Iesous Ahatonhia: The Huron Carol

“A Huron-Wendat Hunter Calling Moose” ~  Cornelius Krieghoff, 1868

Known as the first North American Christmas carol, “The Huron Carol” was written by Père Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary and accomplished linguist who supervised the preparation of a Huron grammar and dictionary.

After arriving in Quebec from Normandy in 1625,  de Brébeuf (1593-1649) lived and worked among the Huron from 1626 to 1629, and then again from 1634 until his torture and death at the hands of the Iroquois in 1649. Canonized in 1930, de Brébeuf became one of the patron saints of Canada.

Like so many early missionaries, de Brébeuf necessarily became an explorer. After being assigned to Huronia, he found himself crossing the 800 miles that separated Quebec from the Hurons by canoe. It was far from an easy trip, as  the Dictionary of Canadian Biography makes clear:

This route led the travellers via the St. Lawrence, the Ottawa, the Mattawa, the Rivière à la Vase, Lake Nipissing, and the French River to Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes. This was a 20- to 30-day trip which the numerous portages, the tramping through forests, the plague of mosquitoes, supply difficulties, [and] lack of hygiene among the Indians often made exhausting.

A few years later, in 1637, a well-experienced de Brébeuf drew up a list of instructions for future Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Hurons, which included these practical tips:

Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking;
In the evening when it is necessary to camp, try to eat the food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours; eat as soon as the day breaks, for Indians, when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun;
Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe; 
Do not ask questions: silence is golden;
Always carry something during the portages;
Do not paddle unless you intend always to paddle; the Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip; show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.

Paddling and proselytizing can take their toll. In 1634 de Brébeuf found himself in Quebec, recuperating from a broken clavicle. While he healed, he wrote “The Huron Carol” in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people and titled it “Iesous Ahatonhia” (“Jesus, he is born”). At some point, the lyrics were paired with the melody of a traditional French song called “Une Jeune Pucelle,” but whether de Brébeuf was responsible remains unsettled.

For almost 150 years the song remained within the oral tradition of the Huron-Wyandot people.  Despite being broken and scattered by conflicts with the Iroquois, they brought the song with them to the Quebec area, where it was collected by Father Étienne de Villeneuve, a Jesuit serving at Lorette from 1747-1794.

When de Villeneuve died in 1794, de Brébeuf’s carol was found among his papers. Paul Picard, an Indian notary at Quebec City, eventually translated the carol from the original Huron into French.

Père Jean de Brébeuf
Courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec

Almost 150 years after Picard translated the carol into French, the English discovered the song and pursued their own translation. The most popular English version, written by Jesse Edgar Middleton in 1926, became a standard of school programs, even though the lovely “‘Twas In The Moon Of Wintertime” suffered a bit in translation: the phrase used for the Great Spirit by Middleton, Gitchi Manitou, is Algonquian rather than Huron/Iroquoian.

Today, a lovely version by Canadian artist Heather Dale combines Huron, French, and English lyrics. Translation and spelling of the Huron words differs from site to site, but the differences appear to be minor. Here, I’ve chosen to follow The Canadian Encyclopedia for the spelling of Ahatonhia. Because the Hurons have no letter “m,” the substitution of the French dipthong ou means that Mary’s name appears as Ouarie orWaria.

Ehstehn yayau deh tsaun we yisus Ahatonhia
O na wateh wado:kwi nonnwa ‘ndasqua entai
ehnau sherskwa trivota nonnwa ‘ndi yaun rashata
Iesous Ahatonhia, Ahatonhia, Iesus Ahatonhia.
Ayoki onki hm-ashe eran yayeh raunnaun
Yauntaun kanntatya hm-deh ‘ndyaun sehnsatoa ronnyaun
Waria hnawakweh tond Yosehf sataunn haronnyaun
Iesus Ahatonhia, Ahatonhia, Iesus Ahatonhia.
Chrétiens, prenez courage, Jésus Sauveur est né!
Du malin les ouvrages à jamais sont ruinés.
Quand il chante merveille à ces troublants âppats
Ne prêtez plus l’oreille: Jésus est né. I
esous Ahatonhia.
Oyez cette nouvelle, dont un ange est porteur!
Oyez! Âmes fidèles, et dilatez vos coeurs.
La Vierge dans l’étable entoure de ses bras
L’Enfant-Dieu adorable: Jésus est né. Iesous Ahatonhia.
Let Christian men take heart today The devil’s rule is done;
Let no man heed the devil more, For Jesus Christ is come
But hear ye all what angels sing: How Mary Maid bore Jesus King.
Iesus Ahatonhia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahatonhia.
Three chieftains saw before Noel A star as bright as day,
“So fair a sign,” the chieftains said, “Shall lead us where it may.”
For Jesu told the chieftains three: “The star will bring you here to me.”
Iesus Ahatonhia, Jesus is born, Iesus Ahatonhia.

