The Geography of Identity; Where Blue Bonnets Paint the Hills

My sister, Becky, and me in a field of Blue Bonnets near Barton Creek Square Mall, on the edge of the Texas Hill Country

I’m returning today from a trip to Texas.  I went to Texas intending to find a job there and to return there permanently.  In other words, I changed my mind.  I no longer wanted to live in Kentucky.  I wanted to live in Texas.  But things didn’t quite work out how I had hoped they would.  So now I find myself in a hotel somewhere in Arkansas, about halfway to Lexington.  Leaving Texas is always hard, because I’m leaving home.  I’m leaving memories and people and places that cling covetously to little pieces of my identity.  I considered writing for my blog a piece titled “The Geography of Identity” in which I would map out where I’ve left different versions of myself.  The child “me” is in Austin.  He still clambers up trees, builds tree houses, catches snakes and frogs, scorpions and spiders.  His hair is still blonde and it still hangs to his shoulders.  I can still see him sitting on a hill of Blue Bonnets next to his little sister, Becky, one Easter weekend when he was four years old; meanwhile his parents are still snapping photos of them both for memory’s sake.

I remember that when my sister and I sat on that hill I was worried about crushing the Blue Bonnets.  Actually, I was more than worried.  I felt terrible.  I also remember feeling silly sitting next to my sister, holding a blue Easter bunny and posing for a picture whose significance I would only understand decades later.  What isn’t clear in the picture is that the hill on which my sister and I are sitting rises up from Loop 360, one of the busiest stretches of highway in Austin.  Even twenty-six years ago cars streamed down that road nonstop.  I was aware at the time that we were posing not only for my parents, but also for hundreds of drivers and passengers as they shot out of town into the folds of the Texas hill country or made their way to Austin’s newest mega-mall: Barton Creek Square.

Everything outside of the picture still exists.  The four lane highway carries more cars today than when I was a boy, but it looks exactly as it did almost three decades ago.  The mall has changed very little on the outside.  A few apartments have risen on nearby hills with glorious views of downtown Austin and the thunderstorms that roll in from the east every Spring.  Everything in the picture, however, has disappeared.  The hill remains, of course, but Lady Bird Johnson and her army of Blue Bonnet enthusiasts stopped seeding that hill soon after my sister and I posed on it for my parents.  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, in the interest of public safety, the city itself forbade parking on the shoulder of the highway to take pictures.

So now, at any given time of year, in any season, if you venture to the hill along Loop 360 you will see neither Blue Bonnets nor little children posing for their parents.  Instead, you will see pointy cedar bushes creeping down toward the highway.  But in my mind I see something different.  The blue bonnets still paint the hill azure, my sister and I are still sitting next to each other among the forest of flowers, and my parents still futz around us with their cameras, always just a moment away from taking a picture that today recalls a moment grown more poignant with time.

*I’m going to keep blogging, but I’ll probably post about once a week from now on.  I love sharing the world with anyone who happens to read these miscellany.  I’ll keep commenting on other blogs, of course.  Thank you for your time and conversation.  It means the world to me.

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

26 Responses to The Geography of Identity; Where Blue Bonnets Paint the Hills

  1. Nick, thanks for sharing. Your words always reach deep into the marrow of meaning and existence. Although at times difficult to understand our journeys, they are all we have…to appreciate, to love, and to remember. Please keep writing! It is so much who you are!

  2. Patti Ross says:

    Thanks for sharing. I lived in Texas for about 8 years–Corpus Christi. I did not see hillsides full of blue bonnets, but I did see some of the wildflowers every spring as I drove either up to San Antonio or Austin or all the way home to CA for a visit. The hills I pass these days have California poppies each year depending on the rain fall and some blue bonnets–sometimes even fields of them. I appreciate the memory–and have nostalgia for when the wild flowers were more prevalent everywhere, and children out on the hills was not such an unusual sighting.

    I will look forward to your blog entries whenever you can share them.

    • Thanks, Patti. I do miss seeing more wildflowers.

      I think it’s been more than fifteen years since I last went to Corpus Christi. Hard to believe (for me, anyway)!

  3. pattisj says:

    What a beautiful picture and memory. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a mass of flowers as that. It will be interesting to see where your journey leads.

    • I think we always took the Blue Bonnets (and other native flowers) for granted when we lived in Austin. They don’t last long, and sometimes, if temperatures and rain aren’t just right, they barely bloom at all.

  4. EvilPoet says:

    You’re so very lucky to have such rich and beautiful memories. They are precious – cherish them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – I look forward to your future posts. 🙂

  5. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out for you…at this time. I know what it feels like to leave home, when I leave Texas.

    • Thank you! You would definitely understand the difficulty of leaving Texas 🙂 Things are looking up though. Kentucky is a beautiful state. I’m also missing out on some of that summer “warmth” in Texas.

  6. This is lovely, and would make a perfect addition to the Essays on Childhood — A Sense of Place them. May I repost? 🙂

    • Of course! Thank you Elizabeth 🙂 I hit a rough spot where I just didn’t feel like writing anything, but I think I’m back to it. Ahh, I’m erratic about these things. Right, as if that’s news.

  7. I plan to recruit you to write an essay in 2012 with special focus on boyhood. Rest up! (And thank you!)

  8. Pingback: The Geography of Identity – Where Blue Bonnets Paint the Hills by Nick Bromley | Esse Diem

  9. This year in Austin the roadside embankments and medians have had a double whammy: the continuing drought suppressed the traditional wildflower displays in the spring, and then, on the pretext that all the dry plants pose a danger of fire, the mowers assiduously cut down vast swaths of vegetation. I’ve never seen so many roadsides, fields, and lots looking so desolate. See, for example:

  10. And when it comes to the withering away of childhood rather than plants, nothing I know conveys that better than Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill”:

    • I love the poem. I had not read before. These are among my favorite lines: ” Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means”

      I was down in Austin in April, and even then it looked parched. Dallas lucked out. It got a fair amount of rain in the spring and the flowers drank it in.

      I remember driving through Circle C when it was a new neighborhood and most of the development was nothing but fields and oak trees. Everyone in my family used to lament that they mowed those fields, even when they were aflame with Indian Paintbrush and detracted in no way from the look of the neighborhood. Your photo of the sunflower stalk really captures the tragedy!

      • Yes, it’s a great poem, and the line you quote is one of the best in it. Glad I could lead you to it.

        As for the mowers, I’ll keep mentioning their depredations in my blog from time to time, for whatever good that does. Your account of Circle C is all too typical. On the good side, I believe the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, being just across the way, has had a good influence.

  11. Pingback: The Geography of Identity – Where Blue Bonnets Paint the Hills by Nick Bromley | Esse Diem |

  12. Hah, that will work. I do know where the ‘y’ habit came from: I always think of former Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Why? I have no idea.

  13. This brings back so many of my own memories! I have photos of myself as a child, and of my own children, sitting in fields of bluebonnets.
    Just remember: when one door closes, another one opens. Can’t wait to read about your new adventures, wherever life takes you.

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