Our autumn meadow isn’t much to look at from a distance: It is a tangle of grass and weeds, much of it brittle and wind fallen. It is not a meadow of romance, full of silky, waist-high grass. In fact, if Keith and I started on opposite ends and ran toward one another, we’d trip in the clover, impale ourselves on the greenbriar, and end up in the emergency room, not in each other’s arms.
It is not the meadow we paid for either, nearly $2000 for native prairie grasses and “forbs” (wildflowers, for the most part) that, thanks to the vagaries of our climate, have been slow to grow. First the ground was too wet to sow the seeds. Then it was too dry for them to germinate. And in the meantime, more competitive plants–smartweed, giant foxtail, Queen Anne’s lace, night shade, dogbane–ran wild. For every plant we hoped to grow, a hundred grew that we did not invite.
But we’re coming to terms with this.
Because our meadow is like a 1000-piece puzzle. While 900 of its pieces are nearly identical browns and greens, we know that if we sift through them carefully, we’ll find a piece with a purple tab or a pink signature. And so we keep looking.
There, for instance: Cabbage whites dangling from the red clover like thrift store price tags. Next to them, tiny gold paper lanterns cradling orange ground cherries. A few feet over, sunbursts of stiff goldenrod and sky-blue chicory, the last two flowers on a dead brown stalk. Where the soil is drier, partridge peas, alternating tufts of yellow tissue paper rattling comma-shaped beans. Where the soil is moister, buttons of bergamot that, in the autumn, turn to dried blackberries and tiny lotus pods.
Along the fence line grow clumps of sunny-side-up asters and patches of yolk-yellow coreopsis. Wild lettuce flies its shining floss. And the big bluestem, taller than the unwanted grasses, taller than I am, shakes its red fists at all of the intruders in the meadow. The common pattern in the puzzle? The prairie coneflowers, orphans and soldiers walking home through the tall grass, their tattered purple jackets cast away.
So this is our autumn meadow. And like the season itself, it demands explorers, not onlookers.
But we are the ones in transition, finding our way from what we thought we wanted to what we really need.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too—
–John Keats, Ode to Autumn http://www.bartleby.com/106/255.html