Although Zen, or a state of mindfulness, is a Buddhist discipline, practicing it can benefit people of many faiths. In fact, the Houston Zen Center counts an Episcopal priest and a Baptist minister among its members seeking enlightenment through regular classes and group meditation. “I don’t want to get ‘woo woo’ here, because it’s not at all,” said a veteran member, Rick Mitchell. “Zen is very rational, but there is kind of a shared energy that you can just sometimes pick up on. Like this calm will descend on the room and there’s people sitting in silence for 30 or 40 minutes.”
Visitors can try to attain this glorious stasis through the “Zen and Zen” meditation offering at the 25th anniversary of the Houston Zen Community, also the 10th anniversary of the Houston Zen Center. The center grew out of the community around the time that Gaelyn Godwin of the San Francisco Zen Center, the oldest and largest Western Zen monastery, was appointed resident abbot and the group set up shop in the Heights neighborhood. A number of the panels, like “Zen and Housekeeping” and “Zen and Parenting,” offer practical ways to apply calm and insight to everyday life.
Houston Zen Center, Sept. 29, 11 a.m., houstonzen.org.
Out on a Limb
Trees are a go-to medium for artists responding to nature’s wicked mood swings. After Hurricane Ike hit Galveston in 2008, ravaged trees were carved into profiles, like that of the early-20th-century boxer Jack Johnson; earlier this year, trees in both Houston and Galveston were painted blue to call attention to their devastation by hurricane and drought. This Sunday in Austin, a 35-foot-tall dead cedar elm painted white will appear on Lady Bird Lake for the “Thirst” exhibition, a memorial to the 300 million trees lost in the 2011 drought. The installation, which will be illuminated at night, is meant to look as if it were hovering above the water, its roots unable to grasp the nutrients below. There will be 14,000 “prayer flags” lining the surrounding trails.
The Women & Their Work gallery commissioned the piece with funds from a $50,000 Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. “The tree is a symbol of the drought,” Beili Liu, the lead artist, says in the promotional video. “It’s also the symbol of life and the hope to overcome the drought.”
Lady Bird Lake, Sept. 29-Dec. 20, womenandtheirwork.org.
Perhaps the only thing at the State Fair of Texas that can trump the far-out fried-food concoctions — this year turkey, stuffing and creamed corn will be rolled into a deep-fried ball — is the unveiling of the new Big Tex, the fair’s gigantic cowboy mascot. The old one, which was 52 feet tall, went up in flames last fall after an electrical short inside his size-70 boots.
Details about the new Big Tex have been kept secret, and what has leaked has set off controversy. Apparently, State Fair officials will no longer employ Bill Bragg, the longtime voice of Big Tex, citing “creative differences” with him.
Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Texas novelist, took to his blog, Flash & Filigree, to express annoyance. “What exactly is ‘creative’ about Big Tex waving his animatronic arm?” he asked. “Bill Bragg said his heart was broken, and thousands of his equally heartbroken fans are ready to give battle.” Then again, everyone could fall silent after the first taste of fried bubble gum.
Fair Park, Sept. 27-Oct. 20, !bigtex.com.
Sometime after midnight, the 75 or so boats docked at Galveston’s Pier 19, known as the Mosquito Fleet because of their large protruding nets, set off in search of the Gulf shrimp that are served throughout the world. Visitors can taste them at their freshest, right out of the water, during the three-day Galveston Island Shrimp Festival. Imagine shrimp available in all the forms mentioned by Forrest Gump’s pal Bubba and then some, with five competition categories, including best shrimp burger.
Various locations, Sept. 27-29, yagaspresents.com.
The Other Salsa
The inaugural Alamo City Salsa Extravaganza, hosted by the Latin Dance Society at the University of Texas at San Antonio, may not help you perfect the “quarter-beat Copa in-and-out crossover double hand slip” move, but at least you can get close to your partner and burn a lot of calories.
Hermann & Sons Ballroom, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. and 28 at 10 a.m., alamocitysalsa.com.
At the Austin Film Society’s screening of “Machete Kills,” a sequel to the Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete,” the cast will be present, affording fans a glimpse of their fresh, clean faces before those same fans are subjected to the actors’ blood-splattered appearances on screen.
The Paramount Theater, Oct. 1, 7 p.m., austinfilm.org.