star-arises
The translated lyrics have a rare simplicity and charm. A walking star and a sunflower oil annointing may seem unusual, but they bridge the centuries. We, too, love our sunflowers, and we, too, look to the skies. May the fair signs surrounding us lead us as they may.

Have courage, you who are humans; Jesus, he is born.
Behold, the spirit who had us as prisoners has fled;
Do not listen to it, as it corrupts the spirits of our minds.
Jesus, he is born.
They are spirits, sky people, coming with a message for us.
They are coming to say, “Rejoice (Be on top of life).”
Marie, she has just given birth. Rejoice.”
Jesus, he is born.
Three have left for such, those who are elders.
Tichion, a star that has just appeared on the horizon leads them there;
That star will walk first on the path to guide them.
Jesus, he is born.
The star stopped not far from where Jesus was born.
Having found the place it said,
“Come this way.”
Jesus, he is born.
nativityBehold, they have arrived there and have seen Jesus.
They praised his name many times, saying “Hurray, he is good in nature.”
They oiled his scalp many times, anointing his head
with the oil of the sunflower.
Jesus, he is born.
They say, “Let us place his name in a position of honour
Let us act reverently towards him, for he comes to show us mercy.
It is the will of the spirits that you love us, Jesus,
and we wish that we may be adopted into your family.
Jesus, he is born.
Christians, take heart, Jesus the Savior is born!
Evil is destroyed forever.
When the beautiful but deceitful singing lures you,
Do not pay attention:  Jesus was born! Jesus, he is born.
Hear the news carried by an angel
O faithful souls, enlarge your hearts
/
The virgin in the barn has her arms around
The adorable baby God:
Jesus was born. Jesus, he is born!

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Feline Felicitations, Redux

Many of you met Dixie Rose and her Christmas carols some years ago, but newer readers haven’t had the pleasure. She’s an old kitty now, but she still enjoys celebrating, so this repost of  her “Cat Carols” seems in order. Enjoy!

Laugh at the antlers if you must, but laugh at your peril. That business-like look in the eyes of my beautiful calico is very real. Dixie Rose (short for Dixie Rose, Center of the Universe and Queen of All She Surveys) loves Christmas, and she intends to be ready when it arrives. I don’t advise standing in her way.

Dixie arrived on my doorstep as an unloved, four-month-old stray who became my first real pet. During my childhood, there had been a painted turtle which met an unfortunate end and a birthday puppy which terrified me with its enthusiasm and had to be sent away, but even the fox squirrel and prairie dog that came along later were pets only in a manner of speaking.

My relationship to Dixie Rose has been of a different order entirely. She’s a beautiful, spoiled creature who brings me great happiness despite her quirks, and she’s come to accept me with a certain tolerant bemusement.

During our first Christmas season together, it became obvious that old routines would have to be adjusted. Tree trimming and gift wrapping became enticements toward chaos: shredded ribbon, broken ornaments, and pulled-down swags marked her passage through the house.

After she tipped the tree a second time, and then a third, I surrendered. We celebrated with a bare tree that had been weighted at its base with several feet of galvanized chain. No candles burned. No poinsettias glowed. Presents piled up in the closet until time for humans to unwrap them, and all things sparkly were banned due to my furry darling’s obsessive appetite for tinsel, glitter, and gold.

As Christmas Day approached, Dixie and I began to disagree more sharply on the nature of true celebration. Things weren’t always good that year, and the phrase “This hurts me more than it does you” became as common as “Merry Christmas.”

Things were so bad I began to amuse myself by creating the first of what I’d come to call Cat Carols. (Click any title for an original song version.)

