Late August is purple. I think every season has a color, though a different one in every corner of the globe. When we lived in New England, December was white, here in Tennessee it's something closer to grey. July here is a vibrant, deep, living green, but on an island in Alaska, July was the red of ever lengthening sunsets, the sort that never seem to end until they bleed into daylight. And I'm quite convinced that October will be, no matter where I live, the warmest, earthiest, coziest orange, a color that seems almost indistinguishable from the magical scent of falling leaves and sunshine and homeliness.
But, in this quiet hamlet of rural pastureland, late August is purple.
Time is purple, just before night, / When most people turn on the light -
But if you don't it's a beautiful sight. / Asters are purple, and there's purple ink.
Purple's more popular than you think, / It's a sort of great-grandmother to pink...
- Mary O'Neill, What is Purple?
My thoughtful spot in August is resplendent with the vivid magenta of ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) towers, and the violet-indigo of Venus' looking glass (Triodanis perfoliata), tiny star-shaped wildflowers that appear everywhere once you begin to look for them. I'm surrounded by deceptively soft explosions of lilac atop massive, prickly thistles (Cirsium vulgare), which are the gathering places of swallowtails in dancing clouds, and the occasional wandering monarch. As I walked here I harvested, to my great delight, a basket full of dainty purple and white self-heal blossoms (Prunella vulgaris), which, after several years of love and close supervision, are at last growing aplenty along the edges of the pasture. A few late-season red clover (Trifolium pratense) brighten the grass here and there with their plum-colored pom-pom blooms, and even in the last of the summer's blackberries, drooping from sturdy bramble vines over my path, there lurks in the depths of their color a royal, luxurious shade of purple.
For nearly ten years I have been wandering these same acres, each corner and valley and creek are familiar and dear, yet whenever I think I know them by heart, just then, some new discovery appears. It struck me today as I was looking for elderberry (which, now that I think of it, is rather purple too!) not far from this spot, that the sun was hitting a small level plot on the hillside I had never noticed before. Just about the size of a kitchen table, only a tiny plateau between two slopes, it is shaded by a lacy walnut tree and looks made expressly for picnicking. And here in this pleasant place I found the final addition to my purple bouquet, the downy blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). What an aptly named plant! It does indeed look as though the stems are encased in a soft lavender cloud of mist.
There's more wandering to be done this afternoon, for I'm off to try to find a vine of wild passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata). Just recently I discovered that they are the state wildflower, and their exotic firework blossoms will be the perfect complement to my basket overflowing with purple.
Perhaps I've been delighting in this magic color for a bit too long today... for as I read over this page in my notebook I begin to fear my prose themselves are turning rather purple!
Some days are purely magical, the sun is warm and friendly, the breeze fresh and cool. But then there are days that seem, well, less than lovely, days a bit like today. That once-friendly sun is blazing down on earth with a vengeance, that refreshing breeze seems to have up and blown away, and my companions, as I sit here on the mossy rock of my thoughtful spot, are rather less fairytale-like than the flowers and damselflies that met me here only a month ago. Invisible biting flies are swarming around me and I have that irritating sensation that some tiny thing is crawling around my ankles or on my arms or behind my neck and I just can’t shake it even though I know there’s nothing there… and it’s quite maddeningly distracting.
Sometimes my thoughtful spot isn’t very conducive to thinking.
Far from a wholly unpleasant moment, however, I marvel as I sit here at how much can change in the course of a month. The leaves are still green above me, the moss still vibrant below, the waterfall still tumbles down its lopsided ledge, yet there are myriad little changes that mark the past month’s events and the progress of the season. A flood swept through this creek not three weeks ago, the bank on which my seat resides has been carved out by the rushing water and the ledge has crept quite close to my feet. Further downstream the sandy gravel of the creek bed has been washed away to reveal three short, deep ledges of smooth, black bedrock. They lead upstream like steps, one could imagine they are leading to the great front gates of some formidable and ancient castle.
I walked here by a different route today. Up and over the hill of the upper pasture, through knee-deep yarrow and Queen Anne’s Lace and blackberry brambles and Iron Weed sentinels towering straight and valiant over my head. But growing hidden in the tall grass was another familiar face - Self-heal. Prunella vulgaris, this many-blossomed member of the mint family, has been known by many names - heal-all, woundwort, heart-of-the-earth - and it truly does live up to them. It’s been revered for centuries for its powerful wound healing properties, support of the immune system, and ability to soothe sore throats and allergy symptoms. The cheery purple flowers are said to grow everywhere mankind can live. It has always seemed a quite a heroic little herb to me.
When little Elves have cut themselves, or Mouse has hurt her tail,
Or Froggie's arm has come to harm, this herb will never fail.
The fairy's skill can cure each ill and soothe the sorest pain;
She'll bathe and bind, and soon they'll find
That they are well again.
- The Song of the Self-Heal Fairy
Do You Have a