Friday, September 16, 2005


Amidst the new growth of the recently mown meadow -- low, anonymous grasses, plantains, clumps of switchgrass, already flowering -- three yellow spots attracted my attention. They were cinquefoils, a flower I'd first spotted last spring.

Cinquefoils have their own particular yellow -- a pale, matte, bleached yellow --

unlike the rich, voluptuous buttery yellow of another old friend still in bloom, the birdsfoot trefoil,

or the bright, almost translucent, greeny yellow of late summer's evening primrose.

As fall approaches there's still birth afoot. It's like a multigenerational household -- great grandma down to squalling infant all under one blue roof.

Or all on one stem, even.

It's heartening. A few years ago I watched a documentary on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. The narrator posited that Wright's working life could be divided into three great creative periods. The last one began well into his later years, when he was certainly older than I am now.

One keeps working, then. One keeps, to carry forth the plant metaphor into the slightly spoiled arena of popular psychology, growing. But that's not quite it. Changing is a better word, more neutral, able to do justice to the more autumnal transformations, those that feature shrinking, dessicating, withering, simplifying, attenuating, slowing down.

Not all beauty is the slick, smooth, shiny sort,

that useful beauty that attracts a procreating mate then plumps into fruition

and sweetness.

Consider the rampant knotweed -- can you think of a more prolific seed maker ? -- yet it spreads underground, asexually, rhizomatously, clandestinely.

From upthrust wands of tiny, bright white flowers, white, even glassine fruits develop, turn bronze, shower to the ground and seldom take root. If a few stragglers remain on stripped, skeletal grass seedheads, the next stiff breeze will disperse them

And even as these old seeds dry out, droop and prepare to drop

this younger gamagrass just begins its reproductive life.

How wonderful ! Going to seed is as beautiful as this wild lettuce flower preparing to launch its fluff

and as broodingly majestic as the stiff, ancient mullein and its chorus of pods.

That's not to say that summer does no take its toll. Beings end up smudged

and broken by toil

and webbed in sticky sorrow.

I can find ideograms of compassion, too. Two companionable elders hang side by side sharing the last moments of sunlight and suspension.

A thistle gives a bed to a lost and errant leaf.

So who shall I be, then, in this anthropomorphized landscape ? It's impossible to choose. I want to be -- I am -- them all ! But, for now, I'll chose this ant --

as it toils across its narrow black bridge toward the horizon, winter and whatever, if anything, lies beyond.

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