I’ve re-posted from a blog called “The Art of Quotation.”
Douglas Moore does a wonderful job, pairing photos and quotations!
The photo is by Erik Müller
When something is totally ubiquitous, after a while, you tend not to really see it.
I thought that all my socks had vanished, but was actually seeing them every day. My mind saw them as part of the carpet pattern, and they were re-discovered, when I tried to vacuum.
Around here, soybeans are everywhere, a sea of dull green, and I instinctively turn my eyes away, before the monotony swamps my brain. Likewise, by September, I start to turn a blind eye to the ceaseless tide of hogweed, floral boardshorts, and political corruption. All these things were once thought to cause irritability and watery eyes, but it turns out, it’s the ragweed.
But…goldenrod, that’s different, we notice it. A commonplace weed, it’s actually beautiful, and we’re glad to see brightening up every nook and cranny.
It likes old farms in particular, and fallow fields are a sea of yellow this month.
I’d definitely consider it for our state flower, instead of the rose. Several states have already adopted it, but it seems a perfect emblem for New Yorkers – goldenrod ain’t subtle, but it’s strong, reliable, cheerful, and suffers from gall.
Several types of parasitic pests lay eggs in it’s stem, causing a round swelling, but the goldenrod is tough, keeps growing, and just shrugs off the irritants.
Sure, it’s kinda galling, nobody likes a freeloader, but inna couple a weeks, a parasitic wasp’s gonna bore in, and lay eggs on the larvae, so the parasite’s got its own parasites, and the laugh’s on them. Like the poet said:
Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em;
And little fleas have lesser fleas
And so, ad infinitum.
(Jonathan Swift, by way of Ogden Nash, thanks Steve for the attribution)
I think I’m posting pictures of Rough-stemmed (why are plant people so judgmental, it’s stem is fine!), but it might be Tall, and there’s also Dwarf, Canada, Dixie, Wand-like, Zigzag, Downy Ragged, and many many more, at least 130 in the U.S.. So there’s a great number of varieties, of course, and I’m no expert.
Even with things you enjoy, it can be hard to spend time with experts, when you lack their expertise, or don’t share their enthusiasms.
Botany, quantum physics, Seinfeld trivia, Pez dispensers, motorheads souping up vintage V-8’s or Straight 8’s, whatever, I don’t know about any of this stuff. Movie buffs want to discuss Harry Dean Stanton’s uncredited appearance in a ’59 Disney TV show. Jazz fiends whisper (smoking Gauloises in cellar clubs will do that to you) about a legendary late-night set, pressed in Bucharest on shellac, only 11 copies, with Gene Krupa getting wasted and banging on a steam radiator. It’s all Greek to me, or as a Greek would say, Αυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα.
And likewise, hiking with people who majored in Vegetation & Herbage- you tend to feel a bit left out, if you’ve never studied Horticulture, or Advanced Shrubby Stuff. I invested in “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers” but haven’t made much progress yet (although, delighted to find a plant called “Herb Robert”! Great! ) but got distracted by Sweet Cecily, scared by Spreading Dogbane, and had to take a break after Goat’s Rue. A sad goat is just upsetting.
But listen, when it’s Upstate Plants, I can help other non-experts who want to join in the conversation.
Have you ever seen the old SNL skit from the ’70’s, with Dan Akroyd, Gilda Radnor, and Chevy Chase, doing a commercial for “New Shimmer” – – a non-dairy dessert topping and floor wax, all in one? Well, almost every plant in Upstate NY is a combo-product like that! If you want to join in these vegetative conversations, you just throw out “Didn’t the native Americans make that into a tea?” and “Didn’t early settlers use that as a laxative/dye for clothing?”
You’ll be right 99% of the time. Pretty much anything growing around here, you can stew it up, have a cup of bracing tea, rinse your hair, dye your socks, cure a kidney ailment, uplift & improve a testy or laggard disposition, and then celebrate it all with a really bang-up purgative.
Each and every wiry, raspy, deep-rooted weed I’ve ever yanked out of a pea patch can be rendered into a poultice, tea, tisane, tincture, or infusion that’s Certifiably Beneficent for Child, Beast, and Registered Holstein. Or else quite toxic. That’s why you go and consult an expert.
But generally, when we’re looking at wildflowers, the subject of car tires doesn’t come up.
