A Libbie for Texas

Last year, on the Spring Equinox, Texas lost a big soul, a good friend, and a lover of all its plants and creatures.

Elizabeth Rice Winston was many things–a debutante, a teacher, a naturalist, and a free spirit. I knew her as the owner and heart of Peaceable Kingdom, a gorgeous parcel of Washington County field and forest. It was a one-time commune, a school for craft and natural history and spiritual enlightenment, a stunning garden, a home, and a haven for plant people and bird watchers. Over the years, Libbie touched hundreds of lives. She had a way of making you feel welcome and a knack for introducing all of her favorite people to one another.

Libbie was also mistress of Winston Ranch, some 7,000 acres in Uvalde County, bordered on one side by the Sabinal River. I had the very good fortune to visit Libbie on the ranch three times as part of botanizing houseparties. I will never forget her hospitality or the hundreds of beautiful plants we collected. She always knew the best places to look and would drive us all over the ranch in the big white truck. She’d stop wherever we wanted to and we could poke to our hearts’ content. Always surrounded, of course, by the dogs. Libbie said her life’s goal was to be “hip-deep” in dogs, and she certainly accomplished that!

One evening, we made one last collecting run down by the river. We found Reverchon’s Blazingstar, Mentzelia reverchonii, in bud just as dusk was falling.

By the time we got back to the ranch house for several hours of plant-pressing, this amazing plant had unfolded its petals in the collecting bag, and we saw for ourselves how it earned its name.

These blossoms are more than two inches across. With the numerous stamens, the result is the botanical equivalent of an explosion of fireworks.

We collected and photographed so many beautiful plants on that trip, but it was this one that I came back to when I wanted to make a thank-you for Libbie, something that would recall the magic that was Winston Ranch. I drew up a chart on graph paper and stitched it up on black fabric, because the flower had to be a blaze of yellow in the dark.

That’s not a very good photo–it doesn’t capture the bright lemon and rich greens, but it will do.

I know I still have that crude graph-paper chart somewhere, but I can’t find it. Reverse-engineering a chart from the finished piece gives me this:

There is black outlining to bring out the details of the leaves, buds, and sepals. And then the stitcher would need to add all the stamens, which are just straight stitches ended with french knots.

Libbie is gone now, and her loss still hurts. The world is a little less bright for her not being in it anymore. Recently, through a roundabout route, my stitched piece unexpectedly came back to me.

I will treasure it always. Miss you, Libbie.