The morning sun rises over the Llano. It reaches down through the branches of the trees and warms my shoulders, scattering diamonds across the moving water. As the sun touches the river, the breeze begins to rise and so do my spirits. It flows through cedar and limestone hills, across grassy plains, over multicolored pebbles, and with it go my cares. The Llano is a magical river.
Life slips by like the river. Once I fluttered above it, tethered to the earth, young and green…living on sunbeams and breezes. Now as I float leaf-like along its rocky shores and look up through the branches: the sunbeams seem more distant. When ever I truly feel adrift in life, I know that I can return to the river. At first I stand along its shoreline, knee deep in the green grass that waits to take me. Then standing in the water- it rushes past me…in front and behind me, and if I pay attention I will find myself there.
Sometimes in my mind’s eye, I see a Comanche Warrior standing where I stand. He listens to the same water that has flowed through time down the Llano and up into the clouds only to fall to the river: home once more. His horse is happy drinking cold water as the warrior ponders the passing of time…and day dreams of eagles, and wonders how the Great Spirit has made all that surrounds him. In the end, he drifts down the river just as I do: both of us just memories: but the river remains.
Back and forth my fly-line sways as I cast tight loops over the water and bring them to rest upon the Llano. In a moment I am connected to the beating heart of another. He pulls at my fly-line, bending the rod and at once all is in motion: fish, river, sky, and me. I bring him to my hand all green and golden and alive- he rests there a moment and swims away. I thank him and wish him well. The Llano sustains us both.
People live along the Llano. I find myself sitting in the beautiful old Texas town of Mason at my favorite table in my favorite Taqueria. Senora Santos is making tortillas in the tiny kitchen. They smell like heaven and taste like memories. When I was a tiny boy with a big spirit my grandmother made tortillas for me and then as now I was never sure what the best part was: the eating or the anticipation. So I sit there surrounded by the good people of these Texas hills and they give me comfort that “hope” is still very much alive. My sangria cools the wonderful fire of her habanero salsa. Laughter fills the room and life seems as it should be. Life lives along the Llano.
Art is born along the Llano. A tiny gallery within the walls of an intimate winery grows organically next to Senora Santos’ kitchen. The building is art and is laden with stories of the men who built it and the lives that once lived within its wooden soul. A front porch calls out for time to be spent engaged in the lost art of conversation…real conversation between people not pixels. We sit together and sip fine wine and speak of what it is to be alive: truly. Smiles cannot be felt in virtual space, but here along the river in this time and place we share them freely. The wine is art that is wrung out from the grapes and from the heart. It – like the river, passes through time from generation to generation- ancient and modern, the smiles are the same. Along the shelves of the winery are pieces of pottery. They are the color of the earth, river, and sky. They are connected to the potter’s hands and spirit and flow through time. They honor the memory of an ancient soul that once- so long ago huddled beneath the limestone cliffs. He shaped clay with his imagination and his hands and painted his dreams upon the limestone walls. I purchased a small blue bowl. In truth, you never purchase art; you simply trade paper and coin for the privilege of sharing the artist’s vision. I have loved this small blue bowl for some time now, coveting it and daring myself to indulge. It sits upon my writing desk and when I see it- I smile.
Memories are made along the Llano. I look up river toward a deep pool where my daughter casts her line. For a moment I stop fishing and just watch as she moves, like music, like dancing…the line suspended above her and then it comes to rest upon the river. She laughs and tiny fish swim around her legs and smiles at the red wing black-birds that sing at the waters edge. I see her catching a fish; she brings it to hand, smiles at me, and then sets it free. In this moment the world is without worries and I am at peace. We stand together at the end of the day and look out at the river one last time: it was a perfect day.
Hill Country Rivers are not just rivers. They are spirits that tell us of this land and of who we really are. Their waters carry us home-back to ourselves and wash away the illusion: leaving only truth. Without the rivers the Hill Country dies and with its death go all of the memories, passion, and peace that so many have come to know. The Llano is alive… and when I am with her: so am I.