Deep in the heart of Texas bluebonnet country
PerriAngela Wickham could barely contain herself during her last webcast.
“Bluebonnet bloom status update: It’s exploding out there, guys!” she exclaimed.
“I think it’s time to get in the car and drive around,” Wickham said, nodding to her scouting partner, Cathy Alba, of San Antonio.
“As soon as we’re done, I am out of here and I am going straight to Mule Shoe Bend,” Wickham said.
Mule Shoe Bend, a state recreation area named after the surrounding curve of the Colorado River, is home to a field that Wickham describes in mythic proportions: an intense, violet-blue sea at its peak, the size of several football fields.
But would it still be a “field of dreams” in mid-April?
It has been a rainy spring, yet Texas is in the grip of a drought.
“More of Texas is blooming. But it’s also a year where some of them got too much rain, which is not good because bluebonnets don’t like to get their feet wet,” Wickham said, calling them “an ornery flower.”
Wickham has spent years driving back roads in search of the expansive “carpets” of bluebonnets that she refers to as “thick and juicy.” A Texan now working as a middle school librarian in Alexandria, Va., she knows what it’s like to miss the “three Bs” — Texas Blue Bell ice cream, brisket and bluebonnets.
Forget the yellow rose — the official flower of the Lone Star state is the bluebonnet, lupinus texensis.
And like all things Texas, its following is big. There are bluebonnet license plates, boots, even an Austin-based glam blues rock band. Texans have been known to stop traffic on busy highways to photograph the blooms, often as the backdrop for babies, brides or cattle.
But when Wickham started soliciting reports about bluebonnets online four years ago, Wickham said even she underestimated the flower’s appeal to Texans.
“I thought I was starting a website about a pretty flower. I didn’t realize how emotional Texans are about them,” said Wickham, who favors prim Oxford shirts and is never without her lipstick. “Then I started getting reports from around the world.”
Many came from fellow displaced Texans.
“I got an email from a soldier in Afghanistan saying he was homesick in the middle of the night and found my website. It’s those kismet moments when the world becomes so much smaller,” she said as she grabbed a breakfast of eggs and grits with Alba at the Bluebonnet Cafe — but of course — in Marble Falls, about 40 miles northwest of Austin.
Then the two, both 51, hit the road for a scouting trip Wickham calls their “bluebonnet frolic.”
Part of the reason Wickham’s following has grown is the nature of bluebonnets. The seeds, like Texans themselves, are notoriously tough and must be roughed up or “scarified” to bloom. As a result, they don’t always flower in the same place.
Hence the scouting trips.
Wickham, with her thick head of silvery hair, has become an icon on the Texas flower stalker scene. The waitress at the Bluebonnet Cafe knew her by sight, and the pair were stopped throughout the day at roadsides by fans.
Wickham begins monitoring bluebonnets in the fall. They don’t bloom until March, and the season lasts six to eight weeks.
Her website solicits field reports from bluebonnet fans, who this year discovered fields at, among other odd spots, a closed veterinary school, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, a former plantation and a Wal-Mart.
“Sounds like there’s a field in front of Harris Hospital” in Fort Worth, Wickham wrote. “Y’all be nice to them and #Don’tStompBluebonnets.”
Follower Abby Wood of Roanoke, Texas, advised, “Park on the west side of the hospital. Paths have been worn out into the field, but beware that it is muddy.”
Wickham refers to those who trample the flowers, either out of ignorance or in an effort to snap the perfect photo, as “yahoos.” This year, one of Wickham’s followers reported seeing a couple of yahoos drive a vintage Mustang into Mule Shoe Bend, crushing blooms as they repositioned the car several times.
Wickham and Alba also have nicknames for their favorite types of fields.
Those south of San Antonio tend to be “fiesta fields,” a rainbow mix of bluebonnets, yellow coreopsis, white prickly poppies, magenta wine cups and orange Indian paintbrush.
Those south of Dallas are “rolling hills and carpets.”
And then there are the rare fields they classify as “OMG,” and, even rarer, “triple OMG.”
They started this day’s scouting trip by following up on a tip from a Facebook follower. It was an overcast morning, with fog lingering atop surrounding hills. Farther up the road they found stone fences, rustic barns, windmills and another Texas icon: orange longhorn cattle roaming amid the bluebonnets.
“This is Texas right here,” Wickham said.
Soon after, they ran into a fan: grizzled landscape photographer Johnny Boyd, who had spent the last four days in the area. Today, he said, traffic tripled.
“Somebody must have posted about it,” Wickham said.
“It’s like fishing,” he said. “You got your honey hole, and until you get everything you want out of it, you don’t tell nobody.”
“Did you even go to Mule Shoe yet?” Wickham asked.
No, Boyd said.
As they drove up the road, Alba kept stopping so they could snap photographs and post them online, with Wickham gushing, “Gosh that’s nice — oh, my word!”
A family from Houston pulled up and began snapping photographs, exclaiming, “That’s your Christmas card!”
Wickham deemed the road a definite “OMG.”
But she advised the group to keep driving to Mule Shoe.
“Nothing compares to Mule Shoe — Mule Shoe’s my baby,” she said as they nodded, mesmerized.
“And roll down your windows before you get there. You’re going to smell if before you see it,” Wickham said, describing the scent as “a mix of lavender and freesia with a little baby powder. It’s very heady.”
She noted that the Japanese have a word, “wabi,” that can describe the ephemeral, spiritual experience of seeing sakura, the blossoming cherry tree.
As they left for Mule Shoe, Wickham tried to describe the equivalent for bluebonnets.
“They fit in with people at every stage of their lives: They’re the child being put in them, then they’re placing their kids in them, and then they’re the elderly couple returning.”
Finally, they reached Mule Shoe and Alba pulled onto a dirt road leading to the field. “OK,” Wickham said. “Roll down the windows.”
Trees obscured the view. “I’m not smelling them,” she said, “God, I hope they’re not withered.”
They passed a Boy Scout troop camped in the grass.
“I hope the Boy Scouts are not in them,” she said.
But as the women cleared the initial woods by the park gate, Mule Shoe Bend appeared in all of its promised splendor: several football fields long, violet blue against the gray of the river.
Later, as they were preparing to leave, they heard a buzzing overhead. They looked up, and suddenly, a red, white and blue plane appeared. As they waved and whooped, the pilot gave them a thumbs up, flying loop-de-loops above the field.
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