My favorite Texas wildflower is blooming in the little scrap of wetland we call Meadow Marsh. We’re lucky to have the native Texas bluebells, Eustoma exaltatum, aka blue gentian, prairie gentian, and blue marsh lily. They truly are exalted, and for me, the loveliest of all our Hill Country wildflowers. The medicinal use of these plants began some 5,000 years ago, to treat inflammations, fever, and digestive disorders.
Our gentians are having a good summer because of the lovely rain we had in the spring. If you’re driving along a country road and see them, take a photo, please. Don’t try to dig them up–they don’t transplat well. And if you take the seeds, take only a few, to give the plant a chance to reproduce itself in the place where you found it. They’re not on the “rare” or “endangered” lists, but they’re truly hard to find because their habitat is being destroyed by development.
Oh, and blue gentians are unrelated to gentium blue (also called crystal violet), a chemical dye that also has medicinal uses. Confusing, yes.
On the writing desk this week: the last pass through a Dahlias mystery set in the blistering summer of 1935 in little Darling, AL, beseiged by an arsonist.
The hot issues that year were political: FDR had just signed the Social Security Act, the New Deal was under constant attack from the right, and Senator Huey P. Long (who had recently escaped impeachment on corruption charges and was under investigation by the U.S. Senate for vote fraud) was raising a ruckus with his “Every Man a King” campaign.
There were tragedies: the Labor Day Hurricane destroyed several Florida Keys and killed hundrds of veterans working on the new Overseas Highway. Comedian Will Rogers and renowned aviator Wiley Post died in an Alaska plane crash. Huey Long died, as well, in a mysterious shooting in the Louisiana state capitol.
The 1935 news wasn’t all bad. Little House on the Prairie (by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane) was published, as was T.S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Fred Astaire was at the top of the 1935 pop charts with “Cheek to Cheek” (from the movie Top Hat, with the amazing Ginger Rogers). The overworked child star Shirley Temple hit a box-office bonanza with five (!) movies. And our mothers discovered a handy new product. Tampons came on the market, although they often had to be sold under-the-counter. (Of course, it wasn’t long before somebody discovered an unintended use for them.)
The book is called The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker. The manuscript goes to the copy editor in a couple of weeks. You should have it in April or May, 2022.
And yes, there will be a new China Bayles mystery. It’s called Hemlock. It will be available in print, ebook, and audio on September 7, 2021.
Reading note. Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves.― Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate