On my daily lunchtime walk around River Oaks, I survey all that I love about Texas. The sights and scents wrap around my heart like a hug that won’t let go.
I didn’t expect to love Texas. I am a Jersey girl, lover of Cleveland snows and rocky Maine coasts, of the color of sweet gum trees and maples in the fall, of northern cities and liberal viewpoints, of the New York Times, and bagels, and presidential motorcades.
But Texas caught me with that first whiff of mesquite smoke and the chill in the November air. And it’s not just Houston. Austin, San Antonio, and the hill country in between: it’s the holy triangle of our life here. And it is good.
My walk takes me first past the smell of mesquite barbeque at Teala’s, then back into the neighborhood where crepe myrtle flowers paint the sidewalks pink in summer and one day a hawk swooping in from nearby Allen Parkway drops a pigeon in my path. Here, thanks to Houston’s lack of zoning, I find stately brick townhomes next to the Texaco and the Daily Review Café … and then across from that, something modern and altogether unexpected. Except in Houston, nothing is unexpected. Sheet metal skims the side of one home – shimmery blue and silver. Elsewhere: concrete townhomes sit next to bungalows and shotgun houses. Bougainvillea climbs a stucco facade; two stories high, it blooms its coral head off. Everywhere I see blue plumbago and dwarf mondo grass. Starlings line the wires and shriek.
I pass the Whole Foods parking lot with its xeriscape of succulents and grasses, and on the breeze catch the scent of … just what is it that Whole Foods smells like? Maybe a mix: a little barbeque and some overripe fruit and fresh flowers (like the stands lining Manhattan sidewalks)? I can see the Houston high-rise skyline in the distance, but the breeze and the succulents transport me to the mother ship Whole Foods, Austin, where the scent in the air is heavenly, the people-mover packed, and the staff and patrons heavily tattooed.
I will be transported. From here on, no matter where I wander, when I smell mesquite on the air, find contemporary houses next to autobody shops, and feel the warm sun on my shoulders in crisp winter air, I will be transported here, to Houston. To the city that caught me totally off guard and made me, despite my intentions, fall in love with Texas. To the city that will always own a little piece of my heart.