Saturday, March 7, 2009

OAK AND ANCONITE

Yesterday morning arrived gloomy and damp, a bit on the chilly side. After puttering about inside for a while, I decided to amble a quarter-mile upstream to visit a favorite bur oak. It’s a big tree—five feet in diameter, perhaps fifteen around at chest height. While I’d intended walking from the cottage upstream to visit the old oak, a few minutes into the endeavor proved the effort too much. I was ridiculously weak, still feeling the lingering aftereffects of whatever nasty infective agent—viral or bacterial—had temporarily rode roughshod over my immune system. Disconcerted, I retreated to the cottage, climbed into the pickup, and drove as cloe as I could to my goal. Bur oaks grow slower than most of their kin. A reasonable estimate would put the age of this sturdy individual at 250–300 years. Not ancient as oaks go—but old enough that I’m always impressed by the span as compared to the human historical record. Was this now venerable bur oak a seedling recently sprouted from its acorn when explorer Ren√©-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, made his first expedition down the wild and beautiful Ohio? Maybe. It was surely a fair sapling in 1750, when Christopher Gist, one of the region’s first white explorers, passed through here while following several of the Ohio’s tributaries northward into the land of the Miamis, Delawares, Shawnees, Wyandots, Ottawas, and Mingos. The oak would have been counted among part of the old Ohio Company’s holdings and later, in 1787, those of the nerwly-formed Northwest Territory. This old oak was practically part of the scenery for the signing of the Treaty of Greenvile in 1795, and a robust tree when Ohio became a state. You have to respect such age in any living thing. I often stop by and lean against its rough bark, giving it an occasional friendly pat as I watch the interplay of shadow and light on the nearby river. In its way, the old oak seems to take me in, to touch me with its great strength. Yet yesterday’s visit was heightened by an unexpected dash of color—brilliant yellow blooms, like dabs of ballpark mustard, scattered in every direction. Little bits of spring sunshine on a cloudy day. I immediately felt better and welcomed the mood change. I’m certainly no stranger to such natural magic. The outdoors delivers such moments with wonderful regularity. Still, the unexpected sight of those cheerful little flowers went straight through my eyes to whatever dank corner of my soul had—only a moment before—been setting my mood. And not for the first time, I wondered…how is it something so insignificant as a small patch of bright flowers poking above the leafy duff of a riverine woods can produce such an instant transformation? So…what were those uplifting blooms? Now, I must admit I’m not one of those hard-and-fast “namer of things.” I’m truly in general agreement with Shakespeare’s observation that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. One therefore doesn't have to know the exact name—including the name in the most up-to-date Latin—of a bird, plant, or whatever else in order to enjoy the thing itself. But I wanted to know the name of the little yellow flowers near the oak because I thought I already knew it—which is to say that somewhere in the mush-filled corridors of my post-illness memory, I was certain the identity of the plant before me was sloshing around. It wasn't a cast of "not knowing," bur rather, "knowing and not being able to recall" that kept nagging at me even as I looked at the pretty clumps growing at my feet…not buttercup…not marsh marigold…not lesser celandine…hmm-m-m-m-? I was still puzzling over it when I returned home. After unsuccessfully consulting a half-dozen of my several dozen books on wildflowers, the answer slowly crept into my befuddled brain…not a wildflower at all, but an escapee from someone’s garden. Winter aconite! Hey, I knew that! Winter aconite is not native to North America, but is a longtime garden favorite for anyone wanting a bit of pre-spring color to blast away winter’s dull brown. I don’t know who planted the small tubers which gave these particular winter aconites their start, or when, but it must have been some while ago. There’s no house nearby, yet patches of yellow were visible throughout the riverside woods and undergrowth as far as I could see, and such plants needed a fair amount of time to establish and spread on their own. However the plants came to be here, though, I was grateful. They were just the nudge I needed to perk up. And while you make think me a fool, perhaps my old oak friend welcomed their bright yellow, too. You see, there’s just enough Druid in my Irish veins to believe such things are possible.

