Ashlyn Explores Austin

When exploring the hidden gems of Austin, Texas, one may be led downtown to the home, which happens to double as a museum, of William Sydney Porter, otherwise known as O. Henry- a prominent author famously known for his short stories such as “The Gift of Magi.”

Mr. Porter’s home is a Queen Anne-style cottage built in the mid-1890s. Amazingly, much of the original furniture is still preserved there for the public to see! The house is covered in vintage wallpaper, giving each room a different feel than the next, contrasting with most modern homes today. Interestingly, when the home was donated to the city for historic preservation, it was moved from its original location in a middle-class neighborhood to its prime location today.

Although this was Mr. Porter’s home, it was not where he constructed his famous short stories. He did most of his writing in prison for a felony of embezzlement, which he committed while working at the First National Bank. During his three years in prison, Mr. Porter wrote around 380 short stories that were published after his release, which launched his writing career, established him as an author, and later led to him becoming the famous author we regard him as today. Due to negative connotations attached to convicted felons, Mr. Porter began using his pen name, O. Henry, to prevent people disregarding his work due to serving time in prison.

The story of Mr. Porter’s past and aspiring short story author was fascinating to learn about while visiting the museum! However, the museum touched not just on Mr. Porter’s most talked about life, such as his ascent as an author; it also touched on more intimate parts that the average fan might not know. For example, Mr. Porter had a passion for music. The museum had a handwritten sheet of music titled “Main Street,” with the original notes and lyrics that he wrote on display. During his time in Austin, one could find him writing sheet music for piano, acting in the Austin Musical Union, or playing in a string instrument band, the Hill City Quartette.

I always find a little memento of Sam Houston in every museum I visit. For instance, this museum’s connection to Sam Houston was an old desk that Mr. Porter used during his time in Austin. The desk belonged to his great uncle, Adolphus Sterne, who was good friends with Sam Houston. This is one reason Mr. Porter valued this desk so much was because of the rich history behind it.

During his life, Mr. Porter was a man of many trades as he was an aspiring writer to support his family. He worked as a pharmacist, a bookkeeper, and a drafter to make ends meet. When he worked at a local drugstore, he was found to be excellent at sketching his customers. This led him to work at the Texas General Land Office for about four years, where he was tasked with drawing maps of Texas counties. He started working at the First National Bank to provide more financial support for his family, which led to his embezzlement and, ultimately, to his arrest.

One inspirational thing you can take from the legacy of the life of Sydney Porter is that every event in his life led to the next, and in the end, that is what got him to where he needed to be successful. This helps give me some perspective that not every bump in the road must be bad; it can be all about what you make of it.

Austin: Inside & (Especially) Outside the Capitol!

Morgan Robertson

My first month and a half in Austin has been filled with learning and trying new things-but not all of my new experiences have happened in the beautiful state Capitol. In an effort to take advantage of the great outdoor spaces that Austin has, I learned to paddle board on The Colorado River! With LEAP, and on my own, I have enjoyed kayaking and exploring different waterways, but new environments called for new experiences.

Located near the boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake, EpicSUP is known as Austin’s go-to paddle dock with what seems like a whole fleet of paddle boards and kayaks. Daniel, who has worked with EpicSup for several years, knew that the best way to introduce a novice was to encourage her to simply get on the board and paddle.

I would (and I’m sure many others would as well) classify myself as the least coordinated Ambassador–a thought that I couldn’t quite shake, with no help from the wobbling paddle board beneath me. After a few minutes of getting a feel for the new activity and observing other paddlers on the water I eventually fell into a rhythm and was off!

Even after my first venture on a paddle board, I would argue that it’s easier to balance than a kayak. As with any new activity, each time I’ve paddle boarded it has gotten easier, and I’ve been able to cover more distance. On just my second time out on the river, I paddled about 8 miles in three and a half hours–which included breaks to take photos of the city around me.

My starting (and ending) point is the circle on the bottom right corner of the map and I made it up to Mopac!

On my most recent voyage on the Colorado, I took a detour on Barton Creek which ended up being well worth it! Because of the shallowness of the creek, the clear water showcased flowing plants and even a turtle just beneath the surface.

The Creek seemed to be a great spot for all the local wildlife and Austinites to enjoy the weather. One lesson I have learned from LEAP is that wildlife photography is no easy feat. However, it is even more difficult trying to maneuver and maintain stealth on an 11ft paddle board toward skittish creek dwellers! I was lucky enough to have snapped a few shots of some basking turtles, hunting herons, and even ducks taking flight (despite being the reason for their immediate departure).

The wildlife, expanse of the river, and the beautiful views of the city all amplified my paddle boarding experience, which has, in turn, expanded my Austin experiences as well.