The Vaquero Legend of El Cenizo
Before reading the following quote, one must understand that there is a shrub native to South and West Texas called "Cenizo." It is also called Purple Sage, Texas Barometer Bush, Texas Silverleaf, Texas Sage etc... and when it blooms it has beautiful pink and white flowers. Now, the quote:
"As has already been stated, the Texas-Mexican vaquero is at heart a religious man; all the wonders of nature he attributes to a supernatural power. All goodness and beauty come from the Virgin Mary and are part of her. A beautiful sunset is her smile; the blue sky is the blue of her mantle; the rainbow is formed by the tears that she sheds for sinners.
The folklore of the Mexican vaquero has the combined charm of the Andulasian lore as told by Fernán Caballero and the quaintness and simplicity of the Indian myth. To understand it is to understand the spirit and soul of the Mexican people. With the hope that the true character of the vaquero will be better understood, this legend is offered.
One of the greatest hardships against which the vaquero has to contend is the drought. it is the enemy that blights all his hopes and frustrates all his plans. This is the theme of the legend of El Cenizo.
The Legend of El Cenizo
It had been an unusually hard winter, cold and dry. But then coyotes had in the fall announced it would be so, for their fur had been thick and heavy, and they had stayed close to the ranches, not daring to go into the hills. All vegetation had been killed by el hielo prieto (the black frost), and even the cactus, the always reliable food for the cattle, had wilted.
Spring came, and with it new hope. But whatever young, green things sprang up died for lack of water. Even the mesquites were mere ghosts; the huisaches, ashamed of not bearing their sweet-smelling velvety blooms, hid their leaves. All the waterholes dried up, and death and starvation ruled the prairie. The buzzard was lord of the plains, and as it flew over the trees was a constant reminder of death. The cattle, once so plentiful and fat, had diminished to a few, and those that remained looked at the world with sad, death-like eyes.
"¿Por que no llueve, dios mio?" ("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, 'Asi es la suerte.' ("That's luck.")
There was just one possible way of salvation, and that was prayer, prayer to the Virgin. 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 ashen"). The interpretation given by the vaqueros was charming, to say the least; the gray of the leaves signifies the Passion of the Christ; the white flowers, the purity of the mother, and the pink, the new dawn for the cowmen and the resurrection of life."
----- Jovita González, "Folklore of the Texas-Mexican Vaquero," Texas and Southwestern Lore, Texas Folklore Society Publication Number VI, 1927
Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.