Editorial: Springtime in Rappahannock

We’re told that we humans are to have dominion over the earth, and yet . . .

And yet Rappahannock’s springtime reminds us that often what’s most enchanting can be found in precisely those things, and those events, we have absolutely no control over.

If beauty is something that can be valued on a scale, how can a cornfield, or even a robust vegetable garden or any other things we plant, ever be said to be more beautiful than the truly amazing wildflowers now springing up here in Rappahannock?

Birdfoot violet . . . Black-Eyed Susan . . . Dutchman’s Breeches . . . Jack-in-the-Pulpit . . . Lousewort . . . May-Apple . . . Perfoliate Bellwort . . . Skunk Cabbage . . . Smooth Solomon’s Seal . . . Spring Beauty . . . Squawroot . . . Star Chickweed . . . Striped Wintergreen . . . Trillium . . . Virginia Cowslip . . . Wild Columbine . . . Wood Anemone . . . Yellow Lady’s Slipper.

The names are almost as magical as the sights themselves – and evoke a time when we were more closely tied to the land and nature’s wonders. In the very act of naming the “volunteer” flowers, especially with already familiar appellations and associations, however, we displayed our dominion. But now that we have indisputable dominion, do more than just a few of us care about the names of Rappahannock’s spring wildflowers?

Our young people, with their thumbs tweeting and their eyes burned into electronic screens, probably couldn’t care less. In the words of naturalist and essayist Edward Hoagland, people no longer “saunter (Thoreau’s favorite term) and gaze, turn off the motor and open the window when passing a pond to hear the spring peepers sing – and won’t know if the frogs have all died from toxicities.”

Virginia’s Historic Garden Week celebrates its 80th year next month. (For more information, visit vagardenweek.org.) Many of the private estates open to visitors are nearby – and the gardens often deemed the most beautiful are those that pretend to be the most “natural.”

The classicism of straight lines, manmade artificialities, symmetries and formal gardens seems out of place here in Rappahannock; rather, the romantic tradition of sensuous curves and shapes that reflect the undulating hills somehow feels more aesthetically pleasing, in keeping with the natural order of things . . .

So that we can continue to saunter and gaze.

Walter Nicklin