Last night I accompanied Chris through the bitter chill to his lute lesson in Antrim, NH. As Chris had his lesson in the home of friends, I read the book I’d brought, a classic nature writing text that had brought me joy when I read it as a teenager in Ohio. Reading that same book as an adult in New Hampshire, the opening chapters rang hollow: they seemed dated and quaint, too idyllic for a bone-crackingly frigid night when Nature was baring icy fangs. Ultimately I put that book aside and picked up my notebook and pen, having moved from one rocking chair to another closer to the fire. I was drowsy and had nothing to say: in one ear were the murmured sounds of a lute lesson, in the other were the lulling sounds of singing.
Inexplicably, my thoughts turned to goldenrods, summer’s own lilies of the field. The last time I’d come with Chris to Antrim, it was summer and I stayed in the car, windows open. Again having brought a book I thought I’d enjoy, I grew bored and picked up notebook and pen. I remember the liquid whistle of an oriole in one ear and the bubbled torrent of an indigo bunting in the other. The goldenrods were in full bloom, the fields brimming rank with undergrowth and insects.
Last night, though, those insects and weeds were dead and that oriole and bunting had flown south. All that was left of summer’s glory was the memory of songbirds and goldenrods, the memory of summer’s heat slanting through a windshield now rimed with cold. As my thoughts cherished the memory of goldenrods, I wondered where they’d gone. Their shriveled stems, of course, lie under snow, dead: inside many of them, within ball galls, curl dormant fly larvae. But these desiccated winter stems are but bodies, mere tinder for kindling. Where have the goldenrods themselves–their essence and vitality–gone on these frigid winter nights?
I know that even now goldenrod seeds lie dormant under winter soils, but where lie their souls? Do those seeds bear within their branny coats the memories of all their forebears, memories of standing baked by sun while grasshoppers trill, memories of autumn’s desiccating light, memories of past winters’ chill? Are these goldenrod souls dead or merely dormant, sleeping and even dreaming, remembering (with me) the chattering of oriole and bunting? Do the souls of goldenrod, trapped in seeds, eagerly await the unfurling of spring, their folded wings curled in cotyledons?