When the sun came up, a trio of helicopters announced what I would later learn for sure: A dozen people were swept away. A few were dead. After the helpful deputy told me I could make it across a low-water crossing, I ventured out to check on neighbors and saw furniture, clothing, memorabilia, stoves, refrigerators, and even cars ruined and stacked in sloppy piles by the road. Where I was inconvenienced and others had their homes—the very reasons they came here—destroyed.
The giant, noble bald cypress trees that sprouted when Columbus landed in the New World were either gone or stood as dead reminders of a forest now gone. They snapped or—when they refused to yield to the wall of water—were stripped bare of leaf, limb and bark. Left naked and effectively dead. It reminded me of the pictures of the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s. In town, stone homes crumbled. Wooden ones toppled on one another. Streets filled with cops and crews and trucks, the feeling it left me with was surreal.
This town has epitomized a sort of ideal about Texas. A place of deep shade and cool waters, it has stood in contrast to much of the often hot and arid state. If you could afford it, a family vacation here was in order. If you could really afford it, a second home was a crowning achievement. In this vein, Wimberley has been like Ocracoke Island or Martha’s Vineyard or Taos: That place where once you visit you dream of living.
Through all of its human history, the Wimberley Valley has been defined by its waters. Unlike the dark sluggish waters of East Texas or the muddy, brown ones of South Texas, the water here has run cool and clear from underground springs for tens of thousands of years. The Tonkawa and Comanche made seasonal camps here after hunting buffalo farther north.
In the winter of 1857-1858, the first Anglo settlers arrived, building a mill that relied upon the swift waters of Cypress Creek. The mill race is, in fact, still in full view. And the waters defined 20th century life here. A girls camp was built on the Blanco River. Kids swung from rope swings into Blue Hole. They dove, dangerously, from the rock over Jacob’s Well. Cypress Creek ran right through the middle of town and the tourists would come and you could almost see what they were thinking: What if we got a place here?
For the tourists, Wimberley has billed itself as “a little bit of heaven.” And finally, 10 years ago I had the chance at my place. And so I took it. My daughters grew up on weekends here, experiencing small-town rodeos, tubing the river, the simple pleasure of snow cones and the occasional sunburn. At population 2,582, full-time life here now that they’re grown has been simple, certainly—even to the point of dull, actually. That’s how life in paradise is, after all. I once remarked to a friend, “I need a vacation.” She shot back: “Dude, you live on vacation.”