This picture is part of the current display in the art gallery near my office. I get to walk by it every day. Some days I stop and just stare. As if spending time in its light and shadow will somehow weave peace into my soul. It’s so beautiful to me.
It’s titled Thistles. Those spiny little weeds growing wild in the fields. I’ve always loved thistles, even as a little girl. It was actually teasels that I loved. But to a little girl, there is little difference between teasels and thistles. Teasels and thistles bloom with big, beautiful, bright purple flowers on top – begging you…teasing you…to smell them or pick them. But they have spiny parts and thorns (bract) that can surprise you and shoo you away. Like many things in nature, the divergent aspects of this plant serve a purpose. The brightly colored flower attracts bees and other insects to its sweet nectar and propagating pollen and sought-after seed. The spiny bits protect it from being choked out by other plants or eaten to extinction by wildlife. Yin and Yang.
As a nature-girl at heart, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me to be so intrigued by this piece. If I were to sort the photos on my phone they would likely be 20% of my son (because he is extremely camera averse at this time), 30% my pets, and 50% nature. There is a cacophony of flowers and mushrooms and dead trees and frogs and worms and deer and mountains and creeks and sunsets and moons. This is where I find comfort. These are the images in which I see peace and hope. This is how I breathe.
But, thistles…..thistles have somehow charmed me from the first time I saw them. I remember reading A.A. Milne with my grandmother, snuggled close at her side, staring at the illustrations so gently drawn by Mr. Shepard. My lumbering friend, Eeyore, was searching for thistles as a treat. He seemed fragile for such a big donkey. But, not so fragile that he wouldn’t chomp on some thorny thistle to enjoy the delightful flower on top. He braved the hurt to enjoy the sweetness. Twirling lines drawn in clusters made the thistle plants at Eeyore’s feet which seemed to call out to be plucked. Like a siren with a beautiful song and a deadly secret, they draw you in.
As a Girl Scout, I remember trudging through fields in fall picking thistles at the end of their season. The brush-like tips of the plant were hard and very sharp. As if we were clipping bouquets of needles, we gingerly harvested our crop. We pushed the thistle tops into a cone shaped mound of Styrofoam and painted it green. It was our thistle Christmas tree. Our adolescent hearts were full of joy at our creations. We beamed with pride as we presented them to our families. Our parents were stymied as to how to store a mound of piercing painted weeds from year to year. They were both beauty to admire and trash to discard.
When I look at the thistle, especially after the bloom has fallen, I see our world in one little plant. Look at the strength – standing firm against the storms, ready to defend itself from any foe. And, yet, the winds blow them this way and that so easily. There is fragility in the gentle curve of the leaves. There is power in the rigidity of the stem. It is creator and destroyer all in one.
After I moved away from my country life, my favorite part of visiting my old home was time spent at the lake or in the vineyards and fields. I miss the smell of ripening grapes. I miss the sight of milkweed pods littering the roadside. I miss the sound of rustling corn stalks…and thistles…as they dry in the autumn sun. These are my sweet rewards for the thorny life I live surrounded by cities and suburbs. This is the balance I find in the life I choose. Yin and Yang.
Thistles by Bunny Leighton
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