The Taste of Memory

From the tenor of their conversation, it seemed the woman placing her order had been a customer of the meat market for some time. At least the clerk had known her long enough to ask, “Do you want seven chicken breasts, or have the kids gone back to school?” After a moment’s thought, the woman said, “One’s still at home, but she doesn’t like chicken. Two will be enough.”

“What about a roast?” the clerk said. “Are you ready for a nice pork loin, or some chuck?” The woman sighed. “No. Not yet. I can’t bring myself to turn on the oven in this heat. Besides, roasts are for winter.”

That’s when I smiled, recognizing a woman who shared my preferences. I don’t crave pot roast in summer any more than I long for gazpacho when I’m trying to thaw out in January. Some dishes appeal throughout the year, but certain foods, whether from habit or preference, remain confined to one season.

As I pondered my own list of seasonal foods, it occurred to me that ice cream manufacturers are in a tricky spot. It would be easy to associate ice cream only with warm weather: a refreshing treat for days when temperatures soar. For decades, families spent summer afternoons churning homemade ice cream, just as the churches turned to ice cream socials as summer fund-raisers. The sound of the roving ice-cream seller’s bell was a summer sound, and summer trips to the ice house were as often for ice as for beer.

To break the connection between ice cream and summer — and to make a profit even in the depths of winter — companies had to find new ways to attract customers.

One of the most effective methods has been the establishment of seasonal flavors, and Texas’s beloved Bluebell Creamery has mastered the approach. Aficionados of the brand have learned their ice cream calendar by heart: peppermint in December and January, Mardi Gras in March, homemade vanilla with peaches or strawberries in early summer, and southern blackberry cobbler as August turns to September.

Fall deserves it’s own flavors, of course; spiced pumpkin and butter pecan are sheer perfection. When they appear on store shelves in the weeks between summer’s peaches and holiday peppermint, everyone knows that falling leaves, crisp air, and pot roast can’t be far away. While we wait for the end of summer’s interminable heat, we enjoy: waxing poetic over the virtues of a traditional and quite tasty treat.

 

  So
  little
  is needed.
A dish. A spoon.
  Even the carton
  will do in a pinch if
  no one is watching, no one
  complaining, no one advising
sweet moderation when offered the
chance to keep scooping and scooping away.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more information on the Etheree, a syllabic poem that, in its basic form, contains ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click here .

 

 

Blackberry Rain

Occasional showers have fallen in parts of Texas, but desiccated pastures, thinning herds, drying playas, and empty stock ponds make clear the continuing need for rain.

Hidden behind such public signs of drought lie other consequences: equally troublesome, if more personal.  During a recent visit with a hill country friend, I heard a familiar sigh as I split a breakfast biscuit and reached for the dish of preserves. “That’s the last of the peach,” she said. “I’m down to apple butter now, until we see how things turn out this year. I sure hope things get better.”

For my friend, “better” means rain. Several times in the past decade drought has put an end to her vegetables and fruits. The fig trees barely produced, pears were the size of walnuts, and pecans shriveled in their shells. Even the dewberries bloomed sparsely, setting so little fruit she left it for hungry birds and animals.

The sweet, trellised blackberries that overflowed her baskets in the past withered and died, offering up only tart, unappealing berries. Without good berries the usual abundance of pies, cobblers, and sauces disappeared, not to mention the brandied berries traditionally set aside for holidays.

Dewberry blossom

“Could you have watered?” I asked. “I did,” she said, “but as the weeks went by, we decided to stop. Some people’s wells went dry, and I couldn’t risk that. I let the flower gardens go first, then the vegetables. I hated it, but there was nothing else to do, even though I didn’t get a single decent tomato.”

Life without blackberry cobbler is one thing. Life without tomatoes is something else. Like generations of women, including my own grandmother, my friend traditionally spent the summer canning uncounted quarts of  sauced, stewed, and diced tomatoes for the long winter ahead.

In my grandparents’ fruit cellar, jars shone in the dim light like jewels: tomatoes, peaches and plums; cherries suspended in burgundy syrup; jams, jellies, and marmelades; sweet corn relish, spiced apples and pears, and the translucent shimmer of pickles. My friend’s larder always had resembled that jewel-like abundance, until the scourge of drought took first her water and then the harvest that helps to sustain her family through the year.

