Do you have a favorite flower that stops you in your tracks when you see it? The flower for which you give a little thank you to the universe for its lovely creation? Is it the color, the perfect symmetry, the smell, the texture that lights you up?
It’s usually a sunflower that stirs my soul. There are many other flowers I enjoy, yet the grand presence of a sunflower affects me in a certain way. But one day a small purple bloom took on a new meaning for me as I walked in a lonely field. The field was the Antietam Battleground.
At first I was taken aback by the peacefulness of the area. Green, lush, spooky quiet. A gentle wind, a bright sun. It took a while for me to notice the precious little blossoms scattered around my feet. A thought occurred to me that on the day of the battle, the ground would have been covered in streams of blood, fragments of shrapnel, fragments of humans and horses. The unfortunates who were not to feel the ‘glorious joy of heroes‘.
In a remembrance of the Battle of Shiloh, a young Henry Morton Stanley (of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” fame) wrote:
“Day broke with every promise of a fine day. Next to me, on my right, was a boy of seventeen, Henry Parker. I remember it because, while we stood-at-ease, he drew my attention to some violets at his feet, and said, ‘It would be a good idea to put a few into my cap. Perhaps the Yanks won’t shoot me if they see me wearing such flowers, for they are a sign of peace.’ ‘Capital,’ said I, ‘I will do the same.’ We plucked a bunch, and arranged the violets in our caps. The men in the ranks laughed at our proceedings, and had not the enemy been so near, their merry mood might have been communicated to the army.” –The Battle of Shiloh, 1862″ EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2004)
Stanley takes in the “holy calm of the woods”, for it was a Sunday. And he thought what a grand place for a picnic.
It’s hard to comprehend and appreciate the tragic beauty of a battlefield. Picasso created a work of art to express the cruel chaos of war: Guernica.
After the battles, Nature reclaims her own. The bodies are buried, the vines and grasses grow over, strip malls are constructed. The “raining death” of cannonball explosions is forgotten.
A small purple flower lives on. Perhaps the last beautiful thing a dying rebel boy or union soldier saw as he lay his head down for the last time on this violent earth.
Update: It’s the season for thinking of flowers–tilling the soil and planting the seeds. Even the astronauts high above the earth struggle with planting and nurturing their garden: Zinnias in Space