This past week a friend of mine, Carol Reese, an Extension Specialist at the University of Tennessee (and one of my favorite speakers), told me that she’d like to post a little something about natives. I said sure, no problem, just send it along. And she did. But before posting it sometime next week, I thought I’d post another article that she sent along — one that isn’t quite so sciency and which will let you get to know Carol before you hear what she has to say about natives.
As a side note — Carol was bitten by a copperhead in the foot this past year — had to be given 10 units of anti-venom. From what she’s told me she has recovered to almost 100%.
Wandering in the Woods
by Carol Reese
Every morning at dawn, my dog Junebug jumps on the bed and approaches my sleeping form. My eyes slit open to see her just inches away, staring intently at my face. The instant we meet eyes, she bounds happily off the bed and runs around the bedroom, loudly rousting the rest of the dogs, who thump their tails, stretch, yawn, and come to the edge of the bed to see if Junebug is telling the truth about me being awake. I’m allowed one quick cup of microwave coffee, though the flapping of the dog door drives me crazy as they run in and out staring at me impatiently. Why they won’t go on without me isn’t fully understood, but for some reason, they want their slow two footed friend to go, too.
I live on an old farm, and though it’s not mine, I feel as though I’m kin to this land. I am, I guess, since, if I were to fall and molder into this ground, my flesh would be recycled into the plants and the animals that feed on them. That thought makes me comfortable most anywhere, but here, there’s more to make me feel at home. Old farms like this have a lingering sense of long-gone eras and of the people who lived here before. The old Ford Jubilee tractor still sits in an outbuilding, looking identical to the one on the farm in Mississippi where I was raised. Predating that, is a large horse collar hanging in the old barn. The kinfolks tell me it was worn by a Percheron, used for pulling logs from the woods. I imagine the old days, the big horse comfortable in the rolling green pasture, woods for shade, and a lake for drinking.
The dogs and I are drenched by dew these spring mornings. The woodland phlox are almost finished blooming along the edge of the woods, and the bearded tongue (Penstemon) is just beginning to peak. Wild azaleas and dogwood were blooming earlier, but now it’s the bell-like clusters of the tree huckleberry, the tallest member of the blueberry family. The many native ferns are hitting their glory days, and along a sunny creek bank, I come across American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) and a native clematis (Clematis crispa) This clematis will have wiry blue hanging blooms with four pointed petals that curl back like a rolled up hat brim. Further, in a sunny field, I find oxeye daisies and coreopsis. Though the milkweed and butterfly weed is not blooming yet, I see two monarchs cartwheel among them. Looks like butterfly hanky panky to me, and I will look
here later in the summer for the bold striped monarch caterpillars that feed on those species..
Grinch, my little schnauzer mix, suddenly arches high up off the ground and comes down with both front paws in perfect diving form. Dirt sprays as she digs ferociously at the ground where a mole made the earth bulge. Nearby, I notice several clumps of foliage that were covered with little light pink striped flowers earlier this spring. It’s Claytonia virginica, or spring beauty. With a sharp stick, I pry up the tuber beneath the foliage. It’s one of the wild foods that I find pretty good, either raw or cooked, tasting to me like a cross between water chestnut and boiled peanut. (My brother says they taste like dirt to him!) The dogs assume I must know something they don’t, like the whereabouts of the mole, so they jostle up next to me, ears pricked. A couple of them are willing to help me dig, but don’t take offense when I refuse the offer. I get a pocket full
and we ramble on to more important business. There’s a blue grosbeak nest I’m keeping free of cow bird eggs.
The dogs’ tails sink with disappointment when I turn back, except for the old ones, who have taken to plodding along behind me instead of ranging as they did in years past. One day I’ll have to bury them and let their bodies enrich the meadows they so enjoyed exploring. Another day in the future, some other person will walk this farm and rediscover the pleasures in these fields. It’s a kind of immortality, isn’t it?