I was a latecomer in my appreciation of Tom Petty; I had virtually stopped listening to the radio in the late seventies and didn’t go back to recover what I had lost until a few years ago. My interest in his music came when I stumbled across an acoustic deep cut, Wildflowers. The chorus is so simple, but compelling:
You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm
You belong somewhere you feel free
I find myself singing that a lot this time of year, seeing all the wildflowers blooming their heads off around my house. We live up on a mountain, with no neighbors in sight, so we decided years ago not to employ any lawnmowers or weed-eaters and see what kinds of flowers the birds and the wind would plant for us. It’s been amazing, especially this time of year. I enjoy the flowers throughout the spring and summer, but August brings out my favorites – joe pye weed and ironweed and my favorite of all – the thistle. What strikes me about these beauties is their consignment to the category of “weeds” by many folks; they rarely reach blooming capacity before a weed-whacker has cut them down or a sprayer has rounded them up. These days, the appreciation for the mono-culture of grass has blinded folks to the aesthetic beauty of the wild. I learned a different appreciation for the weeds, aka the wild flowering plants from my father.
I spent a lot of time gardening with Pop, and a lot of that time was spent weeding the garden. He talked a lot about weeds, about how much he learned from them. They are resilient, hardy, persistent, etc etc. And, I learned that they were really not weeds at all, but flowers. He talked about how they were just a bit out of place when they were in the bean row competing with the beans for precious water and soil space. He would have resonated with the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “a weed is simply a plant whose virtues we haven’t yet discovered.” Pop learned this sentiment when he was a young boy, working his first paying job at Doc Greenwood’s Farm, now River Ridge Marketplace in east Asheville. Doc had him clearing the field of bull thistle. Pop talked about what a beautiful flower the thistle produced, and how it was too bad it wasn’t growing in a flower bed somewhere. Pop spent so much time clearing the field of the “weed” that Doc Greenwood gave him the nickname, Thistle.
The dozens of varieties of wildflowers do give me the deepest of cover out here at “the Old Place,” the name of our mountain home. And they make me feel like I really am where I belong. Whenever I walk down to the garden and see the thistle and ironweed tossing in the breeze, I feel free.