Phoning Mother Nature
By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer
At first, I thought I was speaking with Mother Nature herself. I had phoned “Mother Nature’s Florist.” A woman answered. Who else could she be?
But maybe she wasn’t. I was ordering flowers for my aunt and uncle, who were about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I requested a basket of daisies. I explained that the wild daisies were blooming when the couple was married. They must have seen wild daisies on the way to their wedding
“Mother Nature” didn’t seem to care. That’s how I knew she wasn’t the real thing. The real Mother Nature adores wildflowers.
Probably this imposter-lady’s realm did not include wildflowers. She knew all about gorgeous cultivated blooms growing in the greenhouse or arriving in refrigerated trucks. But perhaps, on her way to work, she didn’t notice the hundreds of wildflowers that the real Mother Nature has sprinkled along New England roadways, blossoms that are cheerful, colorful, stubborn, resourceful, and growing anywhere they darn well please. Anybody can enjoy them, for free.
I admire wildflowers. They grow without help or encouragement. Each searches its own little niche: moist or dry soil, sun, shade, forest, meadow, beach, mountaintop, sidewalk crack. How many millions of seeds fall on inhospitable soil? And isn’t it a bit miraculous that so many find exactly the right spot? And that some of them have so generously decided to grow near my very own house?
Violets, buttercups, star flowers, daisies, jack-in-the-pulpits and all their many cousins: they do what they do, heedless of whether any human beings cares or even sees them.
All they require from me is to do nothing: don’t cut them down, don’t pull them up. And all I need to do to enjoy their beauty is to look.
I could easily become the stereotypical little old lady in tennis shoes and practical hat, carrying a wildflower book, for whom the world stops when she spies a blossom she can’t immediately identify.
That is, I could except that I’m too confused. My beginner’s wildflower book contains 658 photographs of flowering plants common in eastern North America. The more advanced book illustrates 1,553 “of the most common species” in North America; that is, only 1,553 of the most common species, figuring that a normal person doesn’t need to be able to identify 50 kinds of sunflowers or 81 types of buttercups.
Still, I crouch besides the road examining this tiny white daisy-like flower with long thin petals, and I can’t match it to any illustration in either book.
That’s when I decide to stop worrying about the flower’s name and just enjoy its company.
Speaking of names: Mother Nature may have designed the wildflowers, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t name them. On the one hand, we have lovely flowing names that delight both the tongue and the soul, like lily, forget-me-not, or Canada mayflower.
But it somewhat diminishes the sense of discovery when you spot an interesting flower in a thicket, actually manage to locate its image in the book, and then read that it’s called bastard toadflax. And who named cow vetch? Or the silver-leaf scurf pea? Or the spiny-leaved sow thistle?
That’s one of the questions I would ask the real Mother Nature if could reach her on the phone.
The other question would be the same question I ponder when I consider the world’s amazing variety of birds and fishes and insects and other living creatures. Thousands and thousands of different wildflowers: Why did she think we would need so many? (But I’m glad she did.)
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