In my New Mexico home the wildflower known as Indian Paintbrush found just the right conditions to take up residence. It’s no easy feat to cultivate the growth of this wild scarlet and orange flower that, in fact, does resemble a free-form paintbrush. Good luck propagating this flower. Seeds are available commercially but it is anything but guaranteed to succeed.
It has very specific requirements and is a true wildflower requiring no human intervention to grow where it wills. Transplanting an Indian Paintbrush does not work as it is a parasitic plant attaching its roots to the roots of other plants and deriving water from them. So it was to my amazement that my specimens spread prolifically all over my land, increasing its range each year. Here is one of several artworks I’ve created on this unique, complex and truly wild botanical wonder!
There are multiple legends about the origins of this remarkable beauty. One such legend is shared in Tomie dePaola’s children’s book the…
…’Legend of the Indian Paintbrush“. This is the story of a young Indian boy who did not fit in his society’s assigned role as warrior. Today I suppose he would be labeled “special needs“. Eventually, he finds his place as an artist. (Hooray for that!) And as you might guess, this eventually leads to the origin of the Indian Paintbrush flower. But I’m not giving away the punchline! Here is a 5 minute version of the story by Tomie dePaola:
This striking perennial is honored by poet A.V. Hudson,
“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ”
“…When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me, And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves, And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter”
I know I am but summer to your heart (Sonnet XXVII)
I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.
There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
It is the special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street
Right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming
“in those darkest hours, we must light our individual candles rather than vying with others to call attention to the enveloping darkness. Our indignation about injustice should lead to illumination”
“Men’s and nations’ finest hour consist of those moments when extraordinary challenge is met by extraordinary response. Hence in those darkest hours, we must light our individual candles rather than vying with others to call attention to the enveloping darkness. Our indignation about injustice should lead to illumination, for if it does not, we are only adding to the despair-and the moment of gravest danger is when there is so little light that darkness seems normal!”
“All of our great traditions, religious, contemplative and artistic, say that you must a learn how to be alone – and have a relationship with silence. It is difficult, but it can start with just the tiniest quiet moment.”
“What is the meaning of life? That was all-a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
“But when fall comes, kicking summer out … it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
In the mountains of southern California there is a lake with an island in its midst. Outside this island a majority of trees were consumed in a forest fire in 2003 (The infamous Cedar Fire). Many of the trees had stood 200-300 or more years. But on the lake’s island you can still walk through a landscape of beautiful ancient oak and pine trees. On a fall day, as I walked the island’s edges, I came upon this spot- a still standing glorious ancient survivor. Autumn perfection – Fall color surrounds, the air is crisp and clear, migratory birds call above and the sun rests on the horizon.
On my travels along the California coast this year I retreated from the 100 degree heat and the endless, unrelenting freeways into this otherworldly house of worship – the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, California.
Here it is cool and still and with one step past the threshold the outside world simply ceases to exist. Here time stands still and the rarefied ambiance of 220 years takes over my being. One lone man sits in midday prayer before me.
Some time later, my being in balance, I depart through the church doors and, as I do, I recall the opening lyrics of the Elton John song “60 Years On”.
Who’ll walk me down to church when I’m sixty years of age When the ragged dog they gave me has been ten years in the grave And señorita plays guitar, plays it just for you My rosary has broken and my beads have all slipped through.