Writer’s Block: The Sweet Smell of Spring

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Well, we’ve had weeks of cold weather, followed by a few days of Indian summer, followed by a few more weeks of cold weather. And then fog. Lingering, day-long fog has plagued the Laguna Madre for so long that I’ve gone from loving the novelty of grounded clouds to being fed up with the sticky dampness and invisible skyline the never ending banks of fog bring.

But, if Mother Nature is any indication, all that weather — which is pleasant in its own ways in small doses — is now behind us. How do I know? Well, everywhere I look, there are signs of spring!

It started with a pop of warm, creamy white sticking up above the dull greens of the chaparral with its mass of spindly, rugged plants perfectly acclimated to the heat and sun of Deep South Texas. The flash of white came from a yucca plant that had gotten a head start on its brethren. I saw it as I drove down Highway 100 one day and I knew it meant that soon the entire countryside would be dotted with similar sights.

Yuccas are always one of the first plants to herald spring in the Rio Grande Valley. From the top of the sharp, knife-shaped blades of their leaves they send up long stems filled with a fat bunch of delicate white flowers.

I saw the first yucca blooming just a couple of weeks ago. This week, every single yucca in the area seems to be boasting a bouquet of flowers.

And it’s not just the yuccas. Earlier this week I noticed another color complimenting their verdant greens and whites. I caught it out of the corner of my eye, at first — a smudge of yellow-orange. As I looked again I realized that, yes, the shrubby tree which had appeared to be solid green just the day before was now a shade not unlike goldenrod. The mesquites are in bloom, too!

It won’t be long now before nopales — prickly pear cactus — begin showing blooms of their own in shades of fiery red orange, magenta and lemon yellow.

Yuccas, mesquites and prickly pear are plants that are well suited for the long summers of the Valley, but there’s more to them than pretty flowers. They also have many uses as foods, or in making textiles.

It’s not uncommon to see the fleshy pads of nopales served in Mexican restaurants during Lent, for instance. But did you know you can also eat parts of the mesquite tree? And no, I don’t mean using the richly red, cedar-like wood for fueling your barbecue pit, though there is that, too.

No, I mean the leaves and the flowers. Both can be made into a tea. As can the pods mesquite trees produce once the flowers go to seed. I can remember playing outside my grandmother’s house as a child and idly sucking on mesquite beans, savoring their sweet, tamarind-like flavor.

Likewise, yucca flowers are edible, as well. One popular way to eat them is scrambled with a couple of eggs. That’s one recipe I have yet to try myself, though.

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