Austin: It was grok at first sight.
This would have been the summer of 1963, years before I acquired a hippie vocabulary sufficient to describe the soul-claiming properties of Texas’s modest little capital city. I was fourteen, and my Explorer Scout post was in the final leg of a hundred-mile canoe race. It began somewhere up on the Highland Lakes and followed the Colorado River to the finish line in downtown Austin. The actual paddling was done by my older brother and two other competitive-minded scouts. My place was on the support team, eating potato chips in the backseat of a pursuit car driven by my mother.
On a steep and winding two-lane road just west of town, she pulled into a turnout and parked the car on a high bluff overlooking Lake Austin. Far below, we could make out my brother’s canoe struggling forward on the green water. We yelled and waved at the paddlers; they exhaustedly waved back. But my pretend interest in the canoe race had already been eclipsed by what can best be evoked by another word from that long-ago lexicon: a vibe.
I don’t recall if I saw the city itself at that moment. There was no skyline then, nothing but the state capitol dome and UT Tower to be glimpsed beyond the treetops. What I saw were steely limestone cliffs accented by fissures and overhangs and shallow, inaccessible cave openings. Every irregularity in the rock cast a seductive blue shadow. Scrubby greenery covered the tops of the cliffs and the unending ranks of hills beyond. In the summer stillness I could hear the echoing sound of the canoe paddles slapping water hundreds of feet below.
The city of Austin, I would come to understand, is tuned to the pitch of the landscape I happened upon that day. There was nothing all that spectacular about those limestone canyons, just enough to impress a boy