Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. Fireweed as Metaphor

Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. Fireweed as Metaphor

Our garden is beautiful right now, just bursting with its first ripe fruit. The cucumbers are the show-offs: with only two plants they are producing madly, competing with one another to fill the fridge and the baskets of friends and family. The peas were marvellous, but are now petering off as their season comes to an end. The carrots, onions and beets are outgrowing their soil homes, and are peeping their growing heads out of the ground.
This garden was planted in the spring with love and care, with decisions as to which foliage went with what flowers, what scent would protect which companion plant. I planned. I expected. And, as every year, my expectations were surpassed by the natural wanderings and new surprises that only living, growing beings can provide.
But one figure’s appearance in my small, country-like paradise of a downtown garden inspired me the most. One lone plant, a reminder of fields of its kin way out west in another home of the past. Only one now: tall, mostly foliage, but with a head of little flowers so deep pink and with such a unique shape that it could be only one species. This plant, my friends, is fireweed. The name blends elegance and drama with the unfortunate and misplaced implication of an unwanted garden inhabitant.
This lovely vagrant, named for its ubiquity at burned sites, has its utilitarian side. Its vitamin-C rich leaves were used in teas by indigenous Canadians and French voyageurs alike. The soft fluff of its seeds was used in weaving and as stuffing for mattresses and blankets. Its fibrous stems were used to make cord, twine and fishing nets.
But its appearance in my little garden signaled much more than the arrival of a plant with a job to do. My fireweed arrived as a metaphor. The bright flowers both foretold and fore-softened my impending move to the East, reminded me of my roots in the Shield and my history by the Salish Sea. Ours is an era of transience, of home no longer rooted in geography. But that fireweed will follow, will greet the wandering Canadienne in a home of many places, gives the comfort of unity in this vast country.
So far from a weed, this lovely wanderer is a true Canadian. Found from the westernmost province to the east, from sub-arctic regions to our country’s southernmost reaches, fireweed has seen it all. Its fluffy, wind-blown seeds have flown through the drama of the Rockies, drifted across the subtle beauty of the prairies, and arrived in downtown Toronto with a destination in which they are most welcome. Fireweed, as transient as our age, companion to a wanderer: next stop – Halifax.

. Zoe Dalton is a graduate of York Universityís environmental science program, and is currently enjoying working towards a Master of Arts in Integrated Studies with Athabasca U. She can be reached for comments or questions at zk_dalton@hotmail.com.

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