Log Cabin Chronicles

Letter from Houston
'And then I'll be laughing...'

Steven Wolfe
Our man in Houston

Filed 10/14/99
HOUSTON, TEXAS | Gardening down here on the Gulf Coast is a little different from up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. In mid-April, our neighbor wandered over while I was planting seeds for pole beans and sugar peas.

"Umm," he mumbled, "kind of late for those."

"It's just barely spring," I said.

"In a month they'll be burning up. You ought to be planting your beans in October or November. Lettuce, too."

This was just after we arrived, and I still had fresh memories of denting my shovel on the frozen earth behind our house in Ayer's Cliff.

But in Houston, where the climate is something like Cambodia's, the average winter temperature 80 degrees, and where they build their houses on concrete blocks because the ground never freezes, when summer comes you need to start checking out the okra and eggplant, and bananas. We have bananas here.

And let's not even talk about the bugs. All year round they fester in the swamps, getting bigger and more ravenous, just waiting for those tender shoots. We lost an entire stand of corn in one day.

Then, just when you get everything happy, along comes a tropical thunderstorm that pours down the water as if it's trying to kill you. There's a genuine malevolence in the rain, sometimes; you can almost feel the warm Gulf reaching up, trying to rinse you off the land.

I find myself thinking often of the grass, a soft green carpet without fire ants and giant roaches, something you can walk on barefoot and sigh with cool happiness; of the sky pale blue and full of moving clouds, smelling like air and trees rather than nameless refinery and chemical plant residues; of the little human-scale landscape, leafy forests and stairway-ledges of slate, ponds and streams and knobs and notches; I ache sometimes with longing for Up There.

But just wait until January. I'll be standing outside in my shorts, barbecuing in the 70-degree clear night, and then I'll be laughing.

Steven Wolfe used to live down the road from Fool's Hollow in Ayer's Cliff, Quebec. Now he lives in Texas. I expect we will hear more from him. You can take the boy out of the 'Cliff but you cannot take the 'Cliff out of the boy...

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