The daffodils are blooming along the edge of the woods, the redbuds are plumping up, and the salvia is budding. But it's always the agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) that anounces "It's spring!" here at Meadow Knoll. Other names for this drought-resistant Texas native: Texas holly, wild currant, chaparral berry, and palo amarillo. Agarita is from the Spanish for agrio, sour.This pretty shrub, a holly look-alike, is our earliest bloomer, producing nectar for the native bees and promising a good crop of small red berries for the birds and raccoons. For us, too, if I have time to pick the berries and make jelly. The best way to gather them: spread an old sheet on the ground and whack the plant until it begins to drop its berries. Apologize, and whack again. For medicinal uses (there are many for this useful herbal shrub) check out this post on Foraging Texas.
Book report. I'm sorry to have been absent from the blog (big thanks to those of you who wrote to ask if I'm okay!), but the writing schedule has been heavy. I'm currently at work on Blood Orange, #24 in the China Bayles series, planning to finish by the end of March. Bittersweet (China's #23 mystery) will be out in early April. I'll be at the Austin Wild Flower Center on April 11, at the annual Herb Day celebration in Houston (South Texas Unit of the Herb Society of America) on April 25, and at Murder By the Book on April 25. Details to come.
March will be exciting, too, with the launch of the Lake Union edition of A Wilder Rose on March 17, in ebook, print, and audio formats. After dozens of rejections, I published the book myself and am delighted to tell you that it sold over 20,000 copies in its first year. It's an even better book now, after a heavy rewrite, and moves into its second incarnation with a beautiful new cover.
This story is so dear to my heart because Rose was such a brave, energetic, and dedicated writer--and a good daughter, too, devoting years of her life to transforming her mother's work into the Little House books we love and her mother into a literary icon. Amazing story.
There's more going on right now, with Hick and Eleanor out for editorial review and consideration. That's always a nail-biting time--more about that later, when I have some definite news to share.
Garden report. Yes, yes, it's finally garden time here in the Hill Country. We've been eating fresh spinach for a couple of weeks. (Try spinach chips--they're great!) The kale and chard are up, and the first planting of Yukon Gold potatoes. The first planting of peas (Sugar Ann) went in last week, and I'll do another today. We're expecting a freeze mid-week, so everything will need to be covered. Under the lights: cabbage (for March transplant) and tomatoes (late April). I always feel a new energy when it's garden time--don't you?
Drought update. I know that many of you are facing massive snows and flooding rains, but in our little piece of the planet, it looks like we'll continue to be challenged by drought. We've had enough minor rainfall, frequently enough, to boost the spring pasture grasses. But the trees continue to be stressed, the Highland Lakes are at an historic low and the expected El Nino fizzled. And to raise the stakes, the natural drought cycle is being intensified by human-caused climate change. I'm sorry if this sounds bleak, but we need to understand where we are and how our lives--and our children's lives--will be affected. It's not a pretty picture.
But the agarita is a pretty picture, isn't it? A drought-resistant shrub, it will go on blooming and feeding its neighbors even when less adaptive plants fail. A lesson for all of us, I think.
Reading Note: No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with [and how we live, I would add] define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity.—Wendell Berry