Here she is, in all her coltish, awkward, long-legged innocence and beauty, young Aquilegia Chrysanthra, better known to us as COLUMBINE:
What she calls to mind for me are those enchanting creatures found in the title of Marcel Proust’s second volume, A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur. For those of you who always planned to learn French but never quite got around to it, the word ombre means “shade” or “shadow”, and the jeunes filles en fleur are young girls just ripening and blossoming into their femininity, adolescents, what today’s slangy French calls “ados.” What Proust exactly meant by his title is unclear, just as the nature of adolescent girls is unclear, perhaps because it is constantly changing and evolving.
There are overtones of innocence and childhood in the expression, and strong undertones of sexuality as well. I think our young Columbine partakes of both.
Interestingly, I had that thought BEFORE I looked up Columbine and discovered two similarly opposed ideas about the flower. In one, the columbine symbolizes innocence. Its long spurs are thought to resemble the shoes of the Virgin Mary which she wore when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. As she walked, says the legend, her shoes caused the columbine flower to spring up beneath her. The other idea says that giving a woman a columbine flower is considered bad luck because they are a symbol of foolishness! In the wild, the flower has five petals which are supposed to resemble a jester’s five-pronged cap, hence, foolishness.
I found this particular budding beauty growing in Tohono Chul Park, in Tucson, Arizona. I had never seen a columbine before. In the Sonoran desert the most frequent variety is this, Aquilegia Chrysanthra, the latter word derived from the Greek, meaning “golden.” In other parts of the United States more often columbines are pastel pinks or blues or lavenders, sometimes a striking bi-color, with petals of one and spurs of another color, the effect being similar to — passion flowers, bringing us right round to the Virgin Mary. And it all ties together nicely, because the word “virgin” in ancient times also meant simply “maiden” or “young girl,” and here we are again at those maidens or young girls or virgins, the jeunes filles en fleur.
But our columbine doesn’t bother her pretty little head with such matters, and why should she? It’s sufficient for her simply to be, and to be as lovely and blossoming as she is.