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While frost forms in the American midwest and trees take on dramatic colors in the northeast, changes in Texas grasses mark the season’s turning along the coastal plain.
One of our most dramatic grasses, bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) grows both tall and full, its blue-green summer foliage becoming a rich, coppery brown as autumn ripens. Rooted in the Greek words for ‘man’ and ‘beard,’ both the genus name, as well as the less-favored common name of bushy beardgrass, refers to the long, soft hairs of its seed heads.
Native to the southeastern United States, parts of central Mexico, and the Caribbean, the plant can be found as far north as New England. Unlike other members of Andropogon, it thrives in moist soil, preferring areas such as roadside ditches, swamp margins, seasonal ponds, wet pastures, and river banks.
Generally, the full beauty of the grass emerges gradually, until its changed color and sunlit tufts of fluff dominate the surrounding landscape. But at least one plant at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge couldn’t wait, exploding into full autumn glory ahead of its companions.
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.