The Language of Trees

Kansas cottonwoods in fall

 

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees.  That’s done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.
The words themselves are a delight to learn.
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.
But best of all are the words that shape the leaves —
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform —
And their venation — palmate, and parallel —
And tips — acute, truncate, auriculate.
Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.
Confusedly.  The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”
Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;
Maybe it’s not catalpa?  Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.
Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world
Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.
Thinking finally about the secret will
Pretend obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it,
And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.
                       “Learning Trees” ~ Howard Nemerov

Comments always are welcome. For more information on poet Howard Nemerov, click here.

 

Why Did the Alligator Cross the Road?

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge
Click image for greater size and detail

Honestly? I’m not sure. Perhaps he’d become bored with the pond and decided to try the ditch. Maybe he’d wakened from a nap and thought he’d take a stroll. He could have heard a rumor that a flock of appetizers had flown into the neighborhood, and a little snack sounded good. 

This much is certain. As I stood outside my car, I didn’t hear him coming, and when he emerged from the grasses, silent and purposeful, I wasn’t about to get in his way.

Watching him cross the road in front of me, I imagined him to be at least twenty feet long, even though I realized that eight to ten feet was a more realistic estimate.

After giving me one last, sidelong glance, he disappeared into the grasses and slid down the bank. Then, it occurred to me. Wherever he was going, he might be meeting friends.

Comments always are welcome.

 

A Part and Its Whole

A single flower of the longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia)

One of the less obvious delights of spring is the variety of milkweeds hidden away in grasslands and prairies. During a recent visit to my favorite nameless hayfield, I found green milkweed (A. viridis), slim milkweed (A. linearis), and an explosion of longleaf milkweeds, which look for all the world like vegetative fireworks.

Although quite different in structure from a daisy or rose, milkweed flowers provide a rich source of nectar and pollen for a variety of insects, especially native bees. For humans, they provide an unending source of visual delight.

The single flower shown above, in its larger context

 

Comments always are welcome.