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Opinion
Reiss’ Pieces

Richard Reiss: Savoring the goldenrod and the last days of summer

RIchard Reiss goldenrod

"In open fields, near ponds, lakes, streams and roads, where exposure to the sun is abundant, grows the remarkable goldenrod," writes Eagle columnist Richard Reiss. "Hundreds are scattered across my field like yellow exclamation points standing tall in a grassy landscape."

Delicate specks of red appear on the mountains, floating among forests of oak, maple and birch. Barely visible, the message is clear: autumn is on its way.

Despite the infinite variety of green that surrounds us, the only green to cross our eyes in a few short months will be the soft needles of the evergreen. Don’t get me wrong: Autumn is a dazzling display of color. Yet as summer fades, morphing into fall’s rainbow, it’s nice to be struck by one final blast of its radiance.

In open fields, near ponds, lakes, streams and roads, where exposure to the sun is abundant, grows the remarkable goldenrod. Hundreds are scattered across my field like yellow exclamation points standing tall in a grassy landscape.

For many, goldenrod is misunderstood. Is it a weed or a flower? That really depends on who you ask and possibly where you live. In Kentucky, for example, it has been the state flower since 1926. Yet it is often reviled as an allergy instigator when, in fact, it is not. It just happens to bloom at the same time as the less visible ragweed that causes so many to tear up and sneeze.

In North America, there are nearly 100 varieties of goldenrod. Originally called gizisomukiki by the Chippewa Tribe, whose lands included much of southern Canada and the northern United States surrounding the Great Lakes, its name has been translated to mean “sun medicine.” Goldenrod leaves and flower buds can be found in herbal teas that combat fever, infection and kidney stones. Some even claim that chewing its roots will alleviate a painful toothache. It is also an important plant for our nation’s pollinators. When most flowers have long since faded, goldenrod provides an abundant source of pollen for bees, butterflies and other important insects. In fact, millions of Monarch butterflies follow a southbound trail of goldenrod on their annual fall migration to Mexico.

In our part of the country, a trail isn’t necessary. Goldenrod is ubiquitous and often blankets hilltop fields cast against dazzling blue skies. Stand among them, and you might be illuminated. You might think that you, too, are an exclamation point, a statement in support of the natural beauty that surrounds around us.

Goldenrod clings to the days of summer but prompts us to think about what is coming. Change is afoot. Yellow waves that touch the ground will soon be replaced with red and orange and brown, high above our eyes.

Soon thereafter, the landscape will be white, as the colors of the prism meld into one. Heat becomes cool. Cool becomes chill. Chill becomes freezing. And just like that we long for the climate that goldenrod represents, when a gentle breeze pushed its flowers and us to thoughts of warmth and sunshine.

As the world around us changes colors, the Goldenrod reminds us that it is never too late to be brilliant and for each of us to stand in the sun and shine.

Richard Reiss is the author of “Desperate Love: A Father’s Memoir.” He lives in Canaan, N.Y., with his wife Paula. Richard Reiss can be reached at rpreiss63@gmail.com.

Richard Reiss is the author of “Desperate Love: A Father’s Memoir.” He lives in Canaan, N.Y., with his wife Paula.

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