An End to Autumn Envy

My Iowa Autumn, 1949

Let big people call them leaves. My dollie and I knew them for what they were: piled-up heaps of love, colorful and crisp, raked and arranged, ready for fort-building, rolling, jumping, falling again and again into the safe, soft cushion provided by the trees.

It was a season of falling: falling leaves, windfall apples redolent of cider or sauce, drifts of smoke falling from chimneys and sloping around our ankles. We pressed fallen leaves between sheets of waxed paper, to hang in windows. We carried leaf bouquets to favorite teachers, and decorated supper tables for the pleasure of our families. We named their colors to suit ourselves and reflect our world: bittersweet, cornstalk, snow-fence brown.

And we traveled. Sometimes near and sometimes far, far beyond the boundaries of our maple and elm-filled yards, we gloried in even more dramatic autumn colors along the rivers and hills. Brilliant as sunsets, heart-rending in their beauty, the riotous mixture of oak, hard maple, and ash blinded us to the realities of a winter yet to come.

After sixty years, the surest sign of impending autumn remains for me a sharp, intense longing for the glimmer and shine of colorful leaves. Unfortunately, while Houston provides color, it’s often muted, short-lived, and inferior to the extravagance appearing in other parts of the country. Even where Texas colors abound — glowing cypress at the water’s edge, the gem-like brilliance of maples, the somber Hill Country oaks — their erratic nature can confound prognosticators and passionate leaf-peepers alike. “Now you see it, now you don’t” is the order of the day. A degree or two here, a burst of wind there, and the show is over. You turn your back at your peril.

With control of the elements out of my hands, I try to be understanding, and accepting. I remind myself that this isn’t New England, after all. Yet every year as the weeks pass, filled with ever more glorious postings of autumn color, I look at others’ sweetgum and larch, walnut, birch, sumac and sassafras, with a certain ambivalence. I certainly don’t begrudge them their luminous hillsides, their streambeds glowing between fiery mountains, or the sweet, golden haze of their harvested fields. Still, I envy them.

Through the years, my affliction has led to considerable travel as I tracked the wild autumn leaf in state and out, down city streets, through the suburban wilds. Sometimes, I was early. Often, I was late. More often than not, my personal standards for what constitutes good autumn color left me disappointed.

One day this past October, quite by chance, I happened upon Milton Meltzer’s biography of Dorothea Lange, titled A Photographer’s Life. One of Lange’s musings seemed particularly relevant and compelling:

To know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting, and often false…
I certainly wouldn’t criticize a photographer who works completely without plan,  and photographs that to which he instinctively responds.
In fact, a very good way to work is to open yourself as wide as you can, which in itself is a difficult thing to do — just to be like a piece of unexposed, sensitized material. You force yourself to watch and wait. You accept all the discomfort and disharmony that involves.

In time, her words took hold, and I wondered: what might autumn have to offer in a neighborhood deprived of traditional fall colors? What if I exchanged a search for past, idealized autumns for a discovery of autumn’s realities in the present?  What if I set aside my criteria for a perfect autumn, and simply accepted what is?

As you might suspect, the results were both surprising and delightful. Through the month of November, I explored local parks, nature centers, prairies, and sloughs, discovering far more than I’d bargained for. A veritable rainbow of colors surrounded me: as impressive in their own way as any Montana or Massachusetts tree.

At Armand Bayou, late-blooming sunflowers covered the prairie.

(Click any image to enlarge)
Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)

At a nature center not far from my home, it seemed as though nature had begun her Christmas decorating.

Christmas berry or Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum)

Ditches edging the highway between Blessing and Palacios teemed with wildflowers of every sort.

Clasping-leaf conflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis)

Throughout the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, Gulf frittilaries feasted on blue mistflower.

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Migrating birds chattered within the pyracantha, safely hidden from sight.

Firethorn, Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea)

One of my favorite flowers clambered along the edges of the Clear Creek channel.

Wild Cowpea (Vigna luteola)

A beautiful, two-foot tall bit of grass stood out from its companions.

Unknown grass

Along a Farm-to-Market road near Goliad, balloon vines glowed in the mist.

Balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum)

Their season ended, dewberries shone in the falling afternoon light.

Southern Dewberry (Rubus trivialis)

The relationship of the silverleaf nightshade to the Christmas berry (both in the family Solanaceae) is suggested by its fruit.

Silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium)

Finally, these post-Thanksgiving morning glories outside a Goliad donut-and-kolache shop were especially surprising, but entirely glorious.

Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.)
Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.)
Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.)

Today, having taken time, at last, to saunter into the complexity of this turning season in Texas, I can’t help but be amused. After years spent pursuing and envying the glorious autumns enjoyed by others, the variety and beauty of our season has become clear.

Shown the glories of a more traditional season, I’ll admire and enjoy the shapes and colors that continue to evoke such pleasant memories. But, truthfully? I believe I’ve fallen for our autumn.

Comments always are welcome.

All images, unless otherwise indicated, are mine. Any of the above images can be clicked for greater size and clarity.

It’s also possible I’ve misidentified a plant. Corrections or suggestions are welcome.

107 thoughts on “An End to Autumn Envy

  1. You excel in everything you do, be it varnishing boats, writing essays, poems and blog posts, and photography. I loved your lovely photographs of Texas flowers.

    Dorothea Lange means a lot to me as a professional photographer of the Great Depression years of the thirties. I’m glad you mentioned her in your post.

    Thank you for sharing your great creative work—continuously.



