Fall Ode to Virginia Creeper
When Sean and I first bought our house in 2001, Tony Airaghi showed great vision. He was one of the first people we brought over to our house. In fact, we brought him over before we closed on it, before it was official ours. Despite the whole house being vacant, Tony saw uses Sean and I had not anticipated.
- When Tony was in the screened in porch, he noted the window that opened back into the kitchen. He rapped on the glass and said, “Hey– can you hand me another beer?”
- When Tony went into the downstairs bathroom and saw how close the toilet was to the dryer, he sat down on the toilet, opened the dryer and started folding some invisible laundry.
- Finally, when we went out into the backyard and looked up at 15 years of unattended growth and a collection of weeds, Tony got enthusiastic and said, “Nice! You are going to love this shit!!!” I was skeptical. To me, it looked like a bunch of poison ivy, but he explained he was talking about a plant called Virginia Creeper and that, “in the fall, it turns a deep red!”
We’ve been in our house for over five years now. I haven’t once passed a beer to Sean through the kitchen window (no need- the screened in porch sports its own fridge). I’ve also never folded laundry while using the toilet (though every now and then I will retrieve a few choice items from the dryer). But Tony was right about one thing– I sure do love that Virginia Creeper.
And this year it seems more beautiful than ever! All the Virginia Creeper has turned a deep maroon. Meanwhile most of the trees remain a solid green. As a result, when you are driving through the area, you pass by trees with green leaves and bushy red trunks. It’s very obvious where the Virginia Creeper is. I’ve been finding the 460 bypass between Blacksburg and Christiansburg particularly pretty.
There are those who are not fond of Virginia Creeper, who consider it a pest. Last summer, when I visited my Great Uncle Chuck’s farm in Pennsylvania, we walked by some Virginia Creeper. In a very vague way, it was reminiscent of the scene in Amistad where Cinque, thousands of miles from home, sees a familiar plant (an African Violet) in John Quincy Adams’ greenhouse. I was only 400 miles from home, but still smiled when I saw the plant that bears the name of my home state.
“What do you call that plant?” I asked my Great Uncle proudly.
“A WEED!” He snapped.
“Oh,” I replied meekly, “We call it Virginia Creeper.”
He may have sensed my disappointment as he quickly tacked on, “Well, we call it that too.” But by that time, his opinion was clear.
My Great Uncle is not alone. There are those who find Virginia Creeper to be a pest, those who have allergic reactions to it like poison ivy and those who would consider it to be an invasive species. Perhaps I should as well. But, honestly, I’m too smitten with the leaves!
Luckily, I’m not alone either! There is evidence that people have been enchanted by Virginia Creeper for centuries. In 1776 a committee of four Virginians (George Mason, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, and Robert Carter Nicholas) designed our state seal (which also appears on our state flag). There is a colorful border around the seal. That border is Virginia Creeper and fittingly enough– its leaves are red.
It’s Virginia Creeper in the fall, that is depicted on our state seal!
That feels about right to me.