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Rosebay Willowherb

This plant, a wildflower, is my favourite flower of all. I love all flowers, both great and small, tree flowers, shrub flowers and any other type I encounter, they remind me of the goodness of life.

This blog may well annoy my critics because it’s not about woodworking nor is it related to wood in trees or at the workbench in any way. The Rosebay Willowherb means more to me than all the other flowers because it’s the first flower that struck me as beautiful from my childhood exposure in unkempt land that was my introduction to self motivated nature study. I was seven. Cinnabar moths, a daytime delta shaped moth, skipped and flitted from pink spire to pink spire, hesitating for only seconds before moving on. The land was a triangular acreage, around 300 I suppose, hemmed in on three sides by railway tracks and a shunt yard. Back then the land seemed to be making its way back from being abandoned and abused waste land. As with many people, I’ve often found myself liking ‘weeds’. Perhaps these perennials remind me of my own life growing up on and with the waste land as my backyard yet thriving as I adapted to benefit the world I live in. This particular weed has several names. Known as the Bombweed of Britain the seeds drifted in to colonise the bombed out zones of Britain after the second world war and then it was associated with the revival of cities like London itself. In the north America it’s known as fireweed as it appears after intense forest fires that left the earth scorch scarred. Where I come from you will find the spires of pink standing sentinel on railway bankings and what we once called recreation grounds, which were often former bombed out areas of any town.

So here I am, still awed by their beauty and the memories of catching Cinnabar moth caterpillars, jersey-striped yellow and black bands equally spaced, in a jam jars and adding leaves for food while waiting for them to attach themselves for cocooning. I’m looking back on my life and looking forward into the future. The raw beginnings of my woodworking resulted from an intent to survive. When my craft became mine, and I owned it, I found the freedom I needed to be my lifestyle woodworker off the conveyor belt.

30 Comments

  1. Day Johnston on 1 July 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Gather ye Rosebays while ye may

    • Bob Carlson, Fairbanks Alaska on 3 July 2019 at 5:29 pm

      Paul, In Alaska and northern Canada, they are Fireweeds!
      Often completely cover acres after a wildfire.
      The favorite wild flower of many in fields and ditches.
      Great picture!

  2. Geoff Black on 1 July 2019 at 3:03 pm

    No criticism here. The early things that attract us to beauty lay down the tracks in our hearts and minds that attract us to the making of beautiful things. Such as drawing and music and crafting wood. It is why, for some of us, crafting things takes on a spiritual significance for the lack of a better description. The joy you develop as a child in beautiful things is akin to the joy in making beautiful things.

    • Richard King on 8 July 2019 at 10:42 am

      While I appreciate these flowers in wild areas near my house, they are a major weed on my veg patch as their seeds blow everywhere.

  3. Dave Baumgartner on 1 July 2019 at 3:42 pm

    Paul – Fireweed is one of my favorite wildland plants as well. Really it is not a weed me thinks, but a welcome sight especially after a wild fire because it represents healing as it is one of the first plants to appear.

  4. Andrew Wilkerson on 1 July 2019 at 3:46 pm

    Well said Geoff, Nice relaxing read, thanks Paul, I can relate to that a lot.

  5. Mario Fusaro on 1 July 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Nothing wrong with this, Paul. It’s good to take some time away from everything and get back to nature. Not only is it good for the soul, it also reminds you of how insignificant you are in the vastness of nature. Not much unlike that Cinnabar moth!

  6. Flemming Aaberg on 2 July 2019 at 3:38 am

    Hey Paul- your blog – you can write what you want – and thank you for this one.

  7. RODNEY MAGEE on 2 July 2019 at 10:01 am

    There is a show from the BBC my wife and I watch; “BIG DREAMS, LITTLE SPACES”. It’s hosted by Month Don, I assume a gardener of repute in England. The show is about turning a small wasteland of a yard into a show place, the budgets range from quite meager to quite large, most of the work is done by the homeowners who normally have no knowledge of what they’re doing but they learn. Sounds familiar. Many want to attract wildlife, some well chosen flowers, perhaps a small tree or shrub, maybe a small water feature and they do attract various birds, butterflies and other pollinators. Boot woodworking but enjoyable nonetheless.

    • RODNEY MAGEE on 2 July 2019 at 1:08 pm

      it seems the autocorrect on my tablet doesn’t like “Monty” so it changed it to Month and doesn’t like “Not” so it changed that to Boot. I most humbly apologize for any confusion.

  8. Tom Hitchner on 2 July 2019 at 1:17 pm

    What timing. As I read this, I am preparing for our camping trip to upstate Pennsylvania. Looking forward to hiking among the birds and trees and flowers. My three grown daughters are making time to come along, just like old times. Up on a mountain with no internet access at all. I’ll catch up on the blog next week!

    • Tom Hitchner on 2 July 2019 at 1:18 pm

      But watching out for the poison ivy and ticks. Still good to have a healthy respect for nature.

  9. Steve on 2 July 2019 at 6:20 pm

    What I find funny is that no matter what plants I go buy at the big box stores and plant in my backyard, I rarely ever like all that much. But when I go mountain biking out in the woods and I stop for water, I usually sit and just enjoy the scenery and the fresh air. And most places out in nature have a beauty that just cannot be duplicated in a backyard with bought plants. The randomness, the smells, etc.

  10. Tom Angle on 3 July 2019 at 1:34 pm

    I do not have a problem with your stories of the past. I like to listen to older people (I know I am nowhere near to being young) tell stories. There is always something to learn from people. Whether it is a life lesson or just how someone came to be something. Of course I like to listen and watch people. The differences in people and cultures fascinate me.

