Saturday, May 30, 2009
The cottage sits high on a hill overlooking the backwaters of Stillhouse Hollow Lake. It's walls are made of the rocks that clutter the hills and fields of Central Texas. It's red tile roof is a reminder of the not too distant past, when another country laid claim to the vastness of the Lone Star State. The cedar trees, which when left to their own devices claim every inch of soil, give a unique freshness to the breeze which sweeps off the water and is passed along from branch to branch, tree to tree, until it blossoms into a swift current of wind which keeps the paneled rooms and tile floors of the small house cool and inviting, even in the Texas summertime.
Since people disdain whatever they have in most abundance, all but the largest cedar have been cleared from around the house, and chinaberry planted in its place for shade, and perhaps for the music of its rustling boughs, for cedar having no proper leaves, only creaks in the wind. The result is cool, constant shade, which crowds the veranda across the front of the house and the unshuttered windows all around.
From the picture window near the fireplace, you can gaze down the hillside, which drops a hundred feet in half a mile, and watch the colored specks that are boats, drifting back and forth across the water, occasionally disappearing into one of the many sloughs that spread like roots, anchoring the lake to the land.
Between the house at the top and the lake at the bottom, there is a small, flat clearing, carved like a step in the side of the hill. A tiny spring gurgles up through the rock and nurtures a small pond that glistens there like a mirror, giving back to the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars, an image of their own beauty.
In the field around the tank, which is Texan for "pond", coastal sprigs have taken root and cover the ground thickly, swaying gracefully in the wind, providing cover for native quail, turkey and rabbits.
The deer bring their fawns to the tank in the evening, to drink the soft, warm water, and make a snug bed in the long grass. During the night raccoons, too, come to drink, and to feel the soft mud with their inquisitive feet, again and again.
From the top of the tank dam the eye sweeps over the trees below, which cling in a tangle of knotted roots to the falling hillside, and stop at the face of a sheer cliff of white caliche, brilliant and blinding in the Texas sun. The cliff is parted from the hillside by a narrow slough that soon loses itself in the woods. In the bright, hot rock, are pockets of cooler shade, carved by wind, rain, and sometimes the swollen waters of the lake. Here, in one of these miniature caves, a great horned owl comes every year to raise her young. The soft white down of the chicks gives the appearance of furry stuffed toys with two large round dark buttons for eyes. The owls, large and small, are still and unblinking as fishermen drift below them, casting for bass. In the dark of the night the owl sweeps up the hillside and watches over the yard in front of the house, helping herself to a mouse or a rabbit, being part of nature’s balance of all creatures great and small.
I sleep in the house, knowing I, too, belong to the hillside.