Friday, September 18, 2009


South Texas is not green. It's not cool, it's not fresh, and it's not a land of soft, rolling, verdant hills, or tall stately trees.

But then sometimes, after a few days of heavy rains, it does green up. And it revives in spectacular fashion. On a fall day like today, when the morning is cool (all things being relative, of course, after almost two months with highs around 100F), and the sky is a soft blue, and the grass begs to be cut, and the trees have some fresh growth that make seasons irrelevant, you could pretend to be just about anywhere.

Driving through my neighborhood, looking at the bushy trees lining the suburban streets, I can feel other places. The old forests of Europe with their 90-foot trees and trunks so thick you can't wrap your arms around them. The shade so deep that sunlight never pierces it and it's always sweater-cool while the meadows just yards away are burning hot in the summer. The sweet-tart red berries hiding under the tiny umbrellas of their lacy leaves. Or the carpets of knee-high bilberries you pick and eat on the spot.

All this from a five-minute ride through a South-Texas neighborhood. Just because the street turned and went up the hill, and trees bracketed the road and framed the pale-blue sky. And because I didn't have the air conditioning on in the car, just the fan, and I could smell the actual morning air.

And the music? The radio was playing "Black Magic Woman" by Santana. A song that's always been slick and urban to me, a nighttime song of city lights. Not just any city light -- big city lights, slick city lights. Paris, glitz, a night club. High fashion and expensive champagne. Wide avenues and old architecture. High society and old money rubbing elbows with new. Movie stars and financiers. Lust, greed, and cold, cold minds.

A Paris I never lived in, but one I saw and imagined easily enough. My Paris was a middle-class city, of schools and children and neighborhood stores. Of caf├ęs and warm Sunday-morning croissants and hot, strong coffee. Good wine, good food, and large family gatherings.

All this from a quick drive to drop of my kid at school?

Well, yes. It's called imagination. That's how I can sit in a dark room, with a sweltering 100+F summer outside, and write my characters lost in a cold, northern winter. Because I'm wearing a T-shirt and the A/C is blowing on my bare arms.

On the other hand, maybe I'll write about a mysterious desert city next time. To commemorate the time when the A/C broke.

Or not. Some things don't need to be imagined.