Some of her more drought-tolerant fruits have survived the summers, although their yield was low.  Two varieties of persimmon, one a Texas native (Diospyros texana) and one the more familiar Asian (Diospyros kaki) were freely shared with a multitude of birds and squirrels, white-tailed deer, foxes, possums and raccoons.

The possum’s love of persimmons is legendary. In some regions, the creature spends so much time gorging on its fruit the tree is known as ‘possum wood.’ John James Audubon pictured the Virginia Opossum in a persimmon tree, and an old American folk-song 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!”

On the Gulf Coast, Atakapa Indians called persimmons piakimin. Early French settlers transformed it into plaquemine, familiar to many as the name of a Louisiana parish. Elias Wightman, a surveyor for Stephen F. Austin in the 1820s, documented persimmon groves in southeast Texas; the trees he found were the drought-resistant natives, their seedy black fruit much smaller and differently-shaped than the larger and more familiar red-orange Asian varieties. Both provide a wonderful base for an assortment of pastries and jams once the frosts reduce their astringent qualities. My first persimmon came from my friend’s hill country tree, and I was amazed by its smooth sweetness.

For pure eating pleasure from native Texas plants, you can’t do better than jams and jellies made from berries of the agarita, one of my friend’s favorites.  Because of its prickly nature, the best way to gather agarita berries is to lay a cloth on the ground and thrash the bushes, but when drought reduces the berry crop of even this hardy plant, time spent in bush-thrashing isn’t worth the return, and agarita jelly won’t be on the table.

Ripening Agarita berries

Recently, even the yield of berries from Scarlet Firethorn, or Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea), has declined somewhat.  Its beautiful red, red-orange, or yellow berries resemble tiny apples, and it’s branches often are used for decorating. My favorite bush, a large volunteer on a fenceline below my friend’s home, disappeared when the county showed up to widen and pave the road, but new shrubs always appear as seeds are spread by birds who love its tasty and nutritious fruit. In fall and winter, the berries occasionally ferment, leaving robins and waxwings staggering from the bushes, nearly unable to fly.

For years I assumed pyracantha was poisonous, but the apple-shaped berries are perfectly suitable for human consumption; boiling the fruit and straining the pulp to remove the seeds is all that’s necessary to make a fine jelly. It’s more work that I’m willing to take on, but thanks to my friend, I’ve had the opportunity to try pyracantha pancake syrup and agarita jelly: small reminders of nature’s abundance and human care.

Pyracantha

As friends will do, we often spend long hours drinking coffee and talking around the table. One memorable night, a sudden rattle across the tin roof and a rush of wind signaled rain. In a country so long bereft of storms, nothing could be more comforting.  “We sure do need more of that,” someone said as the rain murmured outside the windows. Then, the chairs were pushed back and we all went off to bed, ready to enjoy the luxury of falling asleep to the sound of falling rain.

The next morning, the “more” we’d hoped for had come. Puddles dotted the caliche drive and damp yard cats huddled under the potting shed, water dripping around them. We said our farewells in drizzle and fog: a gauzy, gray coverlet tucked around the resting ridges and valleys.

An hour later, as I swung around San Antonio and headed east, more rain developed. Heavy enough to make driving a challenge and consistent enough to bring a smile, it coursed along the ditches and collected in fields. Overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, I tried, without success, to remember the last time I’d witnessed such abundance.

Passing a farmhouse, I glimpsed a man standing on his porch, just watching. A few miles down the road, I stopped for gas and coffee and found the men gathered at the front of the small store looking very much the same: hands tucked into pockets, eyes focused on the rain.

Coffee in hand, I left the store only to discover the drizzle had once again turned into a near-torrent. Standing under the awning, waiting for it to slack off before I headed to the car, I listened to the desultory talk.

“Nice,” said one fellow. “Sure enough,” said another. “Smells good, too,” said a third. And it did. It smelled clean, and fresh. It smelled like a new start, and hope, and home. It smelled sweet, like the promise of abundance.

It smelled like next year’s blackberries.

Comments always are welcome.

History and Hope

Revolution in Hungary

Because it was a school night, my tenth birthday celebration remained a small affair, confined to our family’s dinner table.

As I blew out the candles on my cake that October evening in 1956, whatever sweet, midwestern wishes I made hardly resembled those of children a world away. Those children were marking a different sort of occasion with their own parents: an uprising that would come to be known as the Hungarian Revolution.

