Beneath the Surface: Photographing Texas Wildflowers

Bluebonnets, Terry Hershey Park, Bee

Bluebonnets, Terry Hershey Park, Bee.

Story and photos by Theresa DiMenno

In the natural world, beneath the surface speaks to what is concealed or goes unnoticed. It bestows a sense of wonder, reverence or deep connection. In photography, it refers to moving in closer and being intimate with a scene. Observing a monarch butterfly emerge from a chrysalis is a transformative experience. Watching a bee extract nectar from the wing petal of a bluebonnet is an exquisite example of the interconnectedness of life. Look closely at the veins of a flower petal. Notice the gentle arc of prairie grass swaying in the late afternoon light.

I’ve been aware of the power of nature since I was a three year old, lying on my back in the gravel driveway of our San Antonio home, watching clouds pass across the sun. I knew with certainty when the daylight changed its tone that it would return with a profusion of light sweeping across the landscape. I didn’t know why, I just knew the light would return. I’ve been watching clouds and light ever since those very early beginnings.

Tiny grasses, backlit.

Tiny grasses, backlit.

There are places I return to over and again which are fundamental to who I am as a person and as a photographer. Whenever I’m in northern New Mexico, for example, I first walk onto the Taos mesa, pluck a sprig of sage and inhale its fragrance. Problems dissolve, and I’m at peace in one potent moment, surrounded by the beauty and drama of the southwest.

I’ve been photographing nature as a passion and career path for quite some time, shooting macro shots of flowers, insects, and lizards; landscapes of the southwest, national parks and the California coast. I’ve had incredible experiences, met wonderful people, and have been close to animals I never would have imagined. But I always come home to Texas and my favorite shooting season. Wildflower season in Texas is a glorious occasion. It’s a season of much anticipation for serious wildflower photographers and for spring wildflower lovers across the United States. Generally speaking, the hunt for Texas wildflowers, especially our state flower, the bluebonnet, begins mid March and runs through the end of April. We go where the flowers are, with help from online support sites similar to those of autumn leaf peepers.

Bluebonnet, Spring 2014.

Bluebonnet, Spring 2014.

Each spring begins on a small section of a six mile stretch of park and trail that runs alongside Buffalo Bayou on Houston’s west side. There are other flowered areas in Terry Hershey Park, but the secluded bank of grasses and wildflowers, mostly bluebonnets, is my personal favorite, encompassing a profusion of new and abundant life. I traverse the landscape light-footed, leaving as small a footprint as possible, careful not to trample the flowers and plants. Here I feel a kinship with the wildness of nature that connects us all.

Walking the curved foot path to the main trail, across the bridge to the bluebonnet meadow, fills me with joy. The gentle slope of spring wildflowers feels like my personal, outdoor studio. I’ll spend several mornings in this intimate space where I began my journey into nature photography, shooting insects and wildflowers in the small thriving ecosystem. I’ll then venture northwest into Grimes and Washington Counties, followed by the Hill Country of central Texas.

The wildflower roads I travel in the following weeks will be expansive and against a backdrop of cloudless azure skies, magenta sunsets and if I’m lucky, a little bit of fog. But Terry Hershey Park is where I find the deepest connection to nature and the intimacy of capturing the glimpse of a butterfly mating ritual, a bee pollinating a bluebonnet, the dance of a dragonfly.

Pink Evening Primrose, Texas.

Pink Evening Primrose, Texas.

The anticipation of spring in Texas is an integral component of the spirit of wildflower season. It begins with the excitement I feel as a layer of warmth joins the chill the winter air still holds in early March. Life expands. Petals, wings and legs unfurl as we step into spring’s warm embrace.

Budding life is a symphony of rebirth, rejuvenation, openness, awareness, connection. Branches swell, pollen swirls. Spring is erotic, electric, yielding new life, hope and second chances. The sky even seems a little bluer as afternoon daylight lengthens, expressing the bounty bestowed. Spring is bold, it is welcome, and it is here in a breezy exhale.

 

Theresa DiMenno began her photographic career by documenting the Texas music scene of the eighties, shooting for various local artists, major dailies, record companies, SXSW, Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone. Her current passion spans a decades-long journey into nature photography, including an ongoing exhibition, Delicate Balance: Metamorphosis of the Monarch Butterfly, at the Cockerel Butterfly Center in Houston’s Museum of Natural Science. She has worked on the award-winning documentary, The Butterfly Trees, and her artwork hangs in numerous corporate spaces and inHouston’s Methodist Hospital. DiMenno has won numerous awards and works closely with Texas Highways MagazineTexas Parks & Wildlife and the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin Texas. Theresa is a self taught photographer and storyteller at heart, both in words and imagery. To see more of her work, visit www.theresadimenno.com and @tdimenno on Instagram.