Wreck the Halls

Wreck the halls all decked with holly,
Fa-la-la-la-la, la la-la-la.
Sheer destruction is so jolly,
Fa-la…
Tip the tree with all its treasures,
Fa-la…
Shred the presents for good measure!
Fa-la…
Fast away the fur-ball passes,
Fa-la…
To wreak havoc on the masses,
Fa-la…
Swinging through the punch and cookies,
Fa-la…
Snarling at the reindeer rookies,
Fa-la…

When I included the lyrics in Dixie’s Christmas card to her vet, he suggested she keep writing. So, she did.

Stalking in a Winter Wonderland

Collars ring, are you listening?
In the lane, eyes are glistening…
The moon is so bright, we’re happy tonight,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.
Gone away are the bluebirds,
Here to stay are the new birds.
They sing their sweet songs as we skulk along,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.
In the meadow we can build a snow mouse,
And pretend that he is fat and brown.
He’ll say “Are you hungry?” We’ll say, “No, mouse”,
“but we’ll save you for a dinner on the town.”
Later on, we’ll retire
For a snooze by the fire,
And dream of the prey we’ll catch the next day,
Stalking in a winter wonderland.

Of course, not everyone loves the kitty-cats, so there’s even a song for them. I don’t advocate shooting cats (or dogs, or people for that matter), but I do understand how pure frustration might lead to this:

Jingle Bells

Jingle bells, shotgun shells, there’s that danged old cat!
Get my gun, let’s have some fun, I know just where he’s at!
Jingle bells, oh, Hell’s bells, now he’s on the run!
If I find my glasses, that cat’s hunting days are done.
A day or two ago, I thought I’d feed the birds,
I grabbed a bag of seed, a second and a third.
But halfway ‘cross the yard, I saw the bushes shake,
It was my neighbor’s scroungy cat, a big orange tom named Jake.
Oh, jingle bells, shotgun shells, (repeat chorus)…..
I love to feed the birds, it makes me feel so glad.
But Jake, that danged old cat, he makes me so darned mad!
He’s not content to eat a lizard or a mouse,
He wants to eat my pretty birds: that cat’s a stinking louse!
Oh, jingle bells, shotgun shells (repeat chorus)

Finally, there is this cautionary tale. Like children, cats (and probably dogs) need to be reminded that the magical night is not far off.

Santa Cat is Coming to Town

Oh, you’d better not hiss, you’d better not bite,
You’d better not tempt the dog to a fight;
Santa Cat is coming to town!
He’s making a list, checking it twice,
Gonna find out who chased all those mice,
Santa Cat is coming to town!
He knows when you’ve been scratching,
He knows who you’ve outfoxed,
He knows if you’ve been in a snit
And refused your litter box!
With potted cat grass and catnip-filled balls,
Snuggly warm beds and mice from the malls,
Santa Cat is coming to town.

Eventually Dixie’s online friends joined the fun, sending along their own contributions to the songfest.  Housecats themselves, Mister Man and Miss Moo knew how to have a good time despite not being allowed to stalk in the great outdoors.

Hark! The Housebound Felines Sing

Hark! the housebound felines sing,
Glory to the milk-jug ring!
Mice on earth and squirrels reviled,
Even indoors we are wild!
Warily our tails do twitch as
Through the halls our toys we pitch,
And with triumphant meows proclaim,
Cats do have superior brains!
Hark, the housebound felines sing,
Glory to the milk jug ring!

Dixie and I have begun working seriously on this year’s song. Phrases are bubbling away in our lyrical stewpot and “O, Christmas Bush” seems a likely candidate.

It’s pure silliness of course, just another bit of holiday excess. On the other hand, excess isn’t necessarily bad, and even silly excess can become a path to truth.

Looking at Dixie, singing her little songs to her, I  remember another favorite carol. Remarkably, we don’t sing, “Joy to human beings: joy to those who walk upright, drive cars, open too many credit card accounts, and are nasty to their neighbors.” We don’t sing, “Joy to the church-goers, the faithful, the worthy, the few.” No, we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king.”

The joy we sing is meant for the whole world: for stars and dirt, mountains and seas, trees, rocks, valleys and hills, and every creature inhabiting them.
While human hearts prepare, heaven and nature are singing out this truth: the gifts of the season are meant for all. The coming of truth and grace is meant for the world as a whole. We who inhabit that world, tracing a path upon its soil and gazing upon its stars, are called to sing its praises, too.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or whether you don’t, whether you take the promises of the season seriously or simply enjoy the traditions and the festivity, accept these bits of silliness as a gift from Dixie Rose. Feel free to laugh at them, sing them to yourself, or pass them on to friends. Believe me – an entire room filled with pet-lovers singing these songs can be hilarious, and they’ve been known to bring a smile even to the face of the most anti-feline Scrooge.

