A Flag and a Blossom Unfurled…

Come, imagine with me for a moment. The morning fog is slowly lifting across the mile long valley. General Robert E. Lee sits calmly astride Traveler and man and horse scan the grassy field ahead looking first at a long wooden fence about halfway to a stone embankment guarding the cemetery on the far away hill. He notes the glint of many rifles behind the rock wall facing him as they await the inevitable onslaught of a gaunt, gray tide of gallant southerners. He has a plan. One division will rush the stone wall directly, backed by a strong reserve unit to its right. Another will storm the southern end of the fishhook shaped hill while yet another advances through the woods, up the hill on the north of the ridge. As the armies press closer together, a horse mounted division will storm from the rear taking the Yankees by surprise and destroying morale, munitions, and any hope of Union retreat.

General Lee and Traveler on a fateful morning in Pennsylvania.

And at Traveler’s feet, the General momentarily notes a small bush with the last of early summer’s blooms delicately unfolding. The bud has a pinwheel form with five unfolding petals and slowly with a design crafted by forces greater than his, the pink blossom begins to untwist intent on bringing a hidden goal to fruition. Not unlike his five pronged plan, the General surmises, with each petal a part of the whole heavenly design. “Will my plan unfold with the same determination, the same sense of purpose?” The thought is broken by a distant explosion as the first of the cannon breaks the morning stillness. Both plans, man’s and nature’s, begin their fateful journey.

The Pennsylvania state wildflower – the Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

The Mountain Laurel is a beautiful plant. It grows in upland valleys, at woodland edge, and in leaf strewn forest and faithfully presents to the world a garland of untwisting pinkness every late spring and early summer. It ranges across and down the Appalachians and shares its habitat with its cousin the Great Rhododendron in bushy combinations of twisting stem and leathery leaves called “Laurel Hells” by locals.

An impenetrable “Laurel Hell” of mixed Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel.
The Great Rhododendron has an azalea like flower in clusters and its bud is not pinwheeled as is the Mountain Laurel.
The Catawba or Purple Rhododendron blooms at the same time as the Mountain Laurel.
My favorite, the Flame Azalea, is also a late spring – early summer companion to the Laurel and other Rhododendron family members.

We all know that General Lee’s complex plan didn’t evolve as he thought surely it would. The reserves didn’t respond quickly, the rear cavalry surprise got lost, and the side assaults were beaten back. The frontal charge successfully breached the rock wall but the insurgents were all captured or worse. That morning and afternoon in Pennsylvania are part of our history and heritage while the bushy blossom with its spiraled bud opened as planned and still provides inspiration and wonderment to this day. Thank you, Pennsylvania, for helping to preserve an historical moment and for choosing the Mountain Laurel with its complex simplicity for a state wildflower.

1 thought on “A Flag and a Blossom Unfurled…

  1. The mountain Laurel is beautiful!! Maybe my favorite so far.


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