September 05, 2010

Liatris' Melancholy Blooms

Fisher in a patch of wild Liatris
Liatris punctata (gayfeather, blazing star) is the only wildflower I habitually call by its botanical name. But my associations with it are mostly melancholy, and I wish that I could change them.

The habit of calling it Liatris comes from the summer of 1987, when my magazine-editing job crashed, we felt stuck in Cañon City, and we had no idea what to do. A friend from grad school had started a wholesale-flower business in Pueblo (his parents had been retail florists), and M. and I both at times worked in his greenhouse as day labor for quick cash.

He grew a domesticated variety of Liatris—and called it that. It is a great cut flower for florists to sell because the blossoms open sequentially over several days. I would strip the lower leaves by hand, bundle the "stems" (florists count by stems), and off they would go to the shops in his van.

So that is association number one: poverty.

Then we moved to academia, and the Liatris blooming in mid-August signaled summer break's end—the time of lesson-planning, convocation, department meetings, and, the week before Labor Day, walking into the classroom to see new faces.

"This is your syllabus. Take one and pass the rest on."

Association number two: end of freedom, back to work. (I never taught in the summers except when I was a part-timer, preferring free time to extra money.)

Now we have left that world. I should be able to see it as just another wildflower. But it's hard to lose the past.

Fisher, lucky for him, has no such associations.


Dream World said...
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Chad Love said...

I have many, many associations with poverty...