Dear Boots: November 2022

By Anna Mitchael

Dear Boots

Questions From Deep in the Heart of Texas

Dear Boots,
Now that fall is finally here, I want to get out of the city and stretch my legs. What small towns in the area do you recommend for a day trip?
-Ready to Wander

Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to spend some vacation days on a small spread of beach in Costa Rica that unrolls into the Pacific Ocean. When it was high tide, surfers would pour into the water. One minute there would be no one and then, like a magnificent rainforest mirage, men and women with surfboards on their heads, or slung under their arms, would suddenly appear. It was like they were being drawn by the magnetic pull of the tide and while I was there I, too, got sucked into this vortex. The hours I spent with my blanket in the sand, watching surfers find the rhythm of riding waves in, then paddling out, waiting, then riding waves in again, deep-carved a place of rest into my soul. Even now, years later, if I feel anxiety creeping up for some kind of everyday, mundane thing, I will think back to their rhythms—how they wouldn’t let a bad ride or wave deter them from the bigger picture.

Over the course of my trip, high tide came later and later in the day, so the last evening I was there, it coincided with the sunset time exactly. While the sun was slowly dropping in the sky, an orange glow strengthened and cast a golden hue across the surfers, the water, and the sand my toes were buried in. Then, at the moment when the bulb actually dropped beneath the horizon, all the surfers sitting on their boards out in the water raised their hands and let out a great cheer. The people on the beach took that lead and started clapping and cheering too. I’m not talking a quick whoop or a little applause. For two full minutes, all of us on that beach hooted and hollered for the show.

I bring up this sunset now, in this season, and in response to your question, because not far from the city limits of Waco, those same sunsets can be had. Away from neighbors’ rooflines, and billboards, and the busyness that can keep us from even noticing the sun in the sky, every evening there is a brief window when an orange glow tips the tops of pasture grass, water coloring the world in shades of autumn.

I agree with you, Ready to Wander, small town trips can be a source of rejuvenation. Spending an afternoon rambling through corner cafes and small shops curated with the flavor of a place we don’t know can shine up what gets dull in the face of familiar scenery. When I want a trip like that, I usually head west on Highway 6 until I reach Clifton. But my recommendation is that if you want to visit a small town, you do that around lunchtime of the day because that will leave you time to drive some county roads in the late afternoon. It can take a bit of rambling to find the right uninterrupted horizon line, the spot where we want to sit, watch the world transform, and maybe even let out a whoop or two when the hue of everything around you begins to shift. To stretch the legs is good, but to stretch the soul is another thing entirely. That’s always going to be the kind of trip I recommend most.


Dear Boots,
I saw a sign at the grocery store that says there’s a turkey shortage. If I can’t get a bird, what do I serve at Thanksgiving?

Isn’t it curious that no matter how advanced our medical system becomes, doctors still haven’t put a name to the condition that often descends on a person in their twenties or thirties, when all their friends decide in one collective heave-ho that the time has come to tie the knot. I’m as far from a doctor as a coyote is from a teddy bear, but I know the signs of what I call Rehearsal Dinner Syndrome: a sinking heart when the clock strikes ten and people are still lining up to talk at the microphone, a newly-developed revulsion for both salmon and chicken and having to fight off the urge to take a flute of champagne under the table and stay there until the rented room empties and the world is good again.

I was in the middle of an acute case of RDS when I attended the wedding of a Texas friend who was marrying a gentleman from Seattle. The ceremony was in Washington, so was heavily attended by his friends and family—all of whom looked very nice and normal at first. But once their speeches began, I discovered they had been living under rocks. Until my Texan friend had come into their lives, none of them had ever even heard of queso. While my friend’s charming personality had surely made an impact, what really impressed them was how she had connected them with the mothership of all appetizers: tortilla chips served with a big vat of melted cheese.

As I sat with my flute in the cool, dark space underneath the table, listening to one adult after another speak of queso in the same breath as love and devotion, I was not cured of the condition that ailed me, but I was momentarily transported from my self-pity to a happier place. I suspect the revelation might also be a balm for your Thanksgiving concerns: Do main courses ever stir the heart like appetizers and side dishes do?

It seems to me side dishes and apps are what really get us going—the smaller bites, the richer tastes, the more adventurous dishes that let us sample without committing to (no pun intended) the whole enchilada. Have you ever heard a person fall to pieces about turkey like they will for a vat of homemade mashed potatoes ladled with gravy from the boat that comes out once a year? Perhaps the lack of birds to baste, roast, barbecue, stuff or mix (unnaturally, but oddly deliciously) with duck and chicken for a new meat altogether, is an invitation to step into a meal made up of these crowd pleasers.

It’s not a step away from tradition, it’s just a small tuck under the table for some recentering. When we emerge next year to find turkey back on the shelves, we will be refreshed and ready, the world will feel good again.


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