On October 24th, or perhaps the 25th, I passed through the dining room on my way to breakfast and noticed the Des Moines Register lying where my cake had been. A single photograph filled the space above the fold, together with a bold caption: “REVOLUTION IN HUNGARY.”

At the time, no 24-hour news cycle existed. We had no CNN; no internet; no Facebook or Twitter. We had only a newspaper, motionless and mute, waiting on the table while my father readied for work and my mother drank coffee in the kitchen.

I stood at the table, transfixed by the photograph. Eventually, my air of concentrated astonishment caught my dad’s attention. Stopping behind me, he asked, “What’s happening?” I pointed to the photograph. He picked up the front page, scanned it, then brought it to the kitchen. He showed it to my mother, then handed it to me. “Maybe you should take the newspaper to school,” he said. And so I did.

At the time, I thought nothing of my teacher’s willingness to set aside her lesson plans and talk with us about events in Europe. We made a special trip to the school library, where the librarian helped us to find the 1848 Hungarian National Poem. Back in our classroom, we made a poster of the words, tacked it to the bulletin board, and read it in unison.

Stand up, Hungarians, your country calls.
The time for now or never falls.
Are we to live as slaves or free?
Choose one. This is our destiny!
By the God of all the Magyars, we swear.
We swear never again the chains to bear.

Even as children we were moved by the straightforwardness of the poetry. Decades later, turning over events of the time in a somewhat different context, I found myself equally stirred by Karoly Nagy’s The Legacy of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution:

Liberty, democracy, human rights are like health. Servitude, oppression, discrimination are like sickness. Totalitarian tyranny is death. A revolution that overthrows tyranny and achieves liberty is a resurrection. During the last week of October and the first few days of November, 1956, most of us in Hungary felt as if we were risen from the dead…
It was euphoria. We sang our long-forbidden national anthem, embraced each other on the streets, laughed and cried with joy. We felt redeemed. We were intoxicated by hearing and saying words of truth.
We learned the truth and demonstrated it to the world, that what defines a country, what qualifies a society is not any ideology, but the presence or absence of freedom.

Thirty-three years after I stood, transfixed, before a photograph of Russian tanks moving into the streets of Budapest to quell the popular uprising there with determined brutality, true revolution and an overthrow of communist government came to Czechoslovakia.

British historian and political writer Timothy Garton Ash, noting the series of revolutions cascading through Eastern Europe in 1989, adds a reminder that, “in Poland, the transition [from communism to democracy] lasted ten years, in Hungary ten months, and in Czechoslovakia ten days.”

Those ten event-filled days between November 17th and November 27th, known to Czechs as the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and to Slovaks as the ‘Gentle Revolution,’ embodied a remarkable, non-violent resistance whose effects reverberated throughout the world.

Reflecting on those events in a New York Review of Books article, Ash said:

In the autumn of 1989, the term ‘Velvet Revolution’ was coined to describe a peaceful, theatrical, negotiated regime change in a small Central European state that no longer exists.
So far as I have been able to establish, the phrase was first used by Western journalists and subsequently taken up by Václav Havel and other Czech and Slovak opposition leaders. This seductive label was then applied retrospectively by writers, including myself, to the cumulatively epochal events that had unfolded in Poland, Hungary, and East Germany as ‘the Velvet Revolutions of 1989.’

Ash’s description of events as “theatrical” never was meant to suggest they were in any sense ‘staged,’ but they certainly were dramatic. Marketa Hancova, former Dean of Education at Platt College in San Diego, California, was present during those ten days of transformation; her accounts of the events are intensely personal and extraordinarily detailed.

…It is late at night and I cannot sleep. And who can? The telephone is ringing, the radio is on, people are stopping by, so my friend and I are going out at four in the morning to buy a newspaper. Prague is bubbling, steaming, the city is in a frenzy and people delirious with certainty of victory, by their strength and by the historical moment we all feel palpably burning under our skin. The air smells sweet, and you can drink and eat for free. Everyone is sharing, everyone is offering, everything is open twenty four hours a day.
Revolution does not know night or day. It is one big day that ends with achieving our goal. I am tasting the life in paradise. If nothing else, these incredible moments have already made up for the years under the Communists’ despotism. The sense of giving and sharing offers me a rare opportunity to experience the uniqueness of human closeness.
Day three… The crowd is bigger. We are in the main square again, and the Communist vice-president is trying to deliver a speech. All of a sudden I hear a key chiming. Everybody pulls out their keys and we are all chiming above our heads. The whole of Prague is chiming and the politician cannot finish his address. We sing instead the Czech national songs…

