The Visitation

Every year, Easter billows with blue flowers two feet high adorning hillside overpasses, gracing derelict cemeteries, and carpeting the ranches of Central Texas. The flowers are a variety of lupine, but to us, they are bluebonnets. With blooms so thick they pass for lakes bordered by barbed wire, the flowers mirror the cerulean sky above while cattle graze knee deep in flowery waves. Rich green cedar and live oak trees stud the pastures like lily pads, and families photograph their children sitting amidst the flowers on the roadsides.

My family has raised Black Angus cattle in central Texas since the 1800s, and most years we take a bluebonnet picture in a pasture on the ranch. My mother lines up the children and our father takes the photograph. But last year we suffered the worst drought in our state’s recorded history. All of our ponds dried up except one — fed by a spring — and even that dwindled to a muddy pit surrounded by white granite fossils, bones of extinct sea creatures. The cattle were sold. Our live oak trees already suffered from “the decline,” as people call it — a disease that kills them off slowly, turning branches ashy and eventually taking the whole tree. Once graciously shady, the disease combined with the drought caused the aged giants to retreat inside of themselves — their would-be green leaves took on a sickly, silvery sheen or dropped to the cracked earth beneath.

We were not alone. Across the state lakes looked more like rock quarries — deep chasms in the earth with thick muddy water solidifying below. Ranchers sold their cattle for early slaughter, unable to feed them. Farmers took a loss on their crops.

The bluebonnets never bloomed.

By August we should have had high, weedy grasses swaying in the wind, but instead we had high winds and fires that burned almost four million acres. Texas required the help of all fifty states as well as Puerto Rico in order to combat the flames. One hundred and ten degree temperatures heated the ground so that even our night air remained above ninety degrees. Ranchers and farmers went bankrupt. Concrete-loving city dwellers could not fill their pools or dampen their lawns. Extreme water rationing even forbade hand-watering potted plants in some areas. People lost their livestock, their livelihoods, their lives.

In September my grandmother seeded bluebonnets along her country drive, like usual, and my husband and I drove with our three-week-old daughter and a slim paper packet of seeds to contribute. But on our way we passed through foul-smelling earth — formerly a verdant state park full of Loblolly pines and oak trees, now a coven of black spires. Burnt conifers and tangles of arthritic oak branches remained. Fire trucks parked along the road and men in uniform scouted the area — monitoring like a militant border patrol — signaling drivers to find another route.

I couldn’t help but think, “This is what hell must be like.” It was Dante’s Inferno or McCarthy’s The Road in real life, and I was afraid.

I twisted around in my seat to watch our newborn daughter, cuddled with her blankets and sleeping through the ride. I wanted to say that it would all grow back. That I, too, would one day take a bluebonnet picture of my own daughter shaded by live oak trees. That the trees surely dropped seeds and those seeds would grow into seedlings, saplings, and young trees. But we passed in silence. The Loblolly pines would recuperate, but live oaks grow too slowly. Hundreds of years would have to pass. The land cannot return in time for my daughter.

We prayed. Our family prayed. Our church prayed. Even stoic news anchors attempted to ask people to pray. But I prayed sparingly — for the necessary, not the abundant. I bargained, as if a little bit would be easier for God. I prayed that God might send a hurricane, but that it wouldn’t flood Galveston. For a morsel of grass to feed the cattle in the Hill Country. For droplets to fall on Pecos cantaloupe in West Texas and Ruby Red Grapefruit in the valley. I prayed to God as if He were stingy and mean, and then at Christmas when we saw the dying live oaks I bit my lower lip as if it were an inevitable shame. I didn’t think to pray for bluebonnets.

But a framed poem hung in my dining room, written by a woman with a knowing smile and sparkling eyes — a woman from a greener state who seemed to understand drought despite her geography. I read the poem several times a day as I opened the curtains in the morning, when I went to check for the mail, after I set the table for dinner. And I prayed through her poem.

    Feel the pull of prayer in the hot dark.
    Tell God nothing can live without water,

    water, which is 70% of what you're praying with,
    rivers longing through you for more water.
    That's when it comes to you:

    in prayer lies prayer's answer. In the calling out,
    the visitation.

    So water rises from its knees, believing water
   will come.1

And over the winter it rained.

Green patches appeared on the meteorologists’ maps, and I called my family to see if water fell on our land. For Easter we drove home with our daughter, now waving her arms from the back seat. We left Dallas eyeing every blade of green grass with hunger as if to devour it for ourselves and horde it. But God was not stingy. Cattle feasted in verdant pastures. Horses grazed and flicked their tails while water ran alongside the ditches in streams. Ponds overflowed into marshy pastures. The drought had killed the non-native grasses completely, but it left room for the wildflowers to thrive. Indian paintbrush in coral, red, and fuchsia glowed brilliantly amidst the green. Yellow Plains Coreopsis lit up the roadside. Deep purple wine cups told stories of a glorious God. And bluebonnets rising up higher than I remembered. They mirrored the Texas sky above — after a year of dormancy an ocean of sapphire met the horizon.

Finally home, I waded through the pasture carrying my child. The remaining live oak trees still looked stressed, but new green leaves pushed through. I knelt in an ocean of blooms and handed my daughter a flower.

Photo: Jessica Eddings-Roeser

 1. Excerpt: “Praying for Rain in Santa Fe” by Jeanne Murray Walker, New Tracks, Night Falling

Jessica Eddings-Roeser is a writer and mother who currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband and daughter. While she has a background in education, she is currently home and writing while her family sleeps. Jessica has an MFA from Seattle Pacific University.

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