As much as I love the live oaks and cedars of Texas Hill Country, my favorite tree is the mesquite. We had one in front of our house in San Antonio. Live oaks keep their leaves year round, shedding them when the weather turns warmer in the Spring to be quickly replaced by new leaves. Mesquites, on the other hand, lose their leaves when the weather turns cold. It was my experience that the mesquite did not sprout new leaves until it was sure that no cold nights would return. Some grasses, flowers, and shrubs would blossom with the first sign of warm weather and then suffer when a night turned frosty. Not the mesquite.
The foliage of mesquite, live oak, and cedar is adapted to minimize surface area exposed to the hot sun, thus minimizing water loss. Of the two deciduous trees, mesquite’s leaves are smaller and more openly spaced, making for a shade that feels like standing under a delicate lace on a hot summer day. Mesquites spread deep root systems to catch as much ground moisture as they can, enabling them to survive in even drier environments. So I was not surprised to see more mesquites on my drive the other day when I headed south into San Antonio.
I wrote the following poem many years ago to honor a woman who had been very helpful to my son, but it is not just about her. It is about all Texas women, particularly the poor and working women of all races who find ways to flourish in a hard social and economic environment.
Mesquites are tough mothers, pregnant
with Spring, taking cold showers
bare naked in March.
This mother’s mesquite, deep Texas
her roots, warily watching
north for the frosts:
itinerant Yankees who wander through town
trampling bluebonnets too soon from the ground.
Once she’s decided
you’re not going to snap,
her tight little frame
unwinds with its charms,
flowing in phrases that capture the sun,
subtly suggesting shade where there’s none.