For me, one of the joys of late summer is to look upon my creek from an upstairs window when the stream is bordered with white flowers. The plant is Snakeroot. While it is poisonous to cows, sheep, and horses, Snakeroot is beautiful when blooming all along the brook.
I seldom resort to the word “beauty” or the adjective “beautiful.” Such words are so overused that they fail to convey the powerful meanings they once expressed. When I describe the Snakeroot blossoms as beautiful, I intend to give the impression that the scene truly is full of beauty.
Canada Goldenrold, Photo by Clyde Fisher
In Norman Taylor’s Wild Flower Gardening (D. Van Nostrand, 1955)
I find the wildflowers of late summer breathtakingly beautiful, particularly in combinations of purple, yellow, and white. Purple-Stem Beggarticks, Pokeweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Wingstem, Purple Asters, Ironweed, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace are only a few of the plants that decorate the wild spaces of the rural landscape where I live. The palette of the painter of nature is as rich as it is bold in August and September. The difference in the seasons can be appreciated more fully when we think back to spring, with its pale yellowish greens, its light pinks, and its pure whites. By late summer, the allure of the pastel tones of April is forgotten, with the exception of common mallow, which thrives along the foundation of my barn; now, for the most part, the landscape is arrayed in colors of nobility: amethyst and gold made more stunning by touches of white.
I like to think how privileged we are to move through the colors of our living canvas. I enjoy driving down a rural road that weaves through a vast and royal robe of purple and amber. Wildflowers decorate every undulation of the ground. They are so thick as to be nearly impenetrable. When I commuted to work, I hardly had the presence of mind to appreciate how gorgeously decorated our world is. Gripping the steering wheel after a trying day, I saw without seeing the goldenrod nodding in the fence corners, but, with fresh memories of the snarling rush-hour traffic on the interstate, I was in no mood to become one with late summer’s wonderful display of blossoms. Now that I am retired, I sigh in relief, relax, and marvel at the ever-changing composition amid which I am a roving witness.
In the last weeks before retirement, I anticipated identifying wildflowers in the months ahead, and I must say that the pleasure of using a guidebook to name plants that no nursery has sold has far exceeded my hopes. I feel so much more connected to the land than I felt while I was doing my job for so many years. I am slowly but surely regaining the sense of being grounded that I felt years ago when I was growing up on a farm. Wildflowers have helped me make the transition from a career to retirement. Next year, I will begin identifying the birds in my backyard. I can hardly wait!