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Grow Along the Trail: February Goldenrod

Last month, I shared my love for the coppery tones of Winter Beeches which color the forest in winter. This month, walk along the trail with me to discover the beauty of Goldenrod during the cold months.


Goldenrod, that spike of yellow which fills the August and September field, is a native plant to much of North America. It's a versatile species, with many variations. Most of them live up to the "gold" in their name, but might live anywhere from wetland to prairie, forest to field. You might be thinking, why on earth would she pick goldenrod for February? Indeed, it is a reasonable question. I cannot guarantee a reasonable answer, but I will endeavor to invite you into my thoughts. Perhaps I may even convince you that goldenrod is also a winter flower.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape---the loneliness of it---the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it---the whole story doesn't show." -Andrew Wyeth

In winter I love to look for the "bones" of the landscape. Some of those bones might be branches, crests of hills, curves of rock--and sometimes, they are the remains of summer's flowers. At first glance, once might see only death and decay. It is not wishful thinking, trying to make beauty out of this. It is a change of perspective on what beauty might be. That brown stalks and dried leaves, those symbols of a season of death and hibernation, might actually be beautiful.

Walk through any winter field and you will see goldenrod. Not in its showy summer clothes, of course. In winter it puts on more muted attire. Some might call the goldenrod past its prime in this state, and yet great beauty remains on this hardy stalk. The seeds appear in fluffy tufts along the brown stem, mimicking the beautiful arching lines it held in summer. If beeches inspire hope for days to come, goldenrod teaches us to remember. In my own dark season, remembering death, and life that came before it, has been both inescapable and necessary. I must face it. I must mourn it. I must see it rightly. At first glance I only see the brown, the decay, the lack of life. That is true and is natural, but I cannot stay there. Look closer. Within the brown the possibilities remain. I believe that God is the great Redeemer, and that even the loss I witness will not be in vain. The seeds foretell life ahead even as they echo life behind. In the immediate, life ahead for those left behind. In the future, life reunited with those who love the Lord their God. Life reunited with God Himself.


Finding the best medium for a piece is always a challenge when you love to tinker with different techniques. I did some goldenrod sketches but nothing was really speaking to me. It came to me when my sister gave me some pieces she had created using cyanotype development. Usually she does it on paper, but she had done a few pieces of cotton fabric, and I fell in love. I knew it would be perfect to tie them into a piece using vintage fabrics--a union I have long had in the back of my mind.

That blending of old and new fit with the idea of remembering and looking ahead. Pieces of the past juxtaposed with something made new, and in a more modern style, captured what I felt in looking at these stalks of seeds. Along with that, something about capturing the shadows of these dried stalks, nearly shadows themselves of what they were in summer, seemed appropriate.

So I went gathering those crinkly stalks still standing even amidst the snow and cold. I concocted a simple brew to treat the fabrics. I dried them. I laid out the skeletal remains of summer, which then preserve the light beneath them while the remaining surface area is exposed and transformed. I left them in the dark with just one special light and waited. Finally, once rinsed and dried again, they were ready for my needle. Some I used as they came out in their brilliant blues, and others I coffee-stained to dull and deepen the color. Vintage coverlet pieces feature in each of these tapestries, along with hand-embroidered details.

Maybe these shadows will remind you to look for goldenrod in a nearby field and to remember.


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