In Bloom: First Day of Spring

Well, bluebonnets, of course. And pyracantha, yellow Missouri primrose, daffodils, paintbrush, Texas mountain laurel, redbuds, dogwood, and more. Late March and early April paint the Hill Country with lovely swathes of color, before summer blasts through and turns everything brown. These are among my favorite days of the year here at Meadow Knoll, where the resident flock of wild turkeys–a dozen or more hens and three or four toms with magnificent tails–are parading through the green grass of the south meadow. The hummingbirds are here and yesterday I saw a fox.

Spring also brings Easter, and with it a long tradition of egg crafts. Years ago, I indulged in pysanky-making: traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs, made with a “lost-wax” process that requires beeswax, a few tools, lots of patience, and plenty of time.

I’ve given most of my pysanky away, but here are a few I have left, in a pecan bowl that Bill made for me. The smaller eggs are the legacy of our chickens and ducks, the larger one is a gift of Mama Superior, our gray Toulouse goose, who unfailingly laid a couple of dozen eggs every spring and (with Papa Macho) cheerfully raised an annual flock of six or eight. (Happily, finding homes for gray geese wasn’t much of a challenge here in our rural area.) I still have my pysanky tools. Maybe someday . , ,

On the writing desk. Someone Always Nearby is in production and will be out in November. I’ve gone back to Pecan Springs, to China’s 29th (would you believe it?) mystery: Forget Me Never. The signature herbs will be a collection of nootropics, plants that have been used for centuries in many cultures to enhance cognitive function and  improve memory, concentration, and focus. As usual, China is teaching me more than I ever imagined about these plants and I’m grateful for all the new research that’s emerging. We’re living longer than our grandmothers, but getting older means forgetting more. Anything that helps us hang onto our brainpower is good news.

Reading, and more. I know that many of you join me in becoming increasingly concerned about the current hysteria-fired book banning. So I wanted to share a recent post from National Public Radio: Plot twist: Activists skirt book bans with guerrilla giveaways and pop-up libraries.  China was inspired by the post to add some guerilla-library shelves to her Thyme & Seasons shop. The sign reads “Banned Book Nook. Borrow and Share!” I hope you’ll be seeing some of these little libraries in your neighborhood. And that you’ll do what you can. wherever you are, to counter this dangerous, politically-inspired craziness. My young life–I grew up in small-town Illinois in the 1950s–was changed by books. The right to read is one of our greatest privileges. We can’t let anybody take it away.

Reading note. You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. –Ray Bradbury

Update: Here is the story behind the ongoing lawsuit over banned books in Llano County, TX, another Hill Country county:  This is the situation in Texas:


58 comments on “In Bloom: First Day of Spring

  1. As a former librarian (47 years in one library!), I am appalled at the current “ban books” culture. Even here in liberal Massachusetts there are stirrings of unrest about books that have been in cuiculation for a centruy! Good for you to support libraries. They are one of our last bastions of freedom.

  2. Mary, I agree about the trickiness of “can’t happen here.” (I am currently reading Sinclair Lewis’ novel by that name.) But I see many instances of pirated books on the internet–books are easy to copy and distribute. I think of sites like Substack and the many new publishing platforms online. And I know how book files can be downloaded to personal computers and phones. You’re right about invasive watchers–they’re with us now. But I have to believe that we won’t have to resort to memorizing books (remember Farenheit 451?) to keep them with us. (And after a quarter century of writing mysteries, I’m pretty paranoid, too.)

  3. I think you are right on about the effects of censorship on creativity, but I am not so sure that it is impossible to absolutely ban books. “It can’t happen here” is a tricky assertion. The electronic world has made the possibility of absolute invasive watching not only possible, but here in the present. And with a political change–well, no one is immune to terror. I have heard too many stories of historical & present day suffering to discount threats to our country…I know I sound paranoid, but cruelty unfortunately is alive and well.

  4. Oh, I didn’t think you were flip at all, Sandy! I agree: it’s impossible now to absolutely ban books. There are too many different ways to get them. I mentioned the chilling effect on authors/publishers because that’s not spoken of as often as the effect of banned books on readers/communities. But in a way, it’s more insidious and even more dangerous: it inhibits creative expression (especially agenda-driven writing) at the source. And that’s a very real threat.

