Southern Comforts

It's not unusual for the streets of Austin to be alive with music. Even its airport is a showcase for talent. But a few miles out of town at Lake Austin Spa Resort, I encountered a song that stood apart from the rest. It was in the spring, when the region's hills are swathed in blue wildflowers, when Texas-sized thunderstorms arrive at the spur of the moment to drench the landscape and then disappear just as quickly.

As I was making an evening trek to the spa's pool barn after one of these downpours, a rhythmic sound surged up from the ground, growing louder as I neared the gate of the spa complex and even louder when I set off on a shortcut through the water feature. Looking down in the dim light, I caught sight of the source. There were scads of frogs, perfectly camouflaged on the rocks and all perfectly still--except for their cheeks, which were bellowing in song.

The element of surprise is exactly what gives Lake Austin its charm and spirit. One could easily take the spa at face value as a lovely resort comfortably appointed in perfect taste or choose instead to come away with a life lesson or two. Though I spent little more than two days here, the seeds of transformation that are true to a destination spa visit were gently sewn. Nothing is forced or pushed. Scheduling one's time is an option, not a requirement. Guests set their own agendas and are encouraged, however tacitly, to be sure to find time between exercise classes and spa treatments to laze in a hammock down by the water or to check out from it all with a nap in the cool comfort of their airy guest cottages.

On my Sunday afternoon arrival, the air was buzzing with motor-boats trolling water-skiers along Lake Austin, which, it seems, isn't really a lake at all, but rather a 20-mile stretch of the Colorado River reconfigured by dams. But early in the morning, the water lies still and quiet--ideal for sculling.

I set out for my introduction to this meditative sport at 8 a.m., fortified by some of the tea and fruit that are plentiful in the main dining room. For one hour, instructor Cindy Present patiently taught me the push and pull motions of this rowing technique, connecting my own energy to that of the water. Breezes that come up later in the day limit sculling to a morning pursuit, but (conditions permitting) kayaks and Hydro-bikes are for loan on the dock whenever a white flag flutters above.

Surrendering, with or without a white flag, is both de rigueur and contagious, and the safe haven Lake Austin provides makes it easy to try something new. I confess that one of my guilty pleasures is eavesdropping, and mealtimes in the dining room were treasure troves of upturned assumptions. Young women visiting with their mothers talked about wanting to try a Nia dance class or the Anti-Aging Facial while the occasional "big-haired" gal would declare she was heading off to chakra meditation or hoping to fit in a moxibustion session. And why not? If you're certain you made a fool of yourself during a Bollywood aerobics class, chances are you'll be laughing about it over dinner with someone else who thinks she did the same thing.

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