The full moon bonfire in hidden Houston

Did you burn your first wedding dress? I didn’t think so, but at the full moon bonfire, a newly minted divorcee did just that. Taffeta goes up nicely in flames, so it’s a good thing we paused with roasting the marshmallows. Someone else found a small Christmas tree that still had its dead needles on it. That went up in a blaze. But mostly we contemplated the normal fire, if fire is ever normal, watched the kids roast marshmallows, looked at the invasive cane grass choking the creek behind us.

The moon we were celebrating did not appear through the misty clouds and that was a shame. The last moon howl I went to, we were able to see her periodically through the mist. I like to think one way of staying in touch with nature is to see the moon every night, to know what stage she is in, that she fills from the left, empties from the right, and what gibbous and crescent mean. The sun lengthens her time with us each day at this time of the year, but only slightly. The moon is her bipolar sister, swinging by 50 minutes a day, nearly disappearing when she’s new and matches the sun’s course across our sky too closely, then treating us to a gloriously long showing when she’s full and opposite the earth from the sun.

One of the great luxuries of our lives is to contemplate how else we might live them, and even make radical changes, like moving to St. Louis. Where we are sets whom we see, what we do, whether we hear a mockingbird or a jackdaw, step in a fire ant mound, or an army ant trail. But here I’m talking about Houston, alternate lives lived right here, inside the 610 loop that defines our place. Jim lives inside this loop, and hosts the monthly (cool months only) bonfire. But what a different place it is! He’s won bets with people who deny there is a neighborhood where he lives. And yet there it is, a cozy few tree-lined streets of simple, well-built homes. Some of them he moved here from elsewhere, the elegance of the past discarded for large faux stucco box homes you could literally put a fist through. He has created his community more than most of us, renting the extra homes to neighbors that become friends.

He’s deeply involved in the renewal of his area. The creek has received a lot of labor, for it was clotted with trash. We couldn’t see it for the cane, and I suppose that nasty cane protected the view. Apparently there was once a butcher nearby who threw the bones into the creek.

This is a place I’ll have to visit sometime in the daylight, for it might, just might define Houston. It has a bayou, our main one, above the area where it was gouged out to be a ship channel. It has a small side ditch – I wonder if it floods. It has our signature live oaks. And it has industry of huge rusty metal dimensions, graveyards of stuff, maybe victims of the internationalization of work. It used to be downwind of a serious sewage plant, but that closed too, though I have it on good authority its product still abounds in Houston. Nearby it also has desperate poverty, and crime much accompanied by the guns that define much of our society. But not here, not in this little oasis.

This isn’t the only place Jim has transformed. He told us of a building further east with 10 bedrooms, each well-insulated against sound, that he renovated and rents to students. It was apparently built as a brothel. Who would have guessed that what’s important for a brothel would be important for a student habitation? Well, some of what’s important for a brothel, the physical building. I’d like to see this one too.

But it was time to go back to our normal home in a neighborhood surrounded by other homes all to similar to ours. I didn’t choose the life in the metal heart of Houston, tree lined or no. And I probably won’t in St. Louis either. But for an evening at least, I got to wonder why not.

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The fire.

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Doesn’t this define cozy? How could we ever want to live otherwise?

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Therese contemplating the flames.

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Rick and Jim.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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