It's barely spring in the North Country. The grass is green, but the leaves are just getting started.
Amid a chorus of birdsong (geese, owls, phoebes, chickadees, redwing blackbirds, robins, ravens, marsh-hawk, finches), the porcupine in the tree might have been making a noise. But we didn't hear it.
Instead, Jeff looked over and there was the porcupine, looking like a sloth, a marmoset, a bundle of sharp-ended straws, a tiny silver-tipped bear. Dozing in the sunshine, evidently not bothered by us.
I'll be taking a break from the blog, scouting for cool stuff in the woods. Back soon.
All plants have their place. Some plants, as my mother would hasten to remind me, are outstanding in their field. (Bah-dah-boom!)
Burdock can go to hell. Towering to six feet in height, and topped with vicious tea-berry-gum clusters of super-sticky, clingy, nasty seed-heads (burs), burdocks can actually kill small birds by dread-locking their feathers into a clump.
In the autumn, after changing from green to brown, the burs seem to leap into play, tangling hair, burrowing into wool scarves and mittens, forming massive clots in animal fur. Even when carefully plucked out of the a sweater or a mane, the scratchy burs break into smaller and smaller bits, each still clinging tight in a quest to colonize a whole new field in the spring.
Of course burdock (family Arctium, sounding all muscular and super-heroic) does have fans.
Related to thistles, the burdock's amazingly clingy seedhead inspired the hook-and-loop technology of Velcro®.
It's also -- to be fair -- edible: the root is a bit like turnip, crunchy and earthy and sweetish.
Traditional herbal medicine* uses the plant for skin and hair ailments as well as for purifying the blood and soothing sore throats.
(*I go to the source for this: Culpepper's Complete Herbal, published in 1653. Culpepper also recommends burdock as a treatment for rabies, but we'll let that pass.)
Still, when I found a stand of burdock at the would-be farm, there was no question of putting the plants to medical use. It was full-on battle-stations.
We cleared a way into the patch by breaking off the brittle, woody stems of the plants close to the ground. Working an armful at a time, we gathered giant, hazardous bouquets of burdock and walked them (carefully so that the burs stayed on the branch) straight to the campfire.
They snap as they burn. The myriad tiny seedcases crack open as the bur takes on the heat. Each seed releases a tiny bit of oil that flares with a yellow flame, even when the plant is damp from snow.
I raked the ashes again and again, and the tiny snapping continued until the coals were gone. No doubt some seeds survived, but maybe we can catch them early this summer. Or put the plant to use. Maybe try this recipe.
I suppose the burdock-cull will become part of the annual calendar (knock wood we are granted the years to have such a thing) that puts us next to the fire, trying to flick the burs off our gloves and listening to the crackle as most (but not all) of the seeds turn to ash.
In The White Album, Joan Didion writes,
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children to the sea...We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience."
And -- it's also just kind of fun. Here's a writing exercise (sort of like warming up for a long run) that makes me glad to have this as my actual job.
At the stroke of sunset, when the rain had cleared and the dancing stopped, she left behind only a shoe.
After an extensive search of a seventeen-block section of Gulf Boulevard, the crime scene techs found only a single shoe to mark the brief, violent struggle. Although the abduction had taken place during broad daylight, at a public beach, in front of a dozen witnesses, no two people agreed about the description of the van. No one had thought to jot down a license number.
In the long minutes while the group decided that they had, after all, seen a crime, the big, light-colored van disappeared north on Gulf Boulevard.
Much later, each of the witnesses would remember the delay while someone sorted a cellular phone from a purse -- it had been switched off because, of course, they were on holiday -- and then the efforts to punch in the unfamiliar emergency number, and finally, that interminable struggle as they tried to convey -- offering the wrong details and pointless explanations while everyones' accents worked at cross-purposes -- the terrible thing that might have just happened as they watched.
"Shoes!" her voice was heavy with contempt. "Who needs shoes? We are at the beach, girls!"
Addie didn't bother to argue. In this mood, her mother couldn't be reasoned with. Instead, Addie set the beach-bag down and said, "I'll be right back, I saw a shell."
Her mother gave her a thumb's up, as if to say, "THAT's the spirit!" before dropping the hotel towels in the sand next to the beach-bag. The woman danced ahead of Addie's younger sisters toward the water's edge, and then paused to address all three of her daughters. Using the throbbing, theatrical note that set Addie's teeth on edge, she pronounced, "Isn't the ocean simply magical, girls?"
Why this picture? To start with, it's not a squirrel.
It's been a while, but I do have some pretty cool prizes that are just aching to be awarded to a dear reader or two. Here's the deal: make up a funny/entertaining caption for this photo, jot it down as a comment below, and you might earn yourself or a loved one a prize.
Past prizes have included homemade soap, books, a big neoprene wine-bottle coolie cup. There's also a jar of Flarp that needs a good home.
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