This little native tree (Sophora secundiflora) isn't a laurel at all (let alone a "mountain" laurel), and it has some other interesting names: coral bean, mescal bean, and "big-drunk bean." The Indians of the Southern plains brewed up the leaves and the seeds into an intoxicating ritual drink--the seeds contain the alkaloid cytisine, which can induce hallucinations. It seems to have been an important part of their spiritual lives: they strung the large red seeds (the redder the seed, the more powerful it was) as protective necklaces, thought to bring good fortune and shield the wearer from physical harm. I love that idea, and sometimes imagine a native Tonkawa woman--a nomad, with a baby to tend and meals to prepare and clothing to make--collecting the seeds and stringing them to wear as a necklace. She would have imagined that the tree had its own powerful plant spirit, its own soul, and that wearing its seeds brought her its protective life and energy.
Our mountain laurels are now 30 years old, most of them about 8 feet high. It loves the thin, well-drained soil of the Edwards Plateau, and flourishes even in our hottest summers. I grew them from seed that Bill and I collected from tree-grown containers on Sixth Street in Austin in 1987, the year we moved out here to Meadow Knoll. We have about 30 of them--ten clusters of three small trees--scattered along the creek and at the edge of the woods. Magical little trees, especially this time of year, when they are heavy with purple blooms that smell exactly like grape Kool-aid. The bees, eager for any sweet stuff, adore them. And so do I.
Homestead report. The girls are back in full production, now that the days are getting longer. Quiche tonight, I think. The potatoes got frostbitten again this week, but they are far enough along to make it through. The peas are up, and we have lots of perennial green onions. The daffodils, redbuds, and the Lady Banks rose have been gorgeous for the last two weeks. February was the warmest ever in this area (the records go back to the 1880s). The last three years (2016, 15, 14) have been the warmest on record, globally. And now Trump (with his appointment of Rick Perry as head of Energy) is in the process of destroying what little regulation we have. Perry, who famously called climate change a "hoax."
Book report. Did I tell you that I'm writing another of the Darling Dahlias series? I set the series aside two years ago, but readers have been asking for more. And since I'm sort of stuck on Gertrude Bell (that project is difficult, for many good reasons), I decided to take a break from it and write another Dahlias. This will be the seventh book, and I'll probably publish it via my own imprint, Persevero Press, later this year or early next. Since I'm publishing it myself, I have a little more control over the content, so I'm taking the series in a slightly different direction: a little less mystery, a little more of the characters and their lives. It's been fun to get back to Darling again, after a longish time away.
Also in the news: The General's Women--my third biographical/historical--novel is out this week in print (hardcover/paper), ebook, and audio. If your library doesn't have it yet, please ask them to order it. It's the story (a true one) of Eisenhower, his Irish driver, Kay Summersby, and his wife Mamie, during the chaotic years of World War 2--and some new information about Kay's American life after the war.
And one more bit: I heard last week from the team that is working on the film project for A Wilder Rose, which looks like it might become a TV cable-channel mini-series. They're making good forward progress--fingers crossed that it will actually happen!
Reading note. I am one of those who has no trouble imagining the sentient lives of trees, of their leaves in some fashion communicating or of the massy trunks and heavy branches knowing it is I who have come, as I always come, each morning, to walk beneath them, glad to be alive and glad to be there.--Mary Oliver, "Sister Turtle," in Winter Hours