Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Allure of Purple Loosestrife

The beautiful purple flowers in the above photo are known as purple loosestrife.  This plant is not native to the United States, but seems to have arrived here with the early settlers - both on the boats that travelled from port to port, as well as on transported animals, and, as a herbal medicine.  It is present in nearly all of the United States, especially around lakes and marshland.  It certainly has come to Westchester County, and is prevalent around the Tarrytown lakes.

Since purple loosestrife adds an element of beauty to the landscape, the seeds have been collected and it has been transported to many areas of the country. And, even in the 1800's it was known to be a very hardy plant - so hardy that it has invasively taken over many wetlands, preventing the natural flora from propagating, and changing the whole environment and all creatures that are natural to it.  None of the wetlands that it has inhabited are the same, and, today, millions of dollars are spent each year to deter its growth and preserve some of the remaining flora and fauna.  Though beautiful, it is toxic.

I have only known about the invasive nature of purple loosestrife for the past year, even though I had seen it around the Tarrytown lakes and appreciated its beauty for many years. It is the kind of beauty I had looked forward to seeing each fall as it decorated the banks. It seems to me that there was much less of it last year, and, knowing it was toxic at that point, I was happy for the environment. I must admit, that I looked with delight at its beauty when I saw it again this year, but also realized, with horror, that it has returned with a vengeance - there is so much of it!  I wonder what plants and animals it has removed from our environment.

Loosestrife has also led me to some reflection on the allure of beauty.  There was a German song I learned in college called Die Lorelei.  It told the tale of a siren in a river who lured sailors in a river, so they forgot about steering their vessels, and found themselved doomed to destruction.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of alluring beauty.  If we see the 'loosestrife in our lives', do we want to transplant it?

So, I have asked myself: "What is the loosestrife in my life"?  What beauty draws me, at times, so forcefully that I forget what is productive and meaningful for myself and others?  How do I keep my focus on the one Beauty, that of the love of Jesus Christ for me, as the Beauty that I seek with my heart and my life?  Knowing the lure of the 'loostrife seeds' in this world, I know that there is a need for daily discernment and prayer, so that my focus is centered on Jesus.  And, the good news is that, with the help of Jesus, I do not need to have my life invaded and conquered by the allure of the 'loosestrife'.  I can look at the beautiful with respect, but claim the true and helpful beauty to be part of my life.