Spring Terrain #62

Not long after the rains began, the stony yard around the stairs leading up to my apartment sprouted. On regular runs along the Greenbelt, hopping over the same rocks and twigs scattered across the path, I started to actually see things on the periphery of my vision that were green, instead of brown or grey. I thought the natural color of the cedar elm leaves by my porch was rust, and that they crunched when you stepped on them.

This new growth was not only tender, it was a glowing green—the kind of color you see around the edges of an intense flame. This is not the color of ashes, of the consequences of heat: it has the feeling of an inner fire.

This newness emerges out of the rocks and hardness, pushes up through the detritus of dried thatch, evidence of last year’s cycle of growth and inevitable desiccation. In other places around the world, dying foliage and plant matter decomposes, enriching the soil and returning nutrients to the earth that created it. In these places, old growth disappears. This natural cycle of nitrogen fixation, however, requires both heat and humidity. There’s only one of those in abundance here in Texas. So the dry brush accumulates in scratchy layers around the stones, as snow would fall and lay another texture on the ground in other winters. Unlike the snow, which vanishes as the ground warms, this dry underbrush stays as a reminder of what is to come when the rains go away.

As I drove through Hill Country in March, I passed miles and miles of ranchland in various states of human maintenance. On poorer plots of land, dead cedars, dried grasses and brush cluttered the first five feet of space beneath low-hanging mesquite canopies. Ranchers with more money or time had cleared away some of the dead plant matter and heaped it into tall piles, waiting for the burn bans to lift. They would dispose of the evidence of the drought in spring pyres. It is not bacteria and other invisible natural forces that rids the land of its dead skin here—it is cleansing flames that do the job.

I’m not used to a land that requires fire for renewal.  I don’t understand it and this frankly scares me a little, despite my love of building campfires and watching their sparks dance skyward in a summer sky full of stars.  I like my fires to stay nicely contained in a ring of stones, thank you very much.

This is a segment from a photo essay “Spring Arrives in Central Texas”  


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