    1. Knowing your love of flowers and photography, I was sure this one would strike a chord or two with you, Omar. And I’m not surprised to know that you admire Dorothea Lange. She was one of the first photographers I was introduced to, through a school history class, and I’ve always appreciated her work.

      Needless to say, I also appreciate you and all those who stop by to read my posts. Sometimes that “continuously” business gets a little nerve-wracking, as when I was trying to get all these plants properly identified yesterday. But I love the challenges, just as you do.


  2. Isn’t it true? When we have expectations, we are asking to be disappointed with anything different than our preconceptions. We miss so much that’s in front of us. You photos are beautiful. Thanks for a look into your autumn and a reminder to see what’s before us. I’m glad you now enjoy your Texas autumns.

    1. Of course, the very dangerous other side of that coin is, “If you never expect anything, you’ll never be disappointed.” I went through a period of that kind of thinking, many years ago, and finally decided occasional disappointment was better. Much better.

      But, yes. Preconceptions about how thngs ‘sposed to be can cause real problems: especially at this time of year. The search for a “perfect Christmas” or an attempt to recreate the past can be particularly fraught.

      I’ve always enjoyed Texas’s seasons, but it’s just a fact: in spring I want lilacs and forsythia, in winter I want snow, and in summer I want robins and sweet corn. We’ve had occasional snow, and sweet corn’s easy. Still, I wonder. Could it be that we’re “imprinted” with our childhood seasons: so much so that we long for them throughout our lives? I don’t know, but it’s an intriguing thought.

  3. “blue mistflower”

    Whoever named that flower, knew how to pick a name.

    You know me, whenever I hear a story, I have to tell a story. Years ago, I was driving up the Gunflint Trail at the peak of fall colors. It was late in the day and low sun turned the birch leaves a brilliant gold. At one point, the light in the trees merged with the light reflecting from the leaves that had fallen on the ground and the road making it impossible to determine what was road and what was not. When this happens to the clouds and snow in winter, we call it a white-out. This was a gold-out.

    1. Here’s a larger view of the mistflower. It’s one of those plants I’d never seen until this year, but clearly, the problem wasn’t with the mistflower. There are huge colonies of it scattered around, most of them covered in butterflies. They’re quite a sight.

      Your tale of the gold-out reminded me in turn of this fantastic ginkgo tree in China.

      It also reminded me of something far less pleasant that I experienced in west Texas. I was driving west, when the setting sun hit the edge of a butte ahead of us. It was as though the sun exploded. There was nowhere to look away from the light. It lasted only seconds, which was a very good thing, given the drop-off along my side of the road. I still haven’t figured out what it was, although it seems as though a false horizon might be involved.

  4. ‘They’ say we should never try to go back, just enjoy the present and look forward to the future. I suppose it is all to do with those ‘rose-coloured glasses’ we tend to wear occasionally.

    You certainly are enjoying that new camera and the results show the skills you are developing, especially in selective focusing – I love the middle morning glory image.

    I am studying “Climate from Space”, which is fascinating, but takes up a lot of my time, so if I don’t get another chance, may I take this opportunity to wish you a Very Merry Christmas and great 2016.

    1. I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with enjoying memories of the past. A little nostalgia, a little bittersweet reminiscing, can be quite good for the soul. Problems arise when we try to recreate the past. There’s quite a difference between living traditions and museum pieces.

      I am enjoying the camera, although I’d like to enjoy it a good bit more. We’ve had such a spate of rainy weekends that it’s put a crimp in my out-and-aboutness. Even my four-day Thanksgiving trip was about three hours of partly sunny, and the rest gray, drizzly, and rainy. Still, those morning glory photos were taken about 8 am under cloudy and drizzly conditions: proof that there’s no need to wait for “perfect” weather.

      A Merry Christmas to you, too. I was at a concert a couple of weeks ago that featured pieces arranged by John Rutter, and I thought of you. I hope you’re mixing a little music with your science.

  5. This post really struck home with me. For 30 years I’ve been looking over my shoulder at the Pacific Northwest of my youth, comparing it to the Illinois of my present and finding Illinois lacking. Stealthily, however, Illinois is sneaking up on my heart with subtle beauty and I find I’m falling for it. Recently I came across the cutest little cottage on a lake with lotuses (lotuses!) growing around its dock! …Oh….

    1. I didn’t realize you had roots in the Pacific NW, Melissa. I’ve been there only once, passing through on my way from Minnesota to California. (I wanted to see the Columbia gorge.) From what I’ve seen, it’s a beautiful place, and more than capable of imprinting itself on your memory.

      Over the years, I adapted easily to the culture of Texas, loving its diversity, its food, its music, its farming and ranching. Eventually, even the Gulf waters became attractive in their own way. But the lack of four distinct seasons — especially the absence of fall color and snow — always have been on the negative side of the ledger.

      When I lived in Liberia, the radical change in seasons, and even the experience of a green Christmas, didn’t particularly bother me. Honestly? I think the internet’s been partly responsible for my simmering discontent. Ten years of oohing and aahing over others’ photos of foliage and snow can have an effect. An unintended consequence of getting my new camera has been its ability to propel me outdoors, to see things in a new way.

    1. You’re welcome, Michelle.It really is true that beauty isn’t a zero-sum game. If you have a beautiful flower bed, and I put in a beautiful flower bed, no one loses. We only have increased the beauty in the world. What could be better than that?

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and commenting. You’re always welcome.

