From a few weeks back in Sanger, Texas, when it had been raining for days on end and I was craving some sunshine. You should have seen my face when this field of bright yellow flowers came into view. Utter delight.
I would like to take this moment to emphasize the word “alleged.”
A little editing practice on some photos I snapped last weekend in Driftwood (and at the creek in Wimberley for good measure, but it was too full and greened up not to).
I was staying with my grandparents, and the cloudy light was perfect after lunch on Sunday. I asked if they’d be up to drive by the old Texaco building and let me snap a few photos, and not only were they down, they kind of caught the bug — driving around to different places or pulling off because I should definitely get a photo of this or that. (The post office, for example, was entirely my grandad’s idea.)
I think my impulsive travel habits and the writing/photography that goes along with them have often felt a little like a rebellious streak to me — something that, if given the choice, my family might prefer I simmer down on a bit. This may or may not be true; and even if it is, depending on the situation, fair enough. But the moments that they encourage it or, better yet, get on board and participate? Those are my absolute happiest moments.
My parents drove to Colorado this summer, and on their way up, I called my mom to check in.
“Oh, we just passed through Amarillo,” she told me, then laughed. “It’s funny — we’re like, in the middle of nowhere in the panhandle, and your dad just said, ‘Ryley needs to come here. She would love this.’”
You can’t expect your quirks to be understood all the time. But when they are? That’s the best.
Someone asked me this week how “the driving thing” started for me — driving for the ramble of it, with no particular goal or destination in mind. It’s occupied my thoughts often since. The more I tried to remember when it started, the more I realized how long I’ve been doing it.
When I first got my license, my family lived at the south end of MoPac in Austin, where it meets FM 1826 and starts fading into Driftwood and Dripping Springs. It wasn’t uncommon for me to make up errands I needed to run, and instead take a few extra laps around the area, aimlessly humming with the radio and turning down unfamiliar roads.
The last day of my junior year of high school was a blue-sky dream. All my classmates stuck around campus for some sort of “welcome to summer” celebration. I lasted about five minutes before I split — I had a ‘99 single cab Chevy Silverado at the time, and I threw my shoes in the bed and drove it all the way to Wimberley with the speakers dangerously close to blowing out, for no reason at all. I remember thinking it was a way better celebration than theirs.
During my senior year of high school, I found solace on a particular hill in a yet-undeveloped Driftwood subdivision. Whenever I needed to think or pray or just be, I’d drive myself up top of it, roll the windows down, cut the engine and prop my feet on the dashboard; staring out at the hill country horizon until the sun went down. Years later, when I was living in Austin again after college, I offered to house- and dog-sit for a sweet family in my church. I arrived at the given address and found, in disbelief, that their house sat on the exact same hill, in almost the exact same spot. The two weeks I spent in their quiet house, taking early morning walks with their dog and drinking coffee on their porch, ended up being some of the most peaceful I had in what was a tough season. I made some big, important decisions there — to have a hard conversation with a good friend, to quit my job, to move to Katy for another — and the setting always felt poetic to me.
I drove miles of Virginia hills in college and started taking more road trips, too; and in Austin, Houston, and Dallas since, I’ve kept the habit up. Quiet roads with my thoughts and the radio cure what ails me — which is usually nothing more than a little restlessness. It satisfies my curiosity. It reminds me how free I am to leave, which always makes it easier to stay. It assures me that there’s a lot more room in the world than I sometimes feel. Room enough for me.
An evening drive on the backroads of Bonham a few weeks ago soothed my soul the same way it always does, and I snapped a photo that somehow almost captured the feeling for me. (Texas Monthly picked it up for their Photo Friday series a couple weeks ago — fun getting to share that feeling with others!)
One of my very earliest memories — perhaps the earliest, so fuzzy around the edges it is — is being outside with my grandad in one of the first crisp days of fall.
In lieu of a jacket, I was wrapped in a blanket like a small, toddler-sized burrito, following him down the hedge-lined backyard path between back porch and the road to their barn. Suddenly, I became aware of movement behind me. I turned to see Lee, the family’s chocolate lab, hurtling happily towards me.
At the time, Lee was firmly in that delightful-destructoid stage of puppyhood all labs go through. They are babies, but have grown suddenly enormous. As an adult, I find this comical, endearing. As a small child, I found it alarming.
As Lee gleefully steamrolled closer, I realized, with horror, that my blanket situation completely incapacitated me. With arms too cocooned for fight and legs too short for flight, I froze in terror. Two seconds later, he made impact, and plunged us both back into the hedge.
I don’t remember my exact reaction, though it’s safe to assume screaming and/or crying was involved. I do remember my grandad laughing as he plucked me from the bushes, though. He told me Lee wasn’t trying to hurt me, he was just excited. He calmed Lee down and sort of forced a reconciliation between the two of us. (This birthed a lifelong friendship, actually. Lee turned out to be the best dog that has ever graced the planet earth, and once I realized that his jumping on me would not, in fact, result in death, I pretty much got on board with the whole idea of him.)
As we stood there scratching Lee’s ears, my grandad informed me the weather was to blame for the hedge incident. When the weather starts to get cold, dogs get playful, he said. The first cold days do that to everybody.
I don’t know why that has so stuck in my mind, but it has. Maybe it’s because, for me, it rings true. The first chill I feel in the air every year fills me with a buzz of frenetic energy, a clarifying shock to the system. My restlessness doubles instantly. I’m a kid again.
In Texas, it takes a while for that chill to ever truly show up. Thanks to a lot of rain in the Dallas area recently, though, we’ve gotten a few tastes of it. Even though I know it’s a tease, I can’t help the thrill it brings.
A couple weeks ago, the temperature sank just low enough and the late-summer sun was just golden enough to fake me into that season-change excitement. I drove up back roads to Grayson County, rolled my windows down, and let myself and my camera pretend that crisp fall weather was just around the corner.