Friday, April 08, 2011
Back to Arcady
Donald Culross Peattie, An Almanac for Moderns
There is something classic about the study of the little world that is made up by our first spring flowersall those which bloom not later than April. They are delightfully easy to learn, in case you do not already know them, for there are so few of them that any local manual of the spring flowers will swiftly make you friends for life with them. Happy are those who this year, for the first time, go wood wandering to find them, who first crack open the new manual, smelling of fresh ink, and rejoice in the little new pocket lens. And many, many are the feet that have trod that way before, the boy Linnaeus, the young Asa Gray, the child prodigies like Rafinesque and Haller, the wearied great scholars seeking rest and distraction, like Jacob Grimm and John Stuart Mill.
So great names lend their luster to this innocent delight. But the classicism of the earliest wildflowers derives also from the fact that they fall into a few families, the lily, pink, buttercup, crucifer, rose, violet, umbellifer, heath and composite families, whose unmistakable ear-marks are as decisive as the national traits of Greeks, Persians, Hindus, Englishmen and Norsemen. Characteristic of the northern hemisphere, these give us blossoms that turn up to us the dainty face upon the delicate stalk. They mean to us all that is brave and fresh and frail in the name of spring. Summer flowers distract us with well upon a hundred families, with a strong tropical element; autumnal flowers are confined almost wholly to the tall rank composites. But something in the spring flora, perfect in its simplicity and unity, carries us back to Arcady.