It’s the plant that wonderful author Barbara Cooney wrote about in Miss Rumphius. At this time of year, roadsides along the Maine Turnpike are gaudy with the rich purple blue of wild lupines. Sadly, those same roadside are also often lined with the stopped cars of lupine-nappers. These are the folks who think that anything not under lock and key must be theirs for the taking. The ones who believe that anything in the wild is up-for-grabs, and they want to be the first to do the grabbing.
I see it happen every year as I drive past, and I can’t help but wonder: What are they thinking? Do they ever stop to consider that if everyone behaved like them, there would be no more lupines? That if for one lupine season, everyone passing yielding to the impulse to grab their shovels and dig up “just a few” that pretty soon there would be none? They can’t consider this, right, or else they wouldn’t be out there stealing beauty from the rest of us.
It is very clear that none of these people had MY mother. She had an unshakable response to the lupine thieves’ impulse: If you know it isn’t yours, you don’t touch it. And they know it isn’t theirs. What if we all acted like that? If we all picked the flowers in public parks? How many times have we seen someone bend over and snip off a blossom or a single rose. “It’s just one,” they think. “Taking just one can’t hurt.” But of course it can, if a lot of others also take “just one.”
Years ago, I visited the Petrified Forest. I’d heard about it all my life—this odd place in the desert where there were the remnants of a whole forest that had been turned to stone. But it was a huge disappointment. After decades of uncontrolled souvenir hunting, there wasn’t that much left. The curious public had chipped it up and carried it away. I could only imagine what it must once have looked like.
Again, my mother’s voice. What good is complaining, she might ask. What are you going to do about it? Well, I know I can’t stop all the lupine thieves. But I can make a modest suggestion. When the impulse to “have that, own that, possess that” comes on, resist it.
Stop by the roadside, if you want, but leave your shovel behind. Take your camera and your five senses instead. Before you take that coveted flower’s picture, try to really see it. See those sturdy pyramids with ascending their corn-row arrangements of tiny, puffy pillows. Notice the variations of lighter and darker blues ranging all the way from lavender to inky purple. Admire the way patches of lupine hold their own against the thick surrounding grass.
Breathe in the freshness of the outdoors. Breathe out the need to possess it. Take a moment to just be where you are, surrounded by this sturdy, amazing, determined little plant. Say, “Thank you, Lupine, for improving my day.” Take a picture, if you want.
Then get back in your car, holding the moment instead of the freshly dug plant. Go home and plant something lovely yourself where others can enjoy it.
(Note: this column has appeared before, but as I was driving past the lupines yesterday, and they seemed sparser than last eyar, I thought it a good idea to post it again.)