Spring’s First Dandelion

A hoverfly and a tiny ‘something’ enjoying a taste of spring

 

Other Texas dandelions surely are blooming, but this is the first I’ve seen this season. Also known as Carolina desert-chicory or smallflower desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus),  this European dandelion look-alike generally blooms from February through June, but at least this eager flower was willing to give January a try; I found it along the road leading into the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge only a few days ago, on January 24th.

Walt Whitman would have seen the European dandelion rather than our Texas version, but he seems to have enjoyed the sight. In 1888, the New York Herald ran this short poem written by him:

                                         The First Dandelion

                                         Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close 
                                                    emerging, 
                                        As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, 
                                                   had ever been, 
                                       Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass,
                                                  innocent, golden, calm as the dawn, 
                                      The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful 
                                                  face .

Unfortunately, Whitman’s paean to the coming spring ran on March 12, 1888, the worst day of the Blizzard of 1888, a day when several feet of snow and unceasing winds were making the American northeast a very unpleasant place. As the journal Illustrated American reported in 1892, somewhat primly, the poem “made its appearance at a most unfortunate time.” No one wanted to read about dandelions of any sort on that day. 

Parody was inevitable. One of the first examples appeared in the Herald two days after Whitman’s poem was published, signed simply, “After Walt Whitman.”

                                     The First Blizzard

                                     Simple and fresh and fierce, from Winter’s close 
                                          emerging, 
                                    As if no artifice of summer, business, politics 
                                         had ever been, 
                                   Forth from its snowy nook of shivering glaciers– 
                                        innocent, silver, pale as the dawn, 
                                  The Spring’s first blizzard shows its wryful 
                                         face. 

 Eventually, “The First Dandelion” appeared in the ‘deathbed’ edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: a poem as delicate and sweet as the flower it celebrates.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Winter Trees

On December 6, I dawdled my way to the Willow City Loop, north of Fredericksburg. Known primarily for its profusion of bluebonnets and other wildflowers in spring, it’s equally interesting in autumn and early winter. Rocks, cedars, and seedheads predominate; mistletoe and ball moss decorate bare limbs.

When I noticed the still-visible moon hanging in the sky, these lines from poet William Carlos Williams came to mind. His work titled “Winter Trees” easily divides into three haiku-like poems, as elegant as the trees they celebrate.

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Last Rose of Autumn

Macartney Rose (Rosa bracteata) ~ Galveston Island

Lovely though it may be, Macartney rose rivals the Chinese tallow tree as a scourge upon the land. Another native of China, introduced into the United States as a landscape plant or means of natural fencing, it arrived in southeast Texas in the past century. Thanks to the wide dispersal of seeds by birds and cattle, it’s now spread to pastures and rangeland, and can be found in every nature center or wildlife refuge I visit.

Although not considered a noxious plant, it’s considered invasive for good reason. According to the TexasInvasives database:

Macartney rose forms dense thickets, displacing native grasses such as the endangered white bladderpod, and altering native wildlife habitat. [Its presence] greatly decreases forage productivity of cattle pasture and adds to the economic burden of land managers.

Still, its flower is undeniably lovely, blooming late into the year — even into December — near the coast. It requires nothing more than a change from ‘summer’ to ‘autumn’ (or even ‘winter’) for the words of Thomas Moore’s 1805 poem to capture the poignancy of its increasingly sparse flowers as true winter approaches.

‘Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.
I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.
So soon may I follow
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Ripple of Water, Shade of Sky

Tropical blue water lily (Nymphaea elegans) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Unlike the fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata), which floats upon the water, the tropical blue water lily rises several inches into the air on a slender peduncle, or stalk.

Native to Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, the flower shows off its color as a young plant, fading from blue to white as it ages. Its specific epithet, elegans, suggests the entirely elegant flower could have served as Rainer Maria Rilke’s model when he wrote his poem, “Water Lily.”

My whole life is mine, but whoever says so
will deprive me, for it is infinite.
The ripple of water, the shade of the sky
are mine; it is still the same, my life.
No desire opens me: I am full,
I never close myself with refusal —
in the rhythm of my daily soul
I do not desire — I am moved.
By being moved I exert my empire,
making the dreams of night real;
into my body at the bottom of the water
I attract the beyonds of mirrors.

 

Comments always are welcome.

This is Just to Say

 

Not long after I published my color image of this landmark on Trinity Bay, I received an email from photographer and friend Steve Gingold. It included this reprocessed version of the photo, and a few words:

Forgive me…
The strong contrast and those beautiful clouds, I just had to…

The changes he made to the photo opened my eyes to the virtues of black-and-white photography in a new and visceral way. To put it simply, while my color version of the chapel would make a nice postcard, this is a photograph, and an invitation to a new way of seeing.

The association raised by the words of his email was equally delightful. They brought to mind William Carlos Williams’s famous poem titled “This is Just to Say”:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Uncounted parodies of his poem have appeared over the years, and it seems appropriate to add this one to the mix.

I have changed
the color
that was in
your photo
and which
you probably
preferred
in the end
Forgive me
this seems delicious
so strong
and so bold

 

Comments always are welcome.