January 22, 2005

My Heavens

Today my heavens began in a tipi on the grounds of a gardening center. I’d seen so many tipis in movies and TV shows and photographs and paintings, but in all those years this was the first time I’d ever set foot in one. It felt like being in a cathedral, looking up at that high vaulted cone with its ribs of thirty–foot, arm–thick, seasoned hardwood poles roped at the apex. A stained–glass window of blue sky gleamed through the smokehole onto the shaded floor. It was twenty–first century and sanitized, the brown sand floor raked clean and no charred bone or gristle in the ash in the fire circle, but I could feel how it would have been. I could smell the herd pawing the grass miles away—I could smell them on the prairie wind, not here in Texas but up in Montana, Wyoming—I could hear the chanting and the stomping around the flames in the dark after the hunt. I could tell what it would be like sitting in here with your family on a chilly night, chewing fire–cooked buffalo, telling stories, laughing when the kids fell in the ashes. This was no primitive makeshift, this was a perfect design refined by thousands of years of trial and error, an ideal movable home: the best thing for its place, making the place better.

Then my heaven was a grill terrace on the cliff above Lake Travis, breezy and clear with a cold front moving in and one white sail on the water. Chips and queso and the first–rate salsa you get in even the most mediocre restaurants around here. As the afternoon matured, the wind stiffened and the temperature dropped and a broad flat weave of cloud moved over the lake. You could see the exact boundary between the air masses. You could see weather being made. Driving back, we saw the tinted glass patios of hillside houses reflecting blue–green like aquariums.

Then we drove past a barbecue restaurant we hadn’t been to in a long time: it was in the parking lot of that very restaurant, eight years ago, house–hunting, that we had one of our last really awful fights, the ones that came (we understood much later) amid the stress of transitions. Since then it has hurt every time we’ve driven past that restaurant, but this time it didn’t hurt. We didn’t mention it and we didn’t have to struggle not to mention it. We kept driving past houses we had considered, and were glad we’d bought the one we had. I’d like to go back to that barbecue place sometime. They have the best beef ribs.