Tag Archives: Common Chicory

By the Side of the Road

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I have been joined by fox on my walks recently. They’re always singular, stepping out onto the country road before me. Red fox, black fox, silver/black fox, we keep an eye on each other as I walk toward him. But before I get too close, the fox jumps back into a culvert along the road or back into the thick of the woods. Since this has happened frequently, I think it must mean something but I’ve no idea what. I do know this however, according to Stephanie Rose in Interpreting the Spiritual Meaning of Seeing a Fox, “as a spirit animal, the fox reveals itself during times of great and unpredictable change.”

And that it is.

Queen Anne’s Lace has begun to bloom on island in fields, meadows, along beaches, and roadsides. I can’t tell you what that wildflower means to me. My first marriage was in a church built in 1846 on an elevated site in Suffield, Connecticut. I had no affiliation with that church, I just liked the look of it. Small, white, wooden, and with the exception of four Doric columns across a portico in front, the church is quite plain, almost chaste. An interior without  ornament, without electricity. A hand pumped organ, a lectern, and pews. And on that day, upon every window sill, homemade arrangements of Queen Anne’s Lace. A young bride in a long white cotton dress—I wish I could stop her, but there was no stopping her. It was all very hurried and quite mad.

Queen Anne’s lace smells like carrots, by the way.

Just beginning to appear, right behind Queen Anne’s Lace, is the wild lavender/blue flower I mistook for an aster my first few years on island. In fact it’s Common Chicory, a woody perennial herb in the dandelion tribe. It was at the Master Gardener Demo Garden that I stood corrected, and I remember shrieking with joy that this little flower, all over San Juan Island, is chicory. What came to me then, and what comes to me now every time I stumble upon it, are memories of a couple days spent in The French Quarter in New Orleans with my daughter. Dishes to die for—“first you make a roux,” bougainvillea growing to extraordinary heights on wrought iron balconies and gates, folds of old velvet drapery in deep reds, spider webs in chandeliers, the texture of crumbling brick walls, squares and courtyards and patios, street musicians, the smells of mossy trees, gardenia, and sweet olive, and the distinctive taste of the coffee. The ground root of Chicory was used as a coffee substitute in The Depression, and still today in New Orleans, as a matter of preference, it is mixed with dark bean coffee.

One glimpse of the pretty Common Chicory and I am there, at Café du Monde, powdered sugar on my fingers and upper lip.

And growing in sunlight where everything else gave up ever trying to grow, for they seem to come out of rocks, the California Poppy. Distinquished as the state flower of California, but native to the entire Pacific slope of North America. A flower so small and demure, with a vibrant explosion of yellow/orange color, the California Poppy expresses the optimism and free spirit of the state, reseeding itself if happy. Flowers that close at night and on cloudy days. I experienced that when I first moved to California from New York. I was continually calling people too late at night, not realizing that Californians more closely follow the sun.

Come fall, I am going to sow some.

I have completed the loop and am coming home from my walk. This is where I turn in: a shrubby lot by the side of the road and by the side of the sea. The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out—and everything comes back to us. It never leaves. A great state in a seed, two days in New Orleans pre-Katrina, a brief marriage, and a knowing fox.

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