Native Son: September 2014
by Steven Chamblee
A Texan Travels to Pittsburgh
As my plane descends through dark clouds into southwestern Pennsylvania, I cannot imagine any place that seems so far removed from Texas. Dark green mountains roll along endlessly, interrupted only by velvet-green meadows and big rivers, swollen wide and running deep. No water shortage here, and the thermometer strains to reach 75 degrees. I am here to attend a Garden Writers meeting and discover Pittsburgh for the first time, and though my imagination had conjured up a bleak tableau of smog and soot, my eyes behold a city that has scrubbed off its industrial grime and is ready to enjoy the fruits of all that hard labor.
The shuttle driver quickly catches my accent and cheerfully asks me, “Cowboys or Texans?” I emit a low groan of internal pain and suffering. He smiles and says, “Yeah, we got problems, too.” My mind ricochets around for a moment before my mouth blurts out, “Roberto Clemente was my childhood hero.” Without missing a beat, the driver says, “I would hug you right now, but I’m trying to drive this thing.” We share a loud laugh as the other passengers exchange concerned glances. Quick as a wink, I feel right at home.
The formal gardens of Pittsburgh are much different from those in Texas, quaint plots of earth with close-cropped yew hedges, billowing hydrangeas, shaggy lilacs, and cascading Japanese maples in full sun. Crape myrtles, cenizos, yuccas, and those love-to-hate-‘em red-tip photinias cannot be found. But as I explore the roadsides and natural areas, I see many familiar friends … close relatives, actually. Butterfly weed, ironweed, goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, oak, and sumac are everywhere, but different species than in North Central Texas. It’s like looking at someone’s cousin — a whole lot of similarities, but a few distinct differences. And like people, the visible differences tell only part of the story. It’s what’s inside that truly counts.
The species that inhabit this area are adapted to lots of moisture and winters cold enough to freeze a cowboy to a fencepost. Their Texas counterparts have adapted well to much drier, more alkaline soils and summers hot enough to make a steelworker melt. And while they have their differences, each performs an essential function in its own community. Each one is perfect in its own way. What they have in common is much more important than the differences that allow them to thrive where they live.
I think about that shuttle driver and me. We look, sound, and act a little different, but we’re both just doing the best we can with what God gave us. And that, 1300 miles from home, makes me proud to be an American.
Note from Steven: I thought I’d let the photos do the talking and share just a few of the sights that I got to see as part of the Garden Writers Association Annual Conference in Pittsburgh.
Come out and breathe in the beauty of a Texas summer at Chandor Gardens! Go to www.chandorgardens.com for details. Just take I-20 west to exit 409, hang a right, go 2.1 miles and hang a left on Lee Avenue. Head straight 12 blocks and you’re driving in the gates. Call 817-361-1700 for more information.
I can always use another road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come out and speak to your group sometime. I’m low-maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town too small. Just send me an e-mail at email@example.com and we’ll work something out.