Michaelmas and Its Daisies

Late purple aster (Symphyotrichum patens)

In England, Michaelmas, or the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, traditionally is celebrated on September 29. Long associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days, it is one of four ‘Quarter Days’ tied to solstice or equinox: Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29), and Christmas (December 25).

Although associated with religious festivals, Quarter Days also served a secular purpose; in the past, Quarter Days marked a time to hire servants, pay rents, or begin leases. Traditionally, Michaelmas also marked the end of harvest: the conclusion of summer’s productivity and the beginning of the new agricultural cycle.

As the turn toward winter began, various late-blooming asters became associated with the celebration of St. Michael. Just as the saint was considered a protector against darkness and evil, the so-called Michaelmas daisy was considered a token of resistance to the advancing gloom of autumn and winter.

The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.

Today, an assortment of asters have come to be considered Michaelmas daisies, and most belong the genus Symphyotrichum. Generally tall, clump-forming, and autumn-blooming, they can be abundant in North American marshes and fields.

Perennial salt marsh aster (Symphyotrichum tenuifolium)

Ancient traditions associated with the feast of St. Michael include feasting on a goose that had been fed on the stubble of the fields; baking breads or cakes with grain from the last harvest; and making dolls from the last of the corn shocks. Today, Michaelmas daisies still are exchanged or gathered to decorate tables, and verses such as this, from Malcolm Guite, are shared:

Michaelmas gales assail the waning year,
And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright.
He strips dead leaves; and leaves the living clear
To flourish in the touch and reach of light.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Remembrance

Memorial Day Weekend, 2019 ~ Old City Cemetery, Galveston

 

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish’d Sabbath,
On the pavement here—and there beyond, it is looking
Down a new-made double grave.
Lo! the moon ascending!
Up from the east, the silvery round moon;
Beautiful over the house tops, ghastly phantom moon;
Immense and silent moon.
I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key’d bugles;
All the channels of the city streets they’re flooding
As with voices and with tears.
I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring;
And every blow of the great convulsive drums
Strikes me through and through.
For the son is brought with the father;
In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell;
Two veterans, son and father, dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.
Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive;
And the day-light o’er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.
In the eastern sky up-buoying
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin’d;
(’Tis some mother’s large, transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)
O strong dead-march, you please me!
O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans, passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.
The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.
                           “Dirge for Two Veterans” ~ Walt Whitman

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Miss Ima Would Be Pleased

Herbertia lahue filling the lawn at the Varner-Hogg plantation

While an assortment of wildflowers strews vibrant spring color across the Texas landscape, pastel lavenders and pinks do their own part to decorate the season.

One of my favorites, Herbertia lahue, or prairie nymph, is a small and delicate member of the iris family. The flowers appear for only two or three weeks, and each flower lasts for only one day; finding an entire colony at the Varner-Hogg plantation outside West Columbia was as lucky as it was delightful.

Originally owned by Martin Varner, a member of Stephen F. Austin‘s Old Three Hundred and a veteran of the Texas Revolution, the property’s last owner was James Stephen Hogg, the first native Texan to be elected governor. Donated to the state in 1958 by Governor Hogg’s daughter Ima, the historic site provides a view of plantation life in Texas between 1835 and 1850, the time of the plantation’s greatest productivity.

Contrary to jokes told even during her lifetime, Ima Hogg didn’t have a sister named Ura, but she was a remarkable woman and a great philanthropist. After helping to found the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1913, she became president of its board in 1917. Elected to the Houston Board of Education in 1943, she arranged symphony concerts in public schools and worked to increase the number of music and art classes available to students.

Eventually she donated Bayou Bend, her home in the River Oaks neighborhood of Houston, to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The antiques-filled house and formal gardens are balanced by woodlands filled with native trees and shrubs: a testament to her conviction that the same  plants that grew wild on the plantation at the edge of Varner Creek should have a place to thrive in the heart of Houston. I doubt there are prairie nymphs at Bayou Bend, but out at the old plantation they’re doing just fine.

Herbertia lahue near the site of the old sugar mill at the Varner-Hogg plantation

 

Comments always are welcome.