Houston was once a prairie with gallery forests along its waterways, and pine forests on the northern side. Parts of Houston are still like this and so include the first truly native habitat I have lived in. I grew up in the second growth forests and meadows a century after the great logging of Michigan. Houston is a place, just as Big Bend National Park or the Sonoran Desert are places. Environmental writers tell of place, talk about a sense of place, of being rooted in a place, understanding the natural history of a place, what grows and lives there and why. Their places are usually beautiful, often in a stark way. These writers give up a lot to live in these places where they hike improbable distances, grow their own food, fish expertly, and help the rest of us get away from it all.
But Houston is also a place. Much of it might be considered a ruined place, where nature doesn’t go much beyond the Bermuda grass growing between the concrete slabs, or the fire ants and their frothy mounds. It is a human place, with all the horror and beauty that entails. For 32 years it has been my place. I could say for 50 years if I counted the trips I made here as a kid visiting grandparents.
This is a chronicle of that place. I will tell the story of this place that is Houston in three ways, in Houston, of Houston, and by Houston. In Houston is everything fixed in a place, museums, restaurants, parks, theaters, neighborhoods. Of Houston is not so place-limited, and includes our humidity, friendliness, and events, for example. By Houston will cover the places we go from Houston and will include the state parks, the wildlife refuges, the gulf, Galveston, things like that. I won’t tag pieces with of, by or in, but you can figure it out.
This is not a travel guide or a restaurant guide. It isn’t terribly topical, though it will be organized temporally. Travel guides don’t usually capture what it is like to live in a place. That is what I hope to do. If you live here, you might experience some of these same things, though of course there are many Houstons, and many different kinds of lives here.
Who am I? Joan E. Strassmann. I am a mother of three, a wife, an evolutionary biologist, and a feminist. After 32 years in Houston, at Rice University, I retired, and went to Washington University in St. Louis where I am professor of biology.
Well, I guess I could tell you a little more. Where to begin? My children are mostly grown, in college or beyond, and I’ll respect their privacy here. My husband (Dave Queller) and I work together, struggling to figure out the mysteries of social evolution, with research mostly on social amoebae these days, but in the past mostly social wasps, Venezuelan and Italian, with some Brazilian bees, and even honeybees thrown in. I’ve made a lot of videos of social insects, and have interviews of some people from our lab group. You can get the videos from my website http://www.joanstrassmann.org. Our research websites include Social Evolution at Rice and The Social Wasp Page
Hobbies? I love to cook, make all our own bread. We bike the 4.5 miles to work every day. I love languages, particularly Spanish, Italian, French, and German, and have some fluency in them. I love nature, hiking, birding, exploring. I love teaching, figuring out better ways of sharing a passion for a subject, and watching my students blossom.
We left Houston, but see no reason to stop thinking and writing about Houston and its natural environment.