In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I am running on anger these days.  This anger is due to, frankly, conventional, conformist  little-minded neighbors whose focus is on "unsightliness"and "property values" and, frankly, petty vengeance and control freak issues  rather than the impact of exceptional conditions on our environment.  I'm doubly angry because if I had a wooden fence, like most of them, nobody would ever have known what was in my backyard.  Some of them are "no government interference" people, which makes me laugh, because local neighborhood deed restrictions, city, county, and state regulations restrict freedoms far more than the federal government does.  Yet they want states rights rather than federal government protections for everyone.  Most of all, I am angry because this focus not only ignores my health conditions, my age, and my poverty, it ignores the horrendous loss of habitat resulting from the tremendous loss of trees..


In the 2011 drought Texas lost 301 million (MILLION!) trees.  Harris County, which pretty much is synonymous with Houston lost 19 million trees.  I lost six lobllolly pines, all of which were standing on this property and a foot or more in diameter, when we moved in in 1957..  One of them, I suspect, was over 100 years old when it came down, all of them 60 or more.   Within half a mile of me, according to a tree removal guy I spoke with, over a 1000 trees were lost.  I can believe it.  I used to sit on my front porch and had to look straight up to see the sky.  Now, I only have to look E, S .  If I walk out the sidewalk to the side street, and look W to what used to be woods, it's mostly sky.


That is thousands of nesting places for birds.  You might not realize it, but getting to the trees to cut them down and haul them off destroyed undergrowth as well. -- the yaupon bushes, the cherry laurels and other understory trees.  After the trees around here were mostly gone, I had a swamp rabbit in my yard.  I'm sure he came from the larger 1.2-3 acre lots behind me.  When I had to cut down my taller grasses because of the complaints from the neighbors, The bunny moved on.  I hope the migrating kestrel I saw at about that time didn't get him crossing all the open space that now exists around here.  When I removed the brush piles, the treefrogs disappeared.  A Carolina wren who seemed to be checking it out for a nesting spot has disappeared as well.  The anoles which scrambled openly around the logs, as they have been unpiled and righted preparatory to being hauled off, haven't been sighted in weeks.


I also lost a honeybee tree, not that I knew in advance they were there.  I don't know where they went, because they look for a hollow tree damaged by lightening or the dropping of a big limb in a windstorm.

I had hoped to construct a wildlife habitat which would also shelter my lupus-riddled body from the sun. But no, the city wouldn't allow me to keep the 3-5' logs. When they are hauled off on the 21 January 2013, not only will all the habitat be gone, but I will no longer be able to enjoy my own backyard because there will be no place shady enough for me.  If that is freedom of property, I'm a hoot owl.


Houston was known for its greenness.  If you look across the city on GOOGLE maps, close enough to see the areas of dead and removed trees, you will see denuded parks (Hermann and Memorial), and a decimated Houston Arboretum,  neighborhoods where scarcely a tree stands.  


I have three trees that survived.  All of them had thick mats of composted mulch around their root systems, because they are where we dumped up the raked leaves and pine needles from the rest of the yard for 55+ years.  


From the swamp rabbit to the anoles, the bees, the birds, my neighborhood has been almost denuded of nesting places, food sources,  watering places.  Yet we still have deed restrictions calling for St. Augustine grass, no brush piles, yada yada yada, and we continue to pave areas, grow non-native "landscaping plants", and behave as if we are the only occupants of this earth.  


Unsightly?  Unsightly to me are my neighbors' lawns of St Augustine, hostas and monkey grass.  Who will hear when the last bird calls?


SOURCES:
Texas drought killed 301 million treesBy Kathy Huber | September 25, 2012 | Updated: September 26, 2012 7:52am
 
 
If you're wondering where I've been lately, I have been outside working to bring my yard into compliance with the desires of my "neighbors."  I use this term exceedingly loosely because there is nothing truly neighborly about them.  Mind you, I wouldn't care if they went about their lives and let me go about mine.  What I object to is that they never come to see if they can help, they just cowardly tattle to the teacher (in this case the City of Houston) when I don't meet their OCD, anally retentive, control issues sense of what things could be like.  

