By Christina Marie Sterling
I am not a native Texan. In fact, I have only been a resident of the Hill Country since 2007. Where I come from, 90° weather happens a handful of times a year, and rain seems to constantly pour from the Pacific North West clouds; it has taken me quite a while to adjust to a scorching Texas sun that seems to shine year-round. Sometimes, I laugh about how strange it is that both of my babies were born right here in San Antonio and their hometown is our charming Boerne! For them, 90° just means more ice cream dribbled on a happy chin, and our sporadic rain just means the creek will rise high enough for the ducks to swim.
Since it appears summer has hit her stride and the days are growing longer, the girls’ and I are outside constantly. My favorite gem of Boerne is the Cibolo Nature Center; we frequent this oasis a few times a month. When the day is hot, the shade of the trees and the cool water provide the perfect setting for an enjoyable afternoon.
Just the other day, I packed up the double stroller, painted noses, shoulders and foreheads with sunscreen and drove a few short miles until we were slowly cruising under the tree-lined road. That little stretch of pavement right before your tires hit the gravel always reminds me of where I grew up in Washington State. Where I spent my childhood, tree-lined roads are a staple in the landscape. Except where in Texas they are often oak trees, I knew towering pines and weeping willows. I knew soft grass so saturated in deep green it gave grass-fighting stain remover a run for its money. I knew a steady, wet drizzle was just something you lived with and that any non-local called it a depressing rain… Texas and Washington could not be more different; here, we yearn for any rain we can get, the grass is often brown before Memorial Day and trees don’t often get any higher than the height of a two-story house.
As I drove that little stretch of pavement to our favorite getaway, I pondered what my children would remember about where they grew up? Once my tires found their afternoon resting place, I unloaded two antsy children and we started our journey to the Trail Head that leads its followers to the creek.
There is always calm about Layla when we visit this place; she is a lot like me in that way – with a deep reverence for nature already evident in her 3 years of life. Her questions cease momentarily as she takes in the dried leaves on the dusty trail, the chirping of birds in the low-slung branches and the buzzing of all kinds of bugs around our heads. As if she is lost in peaceful wonder, she closes her mouth and simply pays attention to what is around her. She doesn’t need electronic distraction; she doesn’t require a stream of answers from her mother because she’s asking a million questions. Layla, with her enchanting blue eyes and curious excitement just seems to find tranquility when come here.
I managed to push that double-stroller down the initial limestone stairway and round the corner to my favorite overlooking spot. We stopped briefly and I knelt down beside where Layla sat and pointed out a squirrel a few feet beyond us. She giggled softly at the prudent rodent gathering up his daily meals. Watching her enjoy this simple scene washed over me my own calm; I smiled back at my toddler, stood up and walked around to continue my task of getting us to our destination. Jemma had been doing her own share of “watching” as we strolled – she had her feet propped up over the tray on the stroller, one finger in her mouth and a big smile on her face as she belted out a “song” in baby-babble. I peeked over the top of the stroller and met her gaze just briefly, but long enough to prompt an excited squeal from my 9-month-old sweetheart. Again I thought to myself how wonderful it is to build these kinds of memories with my daughters, even knowing Jemma is still too young to realize how important these moments are.
We made our way down the last flight of stairs and stopped on the little bridge. In all the years I have called Boerne home, I have only ever seen an actual creek under that bridge once. I think that speaks for the amount of annual rainfall we Texans actually see. This day was no exception so instead of watching water, we paused long enough to watch two birds playing “catch me if you can” with one another, darting back and forth through the thirsty trees along the dried up riverbank. Layla finally broke her silence and asked me how the bridge got there. All I could answer was that, “I hope whoever built this bridge loved this place as much as we do!” She was satisfied with that answer and waited in silence for the remainder of the dusty walk down to the creek.
The water was actually pretty clear and Layla wiggled herself out of the front of the stroller and ran as fast as her little legs would take her to the water’s edge. I unbuckled Jemma, put her on my left hip and parked the stroller by a picnic table, grabbed a blanket and set us down a few feet from the shore. Jemma found what she thought was a rather interesting stick and spent a good ten minutes poking at the dirt. I stretched myself across the blanket, kicked off my flip-flops and watched as Layla splashed around in the water. The sun was beating down through the shade of the trees but none of us seemed to mind it much – it was pretty close to a perfect afternoon in Texas.
I have learned as a mother it is important to really take notice of moments as they happen. To watch carefully as my oldest daughter tries to skip a rock across the surface of the water… To clap with my baby girl as she beats her hands together, showing her excitement that big sister is making a ruckus a few feet away. As I found myself taking in the simple pleasure of being “Mommy” in those few hours at Cibolo Nature Center, I felt extremely blessed that we call Texas home. I moved my eyes from my two children up through the trees to the bright blue sky above us, and I felt so grateful for the chance to experience a little perfect piece of Texas right in our small town.
There is a charm about the Hill Country that I have not known anywhere else I have ever lived. A couple of years ago I worked at one of the Veterinary hospitals in town and got to really know some of the local staples in our community. The “small-town” feel seems to have changed in the recent years, but I still see some of those old clients walking through HEB – they remember my name and ask about Layla (Jemma was not born yet when I worked there.) Where I grew up, the environment itself is a majestic display of the work of God – mountains on the horizon, full and green trees that stay green year-round and creeks that never dry up. In Texas, you have to appreciate the heat of a long summer because that is what it means to embrace what is beautiful in this great State. The water under the bridge has long-since vanished from droughts in summers past and the grass crunches beneath your feet unlike the soft moss and green grass I grew up with.
Layla, Jemma and I wrapped up our afternoon at the creek and drove back home. Layla was happily wet and exhausted and Jemma needed a nap. Our time together in nature makes us closer as a family, and I find tremendous peace in knowing they will call Texas where they grew up. I hope they always adore the bluebonnets in spring and the hot summer sun in July. I hope they learn why the trees don’t get higher than a second story on a ranch house so they can finally explain that to their “non-native” Mama. I hope they always feel lucky to be called “Texan” – because when you grow up knowing that a tree-lined street on the way to a creek means you are about to be in Hill Country heaven, I don’t think there is anywhere better to call home for two little girls than right here.