Back To Mesquite Days After The Festive Days Of Cedar And Fir

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 27, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Finally, we move on from the cedar and fir of Christmas joy and jubilation to the mesquite reality of mundane, even harsh, everyday life. Just about everybody experiences the let-down feeling of the blah’s the days following Christmas, don’t they? Well, maybe there’s something good to be said about the mesquite reality of life, too.

            Of course, I’m using “mesquite” as a metaphor here, and I think it is a well-chosen metaphor. W. T. Waggoner, one of the pioneer ranchers in Texas once said the mesquite is “the devil with roots. It scabs my cows, spooks my horses, and gives little shade.” To his description of the mesquite tree/bush/shrub, I should add that its long, extensive root system uses up too much water in areas like West Texas where water is scarce. The Texas Almanac tells us that its tap roots are even longer than oak tree roots. It is of course the mesquite’s thorns that injure cattle, horses, and cowboys.

            Today, in the drier areas of our State, ranchers still fight “Mesquite Wars.” To do so, they use chemical spray, bulldozers, diesel oil, root plowing, and burn-off, — if you travel in those areas, you will see that mesquite is still winning the war.

            But it’s not just in West Texas and the Panhandle where mesquite grows amok on the lone prairie; this scrub is all over Texas, — north to south, east to west, mesquite trees cover one-third of the State (absent only in the piney woods of East Texas). The Texas Almanac also tells us that 76 percent of all mesquite growing in the United States grows, — yep, right here in the Lone Star State! So, for us Texans, it’s very ordinary and often a nuisance.

            A huge corner of my maternal grandfather’s farm in Dime Box was covered with mesquite, a mesquite grove, if you will. It was bounded on one side by a County Road, on another side by another gravel road, and on a third side by the lane to the farmhouse. The fourth side was chicken yard and barn yard, — I suppose that’s how my grandfather kept it contained. The mesquite grove provided the least fun for grandkids on the farm.

            And yet there’s a good side to mesquite, too. Where water is scarce, it’s more or less just scrub, but where there is more moisture, mesquite can grow up to 40 or 50 feet tall and spread about 40 or 50 feet wide. It forks just a few feet above the ground, and, with enough moisture, the limbs can grow pretty large. Grandpa’s mesquite trees/bushes/shrubs were about 10 to 20 feet and not that wide, and the limbs were fairly thick. I mention these facts, because wood artists and furniture makers love mesquite wood for its color, its texture, and its irregular patterns. Sculpture made from mesquite is some of the most beautiful wood sculpture seen in the world, and tables and chairs carved from mesquite wood are extraordinary!

            The huge attendance at the Texas Mesquite Art Festival, held this year in October, in Fredericksburg, Texas, proves how popular mesquite wood art and furniture really is! Sometimes there is not a clear distinction between “art” and “furniture,” as some of the exquisitely carved mesquite wood bases for living room lamps would indicate. And the irregularity of the table tops and chair backs are loved for their irregularity, and thus, artiness, proving almost no distinction between art and furniture.

            Another case in point to which any Texan will attest is that when mesquite wood, chips, charcoal, and logs are used in grilling or barbecuing, the result is delicious-tasting meat and fish. My father, and a lot of other old-time Texans, used to insist that mesquite wood made the best tasting barbecue in the whole world.

            As you can see from this, there is quite a demand for mesquite wood, both from artists and furniture makers, as well as from thousands of home grilling and barbecue chefs. Mesquite is not so mundane, ordinary, useless, and even vexing, after all. Just like going from the joyful cedar and fir Christmas tree season back to the reality of mesquite days is not so bad either. The Spirit of Christmas is in your heart and soul, not in the decorations, gifts, and lighted trees; and it should live on after the festive Day is gone. Jesus is the reason for the season, but He is also the reason for every day of our life!

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Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at amazon.com.

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