I help myself to whatever's in bloom

I HAVE just returned from a short walk in a changing urban neighborhood and arranged a bouquet of Queen Anne's lace and moth mullein in an old majolica milk pitcher that belonged to my grandmother. During the summer and fall I have free and generous access to a variety of such flowering weeds, as there are numerous so-called vacant lots within a mile or so of the apartment building where I live. As any nature lover knows, the land where a house or other building once stood does not remain idle.

Several years ago, two handsome large Victorian houses were razed next door. The venerable ash and maple trees are still thriving, along with a magnificent horse chestnut.

Owing to the considerable asking price, this spacious lot has not been sold. The owner permits me to help myself to whatever is in bloom, weed or flower: spring beauties; violets; buttercups; daisies; chicory.

I cannot help feeling grateful toward the young student who at irregular intervals carelessly skims over the lawn with a riding mower. Most of the botanical inhabitants manage to survive without any great difficulty. There is at present a sufficient stand of chicory, some of which has gone to seed, to attract a charming pair of goldfinches.

I sometimes refer to myself as the last of the pedestrians. Several times a week I cross the nearby bridge spanning the Great Miami River on my way downtown.

On the return trip I often pluck a few flowers growing at the edge of an unkempt parking lot or some other neglected area. I have experienced delight in many an appealing arrangement composed of such strays as crown vetch, bouncing Bet (soapwort), toadflax, yarrow, and wild mustard.

What could be more effective than a single thistle blossom or harebell in a small porcelain bud vase? Then there are the miniature nosegays placed in an antique bottle-green toothpick holder: chickweed with its tiny snowflake flowers; sorrel embellishing the land with minuscule lemon lilies; ground ivy with its bluish-purple blossoms; clover, both white and rosy pink.

In the fall, no matter which direction I take, I encounter wayside goldenrod, wild asters, and snakeroot. The bridal white foamflowers of the latter are especially beautiful against the dark green foliage. Boneset, joe-pye weed, milkweed, butterfly weed, purple loosestrife, hardy ageratum, jewelweed: They are just waiting for an opportunity to take over some nook or cranny overlooked by modern civilization.

By training our eyes to see beauty in all its manifestations, including the humble weed in proper context, we gain immeasurably in appreciation of life.

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