  5. Thank you for replying with your insights as a writer. My apologies for being flip about this topic of banning books. It is of course a very serious topic. I truly am appreciative of what you have had to say on the topic. And very happy to read the posts of everyone’s love of their libraries and ways to save them.

  6. Thank you, Aline! I hope your library is able to continue to resist the current bombardment. And here in Texas and elsewhere, it’s not just politicians. A few members of the public have organized politically and are imposing their views on the community.

  7. I support our local library which has a community room for all sorts of activities. As the former president
    of the board of trustees I am sure we will continue to serve the public and not politicians.

  8. I gain inspiration from your post. I and my 6 co-plaintiffs in Llano need all the encouragement we can get.

  9. Boston may have a reputation as a bastion of liberals and liberty, but we had a demonstration by neonazis last year in my indie neighborhood. These threatening movements are growing in Massachusetts as elsewhere. In fact, Mass is a big target for them. Becasue we are a key state for protection of various rights. If my father, a Captain of the Artillery in WW2, were still around, he would be livid.

  10. Even I–a voracious and wide reader–am amazed every day to learn something new (and important) about our history. So much has been buried because of political agendas. Stories like the one you tell in your book, Anne, are so, so important–especially now. We need to claim our full heritage, in spite of the efforts to whitewash our history.

  11. I love your newsletters! For the above discussion: Books and history are important! Recently, I learned of a woman, an American, who had never , in 60 some years, heard about the imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans (even babies) by their fellow citizens from 1942-45. The repercussions for those families is still felt, three generations later. She was buying my book, TWO DAYS AND ONE SUITCASE, because she knew nothing of this part of our history, and was going to read it and then give it to her granddaughter.

  12. From a reader via the contact page:
    Books are the gateway to the world and libraries (either formal or at home) are precious. One of my fondest memories is of the public library of my growing up years in Fredericksburg, Texas. It was located in the Vereinskirche (a replica of the original) and Miss Peden was the librarian. Hot summers would find my cousin, Mary Frances, and me riding our bicycles (barefoot) and spending our afternoons reading comics and checking out very worn, tattered Nancy Drew mysteries. In the 1950s most of us went barefoot all summer long except for church.
    As I got older, I once attempted to check out The Catcher in the Rye” and was questioned by a disapproving Miss Peden. But she let me take it out. The point is that the book was “there” in the library. That library, those books set me on a life long journey and a wonderful education.–Helen Kott

  13. It’s a long story, Sheila. The books were written in the early 90s, before digital publication became a Thing. The original publisher of those first three books claims to hold the e-rights but ignores requests to publish them. So we’re stuck. The audio edition of all three will be available in the next couple of months. That’s the best I can do for now.

  14. Oh, no, Liz–don’t tell me our crud is creeping north! Yes, born in England in the truly difficult days of the late 40s–I can see why you’re so aware of the dangers of fascism and hatred. Here, our experience of that, blurred by time and distance, has been swept under the rug. It feels “new” to us. And it shouldn’t.

  15. I’m easily bored, I’m afraid, Becky, and always looking for something new to dig into. And I confess to being a little puzzled by writers who spend their writing-and-reading lives in just one place, one period, one character ensemble. To each her own, of course. But that’s not me. I admire writers who work across periods, places, genres–and readers who venture out, too.

  16. Oh, Mary, I love that little story! Blessings on Mrs. Boyd, who knew exactly what that child needed to hear.

  17. Town library. Mrs Boyd with cat’s eye glasses. First manilla cardboard library card. (Of many)

    ‘How many books can I take out?

    ‘You can take a wheelbarrow full as long as you bring them back on time!’

    Eyes shining, life changed forever. I walked past that library to and from school for 8 years. Never had the wheelbarrow but some very heavy bookbags!

  18. Dear Susan,
    What a wonderful sight the Blue Bonnets are.
    I am sad to hear such terrible things are going on. My dear friend lives in Texas and tells me horror stories.
    Here in British Columbia Canada it is wavering in the distance, but we can see the writing on the wall. I am English by birth a child born just after the second World War and remember the terrors of the evil that swept Europe, instilled in us at home and School. That this evil should come again is beyond imagination.
    On a lighter note Looking forward to your new Peacan Springs adventure Thank you.

