It’s flat; it’s big; it’s hot. Houston oozes across the plain, bounded hardly at all by Galveston bay to the southeast, the Columbia bottomlands to the south, the Katy prairie to the west, and the sandy Sam Houston forests to the north. I suppose petroleum ooze might describe it, or a hot puddle of tar in the steaming asphalt. Maybe sorghum molasses for our southern cuisine would do for a metaphor. But the dark color does not work for me because Houston is light-colored, tan maybe, or a light gray, with a contrast of dusty green live oak leaves. Perhaps the ooze is nothing more than a light puddle of water slipping across the prairie before it sinks into the northern sands, or slips off the Beaumont clay.
The plain makes expansion all to simple, for a square of land just a bit farther away costs less, since we humans have not figured out good ways to charge each other when something is taken away from all of us. Scrape all the subtropical life off an acre or so and you pay only for the bulldozer, the driver, and perhaps for the disposal of the violated jumble of crushed yaupons, pecans, and live oaks.
A few years ago when I took my youngest son to Minneapolis to look at a college, I kept missing the freeway exits. There was nothing wrong with the instructions I had. But somehow my mind turned this cold, sharp city into Houston, and I languorously drove, expecting a little freeway peace between exits. So it is here in St. Louis also. Everything is close to my Houston-formed brain. Will the joy of this speed leave once it is internalized? I hope not, for it is really special to be in a compact city.
But this blog is about Houston, not St. Louis, and that is not going to change. Being away from a place I love focuses me. I suppose this also works for others. The nostalgia literature that Billy Collins so acutely parodies is not written by people who have never left home, I wager. Was Keats in England when he wrote “Oh, to be in England, now that April’s there?” Does any poem better capture the moist bud of an English spring? Did I notice Houston as much before I was about to leave?