Spring in Central Texas a Fleeting Gift Accept it with Gratitude


       by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden





This past weekend we entertained an out-of-town visitor from Canada, a friend of my partner’s. Being more than a little proud of our city, we tried to show off Austin at its springtime best. We took her for a moonlit climb of Mount Bonnell; drove down Congress Avenue and along the shores of Town Lake; and toured the University of Texas campus. What seemed to impress her the most, however, was sighting a Cardinal at one of our birdfeeders. She comes from Calgary, Alberta, and had never seen our common redbird. She marveled at its color, and later that same day, thrilled at its cheery song. As I went about my garden chores that afternoon, I thought about her reaction to the Cardinal and was reminded not to take things for granted. Yes, there is magic in a red crest and a silver song even if they are familiar sights and sounds in our own backyards.


Spring in Central Texas is a fleeting gift, one worth savoring, but it is too often taken for granted or rushed through in the midst of our hectic lives. For gardeners, there are so many chores to tend to that we forget to stand still long enough to appreciate the miracles unfolding around us. So, as I continued my weeding and pruning on that sunny afternoon, I also took just a bit of time simply to be still and to pay attention.


One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”: “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention….” And, one of the most profound quotes I have ever read comes from the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Paying attention is a way of being grateful, and gratitude is, I believe, one of the more profound gifts of the garden.


Color, whether the red of the Cardinal of the subtle purple of the Bluebonnets, is certainly something to be thankful for after the drab days of winter. The colors of spring are ushered in gently, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, allowing time for our eyes to wake up. The pale pink of the Redbuds signal the true beginning of the season and are followed in our garden by more exuberant hues like the clear buttery yellow of the Columbines, the bright red of our Red Baron peaches, and the salmon orange of the Red Yuccas. (Our guest thought the emerging bloom spikes of the Yuccas looked like red Asparagus!) Color is a gift, so, before the coming heat drives you back indoors, take a walk through your garden and give thanks for color.


Fragrance, delicious, intoxicating fragrance; is there anything more wonderful on a warm spring afternoon than the scent of Mexican Plum, Carolina Jessamine or Wisteria? As I made my rounds of the garden, the Sweet Olive that was perfuming my back porch transported me the foggy streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans that I had visited with my partner several years ago.  They say that scent is the most powerful of the senses and is the key to unlocking early memories. I certainly believe it. The fragrance of the Lilacs and Daffodils that surrounded my childhood home are among my earliest memories. You never know where you nose may lead you, if you stop to smell the roses.


Spring manifests itself in many forms, from the fiddleheads of the ferns unfurling in the shady nooks of our garden, to the intricate orchid-like blossoms of the Mexican Buckeyes. The season announces itself by dressing up in countless shapes and sizes, an architecture devised by the genius of time. Our Bald Cypress trees had leafed out overnight. Their needle-like buds lined the limbs of the trees and the ornamental grasses that I had trimmed only a few days before seemed positively electric with hundreds of crisp new blades. As the days progress, so too will their forms. The cypress needles will broaden to soft ferny leaves and the grasses will reach for the sun only to arch gracefully back down to the ground. Some forms have been elevated to the sacred; the inward spiral of a shell has come to symbolize the mysterious cycles of nature in many cultures. But, shouldn’t we also celebrate the loose ‘V’ of the geese I saw flying northward in the evening light?


Sounds shape our experiences as profoundly our other senses. The gentle breeze that refreshed the garden stirred our wind chimes into an improvisational chorus. Mockingbirds celebrated the fine weather from their high perches and the Titmice sounded their astonishing alarm-like call. In the distance I could hear our neighbors out with their toddlers, and overhead, the lazy droning of the first wasps of the season as they searched the eaves of our porch for good nesting sites. Even the Grackles sounded good to me with their rusty gate squeaks and caws. Surely, along with the blues, they are one of the signature sounds of our hometown.


As the day grew dim, I was blessed with one more gift: a small tuft of black and yellow feathers landed near one of our bird feeders. At first, I thought it was an American Goldfinch that was a bit ahead of the others in donning its breeding plumage. But something looked different, and as I got a little closer I saw that it was an entirely new species to me, a cousin of the American Goldfinch known as the Lesser Goldfinch. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing lesser about it. I experienced the same thrill that our visitor had expressed earlier when she spotted her first Cardinal.


Whether brand new or familiar, lesser or more, take a few moments to pay attention this springtime. You’ll find a garden of gratitude.



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