Thirty-five years ago I wrote this as a column for the RIDGEWOOD (N.J.) NEWS. I was living alone in Kennebunkport, Maine and had a yellow lab that I took on walks every day along the ocean….which inspired me to write about the Flower Lady. I also posted it as a blog four years ago. Every fall, I think of her and wonder where she is.
With the help of photographer Ken Janes, who is the best, I’ve decided I needed to visit her again! So here is….
THE FLOWER LADY
I first noticed her this summer as I walked along the rocky seacoast in the early morning with my yellow lab. We never spoke, so I had no clue who she was or where she came from. She rode an old battered bicycle with metal saddlebags that she filled with wildflowers gathered along the marshland that borders the route of my morning walk. I secretly nicknamed her the Flower Lady.
Some mornings fog hung heavy over the ocean, misting the view. Other days the sun sparkled on dew drops clinging tenaciously to clumps of grass. My lab liked to stop, sniff and poke around the bushes. In the pause, inevitably I saw her.
Early June I watched her pick scarlet sea roses, white yarrow and blue forget-me-nots with their tiny yellow centers. Midsummer she ventured deeper into the thicket to pluck amber-hued wild mustard and purple strife. In August she filled the baskets on the back of her bike with armfuls of goldenrod and bundles of ripe sweet grass.
Today I buttoned my sweater before setting out. The leash slipped in my gloved hands so I unhooked the collar to allow the dog the freedom she demanded in the brisk dawn air. A mile from home I spotted my anonymous mysterious friend.
She was picking yellow sunflowers, maroon asters and red bayberry foliage. There were no pink or pale blue flowers in her collection, nothing that spoke of summer, just the full rich colors of autumn.
Curiosity got the best of me. I approached her and asked why she gathered flowers so early every day. She told me she loved wildflowers and had a roadside stand in front of her home in a nearby fishing village. She said, “It’s a small business but it serves a purpose I want.”
As I continued my walk I realized I admired her purpose. All summer long the profusion of blooms is just a blurred backdrop for my morning reveries. When cold weather comes I fight the constriction of a down jacket, the itch of a wool scarf. I tend to admire the brilliant foliage from inside the cozy confines of my car or kitchen.
Not the Flower Lady. While I resist the arrival of cold weather, she goes out and harvests the best of the season’s crop, then shares it with her customers. In autumn, as in spring and summer, she reaps private joys in the pleasure of a tiny blossom.
Soon the harsh frost will put an end to her gathering. She said, “There’s not much to pick after October.”
And so we buy fat orange pumpkins and crackly corn stalks to decorate our doorways. We restock the woodpile, shake mothballs from the mitten box and reluctantly switch on the furnace.
Fall is today. Summer is a memory. But I am already thinking of spring when I’ll see the Flower Lady, peddling along the road, searching for early bloomers and welcoming the new season.
Thank you again, Ken Janes, for your photos that speak truer than my words!