It Wasn’t Enough to Enjoy Those God-Given Wildflowers. I Had to Give Them Names

It Wasn’t Enough to Enjoy Those God-Given Wildflowers. I Had to Give Them Names March 29, 2016

God-given wildflowers. Fireweed blossom glowing pink in the San Juan Islands summer sun. Photo by Barbar Newhall
These wildflowers glowed magenta to pink in the full summer sun. Photo by Barbara

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Were those wildflowers purple? Indigo? Cerise? Or what? It was impossible to tell for sure. I had spotted a tall stand of fireweed growing on the edge of a woodlet in the Pacific Northwest, and I was walking around and around it, trying to get a bead on the flowers’ elusive color.

I took photos, lots of them, and, sure enough, when I pulled the captured images up on my monitor back home, I still couldn’t tell what color they were. Their hue had changed day by day and minute by minute during my visit to their home in the

God-given wildflowers. Fireweed blossom appears purple in the shade on an island in Washington's San Juan Islands. Photo by Barbara Newhall
When the sun dropped low over the San Juan Islands the fireweed fell into the shade and the petals turned purple, violet and lavender. Photo by Barbara Newhall

woods, and they were doing the same on my computer screen. I Googled myself over to Wikipedia to see where the colors fit on the color wheel. But no sooner had I spotted some promising color charts — including Goethe’s eighteenth-century color wheel — than I realized it was time to meet an old friend for lunch.

Westerners Like to Name Things


As I dug into my feta and spinach phyllo over at La Mediterranee in Berkeley, my friend, a Buddhist, turned the conversation to the Western mind’s tendency to judge, make distinctions, and assign things to categories, including colors. Our brains get so busy putting things in their place—naming them—she said, we forget to . . .

Forget to what? I can’t remember. What was it my friend wanted me to know? Something about being open to what’s real, to what’s right in front of you, except she said it way better than that.

My lunchmate was making a lot of sense. But as I moved my fork from the piquant feta and spinach on my plate to the cinnamony chicken cilicia, my thoughts strayed to

God-given wildflowers. A fireweed blossom in the sun at the edge of a San Juan Islands woods, viewed from behind. Photo by Barbara Newhall
The backside of a blossom: magenta pink with violet shadows and a splash of crimson at the base of the petals. Photo by Barbara Newhall

my plans for the afternoon. As soon as I got home, I promised myself, I’d reboot my computer, look at my wildflowers, and get the exact names of their hues from the experts.

Naming things has a long and venerable history in Western culture. God himself invited Adam to name the birds of the sky as well as all the animals, wild and domestic.

Human-Style Words for God-Given Wildflowers


Lunch over, back home, I set my inner Westerner free. A few clicks of the mouse, and there they were, an array of stunning colors to choose from: cornflower blue, heliotrope, violet, mauve, magenta pink, crimson, lavender — words as evocative as their subjects.

I’m pretty sure that my Buddhist friend, Westerner born and bred that she is, would like them as much as I do.

© 2016 Barbara Falconer Newhall. All rights reserved.

More Pacific Northwest flora at “San Juan Islands Flora: Or, I Cling, Therefore I Am.”  Feeling political? Here are some quotes from the Pope and the Donald.

God-given wildflowers. A stand of pink fireweed grows six feet tall at the edge of a San Juan Islands woods. Photo by Barbara Newhall
A weedy stand of fireweed grows six feet tall at the edge of a San Juan Islands wood. True to its name, fireweed grows in woodsy places disturbed by fire. Photo by Barbara Newhall
God-given wildflowers. Stalks of dead fireweed that has turned silver-gray, in the San Juan Islands, WA, in November. Barbara Newhall photo
The same patch of fireweed in November — silvery white. Barbara Newhall photo

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