Spring Terrain #89

Opuntia engelmanii “Prickly pear” & Tetraneuris scaposa “Bitterweed”

There are few springtime scenes that represent one coherent theme. Even as bluebonnets cover a hillside or swath a parking lot in indigo blooms, there are other, less enticing elements mixed in. Hardy prickly-pears don’t just go away because spring suddenly arrived. They are an undeniable part of the landscape. This is a place that doesn’t (or can’t) hide its harshness in the changing of the seasons. Walking through the cherry blossom esplanade in May, it is nearly impossible to imagine sidewalks brimming with the greasy brown slush of New York City’s February streets. Here, however, there are ever-present reminders of less hospitable weather.

Wildflowers and grasses may temper the field with warmer and softer greens, but you still shouldn’t be walking barefoot. There’s a reason why cowboy boots are four-season footwear—I’m thinking about purchasing a pair, knowing this investment will mark me as a Texan. I’m not quite there yet, but it’s close. These fields and meadows, even the hillsides covered with bluebonnets, are not places where one can run without caution and roll around in the grass. The natural landscape here scoffs at silly people who’d want to do that. You like frolicking in verdant fields? “Sorry, honey” says Texas, as it dusts its boots and gives you an arch smile. Of course, because Austin isn’t really “Texas” (or so people say); we keep the lush plains of Zilker Park manicured and trimmed, free of unpleasant prickles and things that hurt.

Outside of humankind’s influence the fields and trails of spring aren’t reborn completely, mostly because the landscape wasn’t barren before. There are plants and trees that live through the harsher seasons, and for them spring is just a small part of their life cycle. They are built to last, with protection from the elements: strength, fortitude, hardness and the defenses of a thick skin and spines. They are fixtures in the landscape. Cacti deal with the water in a different way than other plants—even perennial grasses feign death when the scorching heat overwhelms their green tendrils and fluttering petals.

But the prickly pear endures.


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