    1. I’m so glad you found them so, Cecilia. I just read some pages from your blog — especially about your purpose,and your cast of characters — and it’s not too far a stretch to see some of the same values informing our work: you on the farm, me on this blog.

      How I’ve missed stopping by your place, I don’t know, but I’ll certainly be visiting.

  6. What a great lesson in being mindful of that which is present now. We all have structures of thought that we carry around. We filter the world with them. If the world we perceive doesn’t fit into the structure, we reject it as flawed or somehow wrong.

    1. “Structures of thought” sounds a bit rigid to me, although I take your point, and basically agree. I’ve always preferred the metaphor of lenses, since it suggests that we can change our lenses according to need and circumstance: like having reading glasses, sunglasses, driving glasses, and so on. Even rose-colored glasses have their purpose, from time to time.

      What your reference to structures does remind me of are the paired phrases about thinking inside and outside the box. It seems to me that’s the step Lange was suggesting: moving beyond the inside/outside dichotomy, and getting rid of the box entirely.

      1. ‘Structures’ are things our minds build all the time to make sense of the onslaught of information coming in from our senses. Otherwise, our brains could not handle the broadband demand of data flow. We’d have smoke coming out of our ears. Our minds categorize the data by making quick assumptions. Trouble is, we lose creativity and appreciation for new things. We need to learn how to see the world in different ways. I agree with her.

        btw…I have a wide variety of various glasses scattered all over the place. :-)

    1. And here’s the truth of the matter: there’s always something “there.” The other night, while I was working on this post and thinking about the reds, yellows and oranges of fall, I happened to look out the window and found this. It’s not a leaf and not a fruit, but for autumn color, you couldn’t do better.

  7. I was going to ask if you take your own photographs but another commenter indicated that you do. They are as beautiful and thought-provoking as your words.

    1. Yes, they are my photos, and I’m glad you like them, Jean. Trust me — I’ve probably tossed twenty for every one I’ve kept, but I’m learning. Thank goodness for digital.

      And thanks for the nudge. It used to be that I turned to other photographers, wikimedia, and sites like iStock for images, but now that I have my camera, I’ll be posting mostly my own photos (with exceptions for historical or family photos, of course). I added a note to that effect up above, and will make sure to do so in the future. I always credit other photographers — I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to do the same for myself.

  8. I really like the Dorothea Lange quotes and your images are beautiful, especially those of the unfolding morning glory ….

    The thing I recall most often about fall in Santa Fe … the clouds, they became these voluminous cumulus wonders hanging around the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos … just glorious …

    What a good idea, to go out searching for the beauty you know is there …

    1. Here’s a little secret, Teresa. It’s not a single morning glory — it’s three, in various stages of unfolding. The first day I was in town, the vine was blooming like crazy, and I said, “Oh, we’ll have to stop by tomorrow and take some photos. The next day, the flowers all had faded. Lesson learned.

      The next morning, they were glorious again, and there had to be at least a couple hundred flowers, since I can count sixty blooms in one of my photos. Like your clouds, flowers come and go. The time to pay attention is now.

      I can’t find where I read it, but someone recently said, “If you come seeking peace, you’ll find peace.” The same could be said for beauty.

  9. As you’ve been discovering (in part due to the “necessity” of having subjects for your new camera), Texas does provide fall pleasures, even if on a smaller scale than in colder climates.

    Yesterday I glanced out from the garage and noticed that the three young children from the house across the street were playing in the leaves that had fallen from the good-sized tree on their lawn. It reminded me of my childhood in New York, when people would rake leaves into big piles so kids could jump onto and into them.

    1. I’ve always argued that the reverse of the old saying is just as true. If “necessity is the mother of invention,” it’s also reasonable to argue that “invention is the mother of necessity.” Once someone invented the digital camera, it became necessary for me to have one. And, now that I have one, it’s become necessary for me to make use of the little darling. What other necessities may await, I hardly can imagine.

      The thought of kids playing outdoors is a delight, and the thought of them playing in leaves is even more wonderful. Every leaf pile has a leaf-piler-upper behind it, of course, and I love remembering mine.

  10. It can be hard to come to terms with what is different from what it always was. We’re experiencing that in an entirely different way as we anticipate this Christmas with the kids, not here at home where we have our own traditions and routines but at Molly and Kevin’s where we don’t know what is in store. Even though our visit with them will give us more time together, it is not “the autumn” of the past. It will be, instead, more like your “Texas Autumn,” unexpected and I suspect equally beautiful in its own way.

    This post reminds me that while the expected is always wonderful in its way — those bright leaves or home Christmasses — the unexpected holds its own delights — we simply must be open to looking for them. I don’t suspect you knew this post would have that sort of effect on a reader but for me it is more timely and valuable than you can imagine.

    Coming to terms. It can be hard — and it can be wonderful.

    1. Actually, Jeanie, I thought a good bit about Christmas while I was writing this. The last years of Mom’s life, Christmas was all about familiarity and repetition. We had to have certain cookies, certain decorations had to be in particular places, and so on. There was no denying the changes that had come — I couldn’t manage to bring any family members back from the dead — but to the degree it was possible, Mom wanted things to be as they’d been in the past.

      The first Christmas after her death, you may remember that a friend who’d always joined us for Christmas went with me to Louisiana. There’s no sense re-telling the story. You can read it here.

      The truth of the matter is that the “unusual” Christmases I’ve had — on Bayou Teche, in Salisbury, in Manhattan — are the ones I remember most vividly, and even most fondly. I wish the same for you — and I’m certainly looking forward to the reports.

