You Have to Be Quick to Capture the Festival of Flowers In Your Local Woods
By Ashley English
Photo by Tim Robison
Several years ago, before I quit my day job as a medical assistant and nutrition consultant at a South Asheville medical practice and appropriated my kitchen table into my “desk,” I had the pleasure of working with a cadre of subversive nurses. Which is to say, although officially schooled, they all had a bit of the “wild healer” to them.
I’ll never forget the day one of these renegade nurse buddies was waxing poetic about all of the Queen Anne’s Lace growing wild in our region. “Completely free and natural birth control, and no one seems to know,” she said with a sigh.
Western North Carolina is host to an absolute abundance of wild flowers, many of which make their annual debut in early spring. Much like Queen Anne’s Lace (or “wild carrot”), which blooms May through October, a lot of these wildflowers perform double duty. They might offer just as much flavor as beauty — think ramps/wild leeks, which come up in April — or medicinal properties, like wild geranium, also appearing this month.
What captivates me most about them, though, is their fleeting presence.
In these times, we can pretty much have whatever we want, whenever we want it. Blueberries in January? No problem. They’re yours for the purchasing, just off the plane from Chile, kept in plastic clamshell cases and hidden away in cold storage. No time to watch Downton Abbey on Sunday? Fret not: There’s an army of recording and online options at your disposal for getting you back up to (titillating) speed. Our world of immediate gratification is a wondrous, glorious gift, and yet, in my estimation, a handicap, all at once.
Wildflowers present an opportunity for an exquisite lesson in mindfulness and being present. The bloodroot, and the wood anemone, and the trout lily, these unparalleled specimens of native flora, they don’t linger. They are decidedly not available on-demand. They are uncompromisingly not 24/7.
They keep seasons, mind you, and hours, and even minutes. They’re on Earth time.
Each spring, there is a spectacular Festival of Flowers at Biltmore Estate. It’s a serious stunner. Tulips — tens of thousands of them — pansies, azaleas, and more, in plot after plot, have been thoughtfully, deliberately planted and carefully attended to. It’s a riot of curated color and a fine example of garden design. I very much enjoy taking it all in, perhaps stopping for a lakeside picnic afterwards.
Pushing up through the soil at the very same time, however, are the wildflowers mentioned above. The punk-rock cousins to the Biltmore’s refined, well-heeled flora, the Southern Appalachians’ wild botanicals operate very much on their own terms.
We live in a heavily groomed, highly orchestrated world. When most of us go on a forest hike, we stick to the well-known, clearly worn paths. Similarly, we take refuge in familiar foods, seek solace in formulaic TV, and turn the radio dial to a recognizable, affirming station. It’s considerably more challenging to take the path less traveled, or eat the unusual food (tripe, anyone?), or develop an appreciation for the likes of John Cage.
The wildflowers popping up are a silent invitation to explore the messier, more exotic, less familiar side of life. But you’d better get to it — they don’t plan on waiting around for you to get hip to their wily, flash-and-dash ways.
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