  11. Hank Edwards on 3 July 2019 at 9:02 pm

    I’m not sure I agree about this having nothing to do with woodworking. On my woodworking wishlist (where my wife can stumble on it someday) a set of four rulers based on the ratio 1:1.618. The ratio in turn relates to a number of mathematical formulae that show up in woodworking. One of those formulae is the “Witch of Agnesi” also found a thousand places in nature, such as the leaves and blossoms of the fireweed in the picture.
    I have recently been refinishing a pine bookshelf my stepfather built for me nearly fifty years ago. The “Witch” is there, in the grain. She would have been there in the branches when the tree was still standing two hundred years before.

    • BobH on 8 July 2019 at 7:10 pm

      The Fibonacci Progression is also found in Nature and exhibits the beauty of the Golden Ratio, 1:1.618.

      Thanks for mentioning the Witch of Agnesi. I had never encountered that one.

  12. Paul Oram on 8 July 2019 at 10:44 am

    Me to. I walk through my well-stocked garden, buzzing with busy bees, to reach my shed where I do my woodworking. It’s all part of the same philosophy.

    More blogs about plants always welcome.

  13. Robert W. Mielke on 8 July 2019 at 11:59 am

    I teach my photography student to keep an eye peeled lest they miss a beauty right at their feet. I’ve won my share of photography contests utilizing that philosophy. Capture subject in a reflection contained in a flower and it instantly grabs the viewer’s eye.

  14. Bill Smithem on 8 July 2019 at 1:38 pm

    No one is forcing critics to read it. I enjoyed it.

    While my wife constantly informs me of the scientific name of every plant (and bird) in sight, to me they are grass, trees, flowers, bushes… Yes, I admit to remembering the names of a few of my favorites. 🙂

    Nonetheless, they are all beautiful and a joy to see.

  15. Reagan Herman on 8 July 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks Paul!
    Beautiful picture.
    I feel the same way about the Bluebonnets of Texas in the Spring. Seeing them does something to my soul.

  16. JCincy on 8 July 2019 at 6:44 pm

    It is amazing how quickly a forest rebounds after a fire. And the charred, black wood provides a vivid contrast to the new growth. I’ve seen neon green fungus or moss (not a botanist) growing on burnt trees that defies description.

    I purposefully plant a wildflower patch next to my veggie garden. Butterflies and bees love them!

  17. Sergey on 8 July 2019 at 10:44 pm

    In Russia they ferment and brew it as a tea – Ivan-chai

  18. Robert Brunston on 9 July 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Paul your critics can go soak a rope!
    I enjoy your sharing what you enjoy on your nature outings! It’s like a breath of fresh air. I also love nature it’s so beautiful!
    Thank you.

  19. Kathy Spera on 11 July 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Paul this was a nice turn yet relative one from your usual, I enjoyed the feeling you convey on nature and your way of making notice of the things in it. Thank you again for sharing your world with us.

    • Paul Sellers on 11 July 2019 at 6:53 pm

      Thanks, Kathy. I think it is important to express what you care about in a tangible way. Today I hosted some Russian school children who are nine years old and in their third year doing woodworking with their teachers. Net year they will start woodworking joinery for the first time. They were lovely, open-faced, well nurtured kids that watched and learned with great interest. This too is an extension of who I am and what I do. It’s all about inspiring people to find their spark.

  20. Charles on 13 July 2019 at 9:53 pm

    Paul,

    I love that you love what my wife and I love – Chamerion angustifolium – angusti and folium referring to its “narrow” “leaf” like a willow. Did you know that the florets are edible? They make a beautiful garnish to a bowl of fresh fruit!

    Cheers

  21. Jayme Johnson on 19 July 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Paul,
    What a joy to see your photo of my favorite summer wildflower. Like Bob in Fairbanks, in Minnesota we also call them fireweed. I’ve always thought the ‘fireweed’ name was a reflection of nature of their bloom pattern. I.e. they bloom from the bottom up not unlike fire rising through a burning bush. In any case, my own nickname for them is “summer’s calendar flower”. In my many bicycle tours around Minnesota and other mid-western states, I’ve been reminded of summer’s progression as the trail/roadside flower’s bloom rises day by day.

    Let me also take this opportunity to thank you for sharing your life and craftsmanship. I will admit to binge-watching your videos as I walk the treadmill on cold Minnesota evenings. Your calm and confident narration is the perfect match to your calm and confident demonstrations.

    • Paul Sellers on 19 July 2019 at 5:58 pm

      I was talking to my woodworking friend yesterday and told her that a man commenting here said something along the lines of “Paul should stick to woodworking and forget flowers and philosophy.” I told her, “Never trust anyone (and yes it was a man) who doesn’t have time to seriously consider nature and the flowers and especially if they don’t have time to smell them!”
      And thanks for your encouraging words. Whereas I am a woodworker, I am also a naturalist, artist, writer and photographer. Take any one of these out of my life and I will be only a half person and a much lesser woodworker!

      • Mike on 20 July 2019 at 12:21 am

        Hi Paul

        I really enjoy your nature walk videos. They remind me of home – I’m from Abingdon, but I live in Minnesota these days – and I love to see the town and countryside where I grew up.

  22. Tom Tuthill on 23 July 2019 at 2:20 pm

    Hi, Paul — Lovely photograph of a lovely flower. We have a lot of Purple Loosestrife where I am — it is invasive, but also lovely. Personally, my favorite flower is the small, delicate blossom of the mountain laurel.
    And I really do like the vlogs that take in the nature around where you live, and the excursions into this kind of blog on the flowers. Humanus sum, et nihil humanum mihi alienum est.

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