I drove to the Lady Bird Wildflower Center on a Saturday afternoon, playing Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers” in my car. A little on the nose, I know, but it’s also a song about growing up and leaving home.
In hindsight, maybe the day after a Texas ice storm wasn’t the best time to go to a wildflower center. The plants were sparse and my rubber boots were coated in mud. But I wasn’t alone. The parking lot was full of cars filled with people hungry for sunshine.
I could hear a man shoveling ice, my boots crunching on the gravel, children playing games and a wind chime somewhere far off. Still, it was quiet;
. Quiet enough to hear the wind in the winter grasses and birds hopping in the bushes. It was quiet enough to slow down.
Without a map or a clue about where I was going, I started walking until I found a path where the pavement ended. Ice was still on the ground in the soft little corners the sun hadn’t reached yet. The air was cool, sharp. And then I was stopped by the smell of the cedar trees.
Suddenly, I was 8 years old again, marveling in twilight-lit evenings and weekends that felt like they’d never end. I was building forts with my brothers. I was creating hundreds of stories in my mind about the quiet, bright world around me. I was 8 years old, with the smell of the cedar trees in the air.
On that trail at the Wildflower Center, I remembered things I hadn’t thought about in a long time; things that seconds before felt so far away from me. As a little girl growing up in Karnack, Texas, Lady Bird Johnson spent so much of her time in nature, on her own. To her, nature was a miracle: carpets of wildflowers and sweeping magnolia trees, spring bulbs that continued to grow for decades and the wild, haunting nature of Caddo Lake. Even after she grew up and moved away from Karnack, the imprint of nature never faded.
Her Beautification program – the first major legislative campaign by a First Lady and the first major national conservation effort – stands for so much more than wildflowers. But that’s where it begins. It begins in returning to something almost lost, something quiet, something so simple it’s almost forgotten. It begins with a sight, a sound, a smell. It begins with a sense of home.
“My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.” ― Lady Bird Johnson
Jade Emerson will be the host of a podcast about the life of Lady Bird Johnson, with a launch in 2023.