  19. I love my ability to pick up one of your books and live in different eras. I’ve read your biographies and China’s adventures and the ladies in the 1930’s. So many carefully written books are a treasure. It makes me aware of some the history of our nation I find interesting. Cheers to you and your books!

  20. How funny, Mary! A Siamese consented to let me live with him for 15 years. He knew how to use that meow!

  21. Thank you for all the great and interesting stories! I’ve learnedaot from China and her friends.

  22. Amazon doesn’t seem to have Kindle versions of the first few China Bayles books available. Earliest appears to be Rosemary Remembered. Are they available in any electronic format? I’d love to pick them up…

  23. Sorry, Ginger–Forget Me Never will be out in 2024. As a librarian once said to me when I was waiting for a book, “You’ll just have to contain your soul in patience.” 🙂 (But I’m glad you’re asking.)

  24. Blessings on the bookmobiles. We didn’t have one in our rural Illinois county, and there were a few years growing up when books just weren’t available in summer. Which makes me appreciate them even more now. Such luxury, to be able to buy and download a book at 11 o’clock at night!

  25. I’ve had some of those “donor regrets” too, Jill. I guess we could always make more–for just ourselves.

  26. Oh, yes, rain! And wouldn’t it be lovely to have a soaking rain with no dramatics?

  27. I always love to hear that a reader has donated gently-read books to her library. And ESPECIALLY when it’s one of mine!

  28. Sarah, I can imagine you at 10-12, reading everything. You must have been a whirlwind, sweeping it all up!

  29. She’s teaching me about nootropic herbs–and reminding me (in case I forget) what fun it is to connect with readers! 🙂

  30. An easy way to ban books online or anywhere: create a chilling effect that says to bottom-line-conscious publishers: If you publish these books, we’ll ban them and you’ll lose money. And to authors: If you write that, we’ll ban you and you’ll have wasted a year of your time.

  31. We’re at the end of miles of country gravel road, so no Little Libraries in our area. I think that’s most a town thing. But we had peacocks for years and loved them, noisy as they were. Every time the phone rang in the house, they would call back. I remember having to explain to a NY editor, more than once, that we weren’t killing babies in our back yard. That’s what their calls sounded like!

  32. With a librarian mother, you must have felt you were born in a library. Fortunate, Pam!

  33. Yes, some small libraries don’t have enough funding and aren’t able to find/keep the professional staff they need to develop wide holdings. Sad when they only meet the reading choices of a few patrons.

  34. Thank you, Sue. I endorse your encouragement. The bans are part of–and a result of–a larger effort.

  35. I urge folks who have the time and energy to consider running for their local school boards. There is a determined group of people who are being prepped and supported to take over school boards and elected county positions. They are pushing dangerous propaganda and are seeking to restrict freedoms.

  36. love China’s guerilla bookshelves!
    My childhood library was way downtown, and we never visited. Luckily our community had a book mobile that came to my suburban neighborhood on a weekly schedule. We were so far out of town we were surrounded by asparagus fields and juice grape vineyards. We could glean all we wanted once the pickers had been through.
    My schoolteacher mom brought me reading books from her school so I could have books to read. Otherwise, it would be a very long summer.

  37. Looking forward to the new book, I’ve read all of them from the first one. I also did psanky for a short while. So much fun uncovering the designs from all that wax! I did a series of quilt designs. Sure wish I hadn’t given them away.

  38. We DO love Spring in the Hill Country, but we sure could use some rain. Looking forward to China’s new adventures. We always look forward to your posts, and your suggestions for reading material. Thank you, Susan.

  39. Oh how I miss Texas Bluebonnets. I love Santa Fe, NM and the difference in plants, birds, animals and the weather. But no Bluebonnets. I have been told that they cant be planted here if planted in early spring and sometimes they will bloom. Early spring so far has been snow, snow, and more snow. Each drop needed and appreciated. I may give Bluebonnets a try when the weather is warmer.