As for Dixie, she continues on her best behavior. She’s learned she can avoid kitty-jail by avoiding kitty-misbehavior, and we trim our tree in peace. I hang ornaments even on the lowest branches with confidence, and display cookies and gifts without fear.

While I prepare our celebration, she spends quiet afternoons sleeping in the low, slanting light. I like to imagine visions of catnip-plums dancing in her head as she awaits, in perfect peace and joy, whatever gifts come next.

In this season of Advent, this season of waiting and anticipation, may we all be blessed with such peace and joy.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

 

 

A Season Of Turning

Woodworker, carver, sailor, musician: Gordon Bok is an American treasure. Until several years ago, I’d not heard his name and might have missed his artistry forever, had it not been for the graciousness of a reader.

We’d been exchanging thoughts on music, and in an emailed post-script to our discussion he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Gordon Bok’s Turning Toward the Morning.”  Pointing me toward Albany, New York’s WAMC and their Saturday night broadcasts of the “Hudson River Sampler” he said, “I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something by Bok: if not this Saturday, then next Saturday for sure. And something by Stan Rogers as well. But you’ll also hear songs you’ve never heard before and will want to hear again.”

He was right. Since my introduction to Bok, his fellow musicians Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir, and their rich repertoire from an entirely different sea-faring culture, I’ve not stopped wanting to hear more. I’ve learned net-hauling songs and ballads of the Maine coast. I’ve marveled at Bok’s original work and delighted in his preservation of folk tales rooted in world-wide cultures.

I’ve wondered at Bok’s pathway through life and been touched by his simplicity and kindness. I’ve even laughed at certain similarities between us.  “I didn’t understand what my father did because he worked in an office,” Bok once said, “and there was nothing that came out of it that I could feel – you couldn’t put a coat of varnish on it.”

After much reading and listening, I still agree with my friend. There are good songs — even great songs — abroad in the land, but there’s no better song than Turning Toward the Morning.  Like a small-boat day on the water, it’s easy and rhythmic, perfectly designed to soothe away preoccupations and care.

But it’s more than easy listening for an easy afternoon. It’s a poetic way of stating an inviolable truth; in the face of all that life imposes in the way of difficulties, chaos, and fear, life itself goes on. As Bok tells it:

“One of the things that provoked this song was a letter last November from a friend who’d had a very difficult year and was looking for the courage to keep on plowing into it. Those times, you lift your eyes unto the hills, as they say, but the hills of Northern New England in November can be about as much comfort as a cold crowbar.
You have to look ahead a bit then, and realize that all the hills and trees and flowers will still be there come Spring, usually more permanent than your troubles. And if your courage occasionally fails, that’s okay, too. Nobody expects you to be as strong as the land.”

Moving into Advent at a time when legislative wrangling, nuclear proliferation, urban violence, and generalized crass nastiness increasingly characterize our society, I can’t help but remember another old legend which finds echoes in Bok’s song.

Many years ago, I visited Stonehenge during the winter solstice and learned there that the word solstice itself is derived from the Latin solstitium: a combination of sun (sol) and stoppage (stitium). As the legend has it, at the moment of solstice it is not only the sun that stops. Those who choose a silent place, a quiet mind, and a stilled heart will hear the earth herself cease motion. Pausing as though to catch her breath, she waits for the sun to turn, and move, before joining him anew in their ageless journey toward the spring.

In this season of Advent, what the legends proclaim and the heart dares hope, Bok’s song affirms. Despite appearances, despite the world’s darkness in these winter-shortened days, the world continues to turn. Always, it is turning toward the morning.

Turning Toward the Morning ~ Gordon Bok (1975)

 

When the deer has bedded down
and the bear has gone to ground
and the Northern goose has wandered off
to warmer bay and sound,
it’s so easy in the cold
to feel the darkness of the year
and the heart is growing lonely for the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.

Now, October’s growin’ thin
and November’s comin’ home,
you’ll be thinkin’ of the season
and the sad things that you’ve seen.
And you hear that old wind walkin’,
hear him singin’ high and thin,
you could swear he’s out there singin’ of his sorrow.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.

