I’ve said before, and loudly, that my Tennessee ancestors must have rolled into Central Texas in April, when the wildflowers were in bloom. Otherwise, like General Philip Sheridan, they would have chosen to rent out Texas and live in Hell.
My friend from Cleveland disagrees. He says the Wallers and the Grahams settled here because, as far as they looked in any direction, they didn’t see snow. He might be right. Perspectives on weather are heavily influenced by experience. I’ve never had to shovel snow, so I feel free to whinge about the heat.
April is a special time here. It’s the month when the landscape explodes with color, and a mild madness descends. People go wildflower hunting. Purists cruise around just looking. Artists set up easels and canvases and palettes and paint en plein air. We all risk snakebite to capture shots of family and friends amongst the bluebonnets.
And I post A. E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees” as a reminder that April isn’t forever.
This year I’m starting early. My friend Mary googled “Texas Hill Country Wildflowers” and sent me one of the links: image after image of spring landscapes. I’m sharing it here. The site loads in stages, so patience is called for.
Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, formerly the National Wildflower Research Center, seeks to “increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes.” According to her biographer, Mrs. Johnson’s legacy as First Lady “was to legitimize environmental issues as a national priority. The attitudes and policies she advanced have shaped the conservation and preservation policies of the environmental movement since then.” The Center’s comprehensive website addresses science, history, legislation, tourism, conservation, education–all areas Mrs. Johnson’s interest in the natural environment touched on.
The Texas Hill Country is beautiful in spring, but other parts of the state are just as lovely. Here are some more links to information about the best places to see wildflowers.
Have I mentioned that I can open a locked 1977 Chevy Malibu with a large paperclip in under a minute? And a locked 1977 Buick LeSabre with a metal coat hanger in under thirty seconds? That’s if the metal hanger is coated with plastic and if you discount the time it takes to go into Wal-Mart to buy it.
I was musing on cars and paperclips this afternoon during a pause in my drive home from Writers Who Write. I’d arrived at the coffee shop where we meet feeling rather jiggly in both mind and body, possibly because I’d been awake for only thirty minutes, most of which I’d spent en route. The banana and iced mocha I counted as breakfast didn’t help, so three hours later I left feeling just as jiggly as when I’d come in.
On the way home, I pulled into Trader Joe’s. The voice inside my head–the same one that told me to slow down only seconds before I hit the Black Angus cow back in 1996–had already warned me to go straight home. But guilt over ceding grocery shopping to David for most of the past four years overcame intuition, also known as good sense, and I stopped anyway.
There I faced a dilemma: what to do with the laptop lying on the passenger seat. I knew I should take it in with me, so I reached into the back seat, brought forth several large grocery sacks, and piled them on top of it.
That’s one advantage of Austin’s disposable plastic bag ban–I forget mine so often that I have to buy a reusable from the HEB cashier nearly every time I shop. There are enough of those things in my car to hide several laptops and a baby elephant besides.
Now. Here’s where the pause I mentioned earlier started. Satisfied no one could see the laptop, maybe, I shouldered my purse, picked up one of the grocery bags, and headed for Trader Joe’s. No more than a dozen steps later, I did a U-turn, headed back to the car, and peered through the window. Just as I’d expected, the ring of keys still hung from the ignition. Laying my hand on the hood, I felt a vibration. The car was running.
(Said car is ten years old. Because it’s been sitting in the sun, the red paint has begun to oxidize, so the outside looks totally disreputable, but it runs beautifully, knock wood. If the A/C hadn’t been on, I might not have felt a vibration at all.)
Well. My first impulse was to dump my purse onto the hood and follow it with my forehead. So I did. My second impulse was to hide a couple of cars away and wait for a burglar to break in for the laptop. Then I had a better idea. I stood up straight, head up, shoulders back, and asked myself, “What would Nancy Drew do (if she’d left her cell phone at home?)”
I’m certain she would do something more dramatic than finding a real phone and calling Ned Nickerson. But I’m not Nancy. I marched into Trader Joe’s, asked (in the most pitiful voice I could manage) to use the phone, and called David. He said he would run right over. I headed for the produce.
Back at the car, I set my own HEB insulated reusable shopping bag, with groceries, on the trunk. The putative temperature was 68 degrees, but sunshine had warmed the metal to at least 400, and I figured with any luck the salmon I’d bought might be cooked by the time I got home. Later I decided acting on whimsy might not be wise and took both the groceries and myself to a small, sandy promontory in the shade of a live oak tree at the other end of the car. Leaning against the tree’s trunk, I remembered other trees I’ve known:
The first high school I taught in was built around an open patio. Two young live oak trees grew on one side of it, outside the library. They were about the size of the tree I stood under while I waited for David.
