Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Time to Cut Back the Deadwood

Spring has been angling to arrive for a few weeks, but winter just hasn’t wanted to leave East Texas this year. It has enjoyed its stay with snowstorms, temperatures in the teens, howling winds and all manner of ridiculous behavior. One day I checked the weather app on my iPhone, and it was colder in Longview than it was in Boston. Now that is just messed up.

So it was with great relief that we all got out of the car last Sunday week on the way to church and noticed the tulip trees had exploded on the courthouse lawn. They are the Sentinels of Spring in East Texas, with gorgeous pink blossoms that last just a little while before the trees become noticeably nondescript. But for a week or two, tulip trees rule, proclaiming to us Pine Curtain residents, “Hey, spring is on the cusp. Take heart.”

At our church, First Presbyterian, a series of lovely trees hug the structure and sport magenta blossoms which are delicate and vertical. We asked around and learned these are called Chinese Fringe Trees. Further Web research shows they produce a variety of blossoms. At the church, just west of the courthouse, magenta is the dominant theme. They are lovely blooms, tempting to cut off and hang in your loved one’s hair. Figure the pastor would be OK with that.

I drove to Shreveport the other day to shill for the public radio pledge drive, something I do twice a year since I’m on the advisory board. I am invariably placed during the classical music segment, when few calls come in, since my salesmanship skills are notoriously lacking. One newspaper mentor once joked that my approach to selling advertising was to walk in and ask, “You don’t want to buy an ad, do you?” I didn’t see anything wrong with that. Well, actually I did, but it worked for me at the time.

Anyway, I spent the drive on the way to Shreveport looking in vain for a dogwood tree blooming in the forest, a true sign of spring. My neighbors have a dogwood in their front yard, but it is domesticated and to my way of thinking can’t be a true harbinger of spring’s arrival, though it is a lovely tree. I saw plenty of bloomers — Bradford Pears and other harbingers of the end of winter but no dogwoods. They are solitary creatures generally, at least in our parts, one here or there.

On the way back the rains returned in sheets that made it hard to even drive legally, let alone at my normal five miles above the limit. So I abandoned my sideways looking for dogwoods but noticed the medians were greening up nicely.

By most accounts, this harsh wet winter will produce a bumper crop of bluebonnets in Central Texas, so a road trip will be in order by April or so. My favorite stretch is U.S. Hwy. 290, between Brenham and Austin. It is a pretty fair stretch from here, but we’ll figure out a way to make that happen.

The unusually harsh winter played havoc with the palm trees and assorted cousins planted in yards and in front of businesses here, I’ve noticed. Most have turned a sickly yellow or even a desiccated brown that can’t mean good news.

I’ve always been fascinated with what motivates people to plant tropical trees in places where at least several times a year the temperature drops well below freezing. Homesickness? A longing to sink one’s toes in the sands in some tropical isle? Sick of looking at all those dadgum pine trees? Or maybe some slick nursery owner came through a couple of decades ago and had a sale on palm trees, because some of these trees that now seem to be on the verge of becoming chainsaw material have been around a while.

I don’t have much room to talk. I’ve been carting around a plumeria tree for a few years, which sports the blossoms from which Hawaiians create leis. I forgot to bring the tree inside the garage this winter when the first frost hit, or the second or third. I believe that tree is now skindling material, along with my asparagus ferns and even the hardy gardenias.

Daylight savings time started last night. It is time to start cutting back the deadwood, assessing the damage and enjoying the new growth of spring. Winter soon will be but a memory and none too soon.
Written to be published March 14, but my final day at the newspaper was March 11. So it stayed in limbo until now.

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