      1. I suspect the same will be for us, too. Change can be hard but it often brings with it great gifts. And who knows — it may be what we do forever. Till there’s a reason to change. And it may well begin to fit us like old, comfy shoes! I hope your holiday plans this year are just as memorable as your recent adventures!

  11. We do have trees that turn if only the first cold snap comes early enough before the shortened nights cause them to drop their leaves…sweet gum, tallow, bradford pear, and my ginkgos. The dip after Thanksgiving and a week later they were yellow torches, a week after that and there was a yellow carpet on the ground. still, I would not trade our fall flowers for a week or two of intense tree color and then a long winter.

    1. It was great to have your post pop up in my mailbox, Ellen, and I caught a glimpse of those trees. I’ll be by for a better look. Our tallows and Bradford pears are showing some color now, but it’s spotty, and the Japanese maples lost half of their leaves before getting even a hint of color.

      I agree with you about the flowers. I’ve always associated wildflowers with spring and summer, but Texas fall flowers are just as appealing. And there’s always a surprise. This was the year I discovered those pretty little asters that show up in lawns can grow to three or four feet high. And you’ll be glad to know that, when I was last at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I found plenty of milkweed plants, and clouds of butterflies. Most were Gulf frittilaries, but I’ve seen Monarchs this year, too.

  12. I enjoyed reading this Linda, and loved the comments. That golden Ginko tree you linked to was great. I am thankful I can learn about Texas plants through your blog. All the leaves are long gone here now, and you guys stole our color! :)
    The whole world is beautiful. It is just our mind that wants to insist that something is not beautiful or worthy, or bad.

    1. We didn’t steal your color, Bee. We just borrowed it for a bit. Next spring, you can have it all back, with interest.

      When you say that “the whole world is beautiful,” I’m mostly with you, especially if you mean the natural world. But we’re a part of the world, too, and I’ve seen enough of life to know that evil exists — not to mention garden-variety bad behavior.

      As a matter of fact, there’s an amusing saying here in Texas, and maybe elsewhere, too. Parents will say to their children, “Don’t be ugly,” which means, “Don’t be bad — don’t misbehave.” There’s a hint there of the relationship between the good and the beautiful. Throw in the true, and a bottle of wine, and we could have quite an evening.

      But for now, we’ll concentrate on the beautiful. Despite your leaf loss, it won’t be long before you’ll have snow, and a different kind of beauty. I’ll probably be envious all over again. I”ve been known to suffer from snow envy, too.

  13. Hi Linda
    My favourite photo in this wonderful photographic collection is the Southern Dewberry.

    And I loved this quote from Dorothea Lange: “…In fact, a very good way to work is to open yourself as wide as you can, which in itself is a difficult thing to do — just to be like a piece of unexposed, sensitized material. You force yourself to watch and wait. You accept all the discomfort and disharmony that involves…”

    This describes more or less exactly how I had to learn to live my life during a challenging period of energy collapse (following a long family crisis) and gradual recovery from 2001-8. Although it was indeed difficult, uncomfortable, and disharmonious – and at times downright frightening – to live like that, it was ultimately infinitely rewarding. I feel fine now and have done so for a long time. But I live differently; still to a great extent in line with Dorothea’s prescription.

    1. I like the dewberry, too. Did you notice how much it’s been munched on? There are several caterpillars that enjoy it, and these leaves seem to have fed several — or one very hungry one. Even when I first saw it, the image reminded me of this, from Annie Dillard:

      “I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.”

      Those words resonate for me, and, I suspect for you, too. “Getting along” is a phrase I heard often when I was younger. Perhaps it was a time when people were more familiar with that sense of discomfort and disharmony. Or, perhaps they simply were more willing to admit to it.

      Sometimes, as you’ve hinted elsewhere, the prescription for a better life is rejecting the solutions others prescribe for us.

      1. “…the prescription for a better life is rejecting the solutions others prescribe for us…” I would like clearly to affirm your statement, here and now!! And many thanks for yet another wonderful Dillard quote. I wonder what she would make of “safe spaces” to protect university students from literature?

  14. Great photos, Linda and your words always meld perfectly whatever the topic. I’m commenting now on bloggers that post weekly or less. I could not keep up anymore with all that I do and I had no time to work on posts for my blog. I’m having trouble with my right wrist so please excuse my short comment on your lovely work.

    1. Those wrist problems can be a pain: literally and figuratively. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, but I’m pretty careful, and try to give things a rest whenever I get a twinge.

      I couldn’t add all the photos I enjoyed, but here’s one just for you. I don’t have a clue what the plant is, but I think the pretty little thing atop it is a skipper. Here’s a better view of the plant. Have you ever seen it before? Look halfway down, on the right side. There’s another little butterfly tucked in there — it gives you an idea of how small they were.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Yvonne. Baby that wrist.

      1. I have no idea what the plant could be. It is a beauty though. The tiny butterfly appears to be a skipper and again I have no idea of its name. The photo is really a good 0ne too. I like your new camera very much.

  15. We have silver leaf nightshade up here. They have a wonderful purple star-flower (If you’re weeding, you’d better be wearing gloves when you try to pull one — they have nasty, prickly thorns.) A large tract near our home was bulldozed and prepared for building a local K-Mart, which didn’t take place for quite a while. A sprinkling of silver leaf nighshades colonized the otherwise bare, red dirt not long after, and that winter, my new best friend and I walked on Mars there. The leafless stalks with their round yellow-orange orbs became a strange Martian fruit. She’s been my best friend for over half a century, and silver leaf nighshades still change planets in winter.

