I went to school in Manhattan for a while, and Astor Place meant a street in Greenwich Village, named after the incredibly wealthy John Jacob Astor.
When I pulled up my driveway earlier this week, I nearly rubbed my eyes to check my vision. Beyond the comforter and sheets bobbing on the clothesline, and further back, beyond the French drain to the mossy, moist part of the yard, was a sea of white stars. Uncountable asters had grown up, seemingly overnight. We’d never planted them; they just are; a visitor that comes every year as autumn approaches.
Toward the end of last autumn I picked a brownish, aged aster and placed it in a cobalt blue vase. My husband tossed it, thinking it was a bud that had stagnated from neglect. But I saved it because, even well past its prime, it had a modest, stalky beauty, well preserved. It was stalwart after summer ebbed, and I had to give it credit for its staying power.
The common name for the aster flower, which can bloom in white, blue, or purple, is the Michaelmas daisy, so named because it coincides with the feast of St Michael the archangel, according to Herbs Treat and Taste. The site also tells me that Virgil, some years before the start of AD (or Common Era), wrote about the flower, alluding to its use on holy shrines. I treasure the timelessness of these words nearly as much as I do gazing down out our bumper crop of stars:
There is a useful flower
Growing in the meadows, which the country folk
Call star-wort, not a blossom hard to find,
For its large cluster lifts itself in air.
Out of one root; its central orb is gold
But it wears petals in a numerous ring
Of glossy purplish blue; ’tis often laid
In twisted garlands at some holy shrine.
Bitter its taste; the shepherds gather it
In valley-pastures where the winding streams
Of Mella flow. The roots of this, steeped well,
In hot, high-flavored wine, thou may’st set down
At the hive door in baskets heaping full.