Sunday, February 28, 2016


Weather: Snow Tuesday was gone the next day; water is still in the top inches of the ground.

What’s still green: Juniper, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, garlic chives, hollyhock, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; pampas and cheat grass; new leaves on fern bushes and golden spur columbine, new white yarrow sprouts, new western stick seed rosettes. People continue to clean out leaves, burn weeds, and prune fruit trees.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plumes, four-winged saltbushes.

What’s red or purple: Stems on roses, young peaches, sandbar willows; leaves on coral beard tongues, alfilerillo, purple asters.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae, stems of weeping willows.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds.

Monday afternoon around 2:20 pm birds near the river were making lots of noise; assume geese or some other bird is migrating.

Weekly update: The fleur-de-lis is the oldest flower motif used on the oddments of flatware collected by my mother. The basic form of a flower rising from two leaves was used on a helmet recovered from the Scythian grave. The cutwork was done in gold sometime in the fourth century BC on the Crimean peninsula. The outward curving leaves resemble rams horns.

Michel Pastoureau found the basic motif was used on a Roman coin in Gaul in the first century AD, or "at least the upper-half of one, and a sort of triangle in the lower-half." Hugh Capet took control of the Île-de-France in 987, and from there extended Frank power over the territory now called France. Louis VI used the motif on his coins, his son Louis VII used in on his seal in 1150, and his grandson Philippe II elevated it to a symbol in 1211.

During those years when the Capets were consolidating their power as the first among the lords, they and the design assumed religious associations that obscure their origins. Fleur has always meant "flower," but "lis" didn’t appear in French until 1150 during the rein of Louis VII. It now means lily. Some extended the religious associations denoted to the kings to the symbol.

Lilies have six petals, but, depending on the form, are all open, or all reflexed, or nearly joined in bells. They don't have a pattern that fits the fleur-de-lis.

Iris do fit the pattern. Some mistake the way they see the flower for the design, and believe the cluster of three erect standards are the center of the symbol and the two visible falls are the side petals. That assumes modern aesthetics of perspective and realistic presentation. When the fleur-de-lis was created, artists drew what they knew existed, not what they saw. The three standards, then, would have been the top of the symbol, and the three falls the bottom.

For those seeking explanations, the word "lis" remains a mystery. Godefridus Henschenius may have been the first to argue in the 1600s that the flower was the yellow Iris pseudacorus. It then was called lieschblume in German, but in the past had been spelled lies and leys. The Franks were a Germanic tribe.

Pierre-Augustin Boissier de Sauvages went farther in 1756 to suggest the flowers were common along the river Leie in the northern French and Belgium homeland of the Franks. Its French name is Lys.

A century later Jean Rey suggested things were much simpler. He said French kings, especially those named Louis, were originally referred to as "loi’s" or "loys." The fleur de list was simply his flower.

Since its standardization by the French monarchs, the image has existed in both its original forms and in the conventionalized one. One of my mother’s spoons showed a four petaled flower between two leaves with a tree shape below that might have been roots in the mode of the Gallic coin.

A similar pattern was used on the ends of the handles in her wedding silver: a central flower, two leaves that curled from the handle rim, and a triangular root. The main difference was the pineapple motif was substituted for the flower.

In the 1960s she bought a shell-shaped sugar spoon because it happened to be engraved with her initials. The most complete of its highly stylized designs was on the back. It had the conventional three sections with the curving edge lines of the handle forming leaves. Below was a diamond-shaped shaft surrounded by the pairs of reflexed lines.

The five-fingered design was repeated at the tip of the handle on both the front and back.

A more stylized three-pronged flower rose from a set of leaves in the middle of the handle, on both sides.

Boissier de Sauvages, Pierre Augustin. Languedocien Dictionnaire François, 1756, cited by Wikipedia entry on "Fleur-de-lis."

Henschenius, Godefridus. Cited by Velde, without specific reference.

Pastoureau, Michel. Traité d'Héraldique, 1979, cited by Velde.

Rey, Jean. Histoire du Drapeau, 1837, cited by Velde.

Velde, François R. "The Fleur-de-lis," Heraldica website.

1. Shell shaped sugar spoon, 1847 Rogers Bros. A1, purchased in Michigan.

2. Dutch iris in my yard, 10 May 2009.

3. Helmet, 4th c. BC from grave (kurgan) on Cape Ak-Burun, Crimea, in the Hermitage museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

4. Open faced Asian lily in my yard, 28 June 2013.

5. No markings, purchased in Michigan.

6. Heirloom plate, purchased in Michigan in 1930s.

7 and 8. Same as #1.

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