Around the flagpoles downhill from the pool, in front of the Family Program Building, and next to the chapel on Serenity Hill, large Texas sage bushes blossom into life at La Hacienda shortly after Hill Country summertime rains.
Honeybees swarm the blanket of pink blossoms, but butterflies love the plants with or without flowers. They lay their eggs on its gray-green leaves, and the resulting caterpillars feed on them but don’t harm the bushes, according to the North American Butterfly Association.
Texas sage is an ideal native plant for the Texas Hill Country. It grows quickly with little rainfall and likes our shallow, alkaline soil. The large bushes around the campus are probably less than 10 years old.
Because of the leaves’ coloration, it is also called Cenizo, Spanish for “ashen.” There’s a Mexican American folktale that gives the name a deeper meaning, one that fits the spiritual philosophy of finding answers through a power greater than ourselves.
A Prayer for Help
According to a 1927 retelling by Texan folklorist Jovita Gonzáles, “All the waterholes had dried up, and death and starvation ruled the prairie.” Seeing that the situation was beyond his resources to solve, a vaquero (cowboy) addressed God.
“¿Por qué no llueve, Dios mío?’ (‘Why do you not make it rain, my Lord?’) the vaquero said, looking up at the sky. And, with a sigh of resignation, he added, ‘Así es la suerte.’ (‘That’s the luck.’)
“There was just one possible way of salvation, that was prayer, prayer to the Virgin,” continued Gonzáles. “The cowmen gathered together and reverently knelt on the plain to beg for help. As the last prayer of the rosary was said, a soft breeze, a laguneño, blew from the east. Soon drops began to fall; all night the rain fell like a benediction.
“Filled with new hope, the people rose early the next day to see the blessing that had fallen over the land. And indeed it was a beautiful blessing. For as far as the eye could see, the plain was covered with silvery shrubs, sparkling with raindrops and covered with flowers, pink, lavender and white.
“It was a gift of the Virgin, and because the day was Ash Wednesday the shrub was called el cenizo. The interpretation given by the vaquero is charming, to say the least; the gray of the leaves signifies the Passion of Christ; the white flowers, the purity of the mother; and the pink, the new dawn for the cowmen and the resurrection of life.”
The folktale leans heavily on Catholic tradition, but no matter one’s faith system or spiritual beliefs, the message is the same. Sometimes you need to call on a higher power.
It’s something to think about the next time you’re on Serenity Hill, at the Family Program Building, or walking by the flagpoles. And if there’s been a recent rain, witness the lovely cenizos in their colorful celebration of life renewed.