The chiming in Wenceslas Square as citizens rang their bell-like keys in a final, dismissive gesture to the communist regime was memorialized in The Key Sculpture (Klícová socha) by Czech artist Jiří David. Formally installed on March 9, 2010 in Prague’s Franz Kafka Square, its 85,741 metal keys pay tribute to the courage and intransigence of pro-democratic demonstrators, the vision of leaders like Václav Havel, and the unexpected power of a million jangling keys when Češi udělali revoluci – the Czechs made a revolution.

Today, those same Czechs once again are gathering in Wenceslas Square: this time to protest on behalf of another beleaguered people — the citizens of Ukraine.

Even as Czech citizens were singing and chiming in the streets of Prague, The Estonian Singing Revolution did its own part to help secure democracy in Eastern Europe. Incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, Estonia was occupied by Germany until reannexation by the Soviet Union in 1944.

Despite the deportation of tens of thousands of Estonians to Siberia and Central Asia and the forced resettlement of Russians into the country, one aspect of Estonian culture held firm: their Festivals of Song. First held in 1869, the Festivals quickly became a revered tradition. The Tallinn Festival, held every five years, can draw as many as 25,000 singers.

In 1987, Estonian singing began to serve another purpose. Initially, smaller groups gathered at the Song Festival grounds to sing patriotic songs that had been banned by the Soviets. In the words of participant Artur Talvik,

“We sang all night and everybody went home early in the morning. It was emotionally so strong that the next day there were even more people. The day after, there were even more people. People took out their hidden flags. They had these flags hidden for 50 years and now they took these out and started to wave them.”

For reasons best known to themselves, the Soviets ignored the first song gatherings. In response, the people’s courage increased. In June of 1988, 300,000 Estonians gathered at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds to sing patriotic songs, including the banned Mu isamaa, mu onn ja room (“My Fatherland, My Happiness and Joy”).

Ten thousand people singing may be a song festival, but 300,000 people singing and waving flags is a revolution. By September, political leaders were participating in demonstrations and insisting on the restoration of independence.

In the midst of Estonian singing, alliances were forged and pressures on the Soviets increased. By August 23, 1989, the 50th anniversary of the secretive Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, more than a million Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians were willing to travel “The Baltic Way“, a human chain stretching 360 miles from the foot of Toompea in Tallinn to the foot of the Gediminas Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Their mutual goal, re-established independence of the Baltic States, was nurtured by an assortment of national movements – the Popular Front of Estonia (Rahvarinne), the Popular Front of Latvia and the Lithuanian Reform Movement, Sąjūdis. Milda Mendeleviciute provides one reminiscence.

I was less than 8 then, so I can remember very little. As my Mom tells, we went to this small town close to Vilnius, hoping there would not be overcrowded, and we were right (only two cars there on that site when we came)… we had to struggle to reach each others hands. The pictures prove that many children participated in that peaceful demonstration.

The human chain of the Baltic Way

Despite some differences in the struggles which took place in Hungary, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, and Latvia, they share certain truths: particularly, that revolution never is purely about politics, and freedom never is abstract. Human dignity is rooted not in the lofty pronouncements of autocrats and dictators, but in the freedoms of daily life, the intimacy of personal relationships and the twin joys of creativity and responsibility.

In another entry from her journal, Ms. Hancova speaks movingly of dignity and freedom.

There are many events I happily experience and one of the episodes sticks clearly in my mind. We are walking with my friends in the Wenceslas Square and we notice a big crowd in front of a record shop. We come closer and see a small cassette player sitting on a stool and playing a Christmas carol.
We are so happy to hear – for the first time in our life – the Christmas carol being played publicly. We are staying for the longest time and together with others listening, singing and enjoying a sliver of already gained freedom.

Her experience is worth pondering. Inundated as we are by carols from the day after Thanksgiving, by Christmas we hardly hear them. Cynical, irritated, or bored by what we consider an intrusion into our personal space, we forget that, in our lifetime, in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, a woman bearing a name and a history experienced publicly-played Christmas carols for the first time in her life, and rejoiced with friends and strangers alike in the freedom to listen and sing.