    There are some oak trees up the street from my mom’s that are the most glorious oxblood red. The poplars around the playa lake that’s up the street from her are a wonderful goldenrod yellow.

    1. I’ve never seen the flower, WOL, but now I know exactly where to begin looking for it next year. It’s neat that it will colonize that quickly, much as sunflowers do here when indecision (or whatever) slows the forward progress of the bulldozers.

      The fruits not only have a bit of a Martian look, they’d make a great planet in the sort of models we used to build in school. I can’t remember much about them, but I know a grapefruit was involved, or perhaps an orange. That probably was the sun.

      I saw a tallow today with exactly one branch turned bright red. I suppose it’s more protected, or more exposed, than the rest of the tree, accounting for the difference. I was up in Houston this morning, and it’s fascinating to see how much more color there is there, even in common plants like the crepe myrtle. Of course, there can be a ten-degree difference between Houston and the bay, so there’s that. I’m suspecting the cottonwoods down on the bayous may be turning now. I’ll try to get down there this weekend.

  16. Perfect title for this piece…and I love the picture of you and your little doll. Discontent can rob us of the blessings right where we are at. This is a good reminder no matter what area of life.

    1. I have a few photos from childhood I particularly cherish, and this is one. I can’t be certain, but I think the doll is one that our neighbors gave me for my birthday.

      When you get right down to it, I suppose this post is just a riff on the old business of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence. But, it’s a hard lesson to learn, so a little repetition doesn’t hurt. And I’m glad you like the title. I’ve been joking about my “autumn envy” for some time, so it was a natural phrase to use.

  17. Thanks for sharing this wonderful Texas flower collection, but what I really enjoyed was the flowering of the Morning Glory. You caught that flowering bud beautifully. Just today I posted a Morning Glory also, but one that grows on the coast.

    I´m one that has constant envy of your subtropical weather. However, here the blooming season is always, so maybe I´m fortunate.

    1. I had a few other photos I would have added, but I didn’t want to test people’s patience.Many I haven’t yet identified — it’s an embarassment of riches around here, for sure.

      I thought the morning glories were especially nice. I think the last in the series is the best, in terms of sharpness and focus, but the bush was right at the edge of a highway, and the draft created by the cars and trucks was more than I was skilled enough to deal with.

      I smiled when I saw your post. Until two days ago, I didn’t know morning glories belonged to the genus “Ipomoea”. What’s even more delightful is that I’ve seen the morning glory you posted. If you look on the USDA map, you’ll see the area I generally roam — from Chambers County to Calhoun County — and I’ve seen the flower along that entire stretch.

    1. Well, do I have some news you can use, Janet. The blue mistflower grows in Kansas and Missouri. Here’s a resource page for you. Next year, maybe you can see them for yourself. They do bloom a little later in the year. I saw my first ones in September, but, by November, they seemed to be everywhere, especially in low areas or ditches. And they get tall — as much as three feet. They’re beautiful.

  18. Oh, my goodness, Linda, these are delightful photos! Since I live in the Midwest, where autumn color abounds most years, I’m completely unfamiliar with the beautiful flora in your area, and I can see how you’d fall for it! Those Morning Glories are splendid!!

    Love the picture of “little Linda” and her dolly! I remember the delight of jumping into a newly-raked leaf pile as a kid, and to this day, I love sliding through a leaf-strewn sidewalk, listening to the swoosh and crunch!

    I suspect that every part of the world has its beauty. We just have to get past our own preferences to see it — thanks for pointing that out so well!

    1. You’re right about the swoosh and the crunch, Debbie. Another treat is the smell of thick layers of leaves that have been saturated with rain. Every season has its treats, but autumn’s always seemed special to me. Honestly, I think part of it is that I always associated fall with the beginning of the school year, and that was exciting.

      I wish I had more photos from those childhood years, but I have enough. What’s funny is that most of them are of me, my dad, or the two of us together. It’s clear who had set herself the task of being the family photographer.

      Morning glories are one flower we share. There are so many varieties, some native and some not. They always remind me of Georgia O’Keefe’s wonderful flowers. Maybe that’s why I took so many photos of them.

  19. First, thank you for your delightful photographs. The morning glory shots were especially appealing. But further to this, thanks for the reminder of looking more deeply into the places where we already are.

    It is interesting, I just finished a book entitled “Faith on the Road” that encourages travel as an act of dislocation for the sake of awakening our awareness of our need of others, etc. I enjoyed it in the main, but am also aware of the need to attend to our backyard. Perhaps a theology of travel that doesn’t have a theology of staying as its partner is a little bereft of something that you point to in this.

    1. One of the downsides of the bucket-list approach to travel is that each destination becomes little more than an item to be checked off the list. “I’ve been there,” or “I’ve seen that” can be dismissive, a way of cutting ourselves off from deeper knowledge of a place.

      I like to say that we can travel far, or we can travel deep. Both are valid, but we tend to prefer “far.” There’s a reason the Rule of St. Benedict adds that fourth vow of stability. It contains a good bit of wisdom: “We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion.” In a society that militates against stability in all its forms, it’s worth considering.

      Benedict and Thoreau may seem an unlikely pair, but they both understood the value of knowing a place in all its seasons.

  20. When I lived in Colorado I enjoyed the aspen and various berried shrubs. The luminarias at Christmas. In WI I still have the same, but it’s just different. We have plenty of aspen and berries and other less that obvious beauties in the woods. Luminarias we have few of. Light makes all experiences different.

