Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Is beauty its own excuse for being?

Rhododendron rhodora
 Since you may not have read the poem since childhood, or paid much attention to it then, I shall copy Ralph Waldo Emerson's classic tribute to this astonishing early azalea from Eastern North America:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

Rhododendron rhodora
 I have been in the Northeastern US and eastern Canada on many occasions--but never quite at the peak of bloom of rhodora. This trip has made up for that lapsus: I have glimpsed them many places, but the very best of all the spots was in downtown Halifax, very close to the "narrows" where they biggest explosion aside from the Atomic Explosions once occurred. Just below the crest of the hill there is a magical spot teaming with Vaccinium galore, Kalmia angustifolia, rhodora and a dozen other choice plants I could identify--I was transfixed. I have taken a few shots of that spot so you can enjoy some of the remarkable variation in color of this lovely creature.
Rhododendron rhodora
 I would have a hard time determining a favorite among these. I clambered here and there, taking pix and enjoying closeup views of these spidery, hot pink flowers.

Rhododendron rhodora
 I suspect if I picked a shady spot, put in some peaty soil and kept it moist, I could grow one like this. It would probably bloom in April. I think I shall do it! I want a Lambkill too...

Rhododendron rhodora
 The flower suggests honeysuckle to me more than most azaleas. A very hot magenta/lavender pink honeysuckle to be sure...

Amelanchier sp.
 There was a distinctive dwarf, silvery leaved shadblow there too (they call them Indian pears hereabouts)

Chamaedaphne calyculata
And lots of this strange ericad I fell in love with too--love the bronze leaves.

Not the most spectacular immediate setting. I don't show the couple who were also there surveying the spot--which is about to be turned into a community garden...

So much for yet another spot of teeming wild biodiversity, succumbing to the Human death wish.

Do we have to screw* up  every square inch of the planet and make it "useful"??? He asks incredulously...Is this a race? Are we going to destroy the planet first, or just accelerate our own demise?

I guess that beauty isn't a good enough excuse for being.

*Those who would have read this post earlier would have found a more emphatic and relevant term in place of "screw"...a good reason to read my posts promptly!


  1. I have seen Rhodora at a few places out East. It is quite common in certain areas. Unfortunately, beauty itself is not "a good enough excuse for being." It seems only rarity justifies salvation.


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  3. Nice post, fully informative thanks for sharing

  4. It is really interesting, I hope everybody lick this Post.

  5. Oh PK, how have I missed this poem? As a New Englander, it touches my soul in the same way Edward Edward MacDowell's "to an Old White Pine" did, in college. Compositions by nature, how they once inspired us. You made my day.

  6. Thank you, Matt: glad I can find an old nugget of poetry for you! Emerson has quite a few gems tucked away in his volumes...those New Englanders knew (and know) a thing or two.

  7. Timely beautiful post. I'd forgotten this Rhododendron since Denmark years ago, where it does very well, as do all the N. American azaleas. They have a gorgeous variety that is nearly blue- lavender. It's one of the most easily rooted too. I'd bet that Steamboat and possibly Vail could do it justice.
    Down here in the SW it wouldn't last longer than the flower,...


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