Today, wherever voices are threatened or silenced, whenever hearts grow weary or fearful, the same power that enlivened Czechoslovakia, surged through Estonia and made straight the Baltic Way seeks to revivify the human spirit.

Wending through city streets, holding hands across the miles, filling the public squares with a sense of  commitment and joy, it offered to those nations what others sought to destroy: a swelling chorus of freedom and self-determination.

Comments always are welcome.
The next Estonian Song Festival will be held in 2024.

Celebrating Winter

Amethyst Brook Falls, Massachusetts ~ Stephen Gingold

It’s Wednesday night, and a lovely sixty-four degrees in my neighborhood. Two hundred miles to the northwest, in Austin, it’s dropped to thirty-nine, and when an even farther-west friend in Kerrville went out to collect wood for her stove, it had dropped below freezing. Up on the Caprock it’s eighteen; in assorted Panhandle towns it’s only ten, and creeping toward zero. Winter — real winter — is on its way again.

Everyone in Texas remembers last February’s snow and ice extravaganza, with its statewide loss of power and loss of life. Still, as one of my favorite meteorologists put it on this Groundhog Day, Pennsylvania may have Punxsutawney Phil, but Texas has ERCOT Earl. He saw his shadow today, so we should get six more weeks of power. As  freezing rain begins across the state, we certainly hope so.

I’m not particularly fond of ice, but I have wonderful memories of snow, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Since that’s not likely here on the coast despite the coming cold, I thought I’d relive the experience through one of my favorite poems: written and revised over the years. If you’ve had snow, have snow, or are hoping for snow, perhaps you’ll enjoy it; if the cold lingers for a while, perhaps you’ll find a way to enjoy that, too.

 

The Grammarian In Winter

Winter speaks in passive voice,
conjugates brief slants of light,
parses out cold stars along a tracery of oak.
Beneath the rising moon, fine participles gleam.
D
angling remnant leaves pull free
to tumble down the winds,
evocative declensions of a season now unbound.
Split by ice, the pond breathes smoke.
Split by cold, the blackened ferns release their shattered fronds.
Split by hoarfrost, fences bend and crack across the cold-boned land.
Infinitives abound.
Silent, shrouded by the pond’s slight breath,
clear-eyed herons sweep the snow
as if to scry its source;
their spellbound cries declaim the day,
then punctuate the dim and drifting hills.
Linda Leinen

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more of Steve Gingold’s marvelous winter photos, Click Here.

Recalling Those Dandelion Days

Texas Dandelion ~ Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus

No matter which dandelion species comes to live in the neighborhood, everyone has an opinion.

Some consider them weeds, taking the emergence of even one flower as a personal affront. For them, the wildflower demands corn gluten, digging tools, or half-used bags of Weed-B-Gon® left from previous battles. Known to curse at the sight of dandelion fluff floating through the air, they need occasional reminders to stop yelling at the children who set the seeds a-flying.

Others consider dandelions wildflowers: sturdy little delights meant for the season’s first bouquets. Some call them dinner: happily boiling the young, tender greens and serving them up alongside ham and cornbread. Old-timers still bottle a sweet, light wine from the flowers, and lucky children still learn how to weave the flowers into garlands for their hair.

I’ll confess to loving the dandelions, and consider them more wildflower than weed. But above all else, those plump, yellow flowers bring to mind one very special experience: the year the squirrel went crazy.

Anyone who’s rescued and raised a squirrel as a pet has tales to tell – especially when the relationship lasts over a span of years. Inevitably, a squirrel in the house means pecans buried in the bedsheets, gnawed furniture, scratched limbs, and a full complement of creative mischief.

It also means providing a nice, balanced diet to maintain those bright eyes and that fluffy tail: a freezer full of acorns, fresh fungi in season, a full complement of assorted greens, and an occasional orange popsicle before bed. As everyone who’s lived with a squirrel knows, if the squirrel’s not happy, nobody’s happy, and popsicles made my squirrel happy.

One year, about mid-January, it became obvious that my squirrel wasn’t happy. He seemed bored and lethargic; none of his usual diversions gave him pleasure. He stopped lying atop the front door, scanning the traffic in the streets. He stopped dragging around his tennis-ball-in-a-sock, or demanding ear scratches. He even stopped watching Letterman, or begging for popsicles.

