Chin’s enormous prickly pear umbrella offers shelter along the Mission Reach

WHEREAS, A native of the American Southwest and the Sonoran Desert region of Mexico, the prickly pear cactus provided nourishment to the earliest inhabitants of those regions, and both the sweet, fleshy fruit and the broad, flat stems were incorporated into tasty dishes; and

WHEREAS, Tunas, the prickly pear fruit, and nopales, which are made from the stem, have since become staples of the Mexican diet, and their growing popularity in Lone Star cuisine can be attributed to Texans’ appreciation for unusual and distinctive foods; and….

WHEREAS, This adaptable plant can survive under many different environmental conditions, and thus can be found from the hill country of Central Texas to the windswept plateaus and arid mountains of West Texas; because it thrives in a harsh climate that few plants can bear, the prickly pear cactus is often grown as forage for cattle and has had a tremendous positive impact on the vital Texas cattle industry; and

WHEREAS, Rugged, versatile, and uniquely beautiful, the prickly pear cactus has made numerous contributions to the landscape, cuisine, and character of the Lone Star State, and thus it is singularly qualified to represent the indomitable and proud Texas spirit as an official state symbol; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 74th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby designate the prickly pear cactus as the official state plant of Texas.

1995 Texas House Concurrent Resolution

Viewed from the east side of the San Antonio River, the graceful arch indeed appears a portal to pathways on the other side. But Mel Chin‘s “CoCobijos” changes appearance as you approach and circle it.

Commissioned by the San Antonio River Foundation to link the Mission Reach of the river to nearby Mission San Jose, the massive steel sculpture represents the pads of two arching prickly pears joined together.

The prickly pear theme arose from two of Houston-born Chin’s first impressions of the area. Interviewed by Jack Morgan for “Texas Standard” on Texas Public Radio, Chin explained:

One: “I was looking at the roofs of the mission and I found that there was a whole planting of them, a bunch of them that have been growing there since the 1930s.”

Two: “After visiting the site… I noticed how hot I was.”

And since: “There’s nothing stronger than the state plant of Texas, I believe.”

Now: “There’s two of them coming together to create a shelter from the sun and a habitat for live cactus growing above.”

According to the San Antonio River Foundation website, Chin reflected about the resiliency of prickly pear and how the plant historically has nurtured people and animals. The lacey steel picado patterns echo the internal structure of nopal pads.

About the same time “CoCobijos” was unveiled in this semi-rural setting, according to Glasstire, Chin was taking over Times Square and several other spots in New York City with multimedia works portraying frightening potential results if global warming is allowed to continue into the future uncontrolled.

The New York installations are gone, but you need only head south from downtown along the San Antonio River to view Chin’s masterful piece of public art now a permanent part of San Antonio’s landscape.

Yet another reason to drink beer during Fiesta: Preserving our quills

If peculiarities were quills, San Antonio de Bexar would be a rare porcupine. Over all the round of aspects in which a thoughtful mind may view a city, it bristles with striking idiosyncrasies and bizarre contrasts.

Retrospects and Prospects by William Sydney Porter (O Henry)

Often I only hear brief tidbits from longer stories on Texas Public Radio because of the short distance between errands, and some of these are pleas for funds – particularly critical now as Congress is once again picking on the funding provided Public Radio. But even Public Radio’s fundraising requests can be enlightening or entertaining; although I’m certainly happy Ira Glass never has called personally to pin us to the mat about the size of our contribution.

In one of the local pitches the other day, David Martin Davies talked about his visit to the O. Henry House downtown (My apologies possibly, because, for the above reason, I am not positive who was speaking.). He pointed out a few historical inaccuracies, such as the small stone structure should be called O. Henry’s Office and “O. Henry’s typewriter” on display in the shuttered museum was not manufactured until two years after the author’s death. But the typewriter hooked him, and he ended up buying one just like it on ebay for $50. What’s great is not only does the antiquated typewriter work, but the next generation in his family loves typing on the strange piece of machinery not connected to a screen.

Okay, I have probably lost all readers by now. Where does the beer figure into this rambling post?

Davies mentioned on air that the Texas Public Radio spot on the O. Henry House was part of a new series focusing on historic preservation, and this series is made possible by a grant from the San Antonio Conservation Society. The main source of income for the San Antonio Conservation Society is A Night in Old San Antonio, or NIOSA, which gets underway on Tuesday, April 12. So, much as with the prior post about the King William Fair, every beer you drink helps the Conservation Society’s efforts to preserve San Antonio’s distinctive heritage.

Seems O. Henry would have approved, as even he remarked long ago of San Antonio’s party spirit:

…it stands with all its gay prosperity just on the edge of a lonesome, untilled belt of land one hundred and fifty miles wide, like Mardi Gras on the austere brink of Lent….

Retrospects and Prospects by William Sydney Porter (O Henry)

So let the Fiesta begin (even in the midst of Lent), and keep San Antonio quilled.

P.S. Help even more by purchasing one of Kathleen Trenchard’s 2011 NIOSA pins.

April 10, 2011, Update: Paula Allen writes about the giant “party with a purpose.”