Leave them be

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Mid-summer. Clear skies, warm days. With the ample spring and early summer rain, the nearby fields exude lush green. The roadsides near our country home burgeon with grasses, ivy (poison and otherwise), and a profusion of wildflowers: blue cornflowers, white Queen Anne’s lace, mulberry milkweed, periwinkle harebell, yellow black-eyed susans. Since I did not inherit my father’s talented green thumb, I get my gardening fix walking along our road, admiring the flamboyant procession of colour and form displayed by these flowering weeds.

I once cut some cornflowers for a bouquet, hoping to transpose their pure blue from the roadside to my kitchen counter. Within an hour, the flowers faded to a pale, insipid pink. Dad always cautioned against picking wildflowers: “They won’t last,” he warned, and, as I found out with the cornflowers, he was right.

I think there’s a fine justice in that. Not every small natural thing can, or should, be bent to our will, even on the pretext of appreciating beauty.

Betsy Scholl’s poem Wildflowers celebrates the tenacity of wildflowers, their ability to endure hardship, their innate survival force, their wisdom in being ordinary. The lines, “the way they stand/ as if anonymous, knowing themselves/ to be the blur passersby barely see,” remind me to rest content in the fullness of my ordinary self, to delight in hidden wildness.

And so, as the roadsides bloom abundantly, I rejoice in the ‘wild’ in ‘wildflower’. I leave the cornflowers in place, and in peace.


And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing…Revelation 9:4

Consider the way they shudder in the aftermath
of coal trucks, farm trucks, the fast red car,

the way they sway in the backwind
of passing’s vacuum, bending into the void,

the small rustle of what’s left in the wake,
whatever is said on the edge of our leaving —

chicory, ironweed, aster, thistle, Joe-pye,
poorest of the poor — the way they stand

as if anonymous, knowing themselves
to be the blur passersby barely see,

the way they disappear when winter storms in,
and then come crowding back in spring,

the ground loving them the way it does not
love the golf course with its sleek chemical green —

coreopsis, milkweed, bittersweet, goldenrod,
sumac, wild carrot —

the way they bow to the passing waves
that release their seeds, needing only a little wind

to lift them across the field, a little rain,
a small crack in the hardpan to grow,

to possess the earth, as scripture says
they will, don’t worry.

Betsy Scholl



  1. janice falls

    July 31, 2017

    a beautiful ode to wildflowers Mary Lou, both yours and Betsy’s – I will look at them with new appreciation next time! xoxo

    • Mary Lou van Schaik

      July 31, 2017

      Thanks, Jan. I was introduced to Betsy Scholl by my good potter friend Maureen Marcotte, who roomed with Betsy during a multi-disciplinary artists’ retreat in Maine. At one point, Betsy was poet laureate of the state. The author of several books of poetry, she takes a long time to write a poem….perhaps because she’s observing so carefully. Love – Mary Lou

  2. Wendy Sarno

    July 31, 2017

    Here in Missouri, Chicory grows abundantly along the side roads covering the grassy shoulders with a mass of blue flowers. I too discovered once that they close up and go gray when I bring them inside. They need their roots in the earth and their faces in the sun to bloom. Maybe a good reminder of the needs of our souls, as well. One of my wildflower books tells me that many of the blooming wild plants are found in unglamorous spots, along “roadsides and waste places”, “poorest of the poor”. Thank you, Mary Lou, for taking me on your morning walk. I count myself lucky to be among them.

    • Mary Lou van Schaik

      July 31, 2017

      Dear Wendy – your comment about wild plants in “unglamorous spots” reminds me of something I read in a book called “Pattern Language”. The authors speak about ‘site repair’ when considering where to place a new building. “Buildings must always be built on those parts of the land which are in the worst condition, not the best,” they advise, and go on to say: “If we always build on that part of the land which is most healthy [or beautiful], we can be virtually certain that a great deal of the land will always be less than healthy. If we want the land to be healthy all over — all of it — then we must do the opposite. We must treat every new act of building as an opportunity to mend some rent in the existing cloth…” Perhaps the wildflowers are mending the rent in the cloth…. Love — Mary Lou

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