Considering the Lillies (and Other Flowers) of the Field

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Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.

Consider the weeds. The field's gone rank and knee-deep with bedstraw and Queen Anne's lace and vetch and God knows what other dense rural jungle life, patrolled by over flights of stinging deer flies and creased by deer paths. How do the hawks spot field mice and voles through such dense camouflage?

Their names teem with a sort of secret Shakespearean life. I browse through field guides to wildflowers and weeds, and when I read them, I feel as if I have rediscovered a rich, hidden vein of the English language—a parallel universe populated by such vivid protagonists as Carrion Flower and Wild Bleeding Heart, as Vipers Bugloss and Crazyweed, as Hog Peanut, Corn Cockle, Tansy leaf Aster, Showy Orchis, Death Camas, and that damned elusive Scarlet Pimpernel.

The names savor of medicinal witcheries and faery mythologies. Weeds are infinitely more interesting in their way than mere pampered uptown flowers, those sleek, over bred showdogs. You can boil the wild weeds, eat them, put them on wounds. Their names are surrounded by an atmosphere of gossip. What goes on between Pokeweed and Bluebead Lilly? The groundlings—or groundhogs— want to know. What conspiratorial dialogue is whispered between Blue Toad flax and Monkshood? What soliloquies from Trumpet Creeper, from Lady's Thumb, from the grizzled Salt-Marsh Fleabane?

The characters are wildly sexual—it is their whole game, what with pistils and stamens and their frank, unblinking, scandalous fertility, and our salacious Italian bees stirring constantly among them, the messengers of love. A soap opera of many seasons goes on and on, starring characters like Blue-bird Violet, Motherwort, Spreading Dogbane, Lady's Thumb, and Spiked Lobelia.

Emerson said, "I am a god in nature, I am a weed by the wall." Right on both counts. The weed and the god are much the same thing.

I tried to dig a small pond for waterlilies, but the shovel blade went an inch down and hit rock. Everywhere I dug, I clanged against rock. I called in a guy with a back hoe and he harvested boulders for a couple of hours, until we had a hole big enough to be a bull's grave and ringed with enough rocks to build another house. This field has never been cultivated, for good reason, and, if domesticated at all, is meant for sheep. We once thought about tilling it and putting in something organized, like wheat. We gave up the idea.

We opted for the general sexual riot of weeds and wildflowers—for the loquacious Elizabethan catalogue, whose random beauty lives at an opposite end of the universe from the laboratories of the genetically altered, from the sinister utilitarianism toward which, alas, we are flying at the speed of light.

Let a hundred flowers bloom—

bittersweet nightshade,
true forget-me-not,
blue vervain,
spring larkspur,
dog violet,
common butterwort,
spurred butterfly,
crown vetch,
spotted Joe-Pye weed,
gray beardtongue,
spreading dogbane,
live forever,
woolly locoweed,
hairy vetch,
lady's thumb,
common speedwell,
field milkwort,
Lyon's turtlehead,
ragged robin,
common burdock,
spotted knapweed,
hairy willow herb,
purple saxifrage,
red baneberry,
slender glasswort,
climbing bittersweet,
birdsfoot trefoil,
moth mullein,
smooth false foxglove,
showy rattlebox,
prince's plume,
mouse-ear hawkweed,
rattlesnake weed,
tickseed sunflower,
Jerusalem artichoke,
swollen bladderwort,
clammy ground cherry,
rough-fruited cinquefoil,
climbing boneset,

pearly everlasting,
wild madder,
bouncing bet,
virgin's bower,
smaller pussytoes.

As the Sermon on the Mount continues: ".... I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."