Wednesday, March 19, 2014

nothing against townhouses, i live in one

At the turn of the twenty-first century, quaintly, verdant patches of wild meadow interrupted the landscape of Midtown Houston. The sprawl of the suburbs in the eighties and the nineties, unimpeded in every direction, left scattered pockets of land inside the city's innermost loop undeveloped, and even though we lived mere blocks from downtown, from the second story of our townhouse, well into the noughties, we could gaze upon one of those green patches, a mini-meadow about an acre, a rip in the urban fabric in the shape of the letter L.

From March to May the mini-meadow sprouted buttercups, and I'd wade through that ocean of pink petals when it did. Sunflowers germinated as buttercups faded, stretched skyward like beanstalks through June and July, and by September were a veritable forest. Then a chain-link fence appeared around the meadow one day, restricting the traffic of pedestrians, also their litter, and the flowers grew even wilder. Through an uncurled corner of the fence I'd sneak, pulling my vintage props behind me.

Then Houston boomed, and the physics of crawl/countersprawl shifted new construction back to the city center. The meadows fell one by one in short order. Today where an ocean of buttercups once undulated thirty three-story townhouses now stand. What a porous fence once circumscribed now a rolling gate polices. The buttercups and sunflowers, not to mention wild garlic and morning glory (three varieties, blue-violet, red-violet and lavender) have been replaced with garden-store varietals – too-yellow pansies, freeze-hardy ferns, etc. The townhouses are perfectly horrible.

At spring's first blush each year I'm on the lookout for emerging buttercups, for me the beginning of springtime whatever the calendar says. But since the townhouses moved into the meadow, I realized with sadness last Sunday, I can no longer depend upon the view from our window to alert me to the start of the season. Townhouses came to town – why shouldn't they? – and springtime died just a little.

I hopped on my bike and visited my usual buttercup haunts, a tract along McGowen, where Chenevert meets Gray – townhouses, townhouses, townhouses. Not a buttercup in sight. Not one. I had to cross the freeway and penetrate the Third Ward before I found any. And when I did find a few pale pink ones bobbing in the rain-light, I couldn't stop to photograph them, much less smell them, because a surveyor was standing knee-deep in the mini-meadow, no doubt divvying up the plot for the sake of future townhouses. How far out will I have to travel next year, I wondered, to know if the buttercups have bloomed?