The St. Augustine grass in my front yard turned brown, got crunchy, and then died. The view from my writing window grew more depressing as each day passed. What if the baked desolation outside were to creep into my prose? I thought about starting a bleak, dystopian novel. When the drought of 2011 finally burned away the last green leafy runners of St Augustine grass and left me with bare dirt, I threw myself at the feet of the experts from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and pleaded for horticultural enlightenment.
“Habiturf,” they advised.
“Say what?” I asked. I thought perhaps the heat had affected my hearing.
“Habiturf has taken years of research and field testing to develop,” the friendly lady in the Center’s store said. It’s the hardiest, most drought-tolerant grass for this part of the world.” The store had puffy little cloth bags stacked neatly on a table with a little pamphlet stapled to each one. Inside the white bags was a potent mixture of mostly buffalo grass with a combination of other prairie grasses.
“We’ve tried to replicate how nature intersperses seeds on America’s plains,” the LBJ Wildflower lady said. “Don’t plant this stuff anywhere near the shade,” she instructed. Perfect for my yard, I thought. Perhaps my optimistic writing voice would reemerge! I imagined tall grass gently waving in the breeze outside my window. My dystopian novel would have to wait.
Later that day after the ferocious afternoon heat waned, I donned my grungiest shorts and curved-down cowboy hat, slathered on about a pint of sunscreen, and went outside to challenge my front yard. I spaded up and then raked down the baked-hard dirt. I flung handfuls of Habiturf seed over the newly tilled soil. After three weeks and a water bill that would have sustained Sea World, I had a furry green yard peppered with stalks of tiny seed pods. I lugged over a couple of pieces of flat limestone from my neighbor’s house that didn’t fit into her new landscaping scheme. (She replaced her St. Augustine with artificial grass and then retired her sprinklers.)
I stacked my just-acquired rocks near a skin-puncturing sago palm, a species that hasn’t evolved in 200 million years. Surrounded by a sea of Habiturf, the limestone island and the sago palm reminded me of a prehistoric savanna in the movie, Jurassic Park. All it needed was dinosaurs. I hopped on my bike and pedaled to a nearby toy store and bought a couple of nine inch plastic Tyrannosaurus rexes and posted them on the rocks so they could gaze across their domain.
This spring when the rains came again, a Texas spiny lizard moved into the space between the stacked limestone rocks. Occasionally, I’d see it sunning itself at the feet of the unconcerned T-rexes. One day, as I pulled into the driveway, I saw “the shot.”
Liz had climbed onto the back of one of the plastic dinosaurs for a better angle to the sun. I started laughing and dashed into the house to get my camera. There was no way to get close enough for a decent shot, so I screwed on a telephoto lens to my Olympus. When I flew out of the porch I let the screen door bang and scared Liz off its perch. My once-in-a lifetime shot had disassembled itself, and my little friend scurried back under the rock. I wailed like a cornered T-rex prey.
I vowed to get that photograph. As I proceeded to write my non-dystopian novel, my Olympus, with its long lens attached, set on the corner of the desk. For two weeks my eyes strayed from the keyboard to the window that overlooked my front yard mini savanna. One of the T-rexes toppled over, perhaps from the wind or from a stray animal or bird. Or maybe he just lost his footing.
One cloudless morning I saw Liz climb onto the rock and crouch at the feet of the green T-rex. For the next hour I was transfixed by the little reptile, but like the proverbial watched pot that refuses to boil, the lizard didn’t move. I got up to fetch a snack. When I returned to the window she was riding the beast! I could see her arms wrapped tightly around the neck of her mount, whispering in its ear as the two negotiated the path around their fallen rival.
I grabbed my camera and dashed outside, but this time I caught the screen door.