Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hello Morning

At 5 am this morning, our bedroom door clicked open and little feet padded through the darkness to my bedside. After I scooted over to make room for who I realized was Hayley, I couldn’t go back to sleep. This is a rarity, just short of the miraculous. I do not do mornings. I especially do not do sunrises except by default at the tail end of an all nighter roadtrip. Today’s aberration is partly due to hunger. Our refrigerator went out at the end of last week and the repairman won’t be here til later today. I refrained from buying foods that need refrigeration and I got tired of munching on crackers and protein bars. So I got up, thinking, “This is great—I’ll do a Houston sunrise from our patio, one last time, or for the first time, before we move.” It would have been a shame not to.

It was still dark when I made the coffee. I poured milk into my mug from our one small cooler which made me feel like I was camping. That, and the fact that I was up before my camera could take a photo of the sky without a flash. So I struck out to the back patio for my adventure.

Then I remembered one of the reasons why we are leaving. Houston has no sky. Not from where we sit—hemmed in by structures and trees on every side. I admit, I am enjoying the twitter of tunes from birds I’ve not heard before. This must be the Morning Edition. I’m walking softly as if I’ll wake the city, as I do with my children, when I want just a moment more of peace before the world ratchets into high gear. I hear the far off jangle of a dog’s collar, the fountain sputtering, the tide just bringing in the swells of highway surf a half a mile away. Automatic sprinklers are fizzing on the lawn. A pair of squirrels are giving chase in the vines overhanging the fence. There goes the siren of an ambulance. Yes, all too soon, Houston is waking up.

And now the sky, the jigsaw puzzle piece of it I see when I look straight up, has gone from dark bruise to Robin egg blue and clouds just a shadow darker, are brushing its chin. The din of highway noise has overtaken the fountain and the birdcalls are receding. I’ve done a Houston sunrise. Which is a bad imitation of a true Texas sunrise. I know, because after living in Lubbock for four and a half years, I became a connoisseur of skies. I thought I knew the sky when I moved there from Dallas. But I knew nothing. The Dallas sky is a distant cousin.

In West Texas, the sky is addicting and no sky since has ever measured up. When I finished college and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, I anguished for sky. Like here, I was hemmed in by buildings and trees and felt utterly claustrophobic. I was also carless and at the mercy of the Red Line. I’d ride it out to its end, just to get a bit past the crowds and to where sky was a little more accessible. I ached for the plains, for the mesas, for the caprock that showcased the sky like a table draped in linen, serving up every hue of infinity. The towns around Boston were quaint and green and treed and lovely; they had a charm of their own. But I missed the grit. Under my feet, and between my teeth when the wind blew for too long. How do you ever get over that kind of sky?

When I finally did have a car of my own, I’d fly up 93N along the coast, to Gloucester, an old fishing village, and find a place along the sand and rocks to sit with my styrofoam cup of coffee and another styrofoam cup of fried shrimp. There I could finally look out on an uninterruppted horizon, in a different light, a gray blue light, and be somewhat satiated. But this horizon had movement. This horizon had sound. This horizon seduced with its voluptuousness. It was very outspoken, in that Yankee kind of way.

In West Texas, the landscape pays homage to the sky. It offers no sweet murmurs. It broaches no backtalk. It offers only the sound of your own feet, crunching the dirt, reminding you, quietly, you’re here.

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