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it changes in a flash

After a month and a half of no rain, temperatures constantly above 90, including one last gasp of summer on Thursday–in which my local temperature rose to almost 100–fall has finally come. Overnight intense 50 mile-an-hour winds hit, knocking down limbs, chairs, the rest of the pecans, and dumping with them about 4 inches of rain.

From drought to drench, you never know in Texas how the weather will shift, and when it does it is never subtle. It arrives with great gusto, no gradual adjustment: one big dump of heavy rains or winds and it says, “There ya go: Fall is here.” It’s very Texan in a way, quite direct.

This is what I suspect sets Texas apart from the rest of the South, which even in human personalities is generous and hospitable but known for its hiddenness, “secret South”, and gentility. As a born northerner, I find the South to be exactly as the stories go: a beautiful part of America, at times haunted by its past, and most certainly not straightforward. It does not show its cards all at once. Texas, on the other hand, has to be more direct; it is kind but much more of a pioneer, has much more of a “wrestling with the elements” spirit, and that sets it apart.

My husband is from North Carolina, and I from Michigan, and Texas is like neither of us, really, but its personality is the place where our cultures meet. (And it is literally where we met.) My family literally comes from hard-working auto factories of Detroit, very direct people, and my husband’s family from hard-working homesteaders and farmers, story-tellers and singers. I find a match of these spirits here in Texas, and in the weather.

Unlike in other parts of the Scotch-Irish south where the weather and the land is a character in a grand story, a personality of its own–often people speak from the weather, not about it (which is very much true about Scotland)–the weather in Texas is more like something to be conquered, to brave, and there is much more of a practical, direct relationship with it, rather than a mystical relationship. The frontier mind has a much different attitude. Land was carved, built and rebuilt, oil wells were dug. The tough cowboy, the frontiersman, the ranch, and the outpost town (all of which are still visible in Texas) are completely different archetypes than the mountain villages, the plantations, the farm villages, the pastorals of the rest of the South.

Not that Texas is all archetype but it seems to me that gardening here will forever have some of that frontier-mindedness. The weather is not for the meek. In spite of the fact that we want to be able to create gardens that take care of themselves, withstand the weather extremes, I wonder if gardening will always be a psychological challenge Texans secretly like to take on.

So, complain as I might, I think I secretly love wrestling with the fact that things inexplicably die, inexplicably grow. And that I just love to get outside and labor, fix problems, rearrange things. As I write I have over 500 plants in pots outside that have been waiting to be planted because 1. the dirt has been too dry to dig new beds into and 2. its been to hot to plant cool season flowers. Everything is in seasonal transition, but that means none of it is safe from the weather. (Containers are the worst thing to have laying around in times of either drought or floods.)

We have absolutely no “cool” season here, no gradual transition from summer to fall, or from winter to spring, and cool season flowers and vegetables that most climates can grow in a nice long spring or fall must get in quick, and in a window. It went from 90 to 60 in one night. So, there you go: It’s Fall.

The weather will always throw a wrench; we can sow our buffalograss, start our plants early enough, find the right varieties, dig deep enough, add enough nutrients, but it doesn’t take long for the land to return to its wild ways. Gardening is, after all, a much bigger metaphor for cultivation and “stewardship” and even restoration. We can return it to its natural canvas and try add paints that canvas might like to receive, but that canvas is quite unpredictable. And I guess something in me not only likes that unpredictability, it likes the challenge of working against it, which all those early pioneers did.