And so, I learned something recently – – Thomas Edison was cultivating goldenrod plants, to produce rubber. He tested 17,000 exotic plants, and then found the most promising was in his backyard – goldenrod. He grew a variety about ten feet tall, that produced 12% latex. When his pal, Henry Ford, presented him with a Model T, it was running on goldenrod tires.
“Natural” rubber can be made from a number of plants, including dandelions, and my personal favorite, gutta-percha, a tree grown in Malaysia. I’ve constantly run into gutta-percha in histories and old stories – – electrical insulation, golf balls, buttons, and of course, “mourning jewelry,” for when Victorians wanted something dressy, but suitably depressing and creepy-looking. The walking stick used in the nearly-fatal attack on Senator Charles Sumner, in 1856, was made of gutta-percha, and snapped, saving Sumner’s life.
The goldenrod rubber process didn’t really take off, but the research was revived during WWII, when our supply of natural rubber from SE Asia was cut off.
Wikipedia indicates goldenrod rubber is “excessively tacky,” but extreme tackiness is very much in vogue, so perhaps its time has finally come.
Ok, back to my plant studies. Tonight’s episode: Saga of the Silverleaf Scurfpea. Hope everyone has a great week.
P.S. I forgot to mention, this was also one of my favorite crayon colors, when I was a kid. I looked it up on the Crayola site, and found Goldenrod Yellow has been in the lineup since 1957… and then ran into car tires again. Crayolas were created by the Peekskill Chemical Co., which originally made paint, lampblack, printing ink, shoe polish. In the early days of automobiles, tires were white, but Peekskill discovered that adding their carbon black to rubber, made tires last ten times longer. I remember thinking I should mention this, but I’m not sure why.
That’s actually the original meaning of the word, back in the days of the Roman Empire, where I think the professor lived his happiest days. Dull and drab. Just your basic wage-earning proletarians, plodding along, rather than the patricians and equestrians, racing on horseback to the Colosseum or an uptown bacchanalia.
In Boston, my recent home, I learned that “pedestrian” is also synonymous with “victim,” in the sense of someone mad enough to venture out on foot, among the city’s psychopathic drivers. Stop signs mean nothing to these people, sidewalks do not curb them, you cannot claim sanctuary, you’re always fair game.
To be on foot in Boston is simply asking for it. Like the poor schmoes with walk-on roles in Ben Hur, getting shoved in front of a chariot race, or tipped into the lion’s den. On foot in Boston traffic, you’re just dipped in gravy and dropped into a cage of weasels.
So walking is not the relaxing pastime it used to be. Sometimes in the parks around Upstate NY, we’ll be the only ones walking – – jumping off the path as off-road bicyclists race past, with helmets and carbon fiber chariots. OK, to each their own. They’re having fun, non-motorized, so happy to see them enjoying the outdoors. We look for trails that are too narrow and strewn with fallen tree trunks for bikers, and continue on our plebian way.
And the stretch of woods we walked through, here at summer’s close, was pretty “pedestrian,” – – just middling-size maples, average ash, basic beeches, a handful of hemlocks, hummocky swamps with ferns beginning to turn brown.
But when we took a break and sat down, there were wonderful miniature landscapes of moss and fungi.
It was getting toward sundown and the tiny mushrooms seemed to glow.
Well, speaking as a groundling, worm’s-eye views are sometimes pretty neat!
Although, I guess technically, these are more bird’s-eye views.
I mean, if the bird was walking, not flying.
And we’re not talking ostrich or heron, maybe about grouse-height.
Next week, we’ll address “perambulate.” Class is dismissed.
The Black Diamond Trail is for walkers and bikers in the Finger Lakes, near Cayuga Lake. It’s a new railroad bed conversion, running eight miles between Cass Park in Ithaca, NY and Taughannock Falls Park, in Trumansburg. Eventually it will continue south to Treman Park, another eight miles or so.
The trail’s name refers to coal – – the north-south railroads in the Finger Lakes generally ran coal from Pennsylvania, to ships on Lake Ontario, and thence to sooty places around the world. This particular route of the Lehigh Valley RR also had a luxurious “Black Diamond” passenger service from NYC to Ithaca, and then on to Niagara Falls.
The south (Ithaca) end of the trail is a bit dull. Some tiny rivulet-size waterfalls, blackberries, raspberries, Joe Pye Weed, and sumac alongside. A powerline is overhead for a mile, and the cars on Route 89 are visible through the trees.
