Monday, March 22, 2010

`More Beautiful for Being Small and Unpretending'

Conversation with my brother reliably turns to the creek, fields and woods behind the house where we grew up in a suburb on the west side of Cleveland, and where he and his family now live. On Sunday, the temperature there was in the fifties, three months of snow had melted and the crocuses had come and gone. Ken was sitting in the backyard describing the bird life to me when I remembered a patch of pale-blue wildflowers that returned every spring in the grass near a crab apple tree in what we called the Second Field. Appropriately, they were forget-me-nots, small flowers about the color of a chicory blossom or a cloudless sky in June.

When I asked about them Ken said, “They’re long gone.” I knew the natural cycle in the 40 years since I lived there had transformed the fields into groves of softwoods, and the poplars and locusts had been succeeded by oaks and ashes, but the absence of the forget-me-nots still came as a sickening surprise.

The genus Myosotis consists of about 50 species, 11 of them in North America, known familiarly as forget-me-nots. Myosotis is from the Greek for “mouse’s ear,” which the plant’s leaf is said to resemble. Classical scholar Henry Thoreau knew the etymology. Witness his journal entry from June 12, 1852:

“Marsh speedwell, Veronica scultellata, lilac tinted, rather pretty. The mouse-ear forget-me-not, Myosotis laxa, has now extended its racemes (?) very much, and hangs over the edge of the brook. It is one of the most interesting minute flowers. It is the more beautiful for being small and unpretending; even flowers must be modest.”

Perhaps it’s the modesty of the forget-me-not, its uncomplicated beauty, that impressed itself on my memory: “More beautiful for being small and unpretending.” And for being unforgotten.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a bottle of "Bleu Myositis" fountain pen ink made by J. Herbin, the world's oldest ink company, established in 1670. It is a beautiful blue that reminds one of forget-me-nots.