Juneteenth in bloom

The first sunflowers of the summer bloomed this week here on the bluff, as the rains stopped, the clouds disappeared, and the temperatures pushed above 90 and didn’t turn back. I thought it would just be the colonizers, but on Thursday one of the native Maximilian sunflower plants popped at the edge of the roof, portent of a long yellow summer.

Last Sunday we drove up to meet some dogs outside of Weatherford, and north of Hillsboro we came upon the site of a dozen carloads of interstate travelers pulled off the road to get out of their cars and wander off into the massive acres of sunflowers freshly bloomed in farm plots that came right up to the right of way. A highway patrolman had pulled over, too, to write them all tickets, but no one seemed to even care, too drunk with awe at the yellow blossoms that filled the frame. It made me wonder what the prairie that was once there looked like when it was in bloom.

Friday night my neighbor and I stepped away from dinner to help a local researcher find a good access point to get in the river here below the dam and look for eels to inventory. I had not known until recently that there are eels living in the Colorado River within sight of downtown Austin. All the more remarkable when you learn that they migrate here from their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea, spending their adolescence pigging out beneath the shadows of the paddleboarders and spillway fishermen. And then we heard how they have begun coming up here because of some seismic event underway on the Matagorda Fault, returning to this region for the first time since 1600. More on that to come.

Earlier in the week, I had been reading a bit about the role Austin’s Colorado River played in the slave traffic that let Anglo settlers turn Texas into a plantation republic, and the geographical significance the river held for escaped slaves trying to get to the border. Javier Wallace of Black Austin Tours is currently operating Roll Colorado Roll, a river tour that explores this history live and in person, and I’m hoping to be able to join him for one of those. I’d never even heard of Juneteenth until I moved to Texas. Living here has given me a much deeper appreciation of how deeply that dark history is connected to the deeper planetary history of our agricultural subjugation of the land and the people who work it to create surplus wealth for those who control it.

For this Juneteenth weekend, I am going to keep these notes brief, and encourage you to go read some of the amazing work I included in my post this time last year about Black Nature Writing. And for a fresh perspective on the Black experience of outdoor Texas, check out this Kayla Stewart piece in the April issue of Texas Highways about some of the new groups organized to help Black Texans in “Reclaiming the Outdoors.”

Have a safe week, and I’ll see if I can find some urban eels for next Sunday.