In rural Texas, anyone inclined toward roads less traveled eventually notices cultural differences as well as changes in the landscape. On farm-to-market and county roads — paved or unpaved, usually numbered but sometimes named — you can travel for miles or days without seeing a single Amazon Prime delivery van or a Tesla. Pickups and cattle trailers abound; sometimes, working cowboys on live horses supplant horsepower.
Fairly well off the beaten path during my recent explorations, I discovered a hand-lettered sign saying “No Peddlers’ tacked to a fence. The old-fashioned word triggered memories of peddlers from my childhood, although in those years the term ‘peddler’ had been upgraded to ‘door-to-door salesman’ in towns. Still, peddlers they were: working the neighborhoods with their encyclopedias, cooking pots, or vacuum cleaners, hoping to close a sale or two before day’s end.
I couldn’t help being curious about the person who posted the sign, or what sort of visitor had occasioned it. No doubt too many peddlers could be annoying, but my grandmother regularly welcomed a fellow who sold sewing notions: threads of every sort, lace trims, needles and pins.
He also carried a heavy book filled with fabric swatches like those still used for wallpaper or upholstery samples. Once home, I couldn’t help seeing the assortment of floral landscapes I’d photographed as swatches of color, or thinking of nature as a peddler of sorts — roaming the countryside and showing off her wares. Personally, I’m more than willing to invest in them, especially since this year’s offerings have been of exceptional quality.
Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush ~ Lavaca County
Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Huisache Daisy ~ Goliad County
At the height of Texas’s bluebonnet season, ‘going to see the flowers’ is a state-wide ritual. While certain towns and counties are known for spectacular displays that cover acres — if not miles — of land, one of my favorite routes is along the highway known as Alternate 90.
Between Altair and Hallettsville, and both north and south of small towns like Rock Island, Sheridan, and Sublime, the displays may be less extravagant, but people are fewer and wandering is easier.
Along this stretch of Alt90, few bluebonnets line the road. Instead, they’ve emerged in glorious profusion around homes and outbuildings, in pastures, and next to stock tanks and ponds. Because cattle and deer don’t eat them, they’re free to flourish in these settings: blooming, setting seed, and fading as they have for millenia.
All of these photos were taken in this relatively small area on quiet mornings in early March. I’ve become deeply attached to both Texas and her bluebonnets; since Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway,” as performed by Emmylou and Willie, best expresses my feelings about them, I’ll share the song, and a few photos from Colorado and Lavaca counties. I wish I could take you with me to see them.
Although I’d never considered the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge as a source for bluebonnets, an impulsive decision to swing by for a visit revealed acres and acres of the flowers covering the land.
These weren’t the Lupinus texensis of central Texas’s gently rolling hills, but Lupinus subcarnosus: the sandyland bluebonnet. Declared the state flower in 1901, Lupinus subcarnosus competed for years with the larger and showier Lupinus texensis for pride of place. In 1971, the state legislature resolved the conflict by declaring that the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) and “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded” also should be considered the state flower; today, six recognized species share the honor.
As I walked into the field, the appropriateness of the name ‘sandyland’ became obvious; the covering of loose sand reminded me of barrier island prairies. The sandy conditions also suggested I was seeing white prickly poppies in the distance, but walking farther in I discovered something quite different: bull nettles. One of the nastiest plants I know, the flowers are lovely, and butterflies visit them without fear, but the sting from the hairs covering every other part of the plant is remarkably painful. Having learned about that sting in the past, I looked, but didn’t touch.
Texas bull nettle ~ Cnidoscolus texanus
The day’s greatest delight was a scattering of white bluebonnets throughout the field. I’ve occasionally found one or two white flowers, but on this occasion I counted a full dozen in the area I explored.
What I’d never before seen were pale bluebonnets: lovely, soft hues that were immensely appealing.
Even more fun were the variegated bluebonnets blooming in the middle of the field. Whether variations are more common in Lupinis subcarnosis, or whether other conditions caused them to appear, I can’t say, but I’m certain that any budding genticist would have had a field day in this field.
One of my greatest frustrations over the years has been an inability to see big frogs in the ponds and sloughs I visit. I often hear them — their croaks, and their splashy retreats into water — but I never have seen more than the ripples they leave behind.
That ended last weekend at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge. Standing on a bridge that crosses a pond, I was idly scanning the water when I noticed a bit of bright green. Looking closer, I realized it wasn’t another clump of algae. It was a frog; even better, it was a frog who seemed willing to tolerate my presence.
After a few photos, I realized the frog wasn’t about to move, so I moved to a different vantage point on the bridge, where I was able to catch this wonderfully typical froggy expression.
Eventually, a noisy conflict between two bull alligators caused the frog to disappear into the reeds, but I had my photos. Only two days earlier, on March 3, I hadexpressed my hope to Steve Gingold, frog photographer extraordinare, that this year I finally would find a bullfrog. On March 5, I did just that.
Leaving the refuge, I was filled with the kind of joy that only a true Jeremiah could evoke. I’d gone for flowers, but found a bullfrog. It seemed a fair trade, and reason enough tobreak into the song that you know.
Colorful. Chaotic. Compelling. That’s spring in Texas, and the season is upon us. Last weekend, I traveled through a portion of the state to see what I could see. What I saw included familiar flowers (bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush), some personal favorites (white prickly poppies and fringed puccoon), some unfamiliar blooms, and an out-of-this world photographic experience at a famous Texas shrine that gave new life to Oat Willie’s cry: “Onward, through the fog.”
Uncertain how to begin sharing such riches, I decided this mixed bouquet would make a fine start. Bluebonnets, yellow huisache daisy, Indian paintbrush, and a tiny bit of pink Lindheimer’s beeblossom frame the single magenta winecup. Needless to say, this wildflower lover’s cup is overflowing.