Large swathes of goldenrod grace the fields now and sway in the wind on this late summer day. We natural dyers long for this time of year when we can harvest the brilliant flowers that make an eye popping fluorescent yellow on cloth.
The Shakers dyed with many fall harvests—goldenrod, sumac, walnut—but didn’t wear yellow. Why I wonder didn’t they take advantage of these vast fields of bright flowers? Deborah Burns notes “goldenrod grows in neglected fields” and “where corn had once grown tall, goldenrod now replaced it.” A ‘neglected’ field did not exist on any Shaker farm, so, perhaps, the goldenrod was not as plentiful as it is now. I still search for the reason that Shakers didn’t wear yellow, but maybe it is as easy as yellow shows dirt more than a deep butternut cloth.
If you go to harvest goldenrod, you will not be the only one, for the pollinators are out in full force taking nectar and pollen from the goldenrod, making stores for the winter months.
I invite you to carry Mary Oliver’s fitting poem, Goldenrod, in your pocket as you seek pollinators amongst the fluorescent yellow inflorescences.
in fall fields,
in rumpy bunches,
Saffron and orange and pale gold,
in little towers,
soft as mash,
sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
full of bees and yellow heads and perfect flowerlettes
and orange butterflies.
I don’t suppose
much notice comes of it, except for honey,
and how it heartens the heart with its
I don’t suppose anything loves it except, perhaps,
the rocky voids
filled by its dumb dazzle.
I was just passing my, when the wind flared
and the blossoms rustled,
and the glittering pandemonium
leaned on me.
I was just minding my own business
when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
citron and butter-colored,
and was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labors of our lives
full of dark hours?
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,
that is better than these light-filled bodies?
on their airy backbones
they toss in the wind,
they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend, they rise in a stiff sweetness, in the pure peace of giving one’s gold away.
Mary Oliver, Goldenrod from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Deborah E. Burns, Shaker Cities of Peace, Love and Union A History of Hancock Bishopric, (University Press of New England, 1993), pg. 190.