The Leading Edge of Spring

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It is raining pollen, so it must officially be spring in East Texas. As I walked the neighborhood on the last day of March — hard to believe that the year is already one-fourth gone — a steady breeze swept a mist of yellow dust across the landscape, and clumps of oak clusters fell on the pavement. My nose began itching, eyes watering. Yup, it’s spring all right.

Our neighborhood’s foliage looks a bit battered after the mid-February winter storm. Brown shrubs stand forlorn in front yards. Already, some folks are hiring landscapers to dig out and replace them. Not me. Not yet.

Our yard is filled with at least 75 azalea bushes that likely were planted when the house was built 40 years ago. Most are at least 6 feet high. After a low of -5 degrees and nearly a week being covered in snow, their leaves had turned brown. If the azaleas had truly died, our yard was going to look awfully barren. We followed the advice of gardening experts and… did nothing. A few weeks after the snow had melted and temperatures were back to normal, I snapped off the end of a small azalea branch, whose leaves had remained brown. Inside its bark, the twig was green. Hope remains.

As the weeks passed, new leaves began to appear on most of the azalea bushes. Then blooms began popping up — nothing like in years past but certainly a promising sign. I will continue to do nothing and let nature rebound for a few more months. By June, it will be time to prune what is truly dead.

I am forced to exercise restraint and not drag out the pressure washer and start cleaning the pollen off the house, the deck and sidewalks. At this point, it’s a waste of time and effort since everything will be covered with a fresh coat of yellow dust by the next day. Same goes with washing vehicles. Every time a thunderstorm rolls through, I think, “Maybe this is the one that will finally wash away the last of this wretched stuff.” Nope. Not yet.


Our dogwood tree survived the Great Freeze of 2021, blossoming just in time for Easter, itself a time for resurrection and renewal. Other hardwood trees are beginning to leaf out, and sweetgum balls are constantly dropping onto the driveway. Mollie the Granddog — an 8-pound Maltese with a 100-pound bark, loves running around the backyard with a sweetgum ball in her mouth. She also loves exchanging rounds of barking through the privacy fence with our backyard neighbor’s dog. Bruno is a friendly 50-pound shelter rescue. He sounds as fierce as Mollie, but it’s all show. Our neighbor and I met on the street the other day and discussed our bark-curbing tactics, which are the same — a spray bottle filled with water, with a range of about 15 feet. Mollie flashes me a look of indignation when I squirt her to curb the barking, but she immediately becomes silent.

As I walk the pollen-dusty streets of our neighborhood, I stop several times to take cellphone photos. Wisteria is in bloom, hanging off a few small trees in a cul-de-sac’s island. After the purple blooms drop, wisteria is not a particularly attractive shrub. But it sure does stand out in spring.


Leon Hale, my all-time favorite columnist, died on March 27, just two months shy of his 100th birthday. Hale spent 32 years as a columnist for the late Houston Post and another 30 years with the Houston Chronicle before retiring in 2014. Even then, he continued to write short blog posts that were gems, and his 12th and final book, See You Down the Road, was published just a few weeks before his death. I had just ordered a copy when I read of his passing.

For about 20 years, Hale, with his companion Old Friend Morgan, would chase spring by heading south, into Mexico or far West Texas, looking “to meet the leading edge of spring. To be certain it was coming.” OFM named the trip primavera, Spanish for spring. I eagerly awaited those pieces.

I never met Leon Hale, but I feel as if I have lost an old friend. Rest easy, Leon.

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