On fine spring days when the sky is blue and decked with clouds, a peculiar exodus takes place from Texas’ cities. People pack their loved ones—babies, betrotheds, favorite aunts, pets—out to the nearest and best patch of bluebonnets, set them down amid the prodigious blue, and snap their pictures. The photos are then put in albums, slipped into wallets, framed and hung on walls, or sent to out-of-state relatives. Sometimes they are published in yearbooks or entered into photo contests. Bluebonnet snapshots are a badge of place, proof of membership in the large and otherwise amorphous Texas clan. Frequently, other props are used in snapshots to indicate classes of Texans, such as a Cadillac or an oil derrick for the rich or a flashy oversized pickup for the urban cowboy, but the bluebonnet belongs to everyone.
An expanse of those blue and stalwart flowers strewn across a pasture or along a highway prompts such a welling-up of joy—it is to nature what an excellent symphonic passage is to music—that the bluebonnet has become the victim of profuse attempts to describe its perfection. Things of great beauty that also bear the burden of being common are difficult if not impossible to praise, and that explains why bluebonnets have inspired more clichés, doggerel, and bad art than any other of our indigenous emblems. J. Frank Dobie was at his worst when writing about bluebonnets (for example, in The Cattleman, May 1942: “The bluebonnet fragrance—a fragrance as intoxicating as some delicate