Serious bikers streak past, unsmiling, bug-eyed goggles, spandex and sinew, their tee-shirts advertising an obscure microbrewery in Rochester. The beers and ales are a bit too hopped-up, and the cyclists too – – pretty much oblivious to the waterfalls, wildflowers and views of Cayuga Lake.
The aged hippies from Trumansburg glide by at a more sedate pace, on recumbent bikes or ancient Schwinns, “Uncle John’s Band” and “Jack Straw” audible from their headphones. They wave, stop to look at the little streams, comb a few bugs out of their gray beards, and offer you a sip of homemade kombucha. They’re nice, but I don’t drink, afraid I might wake up under a tree, like Rip Van Winkle, a few decades in the future, a rusty peace medallion around my neck, wearing mossy old bellbottoms, and “California Dreamin” running through my head.
A mile or so north of Ithaca, the trail becomes nicer. Most of the pastel-jumpsuit-joggers turn back toward the city. The powerline decides to head west, and it’s just trees overhead. The trail moves farther and farther from the highway. An unmarked but well-beaten footpath goes up the hill, alongside a nice stream with lots of little falls.
After a while, as we go up the hill, a sound like passing trains or traffic starts coming through the trees. Past an old picnic area with stone tables, and we’ve come out behind the county hospital. Huge air conditioners are making the rushing sound.
Have you ever experienced a recurring dream?
I have one, that comes to me during ragweed season.
I find myself walking and walking in the country.
Trees and plants, woods and fields, hills and dales.
There are people with me, walking and talking, talking and talking, talking of stalking, pointing and gesticulating.
In the dream, I don’t know the time, but I know it’s very early. Too early for all this gesticulating – I can’t even say that word, at this early hour. Hand-waving, then, and sounds like they’re speaking in Latin. Are we monks?? I don’t understand any of it.
Then I hear a voice say clearly “…The F Stop…” and I look around for a bus. But there isn’t any, so we keep walking. I don’t know what time it is, but I know somehow, that it’s early, and we’re rambling in the grayness of Pre-Noon – that horrible, fuzzy zone that exists before lunchtime.
Without looking, I can tell my socks don’t match. One feels like it’s wool, knee-high, and itchy. I don’t own any socks like that.
It’s at that point, the slow dawning horror comes over me, as I become aware, that I’m not dreaming.
I’m actually awake, out and about at this ungodly hour, hiking apparently, and have fallen among some roving cult of naturalists, botanists, forest-bathers, and photographers. Why does this keep happening. Apparently sometime last night, once again, I agreed to an Early Morning Nature Walk. Don’t remember. Don’t remember if anyone thought to give me breakfast first, or brunch, like decent, civilized people. Don’t remember signing on to wander around in the shrubbery and thickets of binomial nomenclature.
But that explains the people in my dream, talking in Latin. And the “F Stops” – the photographer has us straying through sodden “Depths of Field” or suchlike, and my socks are soggy.
Ragweed Season. I don’t sleep well, and I don’t do awake so well, either. I’m stumbling along, coked to the gills on antihistamines, Echinacea, Sudafed, Mucinex. Just let the mosquitoes drink as much of my blood as they want. They try to fly off, but then the Benadryl hits, and they drop from the sky like stones.
Walking at breakfast time. Dogwoods, but no doughnuts, fritillaries, but no frittatas. Someone offers me a handful of Dragon’s Tongues. They’re surprisingly tiny and green. It seems like the dream-state is resuming. But “dragon’s tongues” turns out to be a mixture of grape vine tendrils and the leaves of a flowering mustard plant, they call “wild arugula.” Not bad! The grape tendrils are delicious, kind of lemony. Someone pulls out a thermos and gives me some coffee.
I open my eyes, and it’s a pretty nice day! Nature’s not so bad, really, as long as the plant life includes coffee beans and tea leaves.
I know, these pictures look like a nature walk with the Addams Family. I’m enjoying the fresh new foliage and spring flowers as much as anyone, really, but on a recent hike, it was the tree fungi that caught my eye.
Doesn’t the 2nd shot looks like Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake)?
I also wondered about the minimalist spider web in the 3rd shot. I once saw photos of spiderwebs, after the spiders had been given various drugs (OK, I guess it’s occurred to all of us to do that). The caffeine web was jazzy, random, frenetic-looking. The LSD web, as I remember, was unnaturally perfect.
Apparently nibbling on this fungus leads to a lack of ambition and inability to complete tasks?
Or just a desire to simplify and try something new, even if you don’t catch any juicy bugs that way.