Highways and Alleyways

Let me tell you a little about the neighbourhood where we live. Colonial Hills is situated a few miles north-west of Downtown, San Antonio and most of the houses were built in the 1960s, so it is called a mid-century neighbourhood. Our neighbourhood is ‘in transition’ – the original owners have either passed on or moved away and their old houses are being renovated (or ‘remodeled’ as they say here) by younger incumbents.

A small dry creek marks the south end of Colonial Hills, about half a mile from our house. Only when it rains hard does this creek fill up; it is usually dry again within days. I am sure there must be some interesting wildlife at the creek though all I have seen are the flattened remains of a bull frog. The creek is at its prettiest in spring and summer when it fills with wildflowers and obscures the litter that is sometimes thrown carelessly into it. To the south of the creek is a freeway that leads to Downtown San Antonio – reachable within 15 minutes by car or an hour by the bus that stops close to our home. Just to the west runs the Interstate 10 which will take you as far as Santa Monica in the west and Jackson, Florida in the east.

Our house is rare in this neighbourhood because it is has two stories. Its peachy-beige brick looks very pretty in the evening sun. Our front garden (or ‘yard’ as they say here) contains two great live oak trees that stretch over the wide boulevard-like street. On the other side of the street, deer visit our neighbours’ front yards from time to time; these white-tailed deer live near a pond which is also enjoyed by skunks, opossum and a coyote or two.

Each morning, it is common to see neighbours doing their regular circuit of Colonial Hills – about 1½ miles in the round; one can take a longer walk by including the alleyways between the back yards. Unlike the front yards, which tend to be uniformly manicured, the back yards reveal far more about the people who live here. I can see swimming pools in their yards, swing chairs, tree houses, bird boxes, basketball stands, barbecue grills, slides, beach towels flung over lawn chairs, chickens, a goat or two, and a birdcage which contains what turned out to be a stuffed parakeet – I spent a minute or two studying it before realising that it was artificial. The back yards also contain an interesting variety of dog life. When walking by I get yapped at by numerous Chihuahuas, a couple of lazy-looking Labradors, a world-weary Alsation, not to mention an assortment of mongrels, most of them rescued from the nearby dog home. The dogs bark so loudly when I walk by that I must surely be the most interesting event of their day. (In those back yards that carry a ‘Beware the Dog’ sign I have never seen a sign of dog life at all…)

If I am the main source of excitement for the back yard dog population then in late summer the ripe fig and pomegranates growing on neighbours’ trees are the main source of excitement for me (we have recently planted our own trees and I am pleased to see that they both are bearing fruit). Some back yards sport banana trees, too, but these only fruit after a mild winter (last winter was so cold here that our own banana trees froze completely back). Another common fruit tree in this neighbourhood is the Loquat (or ‘Japanese plum’) tree which has a rather lush, tropical look and bears apricot-like fruit around May. I also enjoy the blossoming foliage that lines the alleyways: clear blue Plumbago, deep yellow Esperanza, orange-scarlet Pride of Barbados – not to mention the pink and lemon blossoms that adorn the cholla and pricky pear cactuses. It should all look a mess but somehow it works. The trees and the power lines above the alleys are also worth viewing, for the squirrels doing their trapeze acts, as well as a large variety of noisy birdlife – the ubiquitous grackle, white-tailed doves, wrens, woodpeckers, scarlet cardinals, mocking birds, blue jays, and the occasional vulture – a neighbour’s prize hen was recently plucked out of its hutch by one…

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