4/28/2008

A Texas Tradition


When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March’s drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath,
Filled again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and leaves, and the young sun,
His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,
And many little birds make melody,
That sleep through the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage )
Then folks do long to go on pilgrimage.

Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

April is that time of year, in most places, where “spring fever” erupts. This can take many forms – here in Texas, where football is king, we have “spring football”. This is where local teams, in between all that fol-de-rol of soccer, tennis and track events, head out for some gridiron practice in the good weather , running their drills and getting their line-up for fall sorted out before the serious “bidness” of game-playing begins in August.

Spring is also of course, long associated with romance, but I prefer to think of it as the time to firm up one’s summer vacation plans. True, most serious travelers made those vacation deposits, camp registrations, resort reservations, etc, back in January. But now is the time to look at your schedule, see if you have any gaps, and tweak it just a little. (I like to throw a quickie trip to Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels into the mix, if I’ve got a few assorted days with no real major trip planned. It’s refreshing, and a big steak dinner at the Grist Mill in nearby Gruene is just the ticket after a day spent sloshing through the water rides. New Orleans isn't bad either, for a last minute visit, a three day weekend....)

April in Texas, as in many parts of the world, is also one of the most beautiful seasons, (in Texas, we really only have two seasons, “more hot”, and “less hot”. Some folks call it “dry” and “wet”, especially if you live down Houston way, or “brown” and “green” , if you live out in west Texas.), when all the flowers bloom. The month starts, in the DFW area ( for south Texas, all dates get shifted back a month, to March, sometimes earlier) , with the azaleas along Turtle Creek Blvd giving a fine show in vivid hot pink or white blossoming bushes. It is a lovely thing to walk along the well-groomed paths and admire the views of laughing children, picnicking families, necking couples, and, of course, the flowers.


In the northern DFW ‘burbs, such as Denton, they keep trying to schedule a local Redbud Festival for when the redbuds (a small little under-canopy tree, with spectacular early spring hot pink buds) actually bloom, with very little success. As long as I have lived here, the festival is either too early or too late to catch the blooms. The dates for said festival seem to be scheduled by civic leaders a year or more in advance, and there is never a revision based on actual current climate predictions. If we had a warm winter, the redbuds bloom early. If we have a freakish March snow storm, they bloom late. The festival planners keep changing the date, moving back and forth and round and round the calendar, chasing the elusive redbud blooms, who decide to show their colors all over the place - sometimes in early March, or late March, or early April – to no avail. They can never get the festival lined up right with the trees. Darn that global warming!

Of course, as any native Texan will tell you, the real show here in this state is the bluebonnets. They bloom fairly regularly, year after year, the first two weeks in April. A little earlier down south, a little later in the panhandle. But if you are coming from New York or Germany or anywhere from out of state to see them, don’t plan a trip in June or July or any nonesuch (as some of my in-laws once did, ignoring my advice) expecting to see bluebonnets. It just won’t happen. (If you are any kind of Yankee or foreigner at all, I’d avoid Texas at all costs, from July –Sept. Even June is pushing it unless you like really hot weather. My poor sister-in-law once came in 1998, the 2nd hottest summer on record, when we went something like 70 days in a row over 100 degrees, armed with a suitcase full of turtlenecks, and nearly passed out from the heat. But I digress.)

It is difficult to explain to folks what a field of bluebonnets in full bloom looks like. Blue flowers, you say ? So what ! Yet there is something so enticing about them. You feel, when you come across some by the side of the road, like Dorothy, the Tin Man , and the Scarecrow when they saw all those poppies on the way to Oz. You want to romp through them, roll in them, frolic.

I must note here, though, that since bluebonnets are the Official State Flower of Texas, it is forbidden to trample or harm them in any way. It is especially forbidden to pick them. If you feel you absolutely need some, go to a garden shop; they’ve usually got a few little pots for all you suckers. Like all wild things, they don’t last a minute once picked, anyways, but instantly wither and die. If you want to grow your own, the time to plant them is in the fall. They prefer sunny, well drained hillsides, and if you fuss at all over them, they won’t bloom. Benign neglect is best. For heaven sakes, don’t make the fatal error of mowing your weeds in late winter – that thatchy looking patch is just full of baby bluebonnets, waiting to spring forth.

It has long been a Texas tradition to take a weekend drive, somewhere along the hiways and byways of central Texas, to look at the bluebonnets. Popular routes are often jam-packed during the key viewing weekends of early April. Signs pop up out of nowhere, directing one here or there. Little towns have festivals and sell souvenirs. Itinerant artists with varying degrees of skill set up easels by the side of the road, hoping someone wanting a memento will buy their art. A whole industry of bluebonnet themed coffee mugs, dish towels, key chains and ash trays are de rigueur here . Families feel they simply must take their little children and/ or pets out to a good-looking patch of bluebonnets, prop them up in the flowers, and snap their photos. A photo of Jr , wallowing in the bluebonnets is just the perfect thing to put on a coffee mug for grandma’s Mother’s Day gift. It just gets harder and harder to do, the older Jr gets. A cute 3 year old is fairly cooperative for at least 5 minutes, especially if ice cream is promised as a reward for cute poses. Two surly teenagers can’t be bought for love nor money.

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