Found by the widowed Frenchman Michaux where the Horse Pasture and Toxaway almost cross, this delicate Asterid was for a century lost,
the only known specimen a plant fragment the botanist rescued for Paris and Bourbon science. He later hoped to explore the west
for Jefferson, but that scheme collapsed when the politics soured. It took an American, Asa Gray by name—on occasion bewitched
by rare flora like this sweet shortia, kissing kin to galax—to keep the legend alive. Ridges, coves and weather, roads no wider than a deer
kept the secret amid gentian, cicily, various worts and orchids, but somewhere up here where the Carolinas border north Georgia
in the purlieu of Jocassee, which itself means “place of the lost,” every April or May the five-petaled lace continued to open amid
evergreen leaves’ gloss, and today dazzled amateurs and pedants alike will pilgrim to this harsh highland wilderness to witness
what the Cherokee always called Shee-Show, meaning “two-colored plant of the gods,” as they knew it thrived
at water’s edge, an omen that the rains would eventually return. When at last I managed to climb and crawl, sifting through sorrel,
fetter and cress over slicks and steeps, I wondered if poor Michaux, dying of fever in far Madagascar, wished for one final
time to kneel and listen, as if the Bell’s flourish in silence were—amid bitter chinquapin, saxifrage and the Lilium
michauxii that bears his name—the sole note he yearned to hear one last time amid all the wonders of rogue beauty he had
sought and suffered for and, so briefly, beheld.
R. T. Smith edits Shenandoah for Washington and Lee University, where he also serves as Writer-in-Residence. His sixth book of stories, Doves in Flight, published in 2017, and his 14th book of poems, Summoning Shades, is due later in the year. Smith has work forthcoming in Five Points, Southern Review, and Southern Humanities Review. He lives on Timber Ridge in Rockbridge County, Virginia.