Life’s Force

Recent rains, sufficient to leave roadway puddles and the occasional flowing ditch, have enouraged new plant growth everywhere. Crepe myrtles are reblooming, shrubs are leafing out as though it were April, and the voice of the lawnmower is heard in the land.

From our schoolyard lawns to the highway medians of Galveston, one of the most prolific bloomers just now is a native rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen). Aptly described by an online acquaintance as “all those little white flowers that come out of nowhere right after it rains,” they might also be described as “those little white flowers that bloom anywhere they darned well please.”

This small group had pushed its way through the hard clay of a construction site in what I imagined to be a natural call-and-response. The rain called, the flowers responded, and everyone who’s noticed is exclaiming in delight at their sudden appearance.  


Comments always are welcome.

Summoning Rain

Liberian rain stick and tribal masks

Across cultures, from Australia to Argentina to Mexico to Tibet, the rainstick serves as a musical instrument, a necessary adjunct to tribal ceremonies, and a means of calling up rain.  My own rainstick comes from Liberia, West Africa, where I worked for a few years. Unlike those made from dried cacti and filled with beads or seeds, mine was formed from a stalk of a different sort of plant; I’ve always assumed its sound depends on falling rice or seeds.

Some say rainsticks are magical. Whether that’s true I can’t say, but now and then I ponder my stick’s survival for nearly fifty years in the heat and humidity of both Liberia and Texas. Occasionally I turn it as I walk by, and find myself transported back the bush: hearing again the sound of approaching rain. Sometimes, if long anticipated and much needed rain is in the forecast, I turn the stick several times, hoping the magic is real.

Seamus Heaney, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet known for works exalting everyday miracles, has considered the rain stick. His poem celebrating its qualities was published in The New Republic in 1993; its words still fall on the ear as easily as the sound of coming rain.

Up-end the stick and what happens next
is a music that you never would have known
to listen for. In a cactus stalk
Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe
being played by water, you shake it again lightly
and diminuendo runs through all its scales
like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes
a sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,
Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
the glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.
Up-end the stick again. What happens next
is undiminished for having happened once,
twice, ten, and thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires
is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.


Comments always are welcome.

Ground Stop


While Wilmington and Charleston airports briefly closed due to Hurricane Florence, Houston airports have been instituting ground stops because of severe thunderstorms.

Irritating as a ground stop may be for travelers, there’s a time to wait things out. Here, a seed from green milkweed (Asclepias viridis) settles to ground and prepares to wait out the rain that interrupted its own flight.


Comments always are welcome.


When Life Gives You Rain, Make Rain Lilies

Evening rain lily (Cooperia drummondii)

Everyone knows the aphorism, although few know it originated with Elbert Hubbard, founder of an arts and crafts community in New York State known as Roycroft. Proprietor of the eponymous Roycroft Press, an enterprise modeled after William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, Hubbard published two influential magazines known as The Philistine and The Fra.

He also published a 1915 obituary for actor Marshall Pinckney Wilder. In it, Hubbard praised Wilder’s optimistic attitude and achievements despite significant physical disabilities:

“He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, “Mens sana in corpore sano.” His was a sound mind in an unsound body. He proved the eternal paradox of things. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.”

Twenty-five years later, a variation on Hubbard’s phrase appeared in a poem titled “The Optimist,” which appeared in a 1940 edition of The Rotarian magazine:

“Life handed him a lemon,
As Life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity,
Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later,
Reclining in the shade
In calm contentment, drinking
A glass of lemonade.”

Dale Carnegie, true to his didactic nature, rephrased the image for his 1948 book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. He advised his readers, “If you have a lemon, make a lemonade.”

Today, it’s Hubbard’s phrasing that’s most often heard, although Fate has fallen out of favor and the expression has been revised accordingly: “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Nature isn’t in the lemonade-making business, but I was certain that, given Hurricane Harvey’s feet of rain, she would turn sooner rather than later to rain-lily-making.

And so it has been. The Texas natives — sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs or small clusters — recently began appearing everywhere: in schoolyards, highway medians, vacant lots, and lawns. The great sweeps of flowers which sometime emerge haven’t yet made an appearance, but even a single rain lily is worth admiring.

After a day or two, the delicate flowers begin to fade, turning first to a delicate pink, and then to a deeper, richer color.

Eventually a pod forms, tightly packed with black, shiny seeds. Less noticeable than the flowers (as in the photo below), they’re nonetheless an assurance that, when the next great rains arrive, rain-lily-making surely will follow.


Comments always are welcome.