To be honest, I don't many of them by name. What I do know is that most of them arrived in this neighborhood after I did.  When I arrived in June of 1957, most of this area was still woods, open fields, or farm land.  I heard coyotes howling at night.  there were bats swooping out of the sky to eat the mosquitoes, lightening bugs, and yes the odd rattlesnake in our yard.  What do you expect?  Immediately behind our house were acres of piney woods.  I reckon I learned to dispatch a rattler to meet his maker with a garden hoe by the time I was 6.

These people can call in anonymously and get me in trouble -- threats of liens and big bills from the city to clean up my land.  Let me make it clear.  I don't have 2 or three junked up cars sitting out front.  It's just that we had a drought last summer, which allowed bermuda grass (where the heck that came from, I have no idea) and some weeds (ditto -- I know I didn't sow 'em) that got GASP över nine inches tall!  Some weeds, not a whole yard full.  The grass was about three inches tall.  We have been battling to get the yard in shape ever since last fall when the drought and pine bark beetles took out six of the large pines which were living here when I arrived.

I cannot describe how seriously the stress of the threat, along with the hours of physical labor, has impacted my health.  I'm not supposed to be out in the sun.  So I found shaded areas where I could work.  We do not have thousands of dollars to spend on this project, so my husband and I are doing it mostly by ourselves.  My brother did provide some money to pay for tools and maintenance supplies for them, and for some temporary labor.  The latest purchase today was a 48"two man crosscut saw.  We needed this to cut up the REALLY big logs.  These are 6-8' lengths of loblolly pines, all upwards of 55 years old.  Some of them were probably in the 75-100 year old range.

What I can tell you is that every joint in my body aches, and I am so tired that I fell asleep outside several times over the last couple of days while working.  I have chopped two or three brush piles into mulch.  What looks like a huge brush pile reduces to about 1 cubic yard of mulch.  I did this with a set of pruning shears.  I have also sawn up, with a bow saw, about a dozen or so branches 3-6" in diameter.  We did find a bargain on a chipper/shredder which takes anything up to 1-1/4"diameter, so I spent a few hours feeding that as well.  Anything over 6" and under a foot in diameter gets the chainsaw.  My husband does that. Anything over a foot is gonna get the crosscut saw.

There's another solid week, two weeks of work to be done, and I'd appreciate any prayers you care to offer for the strength to keep on keeping on.  I was barely walking this morning.  I worked until the bottom dropped out of the clouds and then I came inside.  I gotta admit that I didn't get as much work done today, because I hurt so badly every time I pull the pruning shears shut to cut a limb that I have to stop and will the pain away.

I have decided a couple of things.  One, I am going to find the money to put privacy screening -- like they have on tennis courts -- around my backyard.  I have a couple to the south of me that have been calling the city on us for forty years.  Complete assholes the pair of them.  She's a nosey gossipy pretentious cow whom I have done my best to avoid since her family moved in around 1960.  He's so compulsive he went outdoors in very hot weather to mow his 1 1/2"buzz cut lawn to 1/2"one year and had a heart attack.  I don't want this for my husband.   They also violated the city's water rationing last year to keep their freaking lawn green!  I resented this because when I went to take a shower I was lucky to get water at all.  Did I call the city on them?  Noooooooo.  Nor on the other neighbors who were also violating the restrictions.  I'm not the kind of person who tattles, snitches or looks for ways to make life difficult for other people, even when they do it to me.  However, when I take all these sawn up pieces of my old friends the trees to create bed edgings, I am going to place some in this pattern facing their plate glass window: n9m.  Maybe I'll make it a recurring pattern.  They steal my Meyer lemons every year anyway.  

Behind me is another jewel of a neighbor.  He came to the fence to talk to my husband one day.  He wanted us to cut down all the yaupons that make up our back hedge "because they drop leaves in my yard."  "It sure would help me out," he says.  When my husband told me, I gave a few minutes thought to remembering what he'd done to help us out.  Since I came up empty, I let my husband's answer to them stand "Feel free to cut off the branches on your side of the fence.""  This OCD also wanted us to cut down a pine tree in OUR YARD because it dropped needles on his yard.  We offered to rake them up, but he said no, that tree was going to come down in a windstorm some day, and it should come down.  He'd pay for it.  This exchange occurred while we were cutting down the dead trees and that was one of the two living pines left.  Then he started in ragging us about the pine logs two days after they were cut.  Since he's not my boss, or my father, or anyone whose opinion about anything means a damn to me, I ignored him..  Privacy screen him out too!.

