Consider the thistle

Cogitation 25 Friday 19 June 2020 / No. 255 since 30 November 2014 / last post ’till who knows when. Once upon a time I was the avowed decimator of thistles. My brothers and I were assigned to dig out thistles from the fence rows on our farm (and mustard and yellow rocket plants in one particular field. We left the milkweed standing for the Monarch butterflies). Back then I didn’t think I’d come to appreciate this noxious weed that wantonly spreads across wheat, oats, barley, rye, corn, turnip, mangel, timothy and clover crops, not to mention vegetable and fruit gardens.

We had numerous fenced fields and two sizable gardens that kept our weeding skills, and probably our complaining, sharply intact.

Why bring up the thistle as the main subject of this final blog–final for a while at least. Maybe the weed that has been excoriated over the centuries has a good side to offer. I think so. First, let’s consider its reviled side.

Poet George Crabbe (1734-1832) spoke of: “Rank weeds, that every art and care defy, / Reign o’er the land, and rob the blighted rye: / There thistles stretch their prickly arms afar, / and to the ragged infant threaten war; / There poppies, nodding, mock the hope of toil; / There the blue bugloss paints the sterile soil. . . .”

It’s not the Garden of Eden that Crabbe paints.

The thistle also fails to get good press in the New Testament The Gospel According to Matthew: “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” Matt 7:16b. That’s from a heavy and pointed chapter. My mother was fond of Matt 7:19, 20:”Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

My mother emphasized verse 20, about knowing something’s right and proper depending not on words, but fruit, goodness. I concur, still wondering why we have the thistle?

Maybe my focus on thistles is a sign that future posts could include more storytelling, prickliness, looking at experiences from the flip side of the coin. I don’t know. I just know that the time is right for a break. To look back over the archival posts. To let those first drafts and related writings simmer. To sort through photographs. To catch up with myself; as my brother Will says, “A change is as good as a rest.” To ponder something new. A door closes, a window opens. The interval between shutdown and opening up.

A bright side to the thistle

On closer observation, the thistle, apart from it’s proclivity to invade fields, gardens and wild areas, has a bright side. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s a boon to wildlife. It provides seeds for birds, food for pollinators, foliage for butterfly larvae. It’s a floral emblem of Scotland and Lorraine. Woo-hoo! The thistle has a bright side, too!

Scottish King James III (1451, 1460-1488), adopted the thistle as possibly a symbol of defense: “Nobody touches me with impunity.” James IV (1566, 1567-1603) had it placed on coinage. Besides its use as an heraldic emblem, the thistle in Scotland betokened “The ‘Most Ancient’ Order of the Thistle,” and “Our Lady’s Thistle.”

I’ve chosen the thistle as a symbol of what might be in store for, It’s About Now / Past, present, future. Live it now. We have a china tea mug, still packed in a box, that features the milk thistle flowerhead. Maybe I’ll find inspiration in drinking from that mug as I ponder next steps. What surprise, what prickliness, what beauty, what temerity, what content, what form, what matter of interest might blossom after this publishing hiatus?

I’d be remiss not to thank the readers of this blog, those who have responded to specific posts, those who tell me in person that they enjoy it, and those who peek in from time to time. Most readers reside in the USA, Canada, and the UK. Over the last six weeks, readers have represented 16 countries. Thank you! Stay tuned. Surely, a fresh course awaits.

Photos from the past week


Wednesday’s walk at Fidler’s Pond

Social distancing

A cobbler in Romania created a size 75 shoe to promote social distancing. Two people wearing such shoes would stand 1.5 meters apart. Even if only one person were wearing the shoes, the second person would surely get the hint and keep the proper separation. The shoes are priced at $115 a pair and no doubt take a bit of practice, and courage, to master. I’d love a pair of handmade leather shoes, but I’ll stick to regular stock.

Foot forward. Way to go!

Gaining one’s stride, Goshen Boys & Girls Club.

Thursday’s walk in Middlebury

Friday’s walk, Juneteenth

Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Two years later, on June 19, 1865, Union army general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that all slaves in Texas were now free. The former slaves celebrated with prayer, feasting, song and dance. Today, Juneteenth, June 19, celebrations nationwide commemorate the end of slavery in the US. Let the nation and nations catch up with history and join in prayer, feasting, song and dance.

Cleanup after the recent storm, visible as we walked this morning through the Larry L. Beechy Classified Forest, part of the Goshen Park Department. From and back to our door totaled five miles.

Parting word

It’s about now. About yourself. About those close to you. About children. About youth, young adults and adults of every age. About all humanity. About those who have gone before. About the world we occupy. About the pursuits that occupy us.

For the present, my intentions are to:

1. Pay attention to health and well being.

2. Spend time in the shade of our patio; for one, listening to the cardinal’s insistent and rapid “Peter, peter, peter, peter, peter.”

3. Read, watch Acorn (British) TV shows.

4. Keep up with family and friends.

5. Take limited excursions.

6. Zoom religious services.

7. Observe solitude and prayer.

8. Tackle sundry tasks, including tending our flower pots.

9. Follow up on family history.

10. Play Five Crowns, Canasta, Quiddler.

11. Take early morning walks.

12. Maybe figure out the sport of cricket.

13. Surprise myself.

Be on watch for all things wild and prickly, renewing and enriching, wise and wonderful. Be safe. Be happy. Be. Live it now. Maybe think kindly of thistles, even as you weed them from your actual and figurative gardens.

Will miss you for a time.


7 thoughts on “Consider the thistle

  1. What a wonderful “last” post — your usual clarity, attention to both small and large, and spirit of hopefulness. I shall miss this weekly dose of cheer, beauty and thought-provoking reflections. I wish you well in your intentions for the future and will look forward to the next incarnation of your thoughts and experiences. Keep in touch!


    1. Thanks, Marlene, for, as always, your kind and perceptive response. We will indeed find ways to stay in touch. All good things to you and Stanley.


    2. Thanks, Marlene. In touch we shall be. Blessings in every step on the way for you and Stanley. There’s so much that is right about the world. A little bird told me that.


  2. Dear John, Thank you for this writing on thistles – one of my favorite flowers. We have several crystal glasses from Scotland in the thistle pattern. They are as enjoyable to hold as the thistle flower is to look at. Marlene forwards you blogs to me. They have been a pleasure to read over the years, especially as I have known you over morning coffee and baked oatmeal as well as the places you have walked – Ontario, indiana/Michigan and Cornwall.

    Writing is not my best form of communication so my responses to your blogs have been limited at best. I am blessed and a better person for your friendship.

    Peace to you in your hiatus from writing and in the times to come. Stanley K.


    1. Thanks, Stanley. We could talk for hours and sometime we again will. The little tour of Oban comes to mind and I’ll do a nonvirtual whet my whistle memory tour tonight of that spirited place. May have to write an ode to the thistle. Glad to know it’s one of your favorite flowers. Long live the thistle! As though it needs my encouragement. Best!


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