|Irises at Armand Bayou Nature Center|
Just a few days ago, Tom asked, "Are we going to have a garden this year?" Gardening has long been our shared hobby, from the very first years of our marriage when we had a gardening plot on Texas A&M University property as undergraduates and graduate students. There is solace in growing things, in being reminded year after year of the magic of a dry seed becoming a living plant. Gardening is hope.
We may not have a garden this year beyond my herb garden and the plants that flourish in our sunroom. And so we seek other green spaces for solace.
On a recent visit with our son in Texas, we checked out Armand Bayou Nature Center, near where our son lives and works. It was a lovely cool spring day, the second best kind of day in Texas to me, the first being a lovely cool, clear day in October or November. We started out taking the boardwalk, admiring Louisiana irises blooming on the edges of ponds and spotting alligators and many turtles. At the Interpretive Center we spent about 30 minutes talking about invasive species with a young woman with a display chart. Then we headed out to some of the trails. We walked part of the Ladybird Trail in order to meet up with the Prairie Interpretive Trail. Tom, whose master's degree is in native grasses and his Ph.D in forestry, wanted to see up close the restoration efforts of one of the last remaining stands of Texas tallgrass prairie.
One of the educational plaques on the Prairie Interpretive Trail included a photo of bison. "Did buffalo live in this area of Texas?" I asked Tom. He answered yes, and I tried to imagine herds of 1000s of buffalo foraging in an area that now is mostly home to petrochemical plants.
Later, on the Discovery Trail that led us through the restored Martyn Farm, we stopped to look at the two live bison there on display. They seemed as calm as cows, and it took some effort to imagine the long-gone time when millions of these animals thundered across the great plains of America.
|Tallgrass Prairie Restoration Project, Armand Bayou Nature Center|
At 2500 acres, the Armand Bayou Nature Center is the largest urban wilderness in the United States, according to its website, and its peaceful retreat is a balm in this part of Texas. Just that morning a fire had broken out at a nearby waterfront tank farm. Tom and I had spied the smoke from the Fred Hartman Bridge as we drove to our son's home. As the days went by, the fire increased, and a heavy cloud of smoke hung over Deer Park and much of the surrounding Houston area. Although at first the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality assured local citizens that they had nothing to fear from the fire, the organization later had to warn people that hazardous levels of benzene were detected in the air, and people were cautioned to shelter in place. Toby Baker, executive director of TCEQ, compared the environmental devastation of that fire to Hurricane Harvey:
Baker, who noted there is still a significant amount of those substances on site, rattled off a variety of stunning figures to demonstrate the breadth of response to an incident he said is the most serious he's seen since Hurricane Harvey: Nearly 184,000 barrels of contaminated water collected, an estimated 100,000 barrels of petrochemical product spilled, hundreds of response boats and nearly 2,000 response personnel on the scene. (Kiah Collier, "Texas Environmental Chief: There's Still a Fire Risk at Deer Park Facility," The Texas Tribune, 4 April 2019)At a time when the Trump administration is rolling back many environmental regulations, it's even more important for citizens to support places such as Armand Bayou Nature Center and to demand that the government strictly enforce the regulations that keep our air and water safe and clean. I thought of this as I watched that dark cloud grow to the north of Armand Bayou Nature Center. Just a shift of the wind, and that cloud would be above us at the Center, with cancer-causing benzene filling our lungs.
And so we ended our walk at Armand Bayou Nature Center, a study in contrasts: the good work of people trying to salvage green spaces in a steadily growing urban area and working to save the environment versus the toxic stew from a company that had been notified and sued several times in the past for its lax environmental controls.
|Father and Son|