An annunciation of thistledown. Photo by Dana Wilde

This field is so beautiful it’s transfixing. Grasses in different shades of steel and emerald and crowds of yellowing milkweed running up a small slope.

Fleabanelike white asters with round bluish stars and gold centers growing in clumps and in child-high thickets. Sprays of goldenrod so yellow they practically vibrate. The rest have stiffened into gray ghosts. Here and there are violet clusters of New England asters. Queen Anne’s lace folded into greenish bird’s nests. Their sisters the hemlock parsley grow like sparse galaxies in the uncut brown interstices at the field margin. The swirling soft white down of a thistle. Hay rolls, sweet-smelling even in the random distance. A field of silence.

At the top of the rise, oaks and maples have a few rust and copper leaves and in two weeks will burst into flame. Birch leaves turning dirt-saffron. Beyond the hay rolls, dark green spruce spikes line a dirt road. Today, silver-gray clouds, almost globelike, roll overhead, and underneath a great blue heron flaps across. This beauty is so intense it’s almost unendurable. It’s something you only see in pictures.

♦ ♦ ♦

The angel in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Annunciation” stares at Mary with exactly this force. On one knee and raising two fingers in some cosmic signal, it gazes with supernatural firmity at Mary. She seems entranced. The folds of her dress seem as random as the thistle’s rolls of pappus, but like the pappus, they’re not. They’re circling her knees and midsection. The angel itself is virtually whirling. Three circles just discernible to the eye are spinning: one around its bended knee and shoulder; another formed by its upraised arm and wings (retouched and discopernicated by a later painter); and inside that, the angel’s head. At a dark vanishing point between them, the force of the angel meets Mary’s stunned attention.

♦ ♦ ♦


This field has stunned me. It’s nature caught in the act of announcing itself. The asters and thistle pappi are little wheels. The hay rolls, yellowing milkweed and graying goldenrod are twisting into the distance. Above them are the ballooning clouds, and in the extraterrestrial expanse beyond them all, Jupiter will rise this evening, a little earlier than the night before, with moons circling inside its round of the sun. Beyond the planets the stars in Cassiopeia and Pegasus will also rise and Hercules will just again be setting in the west, on the wheel that turns overhead year after year, season after season. These wheels grind away inside another, greater circuit of the stars around the Earth’s pole every 26,000 years, and they all whirl like clockworks inside yet a greater wheel of stars traveling around the galaxy every 250 million years.

There’s a story about a man who prayed to see an angel. Eventually one revealed itself as a disk spinning 3 or 4 feet above the ground, maybe in a field like this one. The man was dissatisfied by the disk and demanded to see the angel’s real face. The angel told him he shouldn’t wish for such things.

The man persisted, and so the angel said, “Then look.” Suddenly the angel’s face filled the sky, its gaze fixed gigantically on the man. The man was so terrified he began to scream. “Never let me see a sight like this again!”

There are angels this close to your face in this September field, and I guess they’re in all fields, and everywhere else. I feel like the man who saw an angel in the sky. This autumn landscape here east of Unity has transfixed me, and this is what it’s like.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected] His book “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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