    I love how each region has so much to offer, but I do like to scout, as you do. Like a private showing, a treasure. More intimate.

    You still look like that little girl…

    1. I first met aspens in Utah’s Wasatch mountains. They’re so beautiful. I’ve never been sure how Ansel Adams managed to capture them as he did — so alive — but seeing one of his photos brings the experience back.

      Over Thanksgiving, the Mission in Goliad had the grounds lined with luminarias, and I’m sure they’ll remain through Christmas.The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin does the same, though I don’t know if it’s an annual event. I’m sure they’re all electric, now. The first luminarias I saw were the real deal, like candles on a Santa Lucia wreath.

      As for looking like that little girl? Probably not so much, really. On the other hand, I’ve kept pretty good track of my inner child.

  21. Beautiful pictures and delightful narrative. My mind goes to the scripture where God says we will find him if we seek him. Your article invites to “break the mold” and look in nooks, crannies, and other unexpected places. There we will find the glory of God. Your picture of the simple morning glory shows how majestic the simple can be! Surprising what might be seen if we are not looking at the Pied Piper’s back.

    1. And isn’t it true that applicants for the position of Pied Piper have increased exponentially? I suppose that’s another subject, for another time.

      Your reference to nooks and crannies reminded me of certain of our wildflowers that like to cling to rocky outcrops, poor soil, and impossible ledges. Sometimes I hit it right in the hill country, and visit when the mountain pinks are blooming. They’re as unpredictable as autumn leaves, but when the conditions are right, they can be spectacular.

      Best of all, of course, is coming across that unexpected, new treasure, that leaves us perplexed and admiring, all at once. Along Texas roads, it’s worth keeping your eyes open.

  22. Yes, it does seem that our expectations can mislead us. And that each spot on this world has its own unique and characteristic signs of time and season. The more we learn to love a certain place, the more joy we derive from the familiar signs of that particular locale… for those signs bind us to the place we love. Wishing you a very beautiful autumn and enjoyment from the drama of winter.

    1. You’re exactly right about those familiar signs: sights, and even tangible objects that bind us to a place. It’s one reason that my favorite souvenirs aren’t purchased, but plucked. I still have the tumbleweed I pulled from a Kansas fenceline, perched atop a cabinet. Every time I look at it, I remember the wind, the gray sky, the rusty barbed wire that held it.

      Now, there are things that say “Texas” to me as surely as colored leaves say “Iowa” — live oaks, cicadas, roadrunners, limestone-bedded rivers. It’s a different world, but just as beautiful. Learning to enjoy it in all its good seasons is the trick.

    1. Thanks, Becca. I love the changes autumn and winter bring, too, although I’m going to give spring a bit more of a chance when it arrives. One of my problems is that Texas spring always sneaks up on me. Every year I’m late getting out and about. I suppose that’s part of my inner midwesterner, too — feeling that spring doesn’t really begin until April. Not so — I need to start paying attention in February.

  23. I miss the leaves too. One of my best memories is a weekend my wife and I spent in our twenties traveling through Vermont, staying in a century old country inn to see the fall colors. Unmatched in any of the many other regions we have lived!

    1. A friend traveled to Vermont with her sisters a few years ago, and she returned home almost unable to describe what she’d seen. They had stayed in a historic home, and spent a week just exploring the countryside. She would agree with your assessment. She says if she could repeat one trip before she dies, it would be that one. It was simply that splendid.

    1. Thanks, Susan. It certainly caught my attention, as I posted these photos, that seven of the eleven were taken in gray, cloudy, damp, and gloomy conditions — on the sort of day that generally would get dismissed as a “bad” vacation day. I’m as fond of sunshine as anyone, but sometimes it’s worth looking into the shadows.

      Wishing you a lovely holiday season, too. If you’re in NYC and hear a hammered dulcimer that’s gone beyond the Irish jigs, take a second look. It could be this very interesting fellow.

  24. No reason not to enjoy what you have – instead of what you don’t have. I think you have a beautiful autumn. Remember all those colourful autumns you refer to will at some point lose all their colours and become dark and drab places – at least before the winter sets in. You have captured some beautiful photos. And of course personally I enjoy the one of the dewberries. :-)

    1. Even in those in-between times, there’s beauty. It’s easy to find bare trees appealing when they’re silhouetted against the sky, but even the seedheads and stems of smaller plants can be fascinating and appealing.

      But, yes. It’s so human, and so fruitless, to pine away after what we don’t have, when we’re surrounded by wonders. I’m glad you enjoyed these little natural wonders. And as for that dewberry — even if the execution isn’t perfect, it’s delightful to have been introduced to the concept.

    1. That’s exactly it: an antidote to perpetual disappointment. I’ve known a few perpetually disappointed people, and it can be somewhat wearing to be around them.

      Choosing to delight in life is important, for our own mental health if nothing else. I think that’s one reason I like the photo of the single, red grass blade as I do. It’s not only seasonal, it seems determinedly cheerful, ready to shine while it can.

  25. oh amiga, your photos are outstanding, and as always, what you share is poetic and heartwarming, and for me, nostalgic. Wow, I’ve not seen ‘firethorn’ in many many years!

    Will save this to read again offline back at the property!


    1. Of course you would have had firethorn in your “old” world. It’s such a beautiful plant. I’m glad I included it, and triggered a little nostalgia for you.

