You get an A+ for engagement, Dentonites.  What a week this has been sorting through the fantastic responses to last week’s call for feedback.  I asked you to describe the essence of Denton in your own words and way and you have diligently delivered.  You have emailed, commented on my blog, and even stopped me at a restaurant here or the post office there.  I am thrilled to learn that passion for Denton matching my own is rampant across our city!  This, my friends, is the most essential, magic ingredient in the recipe for keeping Denton Denton.

Meet Donna Gregory.  Donna is a native Dentonite, born at old Flow Hospital.  She attended Denton schools and then raised her own kids here.  She’s been in Denton all her life except for a decade when she went off to college and got her teaching career underway.  It’s been 32 years now since she came home to Denton.  I find it interesting that the bulk of that non-Denton decade was spent in Austin.  It was, after all, the Denton/Austin “sense of place” comparison that kicked off this essence series in the first place.

Donna is one of Denton’s creative entrepreneurs.  She is the former director of SCRAP on Oak Street off the square, a little mecca for the making-things-genre of Denton artists.  She’s still SCRAPing, but the teacher in her applied a bit of imagination and formed an especially interesting definition of Denton’s essence, literally.  As I did with the word essence, Donna went to Webster’s to shape her thought.

“Since you looked up essence in Webster,” Donna emailed, “I had fun looking up original and independent, as well: ‘Original – not a clone or a copy. Independent – not something dependent on something else or outside influences.’ We are own little unique corner of the world.”

I love this, Donna! You and Webster say it superbly.  One thing to note hones in on the word “little.”  In the grand scheme of the whole world, I agree that we are pretty small.  But, so was Austin just a few years ago.

At lunch with a friend the other day, he mentioned my column and recalled his own years in Austin back in the 50’s.  “The whole place was no bigger then than Denton is now.”  He described Austin’s abrupt north and south municipal borders that today seem to sprawl and crawl for miles.  As he talked, my mind’s eye caught this vision of Future Denton.  It was big, like today’s Austin.

My column the past few weeks has been dedicated to the concept of keeping Denton Denton and what that really means in light of the fact that we are experiencing unprecedented growth in just about every arena from population to development of all kinds.  Growth is a good thing, but sustaining our original independent sense of place is essential lest we are gobbled up and lost in the growth, reduced, if you will to just another big city.  Today, as Donna and Webster said, we are not a clone or a copy.  We are not dependent on something, or someplace else for our essence.  We must cache in our awareness that keeping Denton Denton will not be an accident.  It will be intentional and deliberate and collaborative among us all.

I love a cozy fire in the fireplace on cold nights.  We have a real-wood, old-fashioned fireplace that requires coaxing the kindling to flirt with little logs, so they can pass the flame to the big boys that will burn warm and beautiful indefinitely as long as two things remain constant.  First, I must continue to feed the fire new logs and fresh air.  And secondly, as the wood burns to become little hot coals, I must keep those coals close together so they retain the heat that is the bedrock for the fire.  Separating those embers and spreading them away from one another is the quickest, most efficient way to put the fire out.

The warmth, soft yellow light, and winter-smell of the fire in the fireplace are the fire’s essence.  They create ambience in my living room that conveys home, security, peace, and rest.  Just like the essence of Denton is original, independent, and unique to our corner of the world.  You realize, of course, that you and I are the embers in this fireplace metaphor.  Keeping Denton Denton is the fire.  Our ember-job is to stay together so that fire never goes out.