At first, I assumed creeping age was slowing him down, causing him to become crotchety. Then, he became a lot crotchety. The same critter who’d loved draping himself across my shoulder and nuzzling my ear suddenly took to flying off the refrigerator, grabbing hold of the nearest passer-by and biting their ear. He scolded everything that moved, and started chasing the bird. His silent, malevolent glare took on a certain intensity. Anyone who experienced it could be forgiven a shiver of fear, or an irrational belief that a two-pound squirrel intended to take over the house by force.

Eventually, after a fit of particularly bad temper, I snapped back. Surprised by my response, he ran to the back of the house and scooted straight into a closet, burrowing down among the hiking boots and coolers. That’s where I found him, digging into a plastic bag as though his life depended on it.

A strange but pleasant odor permeated the closet; it reminded me of a brewery. Puzzled, I pulled open the bag, and found mesquite beans that I’d collected, carried home as a souvenir, and promptly forgot. Thanks to their high sugar content and perfect closet conditions, the beans had fermented. My furry little darling was flying high on a South Texas version of home-brew, sometimes called atole by those who produce it for human consumption.

SONY DSC

Even unfermented mesquite beans appeal to cattle, horses and goats, as well as to an assortment of wild creatures. When the beans ferment in the wild, cattle who’ve sampled them will do their best to keep bellying up to the bar.

In the case of my no-longer-free-range squirrel, closing the bar was easy. Getting him clean and sober required a little more effort. It took over a week for the effects of the beans to wear off, and during detox he was belligerent, contemptuous, and confrontational.

Unpredictably aggressive, he engaged in fits of foot-stomping rage. He became particularly fond of jumping up onto a bar near the kitchen, taking the phone cord in his teeth and daring someone to do something about it. Told, “No!” by one of his humans, the previously sweet little woodland creature would curl his forepaws into fists, stomp his little feet on the bar, and chatter away in perfect imitation of a two-year old throwing a tantrum.


Eventually, the aggressiveness ended. Still, he seemed lethargic; uninterested in life. Tempted with his favorite foods, he turned away. He slept a good bit, still refused ear rubs, and generally moped around in his log house. Despite everyone’s concern, the squirrel gurus counseled patience: and so, through the rest of January and all of February, we waited.

Finally, in March, as the sun rose higher in the sky and the grass began to green, the first dandelion appeared in the yard.

On impulse, I plucked and washed it, then carried it to the large aviary which served as the squirrel’s home. Whether sleeping or brooding, he was in his log, so I opened the door and rapped on his house. When I heard a rustle, I rapped again, and a tiny face appeared.

When I showed him the dandelion, he hopped out and sat on his feeding log, waiting for his treat. Once he had it in his paws, he sampled a petal or two, nibbled on a leaf, and then, as neatly as you please, bit off the end of the stem. As the milky sap began to collect at the bottom, he lapped up the drops with his tiny tongue, for all the world like an oenophile sampling a particularly fine wine.

I kept the dandelions coming, and within days he was back to his usual self, hanging out on top of the door and hiding pecans in my shoes. Was it the dandelion that made him happy? The coming of spring? The simple passage of time? There’s no way to know. Perhaps in the end it was a combination of all three, but it hardly mattered. The dandelion gods were back in their heaven, and all was right with the world: at least, all was right in the world of one previously miserable squirrel.

Today, looking around this soft, early spring, enjoying the already-blooming dandelions, waiting for the leafing of the mesquite, I take enormous pleasure in remembering my sweet, funny squirrel. I remember my belligerent, mesquite-bean-crazed squirrel somewhat less fondly, but the experience we shared leads me to wonder about people I see around me now: people who are behaving precisely like my poor, inebriated squirrel.

What have they gotten into? I wonder. What’s left them so belligerent, contemptuous, and confrontational? What could have warped their world view so badly that their life has been reduced to a clenched-jaw, foot-stomping rage?”

In truth, I don’t know. What I do know is that spring is coming, and the dandelions will bloom. The mesquite will blossom again, and the cycle will continue. Someone in West Texas will give atole a try, and vinters around the state will bottle dewberry, agarita and grape. They’ll all be good; there’s no doubt about that.

But if someone gives me a choice, I’m sticking with the squirrel. I’ll take the dandelions, any day at all.

Comments always are welcome.