      There was a large, beautiful red pyracantha on the caliche road down to my favorite hill country cabin. Now? There’s a blacktop road and no pyracantha, thanks to the county road commission. Full time residents love the new road, but I still miss what I called my Christmas bush. But not to worry. There are new ones coming up. It takes more than a road crew to take out firethorn.

      I’ll wish you Merry Christmas now, just in case you’re short on internet opportunities between now and then. Enjoy unwrapping your days!

    1. Isn’t that the truth, Kayti? Anyone who doesn’t have the patience to rake up after a boisterous child should take a running jump into the leaves, themselves. it’s a great tonic for what ails you.

      Leaves also are very good for burying things you don’t necessarily want playmates to find. I’ve only heard about that second-hand, of course.

  26. Interesting to see you still have flowers. We have long passed the blooming days, and have tried to live with snow and barren branches. Oh well, just gives us more hope and excitement when spring arrives after winter.

    Those are beautiful pics, did you take them with your new camera? Also, since you’ve mentioned Dorothea Lange, I’m sure you’ll like the upcoming (don’t know how long we have to wait though) film adaptation of the biography of DL written by Linda Gordon. Here’s the link to a short write-up I have on it.

    1. What’s so interesting is that even in our dreariest months, like January, there can be something of interest to see. Even if we’re short on blooms, the seed pods and such be visually interesting. I wish I could find a good plant ID book that shows seed pods, etc. Trying to distinguish one brown plant from another is even harder than trying to distinguish one yellow flower from another.

      Thanks for the link to your article, and the mention of the film. Do you know of Vivian Maier? You might enjoy this relatively short, but very interesting, video about her.

      Oh — and yes, I did take the photos with the new camera. Little by little, I’m growing accustomed to all of its little buttons and dials. It is quite a gizmo.

  27. That shot of the twirled morning glory is so beautiful. The Firethorn is also amazing…. and thank you, because I had no idea what that berry was called!

    The colors in Kyoto were late and very muted. We had almost purple maple leaves before the traditional colors the region is famous for… but you are right. I found autumn in other places, most notably in the waxy shine of the persimmons hanging heavy on naked branches. It was really beautiful. :)

    1. I’d never heard it called firethorn, either, but I see the name is fairly common. It comes in yellow, red, and a bright red-orange as well as the purer orange. All of the colors are beautiful.

      The Texas persimmon (“Diospyros texana”) differs slightly from the Asian (“Diospyros kaki”). Our possums love them, so much so that some people call the persimmon tree “possumwood,” and John James Audubon pictured the Virginian opossum in a persimmon tree. There’s a great American folk-song that celebrates the relationships among the possum, the persimmon and the raccoon:

      “Possum in a ’simmon tree, raccoon on the ground,
      Raccoon said, “”You rascal, shake them ’simmons down!”

      So, you can have persimmons even when you come back to this country.

  28. Dr. Robert Arp (deceased) from Southern Methodist University authored a successful teaching text for poetry which he called “Sound and Sense.” The title reminds me of the seasons, each of which have specific sounds that summon to our senses the autumns of our youth.

    It is admirable that you choose to “bloom where you are planted.”

    Still. Some places just have better autumns in the “autumn” sense of the word. Can you think of a poem about autumn leaves that is set in Phoenix? :)

    And now we approach winter. Winter in Puerto Rico? Winter on the Big Island of Hawaii?

    My Autumn begins as a scolding by the sun and wind of ebullient Summer. She bends her head in shame for all the fun and skin in the game. Autumn breezes turn to fierce winds; leaves cling to their last connection to life. The sound of leaves scratching the streets, moving in cliques this way and that… The nip in the air signalling Winter…

    And on another note, your photos are lovely.

    1. Of course it’s hard to imagine a poem about leaves set in Phoenix — but who would do such a thing, unless they were writing about homesickness, or autumn envy, or such? It’s the same with winter. What passes for winter down here is a far cry from the blizzards, ice-skating, and shoveling of my midwestern youth. With a couple of remarkable exceptions, my writing about snow has had more to do with my longing for it than with its reality.

      Sometimes, the change is even more radical. Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or Howdy Doody’s Princess Summerfall Winterspring would have to leap a pretty large cultural gap to make sense in Liberia, where there’s a dry season and a rainy season. Geography may not be destiny,but it certainly shapes our experience of the world around us.

      When I think of autumn in California, I think of gold: specifically, the grasses. I don’t know how it is now, but back in the 70s there was nothing more beautiful than the drive through the Sacramento delta, or the turning vineyards in the wine country. It was the time of Fleetwood Mac, and John Stewart, and this was the best driving song in the world.

      I’m glad you like the photos. It will be interesting to see how things change once what we call winter arrives.

  29. I have missed the eloquence of your writing Linda as I have wrestled my way through our house move. Dorothea Lange’s quote is very apt as we have already discussed over on my own blog. I have searched for the ‘ideal’ image of two particular aspects of the changing of the seasons for years and always been frustrated by my failure to find that one perfect image. There is just as much satisfaction, if not more, in successfully recording what is available to us close to home – and your i.mages are strong evidence of that beauty.

    1. Having made a few moves in my own life, I certainly understand the need to focus on that process while it’s going on. I’m just delighted you’re in your new home in time for the holidays, and I’m sure that Santa will know exactly where to find you.

      I’ve been sitting here pondering perfection — always a difficult proposition — and something just came to me. What if the best images aren’t the ones we find, but the ones that find us? I’m not very skilled with the camera yet, but I am experienced enough to know that there’s often a surprise waiting when I review a day’s images. There’s satisfaction is setting out to accomplish a particular goal and doing so: however well or badly. But there’s also great pleasure when the camera sees things that we never could — like this little chorus line with one out-of-step bird.

