Ten-petal blazing star. I stumbled on it at dusk on a western bank of the Missouri River, a hearty perennial growing out of the steep sandy edge, out of the sun. I'm told its showy white flowers open only in the shade to bloom nocturnally. That's kind of fancy. Maybe that explains why I don't believe I'd ever seen it before.
But it was down a ways on the bank, and I was in no mood to shimmy down the steep edge to get up close. Besides, it caught no sun whatsoever where it grew, which meant--I thought--that its beauty wouldn't display itself all that well in a photograph. But it was a beautiful thing, and I hadn't remembering ever seeing it before, a surprise, even a shock on the plains. That's it, above. Interesting name--"ten-petal blazing star."
Then I unsheathed every mm of my telephoto lens and pulled those beautiful white blossoms up close, just for kicks, even though I knew the picture wouldn't do it justice because sunlight has a way of putting Sunday best on almost anything--and, of course, there was none.
When I got home, I opened the files to this.
The gorgeous little evening flower--so delicate in as tough a region as the Great Plains--is being ravaged by grasshoppers. You may not be able to see them, but I count at least six of them in this shot, all of them gorging their ugly selves on the stems.
Calvinist that I am, I don't know what to do with the moral of the story here because there are many. The grasshoppers are somehow Satanic? Nah. Even though they're an unforgettable part of the Dust Bowl horrors, all too regularly even today they ravage the Plains, eating the onions right out of the ground. They may be ugly, but they're not evil. They're just here, and goodness knows they eat what they want, when they want. Sure, they get out of control, but did you ever see a closeup of their eyes?--takes your breath away. They're not the devil.
Sic transit gloria mundi--"thus passes the glory of the world." These wonderfully delicate flowers have but a moment's glory on this sad earth--alas, their beauty gone. I could probably put the Latin phrase right up there against the water behind the plant. But I don't like that really either because it still makes the hoppers villians, and even though they are, their mission in life isn't to destroy flowers. They got to eat too.
Maybe there is no moral at all. I read an essay ("Wildness") by Scott Russell Sanders not long ago that lauds the mysterious glory of wildness, even--hold on to your seat--in cancer cells. There is so much of life itself we can't determine, he says, and its good for the soul not to forget that's true. All around us, if we look for it, is wildness; and there's not much we can do.
I don't quite know what to make of the destruction in this close-up--of beauty being decimated. But maybe that I can't make sense of it is itself a blessing. More and more as I grow old, I'm coming to think that God's mysteries may well be his greatest blessings. When we don't know, we can't make our own answers. When we don't know, we stumble into silence and darkness. When we don't know, our foolish pride vanishes. When we don't know, we may actually fall to our knees.
I don't know. And this morning as I study the picture of beauty laid low, I'm ready to admit that not knowing may be the blessing for which, this morning, I'm grateful.