Asters in September
Frost before the snows fly
Violets in the springtime
Daisies in July
I remember the valley from when I was a very little girl. I don’t think it’s really changed much from then even though it’s been, what, almost thirty years. God, it couldn’t have really been that long, now could it? Of course I wouldn’t expect it to change very much. Most things in this part of the world tend to change slowly if at all. This valley is nearly a half mile from my house, up the mountain a ways. I know people from Wyoming wouldn’t call them mountains but here in West Virginia we do. There is a stream flowing from even higher up with the valley floor on either side spreading out in a meadow some sixty yards wide before the woods starts again and the land once more begins to slope upwards. Here land doesn’t stay flat for very far anywhere. We own some two hundred forty-five acres of which most is still pretty wild. It’s been in the family for generations. We do have some thirty acres which my parents had planted in corn or orchard. The orchard is still there but the corn fields have gone back to cedars, locusts and elderberry.
I guess it really has been over a quarter century but when I see my own Amber running through the open field or climbing the trees I still see myself. She even looks like I did. The same long, corn silk blonde hair. The same bright blue eyes. The same long legs and Tomboy tendencies. But I also see her father in her taller stance and the shape of her nose. And I see both of us in her determination, whether in making it to the top of a tree or in trying to find where the butterflies live. I smile to myself as I think that I never really discovered their home either.
Right now it’s early afternoon and I’m just watching her play. She has never had a problem playing by herself. Out here we are a couple of miles from almost anyone else her age. She does have friends from school and we will bring them over or take her to their houses to play. She has no problem playing with others. It’s just that it doesn’t bother her if there’s no one else around. She’s just very independent. Come to think of it, I was a lot like that myself. When I was her age there were even fewer people in the area and until I started school at six - we had no kindergarten then - my cousin was generally the only other child I ever played with.
My cousin, Don, and his wife and their two kids live only three miles away by the roads - or a little over a mile through the woods - and Amber frequently plays with them. In fact in another half hour I’ll take her back to the house and get her ready to go over there. She’s spending the next two nights with them and Dan and I will have the place to ourselves. This afternoon he needed to finish a complicated program and I took Amber out here away from the house so he could get more work done. He’s a programmer. This has the advantage that we can live out here and he can still make a good living but working at home has the disadvantage that a six year old who wants to play with her daddy can be very distracting. Actually I’m a programmer too, and have the same problem when she wants to play with her mother. Most of the time she is quite happy to play alone, but there are times ... Still if needed, we can generally schedule things so that one or the other of us can keep her happy and out of the way while the other works. One of the advantages of being independent programmers is that we can set our own schedules. But as most mothers know, it’s still nice to have some time just for my husband and myself. Hence the visit to my cousin. We do the same for them and bring their Sue and John over here to play with Amber and let their parents have some alone time. It all seems to work out pretty well.
I lie back in the warm July sun and listen to the soft sound of the insects and a few birdcalls mixed with the sounds of the splashing water in the stream and of Amber talking to herself. Or maybe to the birds or the trees or the flowers. I know I used to. I know that if I listen long enough I will probably hear a passing jet high up somewhere but that would most likely be the only non-natural sound that would ever make its way into this valley. The smell of the clover surrounds me and I can see the million or so daisies sticking up everywhere. Now the sky is nearly clear with a few high, white clouds floating along on a soft breeze. Later I know there will be a nearly full moon. I close my eyes and think back to when I first discovered this valley.
I was born here. Well, not right here but in the hospital some twenty-five miles away. My parents owned the farm, or more properly, the place. Two hundred forty-five acres of hills and small fields. Not really a farm although they did raise some corn to be sold as feed. They also raised some chickens and sometimes a few pigs but the main thing grown was fruit. The orchard had apples mainly, but also a few plum, pear, and peach trees. Although this was not an expensive place to live, I doubt the things we grew would have supported us. My father also worked part time as a mechanic, repairing some of the heavy machinery the nearby mining company used. He had learned this trade in the army and was quite good at that so there was always something for him to do. Still, I doubt there would have been enough for the company to hire him full time but I knew he never wanted that kind of regular work anyway. He loved the orchard and the small amount of farming he did and could never have been happy as a “wage slave”.
Of course I learned most of this when I grew older. I remember fragments of things from when I was very young, but I think the earliest really clear memory I have was one September when he took me up to the valley. My birthday is in early November and I would be turning five. As I have said, I was still at home because there was no kindergarten then. One day after lunch he said, “Let’s go for a walk.” I loved doing things with my dad and excitedly agreed. Mostly we did things close to the house but today he led me out through the woods and up the hill behind the house. I remember seeing him and mom smile at each other and I think they had agreed that she would stay in the house so the two of us could have some time alone.
Anyway, I remember walking for a long time. It was cool enough that I had on my little light jacket but the sun was shining and the sky nice and clear. After what seemed a very long trip to me we stepped out of the woods into the edge of the open valley. I remember stopping and staring, my mouth wide open. Everywhere there were purple flowers. Asters, as I later learned. There was also the deep, deep purple of some ironweed and the bright yellow of goldenrod, but mostly I remember the huge sea of purple asters. I had never seen anything so lovely.
I don’t remember all that we did. I just remember picking a big handful of the lovely purple blooms to take back to mom and I do remember hanging on to them all the way back and being so proud when I handed them to her and she put them in a vase to sit on the mantel above the fireplace.
That was my first trip - at least the first I remember - up to the valley. At that age I didn’t go back again for a while. I believe it was in late November - yes, it was just after Thanksgiving - when my dad again suggested we go for a walk the next day. They woke me up early, before the sun was up, and mom dressed me warmly. The weather had turned quite cool and most mornings there was at least a little frost outside until the sun had been up for some time. We had had a few light snows, but nothing to really cover the ground. When we left, mom came with us and when we stepped outside, the sun was just below the horizon.
This time the walk seemed a little shorter and we reached the entrance to the valley just after the sun cleared the eastern mountains. When we first left the trees I was greatly disappointed. I had been expecting the lovely purple flowers and instead all I saw was brown grass and dead weeds. I almost cried, “Where are the pretty flowers, Daddy?”
I think he and mom laughed a little but then he explained, “The purple flowers will be back next year but there are other flowers here now.”
I looked all around and didn’t see anything except brown and frost. “Where? I don’t see any.”
He smiled down at me and said, “Come over here.” He led me a little way into the field and pointed at a brown goldenrod stem. His finger moved downwards to point to the ground where the stem emerged. “Look down there.”
I moved closer and my eyes flew open as I exclaimed, “A white flower. Made of ice.”
Mom said, “That’s right. A frost flower.”
“It’s beautiful!” I examined it from all around and then I started looking elsewhere. I found others. Each one a little different but each looking unbelievably delicate. Each appeared to be made of spun spider web but a spider web of glistening crystal.
I must have spent an hour going from one lovely frost flower to another. I think at one point I asked if I could pick some and take them back. My parents smiled but explained that they would melt. “Frost flowers only live outside and only until the sun warms them. Just like the asters don’t last forever, neither do the frost flowers. They just don’t last as long as asters.”
“Will they come back next year, too?”
“Yes, they always come back.”
.... There is more of this story ...