a field guide to wildflowers is a modern day story about words, wildflowers and self-reliance told through the eyes of a young twenty-something man who is growing into responsible adulthood. his passion is botany, his quest is to be self-reliant even when it clashes with societal norms. his spiritual mentor is the historical figure john burroughs. all the botany and lore of wildflowers is accurate More
part 1: joe montour arrives and settles in a small town in up-state new york. he befriends eddy who generously shares his home and life with him while joe finds his footing in the town of high falls. joe meets jenny and is immediately attracted to her only to find that she is already taken by Stephen, Eddy's best friend and colleague at work. joe discovers that jenny is somehow related to john burroughs the famous 19th century writer and naturalist and on investigating, finds that in many ways john burroughs' life was very much like his own. joe struggles to impress himself and succeeds at capturing the heart of jenny. their love is cracked apart by an historical newspaper article presented by the angry stephen that shows that joe and jenny are actually first cousins. having won at love, stephen further destroys joe's career chances through clever words and self-promotion.
part 2: in a career move and as a way of starting over, joe re-locates to washington, d.c. his quest for self-reliance goes from the physical to the mental. the spririt of john burroughs, who he knew in the context of the hudson highlands and his old life, follows him right into his new life on capitol hill where he has set up residence.
part 3: joe returns to the hudson highlands confident of his physical and mental self-reliance only to be confronted with the falsehood of his failed love with jenny. stephen had perpetrated a lie, discovered in childhood, as a way of retaliating for joe's success with jenny and joe's unconventional approach to career and life. joe confronts stephen, and ends up in prison on more false pretenses. ultimately, joe is faced with developing and understanding emotional and spiritual self-reliance. joe meets john burroughs face-to-face and comes to grips with the power, meaning and short-comings of words in the development of all humans's growth and maturity. in the end, joe gets the girl.
all the biology and fold-lore of the wildflowers is accurate. the life of john burroughs is true with some limited license taken to make his biography fit the story.
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