonks are being knocked down one after another in favour of office towers and condos.
I spend my days at the Harry Ransom Center, the vast literary archive at the University of Texas. New campus-carry laws allow students to go about armed liked desperadoes. It was here, exactly 50 years ago, that Charles Whitman went on his shooting spree from the tower, killing 15 and wounding 31. There is something sad and inadequate about the little signs prohibiting firearms in this or that space. Even the lockers at the reading room have a notice forbidding the storage of guns.
I can’t say that yoga will ever fix any of this, but I think there is a witness in what my friends do, a standing apart from the violence, a simplification of the spirit. On the other side of Guadalupe Street from the HRC is a small church where I attend Mass most days. What witness I may give is usually in places like that. I am grateful that I do not have to assume a difficult posture, unless the whole thing is a hard-won gesture of dissent. I like to think that the two traditions converge at what Eliot called ‘A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything).’