To the north, the neighbors aren't so bad.  Her grandfather was a pain in the ass when he lived there, but we made our peace with her mother, and she and her husband, while they have some annoyingly noisy dogs seem to be pretty good hearted live and let live people.  

The other thing I decided is that modern Americans are woosies that our Founding Fathers would be ashamed of.  I have a deeper appreciation of those brave souls who entered the deep woods, swamps, and such over Carolina, Virginia, Georgia way and hacked down all those trees by hand and made them into log cabins, tool sheds, barns and the like.  It's damned hard work!  And I didn't have to take down the 90' trees by hand either!   I'm trying to imagine what would have happened in 1730 if someone had called all his neighbors together and said "Let's implement something called deed restrictions that mandate everyone having a St. Augustine lawn in front of their cabin, and not letting any weeds get over 9" tall on their land nor having any undergrowth over 9"tall.  Oh and no dead, decaying vegetable matter such as leaves or pine needles or fallen twigs."    I swear I hear laughter and calls for commitment to the state asylum for the insane!

On the bright side, I got to watch a number of lovely songbirds flitting about my trees in my little glade on my NW corner.  Lizards, skinks, anoles, and even a bunny live in my overgrown area.  Not a pet rabbit, but a wild one.  I haven't seen much of him while I've been working ;  I think he's afraid of us.  My husband put out some rabbit food for him though.  Sadly, my bees have departed, probably as a result of the heavy spring rains.  I have a clematis virginia, known also as Virgin's Bower Flower on my north gate, in full, luscious bloom.

I've also made a couple of vine birdhouses when I take a break.  One-and-a-half really, but I'll get it finished.  Now I have to get in bed before I fall apart. 
 
 
There's this rather spooky thing that happens to me.  Maybe it happens to other people as well, but nobody has ever mentioned it to me.  I have an innovative idea, and almost as soon as I voice it to anyone, someone else comes along and does it.  When I was younger, I quickly stopped telling anyone about my ideas, thinking that the people I was telling them to were passing them on.  However, I quickly reached an age where the likelihood that the person implementing my ideas had any contact with the person I told was inversely proportional to the physical distance between the person implementing the idea and myself.   Moreover, the only person I say these things to now is my husband,, and I'm sure he isn't telling anyone.  Sometimes I'm not even sure he really listened, so how could he repeat what his brain never took in?

 Then I reflect on God moving in mysterious ways.  What's wrong with me now is physical.  I don't have the energy or physical strength to implement most of my ideas.  The latest idea I had, some months ago, concerned the "urban food deserts" in Houston. These are areas in which access to fresh produce is limited or non-existent.  Residents reliant on bus services to get about, particularly the disabled and elderly, are hard pressed to make the journey to the stores which offer good fresh produce.m  I said "What if some grocery store had a big truck that could roll up to a community center or  deserted strip center, drop its sides and offer fres\h produce?"  Now, while it's not a grocery store doing it (yet)  Houston's Recipe for Success, founded in 2005 by Grace and Bob Cavnar to provide nutrition education, fight childhood obesity, and encourage long term health has instituted exactly such a program and hopes to be serving up fresh produce by the end of the year.

Perhaps my speaking about my ideas, putting them into the Ether, or Cosmos, are directed by God to the hearts of those with the energy and strength to implement them?  Maybe it's a coincidence, but it has happened so often, that the statistician in me  has to wonder why coincidences with a small probability keep happening over and over.  Could it be that this is a form of prayer?  Perhaps many were trying to come up with a way to get good food to the people in these under-served areas, and my thought went into God's inbox, and God looked around and said "Gracie! Bob!  Listen up...here's your next task in the pursuit of your goal!"  I don't know, but I am thrilled that the idea is going forward and wish to support it every way I can.  They need money, kitchen items for their cooking classes.  They take donations but are also selling a cookbook aimed at kids with healthy recipes. along with T-Shirts, hats, and other items. They have a wish list, and I happen to have Bed Bath & Beyond coupons available that I won't use.  So if you are moved to give them a gift, contact me by the form on my coupons page or message me on FB.  I'll get them to you one way or another.