  40. I’m a Friend of our local library. At our last book sale in Oct, we had a “Banned Books” table. Most of them sold. Our next semi-annual sale is coming up in Apr and I’m sure we’ll have another “Banned” table. Have read and love your China Bayles books, Robin Page books, and your Beatrice Potter books.
    I ran out of room for all of them, so donated them to our library Friends group to sell. Looking forward to the next China Bayles adventure.

  41. Amen to this, Susan! “The right to read is one of our greatest privileges. We can’t let anybody take it away.” Someone once asked my mother why she let me read comic books. (I loved Batman and Robin!).
    “She reads everything she can get her hands on,” my mother said. I read Gone With the Wind somewhere between ages 10 and 12. Reading was my life and the beginning of my writing career.

  42. My mother and my dad’s youngest sister taught me to read before I ever went to school. I can still remember getting down in the kitchen floor with the newspaper and reading things from it to my mom while she made dinner. Mom would put my sister in her stroller and we’d make the trek to the library every Saturday. I looked forward to it every week! Mom NEVER censored what I read. When I was 14 I bought a paperback copy of The Happy Hooker with my own money. I hid it under my mattress so, of course, Mom found it when she was changing the sheets. The only thing she did was ask me if I understood what I was reading. She didn’t take it away. I have no children of my own, but a couple of my nieces were readers. They always came to Auntie Mel when they wanted books! The very idea that ANYONE thinks they have the right to tell others what they can read just totally blows my mind!

  43. So much to be thankful for in this post! Your beautiful part of the world and the rather special bits of Ukranian Easter tradition you have shared, Nootropics (rather fond of ashwagandha, myself) and you Susan and All of the books you have written for us!
    I recently found a copy of The Darling Dahlias and the Naked Ladies and wondered if it had already found its way to someone’s banned books list, simply by the title. All the better to put it on Sandy’s pop-up library – free books on a card table in front of our garage.
    As much as I love a book in my hands, and libraries!!! I find it very hard to imagine how anyone will truly ban books online. What… are they going to start clearing the shelves of the Library of Congress?
    Must add that the whole idea of eliminating things in school that people find they are uncomfortable with, is laughable. My list would include two would be kingpins in Florida for starters.

  44. We have different wildflowers here, but it’s just as wonderful when they start blooming. Even weeds have flowers – lovely ones, some of them. And here, in the Pasadena area – no wild turkeys, but that’s all right. We have peacocks. And they are in full array. (peahens, on the other hand, are drab little brown birds.)

    I’m perfectly happy to tell someone that I think this or that book is a lousy book, that I wouldn’t spend money on it, BUT they should go check it out of the library and share their opinion. Who knows, they may really, really like it.

    Do you have the little free libraries in your area? They are all over here – great idea, where you can put a book or two that you’re finished with and don’t want to keep. (Or try one you haven’t seen before)

  45. I am envious of your book borrowing experience. I recently contacted my local county library to uncover the library opportunities available to me back when I was in elementary school. It was as asbysmal as I thought. When I had my own children, I made sure we lived in a town with a working library.

  46. I can imagine the beauty in your area now, I hope you can enjoy every second of every day. Those pysanky eggs are gorgeous! My Mom was a librarian and I was allowed to read anything I wanted to growing up. I cannot imagine being told no! That would make me want to read it even more. I encourage everyone to read every banned book.

  47. My parents taught me to read when I was about 4, They were both teachers. I have always loved reading. When I was 5 I got to meet Carl Sandburg who wrote a children’s book I loved. (The Rootabaga Stories) He was speaking at the college where my dad taught. Then many years later I got to meet you Susan when you came to speak at a library in Montoursville, PA. I have read and own ALL of your books so far. I also like growing herbs which helps.

    Last year I read 118 books!!! I read every chance I get and always have a book with me in case there are a few moments with nothing to do. Reading brings me great joy!

  48. I grew up near a small town in Iowa in the ’50s. Books saved me. We didn’t have a large library, but Mom sent to the Iowa State Library in Des Moines and got a selection of books for my sister and me. We could keep them for six weeks. Of course, I read them all the first few days. I’ve never lost my love of reading..

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