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  • Fringed GentianNotes of a Flower Watcher
  • Arra L. Ross (bio)

And Mockery—was still

—Emily Dickinson

It is again the season of gentians. Of one gentian in particular—the fringed Gentiana crinita, and of the lesser, more rare procera. The latest comers and bloomers. In mid-September, I set out through the meadow where Queen Anne's lace has curled inward and dried like clumps of knotted hair. I scour alder brush, bearberries, search among sphagnum stars, wander up and down the warped planks over the marsh where two years before I had first found them—see nothing.

A month earlier, running this path, I'd come across two men wearing Chippewa Nature Center T-shirts and digging out invasive buckthorns. "That rare fringed one grows here, later," I said, gesturing near my feet. "We'll try not to disturb it," they said. I stood there awkwardly, then kept running. What I wanted to tell them, but wasn't sure of myself, was about the gentian's symbiotic relationship with certain mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, how they need it to flourish. I was worried that if they broke up the soil there, the flower might not come back.

The first year, I was in such joy at my finding that I told a woman going in the other direction, pointing behind me at one of the clumps. When I returned a few days later, that clump was gone. That left only the one by the planks, which returned the following year. But this year, I can't find them. I am inordinately sad. In the season of change, I had come to look forward to [End Page 107] their bright, unspiraling spires to relieve my grief at time's passing, to help me believe yet in possibility.

The night before, my mother had dreamt my paternal great-grandmother gave her a plant that bore a beautiful blue flower. "It can be your best friend," my great-grandmother said. "You can talk to it."

I look up from the moss. Cicadas deepen, and here and there the bright circle of bugs over the pond, moving in ways I cannot fathom. Between one maple bough and thick trunk, a long spider line moves a little, and then I see also the many strung among leaves.


I came to write of the gentians, fringed, and how I found them unexpectedly after thinking they were gone. A whole field! Along the low pond where egrets settle and painted turtles plop, on my nearing, from high, dead stumps. I'd seen small ones there last year. And yes, I squatted then to look at their open faces in the sun, when my eye, drawn by some westward movement, fell upon the blue and blue and blue thick in the meadow along the shore, low among goldenrod and boneset.

Hundreds! I tried to count how far the field, how many the flowers, walking the damp deer trail, but lost count again and again as I carefully bent over this clump here and another, so lovely, there, my eyes stroking into the pale cups. Rising from the thickened red stem, more than 17 thinner stalks with their opposite heart-shaped leaves, green-centered, dusky-edged. And 19 flowers on this one clump—one open, very large, two inches high, I'd say, its four purple-blue petals spread outward from its deep-fluted center (tubed, the field guide says for this shape, though to me it is an ugly word to use); the fringes' fine-curled lashes on the curve of each petal, fancy as a '20s party dress or a white deerskin shawl, beaded. Late to the dance, but by far the most fancy.

The fringes, hard for small insects to traverse, keep unwanted entrants from the deep cup of nectar. Inside the tube, or flute, or cup, or vase, the skin is white, streaked with narrow violet lines down to the center, where the wet green stalk of the ovary rises, anther and filament, the style rising just shy of the opening, where the stigma are like two pressed yellow lips; beneath, clustered around the damp stalk of the ovary, the more...


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