Austin is a one of a kind place. Growing up in San Antonio, I was close enough to get a taste of the Austin that was, back in the nineties and early two thousands. During college, I would often go down to Austin for concerts and to hang out with friends who went to UT.
Back then, Austin was growing rapidly, but was still fairly small. I remember when the population crossed the half a million mark, and I knew about the traffic nightmare that was (and still is) Austin. I know from talking with the old school Austin folks that things were really different back in the seventies and eighties, when Austin was much smaller and free in ways that only small communities can be. The land was far less developed, and the culture grew in relationship to the land, with hangouts at the sweetest spots being a key component of the good life. Even as Austin and the surrounding Hill Country were developed rapidly over my lifetime, the attitude of the old Austin scene has lived on, and it's still a great place to be, if you can afford to be there. Rent has skyrocketed, and still the city grows. It used to be so far down on the list of largest cities that I never knew its rank, and now it's up to number eleven, with around nine hundred thousand people.
While visiting Texas for a month last June, I made sure to get up to Austin, even if only for a short visit. I started off the day with a walk around downtown, which has changed a lot since my urban photography ventures back in 05. The sleek, glass high rises that are popping up everywhere perfectly exemplify what is happening to Austin. It's going big time, and many aspects of what made Austin so awesome is quickly being drowned out by the influx of new energy and money that has been pouring in over the last few decades.
I stayed downtown only for a bit, my main destination being Westlake, a very nice area just outside of Austin proper, up in the hills that overlook the Colorado River, which is dammed up in many places, creating lake Austin and Lake Travis.
My friend Jared lives not far from Lake Austin, in a place that he bought a few years ago. I hadn't ever been out there, and I was looking forward to seeing it. I was not to be disappointed. Jared and Gen actually have two homes on two acres backing up to some wooded floodplain, on the end of a cul-de-sac. It was a very nice neighborhood.
Jared welcomed me when I arrived, and he was quickly joined by his two sons, Tom and Shepherd, whom I had never met. The last time I saw Jared was up in Vancouver, where he works for much of the year. His sons were not with him then, though I was able to meet Gen there. She told me then about their land, and her interest in gardens and permaculture. Indeed, they had a very nice garden and chicken coop in the front yard, which was the only area with any decent sun. Most of the land was shaded by live oaks, which made for a nice cool spot in an otherwise very hot place.
Jared gave a tour of the first house, which was amazing. Stained hardwood and stone dominated the open room, making it feel like a finely crafted mountain lodge. It was nicely decorated with old maps, and an antler chandelier hung over the stylish furniture. A beautiful wooden staircase led to a loft balcony.
“This is the guesthouse,” Jared explained. “We lived here while we were renovating our other house. It was originally built by a business executive who used the upstairs as an office and conference center.” He took me up there to see, and it was such a nice room, like something Ron Burgandy would appreciate. The whole house was. Downstairs was a cigar and brandy room, a wine cellar, a movie theater, and a gym.
The other house was much bigger, though I didn’t explore it a whole lot. As soon as I arrived, the boys wanted to play, and we were outside for the rest of the day. We set up a ramp that was made to ride down in a small car and they roared down the driveway, barely missing the actual cars and various other obstacles. Tom asked if I would do the ramp, and I couldn’t resist. We also did some kung fu battling (they were very into the ninja turtles) and some tree climbing. Jared told them that I was one of the best climbers they would see, and they challenged me to ascend a tall tree in the yard, which I happily did.
During the course of all this excitement, I became completely drenched in sweat, and Jared had to lend me some clothes after I showered. We enjoyed a lovely dinner with his family, after the kids went to bed Jared and I went up into the office in the guesthouse to listen to music. He introduced me to Kaleo, an Icelandic band that is wildly talented. They are fairly new to the scene, and he had their first and only album on vinyl. I was blown away by it, finding it diverse, well written, and emotional. The first song almost had a Steppenwolf vibe to it, but other songs made me think of Moby and Bon Iver, though it was by no means unoriginal.
Jared knew the band members, or at least had met them a time or two. His good friend Matt, who would be coming over later that night to stay for a few days, knew them well and had introduced them. We listened to the whole album, also talking about the good old days and catching up on our own lives of late. Jared and I were best friends for a time in life, and certainly he is one of my closest friends from growing up, though we saw each other less after I moved to a different high school, and then even less after he went off to LA and made a career for himself in film and television. Still, some bonds run deep, and it was great to have a memorable adventure with him once again, after over a year since we’d seen each other.