Fresh produce vans will roll into Houston's 'food deserts'By Allan Turner, Houston ChronicleUpdated 10:29 p.m., Sunday, February 5, 2012 (interestingly, this photograph was taken at the school my mother and brother went to,  although I think perhaps it's been remodelled or updated or even rebuilt since then.  My grandparents house is now gone; it would be about the middle of the southbound feeder for Hwy 288 at Wentworth.)

Thanks to Gracie and Bob for starting this service, to Allen Turner for writing about it, to Councilman Stephen Costello for championing solutions, and to H.E.B. for opening Joe V's in undererved areas
 
 
I went out shopping Saturday.  Started off at IKEA.  Spent most of the day there, actually.  Ate breakfast for free, then went in search of the woman I've been trying to talk to for two weeks about the last cabinet for my bathroom redo.  Still have not connected and that's beginning to irk me a good bit.  Just how many times am I supposed to leave a message for someone without getting a call back before I begin to sniff something unpleasant in the air?  That's not the point of this blog, though.

Couple of additional errands there were on my agenda:  legs for the three bathroom cabinets, and a foray into my favorite part of IKEA, the AS IS room.  Ended up missing out on a $32.50 6' bookcase by dithering about whether to get it or not.  Oh well, no doubt the universe has a better bookcase in mind for me..  We headed back to the restaurant for lunch (buy one entree, get one free).  When that was done, we got to watch some young dancers in traditional dress do Bollywood dancing..  Then they asked for volunteers to take a lesson, the one voted best by the audience would win a gift card to IKEA.  A young girl maybe 7 or 8 next to us started to volunteer and then nerves got the best of her and she retreated.  I wanted to hold up my hand and volunteer to do the best "chair version" of it that I could...if she would come with.  My husband wasn't crazy about the idea of me wheeling out there and making a fool of myself, so I didn't volunteer.  I told him later why I wanted to do it.

Instead, when the lesson started, I found myself suddenly and copiously overwhelmed with tears.  When I was three years old, the Ballet de Russe de Monte Carlo came to Houston.  That was when I decided I wanted to be a dancer when I grew up.  My parents looked around and found a teacher who would take me at that age.  After a couple of years, I started studying dance at Margo Marshall's school.  When puberty hit, rather than the long and lean lines of a ballet dancer, I had the rounder figure of a Vegas showgirl or a Rockette, but not the height.   I realized my future was not in professional dance, but the love of dance and motion never left me.    I continued dancing as a hobby, adding ballroom and belly danciing to the ballet, tap, modern, and what was called "stage dancing" (musicals, rockette,  showgirl style).

My deep dark secret?  When disco dancing bloomed, I was in heaven.  There was a club on Richmond, just west of 610, where backgammon and disco ruled.  I forget the name of it now.  I went there one night with a group from my second job, at Stouffer's Hotel on IH 59 in the Village area.  There were only a couple of guys in our group, but they both had "old school" manners and danced with every woman at the table.  At the close of my second dance, a fellow tapped me on the shoulder as I started to leave the dance floor and asked me to dance.  The tune was Donna Summers Last Dance..  We were pure magic together on the dance floor.  I totally lost myself in the dance., feeling that he and I were alone on the dance floor.  When the song ended, I realized we WERE alone on the dance floor, and the audience was applauding.  Couple by couple, they had vacated the floor to watch us move. My friends later told me that we were mesmerizing to watch.  For several weeks, he and I danced together, there, at after hours clubs, and once in a little place that served breakfast, and nobody but my group was in the place. The music came out of a jukebox.  There, we had a huge empty space in which to dance, and we filled it.  When we finally tired, the restaurant staff was standing around watching.  Even the kitchen staff had come out.

Never since have I danced so well with anyone.  He was Colombian, and married.  Our relationship revolved totally around dancing together.  We never went to dinner or a movie or had a formal date.We just showed up at the club and danced together until dawn spread pink and gold tentacles over the city.  Then one night, he didn't show up. I never saw him again.  His name I have also forgotten.  What I have not forgotten was the feel of moving with him, of the perfect wordless communication of our bodies.  For those few weeks, I was the dancer I had dreamed of being, the one everyone watched and wanted to be.  I shall ever be grateful to him for giving me that, because I don't think I could have ever had it without him.


What had me in tears today was the deep burning desire to learn Bollywood dancing, to feel the music in my soul and set it free in motion.  My body just cannot do that any more.  For that physical imprisonment, I wept.