Road Report: Wildflowers!

Texas paintbrush at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I’m in Austin and playing hooky from the Stories from the Heart writing conference to write this blog post. I spent some time at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center this morning ogling the Texas Hill Country prairie and its wildflowers, taking the time I didn’t have on the drive here to get up-close and personal with one of the more glorious blooming times in the Southwest.

Seeing the wildflowers this year is a miracle or sorts after last year’s devastating drought seared all of Texas. The drought’s not quite over yet, but the amazing wildflower display this year reminds me of how resilient natural systems can be. It’s a good lesson, especially right now.

Pronghorn on the Taos Plateau

The drive to Austin was… long; the wind buffeted me the whole way. But the trip was punctuated with grace notes, as life is. (We just don’t always stop to pay attention.) On my first day, just as I was falling into gloom about how dry and brown my home country is from our drought, I topped a hill near the New Mexico border and saw two dozen pronghorn antelope scattered on the highway in front of me. I braked to a stop, annoying the semi driver following me. (Did he really think I was just going to plow into them?)

That night’s grace note was staying with my friends Roberta and Jim at their place on the shortgrass prairie south of Santa Fe. And waking the next morning to a dawn chorus of meadowlarks, Say’s phoebes, vesper sparrows and other songs. Lovely!

a southern Plains wind farm

From there I drove to Lubbock, Texas, on the southern Plains, tacking the wind the whole way. My reward was having dinner and great conversation with my writing/blogging/urban homesteading friend Susan Tomlinson and her husband Walt. Plus a thunderstorm with actual rain, something I haven’t felt on my skin in months, accompanied by grand flashes of lightning and booming thunder. Perfect for inducing sleep in my rain-deprived soul….

The next day, Thursday, was my longest drive, almost 400 miles between Lubbock and Austin. That may not seem like much to those of

Coreopsis and sundrops: sunshine on a cloudy day….

you who do road-trips all the time, but it’s a huge drive for one with my energy limitations. I watch the landscapes I drive through closely, seeking to know them as best I can. There’s just too much information to take in on a long drive like that. By the time I passed through the edge of Abilene, Texas, and began my northwest–southeast transit across the Hill Country, I was really tired. Until I saw the first swath of wildflowers, miles of golden coreopsis, their delicate stems dancing in the wind, accented by the lemon-yellow blossoms of sundrops. Wow!

Texas bluebonnets (we call them lupine in Colorado) and yellow owl clover on a roadside

Then came the bluebonnets, and the penstemons, skullcap, pink wild onions, yellow and rose owl clover, white blackfoot daisies…. If I hadn’t needed to get to Austin that evening, I’d probably be in the Hill Country still, wandering the rural roads, listening to bird song and watching butterflies flit from flower to flower. But, as Robert Frost so famously said, I had miles to go and promises to keep, so on I drove.

wine cups and bluebonnets

I survived Austin’s gridlocked traffic, made it to my hotel and settled in. Over the past two days, I’ve met with friends old and new, signed books and done coaching appointments with conference attendees, lunched with a former Salida neighbor who de-camped for Austin (we miss you, Kathie Younghans!), had a delicious and inspiring dinner with Theresa May, editor-in-chief of University of Texas Press (and art-doll sculptor extraordinaire), and heard a fascinating keynote on women’s stories and mythology by memoirist Gail Staub.

Buckyeye butterfly nectaring on a wild onion flower

By this morning, I knew I needed a break to integrate all I’d learned, and to recover my flagging energy. So I headed to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to immerse myself in the beauty of the late-spring bloom in Texas Hill Country Prairie. Here are a few photos of the wildflowers blooming there.

Coreopsis dance in the wind in the prairie area at the Wildflower Center

I didn’t record the sounds of the constant wind or the bird songs, so you’ll have to imagine the feel of the moist breeze on your skin and the musical chipping calls of cardinals, the whistles of flycatchers, the buzzing sparrows, and the long rolling mockingbird soliloquies in the background of each photo….

Antelope horns mikweed with three pollinators drinking nectar (that’s a hairstreak butterfly up top–can you find the other two pollinators?)