(A field full of purple loosestrife, in Washington, Connecticut.)
Purple loosestrife. Even though technically it’s an “invasive species”, I have always loved its brave red colour that appears every August and lasts through the days of September. There’s a bit of a bittersweet feeling to seeing this bloom, as it signals the slow fading away of Summer and the coming of Fall.
Every early September, in the days when I was living in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston, my mom, who lived in Newton Corner, and I would go on annual “loosetrife hunts”. She was a damn good amateur botanist. She could tell you whatever weed or flower or tree you were pointing at was. She would have scouted a new location of a thriving batch of loosetrife and we’d head out into the countryside of Suffolk County and beyond. She would drive and keep in suspense as to our destination.
When we’d get there, we’d park and sometimes have to hike into some woods, or through some meadows or pastureland, encountering small groups of curious cows. And there, on the banks of a brook or river or in some secret wetlands, was that burning blush of that faithful and fearless weed, adorning the landscape with its vivid hue. I’d get out my camera (this was in the late 90’s, when earnest photographers like me had single lens reflex cameras, not iPhones or other camera phones), and we’d spend an hour or more there, me taking pictures, and she pointing out new angles and talking about the history of the area, and the different plants and animals that lived there.
My mother loved nature, and got to know it all her life. She never stopped learning about plants, trees or animals. In her late seventies, for instance, she struck up a friendship with a noted herpetologist who had written a great book about turtles, though I can’t recall his name unfortunately, or his book. I will look online later for him.
They became steadfast pen-pals, writing letters to each other often. He even encouraged her to publish her own book about nature. But she would rather be a spectator, she told him.
Mom was a great letter writer. She hated emails and refused to use that technology when it became S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) for most of the word. And I understand her disdain for it. Writing longhand is so much more personal. What a joy it was to receive a new letter from her, with her hard to decipher cursive! I would have sometimes get out my magnifying glass to determine if an “l” was really an “i”, or a “b” just had to be an “c” with a mistaken crown on it. This slow decoding was always worth it. I still have many of her letters, which are treasures, full of her insights, which were usually spot-on, about people, relationships, and nature.
I, as you may suspect by now, have digressed from my main topic (though I’ve always thought that digressions are one of the best ways to discover new things.) At any rate, this is a picture of purple loosestrife, that I came across on a ride with my wife, Polly, through the Connecticut countryside, not far from where we live. Mom would have loved it, and I hope you do too. She would have stopped the car, no matter who was coming up behind her, or even if a school bus was unloading a large group of noisy kids a few feet away.
Today, as I look at the slightly-withering loosetrife, I get that knee-jerk punch of anxiety delivered to my stomach. I fear, for just a moment, the inexorable rushing of time and the uncomfortable sensation of aging.
Then, as I think of my mother, I remember to take the advice that she always gave and the attitude that she lived by.
Slow down. Stop your car. Wander through a field. Take a photo. Love where you are, when you are. And write a hand-written letter to someone about it, using a good old envelope and stamp from the U.S. Postal Service. They have some great new ones of the National Parks.
There’s so much beauty all around us, that changes in form but is always there.
We just have to slow down and see it.