When the darkness falls around you
and the north wind comes to blow
and you hear him call your name out
as he walks the brittle snow.
That old wind don’t mean you trouble,
he don’t care or even know,
he’s just walking down the darkness toward the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.

It’s a pity we don’t know
what the little flowers know
they can’t face the cold November,
they can’t take the wind and snow.
They put their glories all behind them,
bow their heads and let it go,
but you know they’ll be there shining in the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swinging slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.
O, my Joanie don’t you know
that the day is rollin’ slow
and the winter’s walkin’ easy, as it did so long ago,
and if that wind should come and ask you
“Why’s my Joanie weepin’ so?”
won’t you tell him that you’re weeping for the morning.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
that the stars are swingin’ slow,
and the seas are rollin’ easy, as they did so long ago.
And if I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
that the world is always turning toward the morning.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

A Botanist, A Politician, and a Sage

The disputed crape myrtle

As she retold the stories of a pair of charming and heart-warming turtles — Torty New Zealand’s oldest survivor of World War I, and Myrtle, a fictional but sensitive creature who is bullied because she happens to be purple — friend and fellow blogger Gallivanta provided reassuring proof that both authors and illustrators have the power to change our world for the better.

In the process, she added some interesting details from New Zealand’s history, riffed a bit on the color purple, and then provided a bit of botanical trivia.

As a tail-piece to these Chelonian Tales, let me remind you of the original purple Myrtle. She was not a turtle. In the 19th century she became so popular (supposedly) that many people gave her name to their daughters. She’s a true beauty and she was the very first purple Myrtle I ever met.
Myrtle’s  full name is Crape Myrtle, or Crepe Myrtle: Lagerstroemia indica. She’s hardy and resilient and, although she is a native of China and Korea, she is the Official State Shrub of Texas.

Reading that postscript, I couldn’t have been more astonished if a purple turtle had walked through my door. Like most Texans, I know our state flower is the bluebonnet and that we honor the mockingbird as our state bird, but it never had occurred to me that we might have a state shrub — let alone one that’s native to China.

It wasn’t hard to unearth the facts. Crepe myrtle became the official state shrub of Texas on June 18, 1997, when Governor George W. Bush signed House Concurrent Resolution No. 14.  After ten Whereas‘s, written in language fully as flowery as the shrub in question and clearly meant to flatter as many constituencies as possible, the following Resolutions were entered into the record:

RESOLVED, That the 75th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby formally recognize the valuable addition of the crape myrtle to our native flora and declare the crape myrtle the Official State Shrub of Texas; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That Lamar County be declared the Crape Myrtle County Capital and that Paris, its county seat, be designated the Official Crape Myrtle City for their longtime association with the celebrated shrub; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That Waxahachie be declared the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas and that Brazos County be recognized as an Official Crape Myrtle County for their communities’ lasting contributions to the beautification of Texas.

That might have been the end of the story, had not a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service botanist by the name of Thomas Adams — the same Tom Adams who led the grass workshop I attended, and who’s helped me identify plants at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge — discovered that crape myrtle had been named our state shrub. As he wrote in response to my curious email, he was “a little perturbed” to find that a native plant hadn’t been chosen.

After making the discovery, he enlisted help from members of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and the group began to study their options. Eventually they decided Leucophyllum frutescens — a native shrub popularly known as cenizo, or purple sage — would be the best choice to replace the crape myrtle.

When Adams contacted his State Representative, Dennis Bonnen, the legislator agreed to sponsor a new resolution, but suggested a politically savvy option. Rather than ruffling feathers by trying to replace the crape myrtle, Bonnen urged creating a new category for the sage.

And so it was. With only six Whereas‘s and one Resolved, House Concurrent Resolution No. 71 was approved on May 27, 2005, and Leucophyllum frutescens — the purple sage — became the official native shrub of Texas.

Long before the Texas legislature put its stamp of approval on Leucophyllum frutescens, I’d come to love the plant that thrives under a variety of common names: Texas sage, Texas ranger, cenizo, silverleaf, or purple sage.

A tough, desert-loving plant native to Texas and Mexico, purple sage is resistant to drought, foraging deer, freezes, high winds, salt spray, and blazing heat. Its foliage has the soft, grayish appearance of mealy blue sage or dusty miller, and its blossoms, which range in color from pink to lavender, tend to appear in times of high humidity.

