About a year ago, on a tip from a friend, I took the borzoi and Carissa's two little dogs over to a large tract of open land not far from my central Austin home that for many years has served as an annex for Tex-DoT (Department of Transportation). It didn't take much, and soon I was hooked, returning repeatedly to drink in the magic offered by this largely hidden space.
Sadly, it seems the dictates of commerce and capitalism will soon see the tract leveled to make way for a large, mixed-use development to be called "The Grove." For the moment, though, it remains rough and wild - shielded from frenetic nearby traffic despite its proximity to major thoroughfares. The eastern side slopes down through groves of majestic, mature live oaks to a stretch of Shoal Creek that is largely inaccessible. Wide-open meadows sport patches of wildflowers in distinct colors depending on the season. At present, there is an extended swath of tall grass on the backside with tops in a furious bloom of gorgeous lavender - salvias maybe? And there are extensive areas of dense, impenetrable underbrush where, I can only assume, field mice, snakes, foxes, and other wild things still make their homes.
The dogs and I were there again one morning last week. They had space to run free, and I felt like I could actually hear myself think. Something about the freedom and wildness proliferating there really speaks to me. And an expression I had used in a newsletter earlier this year - "wild land" - came bubbling back up.
I'm not sure why I keep chewing on this idea - wild land. Maybe it's the sheer volume of information overload we face these days. Whether it's the President's latest twitter war screaming from every channel, the city bus wrapped in a sheen of billboard touting the newest real estate development, or my Facebook "friends" telling me how to feel about all of this. At some point, this chronic, manipulative noise frays at the fabric of our collective nervous system. It leaves me wondering: why have we chosen to become so disconnected from the elegant natural rhythms of our planet? Is this really how we want to live? Is it any wonder so many of us are flocking to meditation classes?
Perhaps this is just about me getting older, romanticizing the past the way old people tend to do. But I remember a different time, when we were surrounded by open space.
Growing up in South Texas, I often took a pup tent out to one of the orange groves behind our house - as good as a state park as far as we were concerned. We'd build a campfire and spend the night under stars. There was an old army jeep in the barn behind the ramshackle farmhouse where my friend Ted's family lived. We weren't supposed to drive it as it didn't have a license and neither did we, but that didn't stop us from joy riding along the dirt tracks near the irrigation ditches that lined the citrus groves. I remember the heady sense of freedom that blew through our hair.
Even when we lived in Hemphill Park in Central Austin - not exactly a rural, agricultural paradise - my friends and I could head out the front door on our own and go off to find places where we could be unsupervised and free. These places were almost always outdoors and though I may not have known what to call it, I remember feeling connected with the earth.
We talk a lot about sustainability at Texas French Bread. And unfortunately, these days that word gets thrown around so frequently it threatens to lose any real meaning. But if sustainability means anything, I think it's about making a commitment to a life, and way of doing business, that are in balance with the planet. For me, finding that harmonious sweet spot - listening to and honoring the rhythms of the earth - is vital.
In the context of making food for people at Texas French Bread, these rhythms are essentially agricultural - and agriculture is about a relationship with the earth. You can't rush the sweet potatoes so that you can make a killing on a deal. You can't force the clouds to rain, or prevent the late cold front from freezing your peach blossoms. You don't dominate an agricultural relationship. You go outside and get your hands in the dirt. You feel the sun on your skin and the wind against your cheeks. You feel out the relationship and do your best to be a good steward and hold up your end of the bargain.
At Texas French Bread, we do our best to respect these rhythms by upholding some very old-fashioned principals, like focusing on products that we have a soulful connection to and then making those products by hand, from scratch, and avoiding shortcuts. And by buying as many of our ingredients as we can from people we actually know who are part of our local community, like Carol Ann and Larry at Boggy Creek Farm or Glenn and Paula from Springdale.
We've also done our best to make TFB a place where people feel encouraged to connect with each other in an extended community - hopefully in ways that cut through some of the noisy information overload that can feel so besieging these days.
We hope that those of you who are new to this newsletter (thanks to Austin Monthly's flattering story that can be read here) will come in and introduce yourselves. We'd love to meet you. We'd love for you to use our space as a place to disconnect from the hustle and bustle and instead, reconnect with friends, family, or even yourself. And on a personal note, I'm hoping you'll notice the efforts we're making to slow things down, and maintain a connection to the things we think really matter.