Native Son: Retrouvailles

There is nothing quite like the moment of discovery. Sometimes it happens in a glorious moment, like watching the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. Other times, it’s finding your favorite pair of pruning shears on the back shelf in the garage. Or maybe it’s just that little moment when you catch yourself saying something your long-passed grandmother used to say. And then there’s me.

Late afternoon shadows fall upon the Gazebo at the Longview Arboretum. All photos by Steven Chamblee.

During my move from Weatherford to Longview, I watched helplessly as a box tumbled off the top of a stack and spilled out onto the floor. I panicked as papers flew out like autumn leaves in the wind. At first dismayed, my initial irritation was quickly doused by a cascade of great memoires. The papers lying about were thesis research notes from my grad school days. There in front of me, haphazardly strewn across the floor, were my dreams…

Tight ‘n tidy ornamental grasses all in a row.
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One quick glance and I am my younger self again, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, quaffing like a madman from the chalice of knowledge…and it is gooooood. Funny how you can lose so many years in so little time.

Brilliant red maple leaves celebrate the season.

Ten hours later, I’m standing under the pines at the Longview Arboretum. The place is still under construction—a tractor here, a pallet of much over there – but it’s easy for me to visualize what it will look like in 30 days…and in 30 years. Funny how 30 years ago I never gave much thought to how I would look today. (I never imagined a giant Santa Claus, but that’s who’s in the mirror.)

Newly-planted shrub beds flank the “almost ready” bolder-lined stream.

My other realization is that I am indeed a student again. I am stoked to learn the flora, fauna, soils, insects, pathogens, and seasonal fluctuations of East Texas. Acidic soil alone changes almost everything on the plant palette…and in a good way. Dogwoods and gardenias are no longer on the “almost impossible” list. I might discover what a healthy pin oak looks like. Who knows…maybe there’s even a Franklinia in my future.

Variegated ginger leaves lighten up a shady bed.

Discovery and enlightenment were the most exciting aspects of my students days, and they have returned to me now. I already know the goal is to think independently and find a way to apply my discoveries in a practical, artistic, or philanthropic manner. As I look around the garden, I think I can do all three.

This area will soon be a carpet of mondograss.

Now, about that funny word, “Retrouvailles.” Pronounced “reh-trō-vī,” it’s a French word that literally means, “to find something again,” but it usually described the joy of reuniting with someone after a long separation. I love that joy; we all love that joy.

Serpentine bed borders intertwine with stone pathways.

Little did I know that a minor mishap during a move would bring me to a joyous reunion with someone I haven’t visited with for 30 years…a younger me.

The headwaters pool of the stream, ready to be filled.

Mark your calendar for November 2! The Longview Arboretum will have its grand opening—“Officially Blooming”—in grand style. Come join the fun!

Longview Arboretum, 706 West Cotton Street, Longview, TX 75604


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I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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