Since suddenly rising humidity generally precedes rain in arid or semi-arid climates, sage often blooms just before a rain. This quirky yet predictable behavior has led to yet another name for the plant: the barometer bush. Depending on conditions, particularly during extended dry periods or in the midst of drought, a blooming sage often signals coming rain, and excitement over its flowering can be palpable.

I first encountered blooming sage on a ranch road south of Uvalde, Texas. Astonished to see the nondescript, silvery-leafed shrubs I often passed awash in shades of lavender, thistle and plum, I asked a rancher about the abrupt change. “Just you wait,” he said. “They’ll be rain comin’ along, for sure.” 

Three days later, it poured.

In 2017, a lack of rain hasn’t been an issue in southeast Texas, but things are drying out, and concerns about drought are rising. During our last significant drought, I stopped watching the weather reports, but I did keep an eye on the sage. The plant tolerates city life as well as country living, and the movement toward xeric landscaping has increased its use in my area substantially.

One day, I noticed that plants around the parking lot of a local business had broken into riotous bloom. Every inch of the bushes was covered with purple flowers, nearly obscuring their silver leaves. I mentioned my sighting to some friends, and bravely predicted rain. Precisely when it would arrive I couldn’t say, but I knew that it was coming.

And after a few days’ wait, there was rain.

At first, there were only scattered showers: enough to wet the pavement and leave shallow puddles along the curb. The next day, after an afternoon cloud built up over the lake, the rain didn’t stop for an hour. Despite little actual accumulation, people were beginning to smile.

For the next few days, sporadic showers continued until, exactly ten days after the sage began to bloom, drizzly-and-scattered turned into significant rain. When I visited the barometer bush, there wasn’t a bloom to be found, but the glittering drops of rain covering the plant more than made up for its loss of color.

Certainly, it could have been coincidence. But more often that not, our nondescript, silvery-gray shrub has equaled or beaten the forecasters for accuracy. Let sceptics say what they will. In the midst of any dry spell, I’ll keep a close eye on the barometer bush, and if it surprises me by suddenly blooming, I’ll know to pay attention.

There’s no question that Texas’s official state shrub is beautiful in its own exotic way: its deeply saturated colors, long bloom time, and offering of seeds to migrating birds all are welcome.

But our official state native shrub is useful and dependable. And, honestly? In a harsh land historically given to drought, nothing shines so beautifully as a blooming barometer bush.

 

Seeing With A Grateful Eye

Flower Garden and Bungalow, Bermuda ~ Winslow Homer (1899)

Years before I encountered my first palm tree — decades before I dove into the watery azure, lapis, and turquoise ribbons connecting tiny and often unnamed Caribbean islands — I lingered in shadows of tangled bougainvillea and tumbling poinciana: a world of tropical dreams limned by Winslow Homer’s art.

One of America’s premier watercolorists, Homer moved from New York to Prout’s Neck, Maine in the summer of 1883. While his love of the New England coastline is obvious from his paintings, he often vacationed in Florida, Bermuda and the Caribbean. His unique vision of the islands, combined with mastery of his medium, resulted in exquisite renderings of sun-drenched homes, synchronized palms, and great, vivid falls of blossoms that seem to scent even the printed page. Continue reading

The Poets Birds: Crested Caracara

Crested Caracaras (Caracara cheriway) taking the sun at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Despite neither appearing nor behaving precisely like a falcon, the crested caracara is considered a member of the falcon family. Resident in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, its range extends southward through Mexico into tropical areas of Central and South America. Its name, Caracara, may be an anglicization of the Guarani Indian traro-traro: an imitation of the unusual rattling sound the bird makes when agitated.

Often referred to as a Mexican eagle, the caracara is thought to be the bird originally depicted on the national emblem and flag of Mexico before being replaced by the golden eagle.
Continue reading

Spending Time

On the timeless prairie

Amid a flurry of autumn traditions old and new — carved jack-o-lanterns, homecomings, pumpkin spice latte —  discussions of a less happy tradition arise, inevitable as falling leaves. As the clock adjustments required by the end of daylight saving time grow nearer,  a little inconsequential and mostly congenial grumping about the practice can be heard across the land.

Some don’t care which official time prevails; they only wish for an end to switching back and forth. Others, in favor of keeping the practice, argue the case for a national policy. Most seem to consider the fuss over “falling back” or “springing forward” nothing more than a relic of the past, like barn-raisings and butter churns. Continue reading