Q: Every year at wildflower time my wife, whom I love dearly, insists that I come with her and the kids for the annual bluebonnet portrait. I usually protest a little but inevitably end up out there on the side of the road with them. Do I really have to go this year?
A: The Texanist looks forward with giddy anticipation to wildflower season, when springtime’s resplendent splash of Lupinus texensis heralds the annual promise (as short-lived or downright empty as it may be) of rejuvenation to the winter wilted. J. Frank Dobie, our great tale-teller and petal-smeller, once declared that no other bloom provides “such upsurging of the spirit and at the same time such restfulness.” The Texanist is in agreement. When the full splendor of the bluebonnet’s azure blossom is realized across a bucolic landscape, it is a fact that a first-rate photo op is at hand. However, long-held regional tradition dictates that unless one is a toddling child whose button nose is like a magnet to fluttering butterflies, one is not legally required to sit for amateur roadside bluebonnet portraiture. Children are stuck with it, but you, sir, are a grown man and, as such, can make a defensible case for Lupinus texensis avoidus . This year, when the time comes, simply be steadfast and mulelike in your refusals. Your spouse’s spirit, as Mr. Dobie observed, will upsurge, and a string of profanities, like a garland of roses, will encircle you. Be advised therefore that the blessed restfulness of which Mr. Dobie speaks will evaporate should you choose this course. Yet fear not, as this particular unpleasantness, like the wildflower itself, will in due time subside unto the earth from whence it sprungeth.
Q: I was wondering if you could explain proper bluebonnet protocol. I was always taught not to pick any bluebonnets, because they belonged to Texas. Is this true?
Lindsey Bacon Bertrand
A: Texas is crisscrossed by more miles of public roadways than any other state in the union, and from the time these scenic byways were first blazed through the wilderness, our ingenious forebears have been toiling, often in obscurity, to ensure that there would be a sufficient number of attractions along them. It is thanks to the efforts of these pioneers that we have so many spots at which to pull over and snap photos, worthy locales like the Cadillac Ranch, in Amarillo; the Beer Can House, in Houston; the Leaning Water Tower, of Groom; the former World’s Largest Pecan, in Seguin; and Pancho Villa’s mummified trigger finger, in El Paso, to name just a few. But the works of man, sublime though they may be, will always pale in comparison with the annual blossoming of bluebonnets. Lupinus texensis—as she is known to, well, nobody—is, along with four other lupines, the state flower, and as such she does belong to Texas, but only in the sense that enchiladas and the music of Bob Wills do. No statute on the books prevents you from plucking a bouquet from the public medians and shoulders alongside our highways (as for flowers growing on private property, the Texanist assumes you need not ask that question). Yet even though the uprooting of one of these blossoms will not result, as many children are taught, in the sudden arrival of an angry posse of Texas Rangers, come to drag you off by your ear and toss you in the hoosegow, you should nonetheless refrain. While not officially outlawed, the act of pulling up a bluebonnet remains a Texas taboo of the highest order, worse than even vegetarianism or rooting for the Redskins. Proper protocol is simple: Leave the flowers in the state in which they were found, which is to say, unpicked.
Q: If Texas had a state dog, what would it be? I’d have to say an Australian cattle dog (blue heeler) due to their intelligence and outstanding work ethic. Sounds like a Texan to me. What is your take on this?
Charleston, South Carolina (physically); Uvalde (mentally)
A: Shortly after receiving your e-mail, the Texanist received your postscript in which you told of its having been subsequently brought to your attention that the blue Lacy was named the official state dog breed of Texas in June 2005 and that the news had probably gone unnoticed to you because your focus at the time was on your military service (for which thank you very much). Nevertheless, the matter of how our state’s official symbols are chosen had already triggered the Texanist’s thought process, which, like an untrained puppy, is nearly impossible to call back. It is clear, for instance, that the Legislature does not discriminate against potential state symbols on the basis of country of origin, meaning that were the blue Lacy unavailable, your Australian cattle dog might just fit the bill. Most of our symbols do hail from Texas (our fruit, the Texas red grapefruit; our gem, the Texas blue topaz; and our reptile, the Texas horned lizard, to name just three), but our official state cooking implement is the Dutch oven and our official state flying mammal is the Mexican free-tailed bat. In light of the many cultural strands that constitute the great state, the Texanist considers it an admirably tolerant immigration policy to simply say, as you put it, “Sounds like a Texan to me.”
Q: If Texas were to adopt an official state pickle, do you think it would be a sweet pickle or a dill pickle?
A: Does the great state of Texas really need yet another officially designated food item? If so, and the choice came down to a sweet pickle or a dill pickle, the Texanist would, without hesitation, go with the dill. Specifically, he would want this pickle to be derived from the rich black soils of Zabcikville, a small community east of Temple where, in long-gone days, his mother would go to procure cucumbers and fresh dill from a kindly old woman of Czech descent to put up her own pickles. They were crisp and slightly spicy, and nothing the Texanist has tasted since comes close. So yes, it would have to be dill. The Texanist cannot abide a sweet pickle.
Q: As a sixth-generation Texan, I consider myself to be a very proud and somewhat knowledgeable connoisseur of Texas culture, but while lost in the midst of last month’s barbecue edition of Texas Monthly, I was struck by something. Why is chili our official state dish? Seems like barbecue would be the obvious choice, no? Can this wrong be righted?
A: In November 1978, just a year and a half after Governor Dolph Briscoe signed the Sixty-fifth Texas Legislature’s House Concurrent Resolution No. 18, the piece of legislation designating chili the official state dish of Texas, Paul Burka penned a scathing rebuke of the decision in these very pages. Like you, Burka was puzzled as to why a bowl of red would strike anyone as a more suitable symbol than barbecue. According to his research, the whole thing got rolling when a Marshall legislator, after failing to get the farkleberry named the official state berry, turned his attention to chili. Ultimately, the deal was sealed when the powerful chili lobby (compared, that is, with the farkleberry lobby) provided our esteemed, if somewhat easily persuaded, representatives at the Capitol with a 259-gallon pot of Texas red. Just as important, the Texanist suspects, were the 24 cases of Pearl beer sent along to help wash it all down. Chili has been our state dish ever since. Does it have to be forever? No, ma’am, it does not. To accomplish the switcheroo you’ve envisioned, all you’ll need to do is get the House and Senate to pass another concurrent resolution, calling for barbecue to replace chili as the state’s official dish, and then have it all blessed with a gubernatorial signature. Give it a try! You will be remembered as the leader of the Great Texas Barbecoup. Since we’re plotting, the Texanist would suggest that it may require more, this time around, than a massive delivery of food and two dozen cases of beer to properly grease the wheels of democracy. Vive la résistance!