Monday, January 7, 2013

The Year Ahead

The New Year makes this old columnist pause: a blank slate of 52 columns stretches out a long distance from today. I feel some trepidation looking over a blank 2013 calendar as I consider a plan for the year -- I feel like I'm dipping a toe into a stream that will take about 42,000 words to cross.
Sometimes I feel like a long-distance backpacker: January is the start of a long trail, and the time of the year when you select the gear you plan to carry with you on that trail. You can carry too much, and strain with each step, enduring a painful journey; or you can carry too little and find yourself wanting in spots where supplies and help cannot be found.
I sat on a hill overlooking Kerrville this week, straining my aging eyes to see all the landmarks I too often take for granted.
The spot vacated by the old Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital causes me to look at our town differently. I am surprised how often I used that old building as a reference point, especially when looking at Kerrville from a distance. With its absence it takes me longer to find my bearings.
From the hillside I could pick out the water tanks near the Tivy Stadium, the Veterans Administration Hospital, the bank tower south of the river, my church, Methodist Encampment, and other sites. Finding downtown was a little more difficult -- with the old hospital gone. I sharpened my gaze as tightly as I could, and I think I picked out the cone-topped clock tower in Peterson Plaza, though there's a chance I was just seeing a tree.
I thought (not for the first time) it would be helpful to carry binoculars with me on these expeditions. My faltering vision could certainly use the help.
I found to my surprise I was taking all of my time looking for places I recognized instead of looking at the view from that hillside, studying the brushstrokes instead of enjoying the painting. It's a weakness I have: I search for the familiar and overlook the new and unfamiliar. I try to put things in order, to place things in convenient holders. I spend more time sorting than seeing.
From that hillside I was looking down a river valley which happened to have all of these places with which I am familiar. The hills to my right and left opened up in the center and among them a river fell slowly towards the sea. I could see some evidence of the river from where I sat -- cypress trees march along its banks -- though I could not see the water itself.
The hills were gray-green, mostly covered in ashe juniper, though other bare trees could be seen. Between the layers of trees chalky caliche bands were visible.
The valley between the hills was a riot of trees, where most of us live, and the trees were mostly brought in by homeowners over the years, and jumbled by type. I remembered the old photographs I have of the valley which holds Kerrville -- in those old photographs there are few trees. Today there is a profusion of them.
I tried to imagine what this valley must have looked like when the first settlers arrived. The oldest photographs in my collection date from the 1880s; the first settlers arrived in the late 1840s, so even the oldest photographs in my collection are forty years past the arrival of the earliest settlers.
I decided on the hillside this week I really couldn't imagine what the valley looked like when those first settlers came here.
Even more difficult would be to imagine what the place looked like before the settlers arrived, say a few centuries ago. The basic shape of the hillsides would be recognizable -- but the plants and trees on those hillsides would likely be different.
As I contemplated this, I happened to look down at the ground beside the chair in which I was sitting. There, in the chalky dirt, sat the tip of an arrowhead. It was about two inches tall and an inch wide, a dark brown piece of worked flint.
I was not the first person to sit on that particular hillside looking over the valley below. Someone sat near the exact spot a few centuries ago.
There are so many stories to tell about our little valley, and I'm excited to dip into the stream again and share them with you here. Who knows what we'll find if we take the time to look.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has never found a complete arrowhead, but only broken pieces of arrowheads. Someday, maybe, he'll find a nice one worthy of a real collection. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 5th, 2013.

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