Saturday, October 15, 2005

In this unceasing rain...

...I rememember the season's last cardinal flower.

My field guide calls the cardinal flower "bright red." Those simple words are hardly adequate to describe the plant's brazen presence in the ditch.

Shall we call in the people who invent the names on paint chips? Stoplight red? Chili pepper red? Red Ridinghood red? No, none of these quite work.

Thoreau once referred to the cardinal flower's "red artillery." A nice image, but not what we are looking for. On another occasion he was reminded of the scarlet of sin. Ah, now we are getting close. Hester Prynne's scarlet letter.

Green is the color of making a living, harvesting energy from the sun. Green, for plants, is nine-to-five, nose-to-the-grindstone, earning one's keep.

Red is the color of reproduction -- something to attract the hummingbirds and moths, those necessary partners in cardinal flower sex. Cardinal flower red is the red of rouged cheeks, ruby lips, flashy cummerbunds, long-stemmed roses and valentines. And from the come-hither look of it, that last red-blossomed plant in the ditch is ready for some frisky fun.