This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for March 26, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
During this time of the “new normal” we are living in, I have found some solace in working on my collection of poems, soon to be published as a book entitled Open Prairies. We have just finished the “second pass,” as my book-designer daughter calls it, and have only one more round of proof-reading to go. Re-reading the poems I have written at various times over the years, and recently, not only brings back memories, but also reaffirms what I’ve always known, — my love for the natural beauty and the simple life of rural Texas is the inspiration for my poetry.
In my other writings, I have jokingly stated that the little town of Dime Box was my mother’s “Garden of Eden,” and my cousin underscored that fact by referring to the place of Mama’s birth as “O Little Town of Dime Box.” As I survey my bank of memories (my brother used to say with a chuckle that I had “creative memory”), I find my most beautiful and cherished memory of my town in the good old days of childhood is seeing our meadow covered solid from fence to fence with primroses. In those days we called them “buttercups,” though I don’t know why, because they weren’t actually buttercups.
When most folks think of the beauty of Texas in the Spring, they think of bluebonnets, and true Texans have to have their bluebonnet “fix” each Spring. However, on the side of town where we lived, bluebonnets were not very profuse. Instead, the one hill and the meadows nearest us were covered with red blankets, primroses, wild violets, wine cups, and wild phlox (that’s what we called them anyway). The splendid beauty of these wild flowers made you giddy with an unexplainable sense of well being and joy!
I remember one year how, near Easter, our meadow brought added exhilaration to a young country boy. My daddy discovered a nest of baby cottontail rabbits underneath thick growths of primroses. He was bursting with excitement as he showed it to my brother and me, at the same time warning us not to touch anything near the nest, — just look. My memory bank has never lost the image of those furry little creatures snuggling together in a nest! Sadly, we never saw another cottontail in the years to come.
In his book, Texas, 1844-1845, Carl, Prince of Solms-Braunfels, an Austrian Prince, cousin of Queen Victoria, newly appointed Commissioner-General for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, wrote about areas of our State from Galveston and Winedale to New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, describing this frontier land in such a way as to entice Germans to immigrate here in large numbers. He wrote about the geography, the very rich soil and the various wild fruit trees, native pecans, etc. And, he, too, was greatly taken by Texas wildflowers in the Spring, and he was moved to write this description about them in German, translated here in English: “To a traveler or stranger, there is no spectacle more fascinating than the prairies of the West during the months of April, May, and June. They spread themselves out before him like a costly carpet, richly green, with an embroidery of exquisite flowers of divers colors. . . . The rarest cactus blooms of all kinds of colors are a true embellishment of nature. . . .”
Gideon Lincecum, an amateur botanist and “professional” herbalist, moved from Mississippi to Long Point, Texas (24 miles southeast of Richmond) , with his family, in 1848, not too long after Prince Solms-Braunfels, wrote his book, Texas. Dr.Lincecum, a “doctor” of herbal medicine, being a scientist whose studies and observations were appreciated by Charles Darwin and other notable scientists, was more interested in the medicinal value and use of the many wild plants and flowers in Texas than in their beauty. Knowing a lot about herbal remedies by living with Indian tribes in Mississippi, this self-taught botanist made a huge contribution to our State by identifying most of our wild plants and flowers.
To me, the fact that dandelions and coneflowers, two of many examples, have powers of healing along with their great beauty, makes them even more splendidly alluring. The bright spot during these troubling times is the fact many of these wildflowers are right now in our backyards and meadows. Let their beauty renew your spirit of joy!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.