Earth Journal
The Cardinal Comes Calling
by Audrey Y. Scharmen

In the time of goldenrod and jewelweed, when summer has melded into autumn, the cardinal comes to Chesapeake Country.

A highly prized plant with clusters of scarlet fluted flowers on tall graceful stems, the cardinal is a spectacular lobelia, the only red member of its family. It is believed to be a survivor of the warm period that preceded the glacial epoch, for no such color, due to intense sustained sunlight, could have originated in our temperate zone. It was conceived in the Age of Flowers, when flowers changed the world.

Loren Eisley wrote: "Somewhere in here, I think, as I poke seriously at one particularly resistant seed case of grass, was once man himself." That is what I feel when I enter the presence of the cardinal in some somnolent little grotto where it has sought to keep its feet damp and its beautiful red head crowned in sunlight.

Just such a place is a wild garden sequestered in deep woods near the Bay, in a gully where wildflowers flock in all seasons. A gentle stream idles there and ancient trees along the bank let in dappled sunlight. It is a primeval pace where ghosts of millennia slumber. It is a perfect place for a cardinal flower.

A friend took me there. She and her dog had discovered it years before. She is a gifted naturalist, an herbalist who readily shares her knowledge and expertise with others. Her sprawling dooryard is lush with wild plants that wander in from the near woods to find refuge from progress. Like stray kittens, they sense there a source of love and nourishment. And they thrive.

But she had yet to see a cardinal flower in the wild. And we made a pact to return in late summer to the gully, so certain was I that the cardinal would be there.

High summer came, cruel and hot. No rain fell. The wetlands withered, and ticks swarmed the maze of steep deer trails that led down into the grotto. Meanwhile, the forest wrapped the entrance to the secret garden in its dark cloak as if to discourage trespassers.

Thus we abandoned our plan. I knew of other places, more accessible, where the cardinal grows. We would go there, I said. But we didn't.

With September, the heat loosened its grip, star clematis twinkled whitely beside the country lanes and covered the carnage of drought with cool fresh green vines. And there came a phone call from my friend.

The cardinal had come to her. It had sprung suddenly from thick sword and maiden-hair ferns beside her porch and grown unnoticed until its bright beacon of red blossoms appeared. It had brought along its very own pollinator: a single hummingbird, she said.

There are no coincidences in nature, said I.

| Issue 40 |

Volume VII Number 40
October 7-13, 1999
New Bay Times

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