Friday, April 22, 2011

Skywatch Friday: Learning to Love the Prairie

I spend far too much on this blog whingeing about my "exile" in north Texas, and longing for the desert. At my age, and having made choices earlier in my life that brought me here, you'd think I'd have resigned myself to my fate and begun to make peace with the place in which I will probably breathe my last--even if that happens (as I hope) some distance into the future.

Years ago, when I was involved to some small extent in the local environmental movement, and volunteering regularly at the Heard Museum down the road from where I now live, I was somewhat more enamored of blackland prairie. Since those days, now a quarter of a century past, I've lived at the upper end of the prairie (in Chicago) where I got a taste of city life on a really big natural lake, and then lived in a more politically energizing part of the Dallas area before being chased north by the advancement of mega-houses and the destruction of the tolerable parts of the city that I could afford to live in.

We settled in McKinney over ten years ago, attracted by the historic district covenants that prohibit tearing down old houses to build new monstrosities. We found an old prairie-craftsman on a bit of land, where we've managed to build a little organic sanctuary in the midst of a pesticide-loving populace. The city tries to foster green-ness, but the neighbors all use loud gas-spewing mowers and leaf blowers, and dowse their lawns with chemicals. I think things might be getting better, but I'm too busy hiding out to notice.

My Earth Day resolution this year is to start doing what I can to preserve this wonderful old house and its half acre, and in doing so to renew my earlier efforts to come to terms with living here. I'm going to go back to the Heard, with an eye toward once again volunteering there when I reduce my course load in a few years, and begin my emeritus career. I have a feeling that it'll be considerably easier to recover my affection when I'm not driving through rush-hour traffic and dealing with folks who don't like my adherence to the speed limit.

It's time, after spending thirty years in the Midwest, to develop a bit of topophilia for the place I chose (at least in part) for child-rearing. The children themselves probably won't end up with as much love for their auld sod as I did for mine (they, in fact, harbor the same affection for the Eastern California desert as I do). But if I have to live here, it's about time I stopped regretting that fact and started to embrace the job of home-keeping in earnest.

Last week, after I'd mowed the back lawn (which was by then practically a meadow), I sat back to enjoy my handiwork and noticed how beautiful it all looked: no uniformly green monoculture in this yard. Instead, I'd trimmed down a variety of grass and "weeds" that formed small variegated mounds, closely-spaced enough to serve as an aromatic carpet just the right size for romping dogs. The color variations reminded me of the subtle hues one can see in the desert, that only a true lover can spot. My eyes, it seems, have adjusted to the "new" locale--much as the children do in Ursula Le Guin's short story about adaptation in place, "The Eye Altering."

Chairs under a tree in front of the Carbon Sink

When I'd finished mowing, I placed a couple of chairs under one of the pecan trees next to the Carbon Sink, and added a small table for holding coffee, after I'd been chased away from my usual spot by a gaggle of pooping Cedar Waxwings. The new seating area offered me an entirely different perspective, from where I enjoyed the chiaroscuro effect of sun alternating with shadow, emphasizing one area, then another. The wild gladioli, which I've let naturalize and cover more of the yard every year, are just past their prime, but still lovely to look at with their vibrant fuchsia blossoms. They form a short wall, beyond which lies the potager. In another month I'll mow them down to extend the produce-garden, salvaging the disturbed bulbs and replanting them in borders and in other spots where they might do well and add some welcome color next spring.

Wild gladiolus wall in front of the herb and veg garden

As I type this today I'm reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Survivors," in which an alien being and the re-creation of his dead wife live on a green patch of ground on an otherwise-devastated planet. There are times when I feel a bit like that, living on my own little island of sanity in a world that seems to be going a bit mad. I lack the energy to fight the good fight any more, but do find some solace in being able to keep this place a little wild, with small reminders of what used to be here--the occasional basketflower, a few native grasses, and a number of gifts from birds who propagate all manner of seeds--sometimes in the middle of the book I'm reading.

The birdbath in the potager, at sunrise

This week the air is redolent of sultry privet, sweet catalpa, pervasive honeysuckle, and even some of the irises left in bloom. The nandina will follow, along with roses, lavender, and rosemary as they begin to blossom. The promise is all here, with burgeoning vegetables and ripening figs. We're occasionally reminded, though, that we enjoy our bounty at nature's whim; along with all this fortune come the wildfires in the west, and the ever-present, more local threat of tornadoes.

I'll try to remember to revisit this post in another year, to see if I've been at all successful in fulfilling any part of my resolution. In the meantime I can certainly enjoy the good weather, the blooming garden, the approaching figs, and the promise of a decent harvest. At least I managed to get the garden in early this year, so it stands some chance of settling in and producing before the relentless north Texas heat replaces the balmy mornings we're enjoying for this year's Earth Week. But today, in the still-cool morning, I find it easier to love the prairie. Sometimes, I guess, all it takes is a bit of reflection on one's good fortune to make the cranky world go away for a while.

Image notes: all photos were taken in the garden with the Nikon D80. This year's Earth Day/Skywatch Friday shot was taken under the pecan tree, fortunately (for these purposes) empty of Cedar Waxwings--else there'd have probably been a blob in the middle of the picture.


jabblog said...

You sound content, and happy with your endeavours. Your garden must be a small oasis for wild life which repays you in the only way it knows how.

Martha Z said...

It must be hard to turn your back on that magnificent scarp rising from the Owens Valley. There are always trade offs, though. Spring passes quickly into a hot dry summer making a productive garden a challenge in the Eastern Sierra. I remember too how often spring freezes would end any chance of a peach or apricot crop.
The mountains, though, oh how they beckon!

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

Embracing the choices one makes in life is a sign of wisdom. May you be wise!


I wonder why
Some love the sky
But not the wind and rain.

I wonder, friend,
If sky will end—
It’s too much for my brain!

© by Magical Mystical Teacher

Tree Folk & Sky

Linnea said...

You've created a very pretty garden and I'm sure it will become prettier as the months go by...