I moved to Austin for its warm nights. Never mind the soul-crushing heat of the day that’s required to make this lovely balmy sundown – it’s worth it.
Humid air just carries sound differently. It gives it a sustaining note. And in the darkness, that sound takes on an even calmer, more sensual quality: A rattling cicada in a blinding afternoon sounds like a metallic air raid, a rising and falling clatter of ball bearings in a tin drum. But by night, it’s a Voodoo priestess feverishly shaking a ring of chicken bones and shells.
A warm Austin night has its own soundtrack. Listen for the sharp, crabby caw of a common nighthawk around dusk as it circles overhead. When you sit on our porch – a grand thing with rocking chairs and a hammock, and arguably our best feature as a couple – listen for the fluting of a screech owl. They live in our neighborhood. We sometimes run silently on the balls of our feet a block or two, trying to catch them out.
It was on a visit in April 2003 that I fell in love with Austin. The heat was not yet oppressive. An old friend had a party at her little house in Clarksville, at which many very people drank beer and painted paper lanterns. The way they glowed, the way that voices carried with the music on the swampy air, it was exactly the Tennessee Williams-like atmosphere a romantic California writer would dream of. Shawled in warmth and color and a fine sheen, you could do anything, be anyone, talk to anyone.
In August 2005, I finally left Orange County and moved into my own little rental house across the street from a small plot of pecans owned by the Elizabeth Ney museum. I took Chloe on a walk to investigate it around 10 or 11 at night. As we neared the creek, a gentle quarterflash appeared. And then another. And another. Sulfuric yellow, flaring up and disappearing like a lit cigar. My first fireflies! (Outside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which is where all my ideas of a southern night came from.) They never get old for me, ever.
Our porch, the hammock, the fireflies, the cranky crow, the cicadas, the chirruping frogs, and the sound of a party nearby.
I will miss warm Austin nights so much, and how they hold you.