My plan was not to stay the night, but it got pretty late, and eventually it became obvious that I might as well. Besides, the fun was just getting started. Matt would be showing up (though his plane was delayed and he had quite the ordeal getting in) at some point, and Jared figured we might go out on the boat the next day.
The next morning we took the boys to their school, which had just started up a summer session, and then ate some food and hung out with Matt, hearing his story of delayed flights and airline mix ups that landed him in San Antonio instead of Austin, only to find a ride up to Austin with another person in the same situation, via an Uber driver that just happened to be in SA late, heading back to Austin right when they needed to go. He got in sometime after three, so it was later in the morning when he emerged.
Matt was a really cool guy, and we both marveled at many overlaps in our own stories, interests, and style as we talked. Matt was into both permaculture and agorism, and he has created a fine career for himself coaching people on transforming the world by transforming their lives, starting with their own body practice. He was an Olympic wrestler for Canada, and he trains MMA fighters in grappling, along with a few other pursuits. We had some good conversation, and I could tell he was really running on high vibration, making positive changes in the world with his life.
Our trip to Lake Austin was awesome. Jared has a nice boat, and we picked up his cousin Jeremy, whom I’d met years before when we all when on a ski trip. Jeremy, Matt and I took turns tubing and riding the surf board, though I didn’t even try surfing behind the wake, even though I’ve never done it. Instead I went tubing first, and I used all my energy just hanging on for dear life while Jared whipped me around trying to throw me. Eventually he did, but I went for another round, which really wiped me out.
It took me much of the rest of the afternoon to get my strength back up, though I was greatly aided by our stop to a dockside restaurant where we had a good meal. It was quite an interesting coincidence that our waitress had the same tattoo, in the same spot on her arm, as Jeremy. Both had daughters named Hadley, and both got the name tatted on their arms.
After a day on the lake, I was plenty tired out, and I wished I could just crash another night. Jared welcomed me to, but I had already taken a pretty long stretch away from the family, and Laura hadn’t been super happy about that, so I said my goodbyes and headed home. It was great seeing Jared again, and great meeting his boys, along with his recently arrived baby daughter, who was just beautiful. He’s got a good thing going, and I’m glad that fame and money haven’t changed who he is. Hanging out is just like it’s always been for us. Ever since I moved after middle school, our get togethers have been infrequent but packed full - late nights or several days of non-stop partying and adventure seeking. This was yet another successful chapter in that story, and I hope for many more.
My next visit to Austin was with the whole family. We didn’t have time to go around and do much, though we did have dinner at a really nice organic café. Our main objective was to see our friend Natalie, who adopted a dachshund we fostered while we lived in New Braunfels in 14. We got to know Natalie through mutual friends back then, and we were delighted to find that she turned out to be a great person to take care of our buddy Jesse, who had been rescued from a really bad situation by a lady who already had a few dachshunds and couldn’t keep him herself.
Natalie’s situation has changed since we last saw her, so we got to see her new place and meet her new partner, Will. Jesse was overjoyed to see us, and he showed it. Natalie was certain he remembered us. We cared for him for only a few months, but we gave him lots of love, and he was so patient with being handled so much by kids who love dogs and haven’t ever really had one of their own.
It was great seeing both Jesse and Natalie, and we spent some time talking and catching up. It was short visit, as we showed up late in the day, but well worth the drive. It seemed to me, when I first planned my stay in Texas, that three weeks was plenty of time to set up meetings and interviews up in Austin, but almost all the time I had in Texas was invested in San Antonio and New Braunfels, my family being a big part of that. So Austin remains on my list as a hot topic in the permaculture world, a place where lots is happening, which I very much hope to report on in the months to come. I have another trip scheduled to Texas this year, so hopefully I can make that happen next go round.
Our visit to Natalie’s was towards the end of our time in Texas, and we were making preparations to pack up our car once again and get on the road to North Carolina. We heard the call, and we answered it. We didn’t really know what we would do when we arrived, but it was clear to both Laura and I that our next home was to be in the vicinity of Asheville, NC, where we now reside. South America, Mexico, the East Coast, Chicago, Kentucky, and Texas were all grand adventures, but our time of roaming around was drawing to a close, and the time to set up a home base was drawing nigh.
That will be a whole new chapter, coming to you soon, here on Permagora. Thanks for following along on the adventure, and dreaming this dream together.