16 comments:

Jenn Jilks said...

Lovely post. I have been playing around on the ice, myself! No flowers at all.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Nice here today. But this is Ohio and not really yet spring, so who knows? We could have our own ice to play on before it's over.

And thank you.

Val said...

Druid in your blood, eh?
That doesn't surprise me at all.
: )

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

Nor me, either. Certainly something dark and longing and mysterious, that hears tongues in trees and stones, and can be moved nigh to tears by the babble of water.

The Solitary Walker said...

Lots of yellow aconites in the little woody bit of our garden - but they've faded now. One of the first signs that spring might possibly, sometime, someday soon please... be on the way.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

I hear you. We've had temps in the low 70s here today, but it is still not spring. My crocus haven't even bloomed yet.

Hang in there…

KGMom said...

The Treaty of Greenville? Your posts send me scurrying to seek out the historical references.
There was a time when the part of central PA where I live was the frontier. The Treaty of Greenville speaks to the time when Ohio was the frontier.
Interesting--while I enjoy the oak and aconite descriptions, history really pulls me in.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

The history of man upon the land is at least as interesting to me as the natural history of the land itself. Each influences the other; you can't take the land out of history, or history from the land. They are one and the same.

I'm very glad your share this appreciation.

giggles said...

These look like yellow spring beauties.... Yellow is one of the best colors....how can you deny its sunshine and happiness??!!

The Weaver of Grass said...

So pleased that you are "on the mend" Scribe - I am sure those winter aconites would help. I have a little clump just outside my sitting room window - I cannot tell you how good they make me feel on a grey day.
When you see them in the wild you wonder how they got there don't you?
Here if that happens it is often someone throwing garden rubbish away - or sometimes mice or birds pick up a corm and then drop it. Or could it be fairy folk - perhaps your Irish blood would be prepared to accept that theory?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Nothing says spring better than yellow—at least for me, though I prefer purple for my top crocus color; have yaller ones, too, though.

These anconites are bigger than spring beauties. What they remind me of are yellow bloodroot.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I have to put some of the anconites out for next spring. I can, indeed, believe in fairy folk.

KGMom said...

Your observation on the interplay between human-made history and natural history is spot-on.
In reading about the Treaty of Greenville, I learned that William Clark (as in Lewis & Clark) was one of those in attendance.
Of course, we are much indebted to Lewis & Clark for many descriptions of natural history.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Absolutely! Try and think of the story—the historical record—of Lewis and Clark's westward expedition without the land, the weather, the plants and animals as co-starring characters in the saga, and it's just impossible. Or the opening of the Great Lakes without fur, and the expansion southward; the lands and rivers were explored by Europeans southward from the Great Lakes, starting with Superior. Lake Erie was really one of the last settled and explored. History influenced by land.

I've just been fascinated for years by the way these go hand-in-hand, from the Indian trails and old frontier camps, battlefield sites, ghost towns (yes, in Ohio) and why they are today a ghost town—all of which almost always relate back to land or natural resources. I love prowling the overgrown roads, looking for forgotten cemeteries, trying to put nature and history in their context.

So, again, I'm glad you like this. I'll try and do more.

Gail said...

Hi and glad to hear you are on the other side of that nasty flu.
The picture of that oak is so strong and detailed. Lots of integrity.

It was 65 degrees here yesterday and today it is in the 30's with freezing rain, wet snow and a cold wind.

We are still in a mess due to the 40 gallons of water our water heater spewed out into the house.

This too shall pass - and then our washing machine started "whining".....

Love Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

You are right—oaks are trees of integrity! I like that statement a lot.

Hey, we bought a new water heater last fall, along with a new pressure tank (a necessity for a well water system) and had them installed to the tune of $1500. A month later, the washer bit the dust: $1000. This put a decided strain on our Christmas budget. So I know where you're comin' from. But hang in there, it all eventually works out somehow.