Oh dear I’m channeling Dorothy Parker again. So much for my recent campaign to acquire a cheerful disposition.
But aren’t Keys supposed to be tropical paradises? Waving palm trees and white clapboard houses with broad verandas (their beaded board ceilings painted sky blue) and rafts of kitties roaming about?
It’s true there was a lovely sunrise around seven this morning, captured above by my phone as I headed toward MoPac en route to campus. Summer mornings are extremely pleasant in central Texas, even when we’re having humid weather as we are now. It would be lovely to sink into tropical cushions on white wicker and watch flamingos wade in shallow… Sorry.
Although my summer class doesn’t start till ten, and my office hours aren’t till nine, I like to be on my way much earlier. That way I can get to campus in twenty breezy minutes rather than the hour of traffic-clogged misery it will take me if I delay. And this morning I was on a mission: I had to go to Keys.
Where I work, this is not a tropical island but an old brick building some distance from the one in which I work. And you don’t just stop by on your way to the parking garage, because you can’t assume there will be an “LZ” space you can occupy for up to thirty minutes, four-way flashers flashing. (“LZ” means “Loading Zone:” parking spots that are few and far between but “handy as pockets,” as Floyd would say.)
For the third time in two years, my campus office has been changed; and each such change necessitates a trip to Keys. A school the size of (this is what they like you to call it) The University of Texas at Austin requires a good-sized office devoted strictly to the acquisition and return of the thousands and thousands of keys required to keep things running. I hate to get all sentimental about it, but some of the people in possession of some of those keys are actually learning and discovering really important things. It’s kind of amazing.
At the place called “Locks and Keys,” there are giant file cabinets with revolving shelves containing little manila envelopes containing keys to every exterior door, interior door, closet door, and I’m sure top secret drawer on campus. Every key must be approved by your department, signed for (with ID), and signed for upon return. (It has been brought to my attention that Keys believes I have a key which I believe I have never had, which means I can’t leave UT until I am dead because it will probably cost me $500 or something if I leave sooner. This way, my survivors will have to deal with it. Too bad for them.)
The hardest part about the trek over to Keys is that you almost always get a new office at some point during the summer, making it a whole lot like walking a mile in a sauna. Very quiet during the second summer session, which is nice, but even though the morning air is pleasant, if you’re me you’re going to arrive back at your office with the back of your dress drenched in sweat. Every time.
No problem, I thought, as I made it back to my building just as the tower bells finished tolling eight; I’ll have plenty of time to dry out before class. What I’d left out of the equation was the fact that two huge bookcases had to be re-arranged and re-filled, two book carts rolled out to the hall, and half a dozen boxes broken down and flattened for re-use.
The back of my dress never dried at all. I put on a sweater and headed down to class.
Oh, well. In three weeks and two days I’ll be at the Pacific, all thoughts of Keys and Keys behind me.
I don’t know how to take a picture of hot. There’s sun glare on pavement, sun glare on a metal roof, sun glare on the parched rocks sliced into layers at the side of the road. You don’t touch the exterior of your car and you don’t sit on a chair in the sun if your legs are bare. If I recorded the sound of three p.m. in my yard, it would be cicadas and air conditioners and the occasional bark of a bored dog. No one is jogging, no one is biking, everybody’s either down at the pool or sitting around the house complaining of boredom. Hot is pretty quiet.
The gardens don’t need much from me, and I don’t have much to offer them. We had an inch and a half of rain last week, so the rain barrels are full. When I’m lazy or my back hurts from shoving big old wooden bookcases across a carpeted floor, I go around with the hose (I also get tired of the smell of dog pee, if you want to know the truth, and so I rinse things down a bit). I’m sure the late July conditions don’t bother the well-established plants one bit.
The Texas hibiscus keeps producing dinner-plate-sized blossoms; the prickly pear has the wherewithal to be pushing out a few new paddles. Lantana and sage seem unfazed by the heat, and the bee tree has bloomed again, sending its perfume all the way up the sidewalk when the wind is right. When there’s a wind.
At this time of year, I’m thinking mainly of what I’ll take out. There’s one stretch of the sidewalk garden that doesn’t make me happy, so there will be some changes there. The butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) doesn’t get enough sun, I think, sitting as it does under the pistachio tree, and so is nothing but a spindly thing with pathetic little blossoms. Not sure what I’ll put in its place; if replacement happens soon, it will be something as sustainable as rock or steel. I’m awfully fond of Turks’ Cap, and have started a nice red one in that vicinity; I think a pink variety might fill the space very well. Once Turks’ Cap is established, it will thrive in alleys, unaided by anyone.
So late July is a time for daydreaming about what to do next. Though a part of me envies the many neighbors who can afford to hire someone to put in their landscape, I can’t envision a garden as anything but a work in progress: always something to take out, put in, try out. For me the garden is a true embodiment of past, present, and future. I can’t imagine seeing it as something “done.”
I know this Halloween I’ll be throwing down a sack of wildflower seeds from the Native American Seed Co. With all my digging and replanting, I’ve lost track of some of the wildflowers. They bring such a riot of color, so unpredictable, all surprises. Time for some new ones.
Meanwhile I return to sewing. This weekend’s project is a remake of a pattern I particularly like, in a material so light it will serve perfectly for my next visit to