It was around 1998 that the Groobees, the Amarillo-based band I was privileged to play in with Scott Melott, Gary Thomason, Todd Hall, Bobby Schaffer, Jim Whisenhunt and Mike Devers, started widening our circle. Up until then, our world tours were confined mostly to the wide, straight I-27 that connected Amarillo and Lubbock. That road ran parallel to the horizon that you can really only see in the Panhandle of Texas, or maybe the ocean.
In ’98, we started playing around the Hill Country of Texas. New Braunfels, home of the legendary Gruene Hall (the oldest continuously running dance hall in Texas) KNBT 92.1 FM (the best pioneer Americana radio station), and a little place called Freiheit Country Store where they hosted a weekly show called “Humble Time,” were our introduction to the Hill Country music scene and incredible music fans Texas has to offer. Folks like Rhonda Barlow Maxey opened their homes, allowing us to not spend all our gig money on food and hotels for five people. Heck, Rhonda even gave up her first-born son, Barlow, to be our merchandise guy for a little while. People like Rhonda were the difference between us getting to tour or not.
New Braunfels is also known for the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, and that is where the best traffic jams happen. Summertime in the Hill Country is packed with people sitting in inner tubes floating down these rivers. In 1998, the Guadalupe River flooded, leaving everyone shocked as they watched their homes, cars, heirlooms and baby pictures floating downstream.
The media called it a 500-year flood. Folks thought that meant it was going to be at least 499 years before it happened again. The water calmed and cleared back to its natural, beautiful, gentle blue-green. So folks began to rebuild. Houses went up along the river, pictures back up on the walls. New roofs, new yards, new memories. Just four years later, in October of 2002 after some serious rain in and upstream from New Braunfels, the water began to rise again setting another record flood. Four years, not 400.
This past Memorial Day weekend, on May 23, my new little hometown (as of 2003), Wimberley, Texas, got hit with what they are calling a 1,000-year flood. A 40-foot wall of water surged down the Blanco riverbed, which only days earlier held just a trickle of water.
Hundreds of houses are gone. A dozen people were swept into the raging current. As I write this, a few are still missing, and we are still looking for bodies. It’s nearly impossible not to get emotionally swept away by this event. There are only about 3,000 people living in this town, so everyone knows someone who lost everything.
I live along the Blanco, but I am high enough on a hillside that my house had no damage. My back fence was torn where debris got caught, but I was able to fix it with some zip ties so my dogs can’t get out of the yard. Zip ties. I am so lucky.
The devastation we have seen in Wimberly is of a magnitude that I can’t put into words. However, it is dwarfed by the outpouring of love and generosity from people who live in Wimberley, Texas, the United States, or on this volatile Earth.
I wrote “First Sign of Spring” just after that second flood in 2002 as a prayer of sorts. After living in Texas for almost 30 years, I realize that our springtime is not in pastel colors and gentle breezes. It in is the boldness of wildflowers, the electric zap of lightning, muddy brown flood waters and the roar of tornados.
First Sign of Spring Susan Gibson, 2003
This just isn’t what I expected
Nothing like my weatherman predicted
I’d have brought my umbrella if I thought it would rain
It’s the first sign of spring
I got a bumblebee in my blue bonnet
In fields of wildflowers with your name on it
Can’t you hear the wind, boy, it’s whispering?
The first sign of spring
I spent my winter with a broken wing
Broke and down, I can’t fix a thing
But like the robin, I can sing
At the first sign of spring
Brown boys walking down the street
No shirts on their backs, no shoes on their feet
Hanging around the corner looking for change
For the first sign of spring
Strangers coming into this town
To be washed in the water and float on down
Lost sunglasses for the offering
For the first sign of spring
Baby, how does your garden grow?
With the laughter of children o’re the seeds you sow
Birth and rebirth are a painful thing
Like the first sign of spring
by Susan Gibson
Susan is a Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter who lives in Wimberley, Texas. Susan wrote “Wide Open Spaces,” one of the top-selling country songs of all time, performed by The Dixie Chicks, and has four solo albums released nationally. She tours year-round, performing at a variety of festivals, listening rooms and house concert venues. Susan was inducted into the West Texas Music Hall of Fame as Entertainer of the Year in 2009. She currently supports the Barnabas Connection, a non-profit assisting with flood recovery efforts in Wimberly and Hays counties in Texas. Learn how you can help at www.barnabasconnects.org.