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!
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