      1. That’s the joy of going out with no preconceptions, with a ‘Seeing Eye’ that is open to whatever surprises us. And at the end of the day we need to look for images that delight us rather than ones that win approval from others.

    1. Smiles are good, eremophila, and wide smiles are even better. I was thinking about you and others I know on the other side of the seasonal world while I was writing this. You’re no doubt all abloom, while we’re finally on the downhill slide into the shortest and least verdant time of year.

      A wise woman once said, “Now that I’ve begun to photograph my world, I’m seeing more than ever before, and gaining a little more understanding of it…” I’d have to say I agree — that’s exactly how it happens.

    1. Thanks, Bill. Just for you, a Gulf fritillary nectaring on a blue mistflower. When I was at this wildlife refuge, there were more butterflies than I’ve ever seen. Some looked a little worse for wear, but they clearly were enjoying the flowers.

      By the way, I just noticed that the Carolina Wolfberry is in the same family as the tomato, and, as the Lady Bird Johnson site says: “The berries are edible and have a sweet, tomato-like taste.” Something else to put on the list for foraging.

  30. I’m glad you took the time to see what is there rather than what you hoped would be there. Such stunning, beautiful pictures, you certainly have some lovely flora and fauna. The Wolfberry is exquisite and does look like the perfect Christmas decoration! Another lovely post!xxx

    1. Not only is the Wolfberry beautiful, snowbird, it’s an edible decoration. I just found out it’s in the same family as the tomato and, as I just told Bill in the previous comment, “The berries are edible and have a sweet, tomato-like taste.” I’m surprised there were so many around the day I found them. I’d think the birds (and other critters) would find them tasty. But I’ll not be collecting them for the hedgehogs — I see tomatoes are on the list of no-nos for them.

      So glad you enjoyed the post. I hope all’s dried out by now, and you’re back into what passes for a routine during this time of year.

  31. Never have experienced a Texan autumn… I love those pictures of the Morning glories so beautiful with the multi coloured petals. You made me think (which you usually do!) of when I used to find leaves, normally maple leafs and put them between wax paper and then put a hot iron on both sides, it was fun. I mention this because the grocery stores in my area no longer sell wax paper, only parchment paper. I wonder why….? Lovely post as usual :)

    1. That’s interesting about the waxed paper. As far as I know they’re still selling it here. There’s not a huge section devoted to it in the stores, but you can find it. I have a roll in the cupboard, but I don’t use it very often. Like you, I thought one of the best uses was sealing leaves between sheets of it. It was fun, and the leaves were pretty once they were hung.

      The other thing we did was make bells out of tin foil (which was tin, not aluminum, back in the day). We’d cut squares and shape it around our mothers’ sewing thimbles, then hang the “bells” on the Christmas tree with ribbon.

      My gosh. I sound like Little House on the Prairie. But it all was fun — and, yes, we strung cranberries, too, and made paper chains. And cut out paper snowflakes. And, and… It was a good time.

  32. I enjoyed the Dorothea Lange quote. I’ve always really liked her photos–especially Migrant Mother; and it’s interesting to read her thoughts about watching and waiting.

    1. Have you ever read the interviews done with some of the migrants who were photographed by Lange? I can’t find the link in my bookmarks just now, but you’ve jogged my memory,and I’ll do a little more searching. Some of her photos remind me of tales I’ve heard from people who grew up during or just after the dust bowl — it was a terrible time, no question.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my inclusion of Lange. She’s quite a treasure.

  33. To twist a phrase almost out of recognition….The autumn colors are always brighter on the other side of the country. While you were envious of our autumn foliage, I am envious of your extended season of flowering. I would be surely joyous to still be seeing such flowers into our late autumn or their return in much earlier spring.

    Your remembrances of youthful leaf pleasures brought me back to a time I would otherwise have buried deep within forgotten memory. Aside from enjoying the beauty of their hues, fall leaves mainly mean lots of raking and hauling to the woods. Were that chore not long ago completed I might be tempted to take a flying leap…risking brittle bones.

    1. Maybe we need to talk Mother Nature into holding a sort of a swap meet. You get some extended warmth and moisture for flowers, ferns and algae, and we get a serious cold snap about November 1 that gives us great color for Thanksgiving. I’d like for it to be predictable, too, so I could arrange to see some frost flowers showing off their icy charms.

      I suspect we’re both a little more cautious about our muscles and bones than we used to be, but I do remember those leaf-playing days fondly. The other thing I remember is the smell of burning leaves, once playtime was over. No hauling away in those days — at least, that I remember. But now and then, when they’re burning the wildlife refuges across the bay, they’ll hit a patch of something that sends leaf-smoke my way. It’s wonderful.

      1. Old Ma Nature is already extending the “warmth” a bit here but not in a beneficial way. We just had parsley leafing out, some daffodils are sprouting, as well as a skunk cabbage I found last week. This can be harmful to next spring’s sprouting.

        Oh, if only nature were so reliably predictable: but then, of course, the variability is part of the beauty.
        Leaves don’t get burned much any more, especially with the yearly lack of rain we’ve been experiencing but the smell would be welcomed.

        1. We have a little of that out-of-season warmth going on, too. I saw a pear tree blooming last week. It wasn’t in full bloom, but it may be in another week or so. I’m ready for a cold blast and a hard freeze. It helps to discourage the mosquitoes.

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