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
 
 
A couple of days ago, I was shoveling mulch from the pile dumped in my front yard by the people who cut down my pines.  A woman was walking on the street with her baby.  She spoke to me, but I couldn't hear what she said, so I just smiled and waved..  Then she stopped at the end of my drive, obviously expecting some kind of response.  I put down the shovel and walked toward her.  She pointed at her chest and said what I took to be "I you."  I made a puzzled face and as I got closer she said questioningly "I ayuda?"  She was offering to help me!  Not sure if she was looking for payment, which I cannot afford, I asked, in Spanish, "why?"  Her face lit up and she said "Lo me gusto." or "I like it!" This was certainly a novel offer in my neighborhood, so I just said "Gracias.  Yo puedo usar ayuda."  ["Thanks.  I can use help."]  

I learned that her baby boy was a year old.  Her husband is a gardener, aged 40, and works for a couple of my neighbors.  She also has a little girl aged 7.  I learned all their names.  She's from Tegucigalpa, but her parents live in the country outside the capital city.  She loaded my wheelbarrow twice and pushed it to where I wanted to dump it.  I gave her some habaneros and cayennes out of my garden, after asking if she could use them.  She said something as she walked off, but her back was to me and I couldn't really understand it.  I was too tired to ask her to repeat it.  

In about 10 minutes, a truck came up the side street, and the man behind the wheel waved.  They made the corner and parked at the end of my front sidewalk.  It was my new friend and her husband.  We chatted about his work and the condition of my yard.  He told me that next week he would come work in my yard.  I told him I couldn't pay him.  He waved it off and said "no no no pay, just to help."  then we laughed about the milkweeds and my "little friend" the spade I was digging them up with and how there was nothing to mow because of the long drought.  Then we said good night and I thanked them for their kindness, telling them it was a great blessing to me to have their help.  I also vowed to find a way to help them out somehow.

This is the second time a stranger has come to my aid when I've been working outside.   My neighbors rarely speak, and when they do, it's a brief "how are you" or a comment about how nice my pansies look.  

I am grateful that Dr. Landrum of the Spring Branch Independent School District decided back in the early 60s that we should be taught Spanish.   Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to hold much of a conversation with this couple.  I look forward to seeing them, and my other yard-made friend, again.  Though not neighbors, they are certainly more neighborly people than the ones who live around me!