The patio was a lovely spot. Students sat on the steps and at picnic tables during lunch, and the honors banquet was held there on spring evenings, and one pep rally that’s best forgotten (and that I’ll write about sometime) took place there. It was, as I said, lovely. Everyone who visited the school commented on its loveliness.
And time passed, and the live oaks flourished.
Then the birds arrived. And things began to go downhill.
The birds took up residence in the trees. Others joined them, and more and more, until the trees were thick with birds.
Birds, like cats, have no idea of the rules. They chattered and shrieked. They flew into glass doors and into windows overlooking the patio, unsettling students and teachers holding class on the insides of the windows. Unlike cats, they displayed no concern for personal hygiene. The patio did not smell nice. People stopped gathering there. They would have stopped walking by it at all if they’d been able to get to class any other way.
The Powers That Were made a number of humane attempts to get the birds to leave. They hung tin pans in the trees. They draped rubber snakes in the trees. They swatted at the birds with tennis rackets. Swatting might strike some as inhumane, but it was nothing compared to the alternative. This was, after all, a community dedicated to guns and hunting. Anyway, the same students who’d been traumatized when birds hit their windows got quite a kick watching the swatters flit about the patio, swiping at thin air.
At this point I must digress. I have admitted elsewhere that I sometimes exaggerate. Hyperbole is my favorite literary device. What I’ve written about the birds, however, is true. If anyone doubts my veracity, I can call on at least a hundred other eyewitnesses to back me up.
But back to my story. I was leaning against that live oak in front of Trader Joe’s, reminiscing, when I spotted my rescuer about three lanes over. I waved. He pulled his car into a space across from me.
“Did you call from a pay phone?” he said. Then he kissed me hello and unlocked the car.
That’s when I remembered, one more time, how lovely it is to have a husband who is as kind as my father was. My father never complained about retrieving my keys from locked cars, either.
Of course, that was before 1977, when I learned to use a paperclip.
I should extend my own Happy St. Patrick’s Day message to you all, and perhaps I will later today, but I’ll never be able to offer a nicer one than this. In addition to the beautiful clover, the cat looks just my sweet Alice B Toeclaws, whose autobiography I hope one day to write.
Please take this opportunity to visit The Bonny Blog. The posts there lift the spirit.
In the 1980s, I was among about a zillion public school teachers introduced to the promise of CAI–Computer Assisted Instruction.
When computers replaced the classroom teacher, as they eventually would, students would learn gladly, each at his own pace. Discipline problems would disappear, because there would be no dissonance in the new student-teacher relationship. Computers were neutral. There would be no personality conflicts, because computers had no personalities. They neither took offense nor gave it. There would be no frustration, no irritation, no anger, no unhappy track record, no grudges, no bias, no impatient sighs, no rolling of eyes, no gnashing of teeth, nothing from either student or computer to upset our little CRT-filled Edens.
In other words, as soon as the teacher withdrew to the sidelines and left teaching to the expert, all would be well.
Fast-forward to 2014.
For the past hour I’ve been trying to register for a week-long writing class–The Damned Rough Draft, to be specific. I belong to the sponsoring organization. To receive the member discount, I must enter my user name and password.
I don’t know my user name and password. I didn’t know I had a user name and password. There is a hazy slip of memory that might touch on receiving something like that, perhaps written on the back of the new card. But during a recent purse purge, a handful of cards were relegated to a stack somewhere that isn’t a memory at all.
So I emailed a friend who was engaged in the same pursuit. She had figured out her username and suggested I follow her pattern, fill in my possible username, and click Forgot Email.
I did. I entered my email address and requested the password be sent to my account. Clicked Okay. Nothing. Started humming in hopes of keeping my blood pressure down. Clicked Okay again. Clicked many, many more times. If I’d found a student clicking away like that, our personalities would have conflicted immediately.
I clicked some more.
So here I sit, frustrated, irritated, staring at the one thing standing between me and my precious Damned Rough Draft, this laptop, the portal through which the wonky registration page enters my sight. And I think, Computer Assisted Instruction, yeah, right.
Because I don’t care how neutral this machine is supposed to be, I’m as irritated as all get-out with the damned passive-aggressive little imp. And although I’m tempted to stay here and click click click, just to let it know I won’t be beaten, I shall give in and go to bed.
Because the tune I’ve been humming through this ordeal is “If I Had a Hammer.” And if I don’t get out of here, I shall be overcome by temptation and write a whole new verse to that song.