Dew Light

Dew-heavy Gulf muhly in Arkansas’s Ouachita mountains


The death of poet W.S. Merwin (September 30, 1927 – March 15, 2019) has taken another creative and compelling voice from our world.

Pulitzer Prize winner, seventeenth Poet Laureate of the United States, and author of over fifty books of verse, his changing style and changing commitments have been among the most interesting in American writing. Increasing attention to the natural world, combined with his practical transformation of a failed Hawaiian pineapple plantation into one of the greatest collection of palms known to exist, shaped both his verse and his life.

In the late 1970’s, Merwin began a nearly 40-year journey toward redevelopment of his land. As described by the Merwin Conservancy:

The palm collection, set on nineteen acres on Maui’s north shores, boasts nearly 3,000 individual palm trees, representing over 400 taxonomic species, more than 125 unique genera, and 800 different horticultural varieties.  According to experts at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, the collection is “a living treasure house of palm DNA.”  This significant botanical and horticultural assemblage is now preserved forever through a deed of conservation easement held by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust.

Impressive as his work with the palms surely was, his reflections on that work are equally important. As he reminds us:

One can’t live only in despair and anger without eventually destroying the thing one is angry in defense of. The world is still here, and there are aspects of human life that are not purely destructive, and there is a need to pay attention to the things around us while they are still around us. And you know, in a way, if you don’t pay that attention, the anger is just bitterness.

Just as “Wild Geese” became one of her most reprinted poems after Mary Oliver’s death, Merwin’s “For The Anniversary of My Death” is appearing everywhere. Appropriate as it surely is, I prefer to remember him by these words, even as I imagine him wandering among the morning palms, and happy.

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age
“Dew Light” ~ W.S. Merwin


Comments always are welcome.
For more information on Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), please click here.
For biographical details about W.S. Merwin, this Poetry Foundation article is useful.


An Arkansas Not-So-Oddity


One of the great delights of travel is discovery, and as I wandered the ridge along Arkansas’s Talimena Scenic Drive, I discovered one of the oddest plants I’d ever seen. Unable to decide whether I was looking at fungi or fruit, I wandered a little farther until I found a much larger, even more beautiful example of the plant.

Eventually, I learned I’d found neither a fungus nor a flower, but a fern: specifically, a cutleaf grape fern (Botrychium dissectum). Grape ferns are named for their round, clustered spore cases which do, in fact, resemble a bunch of grapes. The plant is comprised of a single sterile leaf and a single fertile leaf that bears the spores. When both are present, they are joined together close to the ground.

The fact that I’d never seen the plant doesn’t mean it’s rare.  Cutleaf grape fern can be found across the eastern United States and Canada, including limited areas of eastern Texas. Grape ferns prefer rich, moist shady areas with good drainage, so they’d be right at home in Texas’s piney woods.

The fronds emerge from the soil not as fiddleheads but as leaflets. Two forms of the plant can be distinguished by looking at the edges of the leaves. This variety, with its lacey margins, is the form known as dissectum. Had the edges been more smooth, I might have been looking at the form called obliquum.

As for those faux grapes? They’re called sporangia; when they ripen, they split, dispersing the fern’s spores into the air. The spores settle onto the earth and germinate underground, producing a new tuberous plant that contains no chlorophyll but depends on mycorrhizal fungi for nourishment.  The new plant may remain underground for five to eight years before emerging into the light of day, ready to delight the occasional passerby.


Comments always are welcome.  For more information on Botrychium dissectum var. obliquum, click here.
For some history of Rich Mountain, click here.


The Art of Reflection

Had I seen this image with no explanation and no more context than its leafy background, I suspect I might have found identification difficult, even though I’ve encountered the object in the past under quite different conditions.

But seen from a longer perspective, with its shadow reflected on its well-buffed surface, it would have been unmistakable. Once you’ve seen the trunk of this magnificent tree, you don’t forget it. 

The shadow cast across the lawn near the entrance to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was produced by this Roxy Paine sculpture titled Yield. I saw it first in autumn: shadowless, stark against a gray sky, and surrounded by nearly leafless trees.

During my recent visit, it seemed warmer, and more welcoming. The greening grass reflected in its highly polished surface made it seem as though Paine’s tree had itself taken root, and soon would leaf out.

It won’t, of course, but that hardly matters. Shimmering in the early summer sunlight, it stands as a reminder that second, third, or even tenth looks at any piece of art can be as rewarding — and as surprising — as the first.


Comments always are welcome.