• Christina Ammon

Gifts of the Road

There is one wildflower I allow myself to freely harvest...

The native wildflowers in my valley mark time like a calendar. The first purple Larkspur and Shooting Stars indicate the start-line of spring and then the blooms progress toward summer like a slow-motion fireworks display: red Fritillaria, white Trillium, purple Lupine and then blazing red Indian Paintbrush. I get to know these flowers on my daily hikes on the Jacksonville woodlands and even feel bonded to particular ones—like the singular Mission Bell that grows each May in an old gold mining ditch. I feel as protective over the blooms as a parent and fume when I pass a hiker carrying a bouquet of the rare and endemic Fritillaria--or worse, see the flowers plucked and then dropped on the ground. Nothing gives me a more pessimistic view of humanity than a rare flower smashed into the dirt—a small transgression perhaps, but one that feels deeply symbolic of something larger. That said, there is one flower I allow myself to freely harvest: the magenta sweet peas that grow along our country Highway 238 in

June. When I see them, I carefully slow my car, find a pull-off and pick to my heart’s content. This particular L. latifolius is somewhat invasive, crowding out native plants, so in picking it you might even feel you are doing nature a favor. The sweet pea is originally from Sicily and the annual variety was brought here from England, intentionally cultivated, and even sold in the Burpee catalogues. As pretty as they are, they are considered simple and unspecial. According to a poet named Junkin, sweet peas are “built of common earth” and grow “in lowly place beside village lanes.” But for me, these roadside sweet peas are as magnificant as any store-bought bouquet and when every tableside in my house is adorned with a splash of magenta, I know for sure it is June.


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