Farewell summer: on wood asters and the wilderness

by | Sep 26, 2022 | Faith, Nature, Writing and Reading | 2 comments |

In the more open places are little lavender asters, and the even smaller-flowered white ones that some people call bee weed or farewell summer. From “An Entrance to the Woods,” by poet, essayist, and farmer Wendell Berry.

Farewell summer

Only when we bid farewell to summer do the White Wood Aster’s starry flowers come into bloom. As Anne B. Wagner wrote on the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society site, “While most woodland wild flowers go dormant at this time or ripen seed, White Wood Aster begins a long season of bloom, edging forest trails, carpeting understory areas and sometimes sprawling over neighboring plants. The small white flowers appear delicate, but this is one tough plant, adapting to a wide range of soil and lighting conditions.” 

The White Wood Aster, here growing out of a crack in our stone steps, is living up to its reputation. This “weed” makes an effective ground cover in dry shade, shaded slopes, and northern exposures and also adapts well to moist soils and woods. Farwell-summer attracts butterflies and self-sows. It is a wilderness plant.

Farewell summer, a season of blooming and adapting to all conditions, including the wilderness. What an apt metaphor for this time of life: Vanaprastha. Farewell to the spring and summer of life. 

Farewell busyness

Wendell Berry: “Wilderness is the element in which we live encased in civilizations, as a mollusk lives in his shell in the sea. It is a wilderness that is beautiful, dangerous, abundant, oblivious of us, mysterious, never to be conquered or controlled or second-guessed, or known more than a little. It is a wilderness that for most of us most of the time is kept out of sight, camouflaged, by the edifices and the busyness and the bothers of human society.”

Back in February, I wrote about peace during a time of war, about the two kingdoms: temporal and spiritual. The focus of farewell summer or Vanaprastha is spiritual. Though we still live in this busy world, we also live in the wilderness. And that mystery is both terrifying and wondrous.

Farewell artifice

Wendell Berry: “A man enters and leaves the world naked. And it is only naked—or nearly so—that he can enter and leave the wilderness… He leaves behind his work, his household, his duties, his comforts—even, if he comes alone, his words. He immerses himself in what he is not. It is a kind of death.”

Ironically, the wilderness of farewell summer Vanaprastha is when and where healing can take place.

This from Sharla Fritz’s God’s Relentless Love: “…when we experience ‘wilderness’ times in our lives, may we see them as opportunities to grow in our relationship with the One who loves us deeply.”

And this is my prayer for today: that we ripen, shed our bothers, and bloom like the White Wood Aster in the wilderness.


  1. Bethanee Swisher

    How beautiful!

    • Carole Duff

      Thank you, Bethanee! God bless you!! -C.D.


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