Saturday, October 11, 2014

Solving an indigenous Minnesota mystery?

One of the trees included in the Minnesota Goose Garden is tagged as a red spruce.

red spruce tag
Photo by J. Harrington

This is what the tree looks like.

red spruce tree
Photo by J. Harrington

As I've mentioned previously on these pages, tree identification isn't one of my strongest skills. I remembered checking on black spruce and white spruce in my efforts to identify two clusters of conifers behind the house, but had no recollection of coming across a reference to red spruce in Minnesota. The first source I checked was Strength of the Earth, Frances Densmore's "Guide to Ojibwe Uses of Native Plants." There it was, about one third of the way down page numbered 291, Picea rubra (DuRoi) Dietr. But, there is no Picea rubra to be found in Welby R. Smith's Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, nor is red spruce listed on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' listing of native trees of Minnesota. Finally, in checking the US Forest Service's online information, the range of the red spruce doesn't seem to come anywhere near Minnesota. As my lawyer friends might ask, was I dealing with a distinction without a difference or presuming facts not in evidence? Then, I remembered that I had read that oral history told that the Ojibwe had moved west from the area now known as New England / New York, a location right in the midst of the red spruce range. Mystery solved? I think so. Meanwhile, I'm still less than certain that the spruces I see daily are black and not white. I wonder if I'll ever become native to this place where I live.

Intimate Detail

By Heid E. Erdrich  
Late summer, late afternoon, my work
interrupted by bees who claim my tea,
even my pen looks flower-good to them.
I warn a delivery man that my bees,
who all summer have been tame as cows,
now grow frantic, aggressive, difficult to shoo
from the house. I blame the second blooms
come out in hot colors, defiant vibrancy—
unexpected from cottage cosmos, nicotianna,
and bean vine. But those bees know, I’m told
by the interested delivery man, they have only
so many days to go. He sighs at sweetness untasted.

Still warm in the day, we inspect the bees.
This kind stranger knows them in intimate detail.
He can name the ones I think of as shopping ladies.
Their fur coats ruffed up, yellow packages tucked
beneath their wings, so weighted with their finds
they ascend in slow circles, sometimes drop, while
other bees whirl madly, dance the blossoms, ravish
broadly so the whole bed bends and bounces alive.

He asks if I have kids, I say not yet. He has five,
all boys. He calls the honeybees his girls although
he tells me they’re ungendered workers
who never produce offspring. Some hour drops,
the bees shut off. In the long, cool slant of sun,
spent flowers fold into cups. He asks me if I’ve ever
seen a Solitary Bee where it sleeps. I say I’ve not.
The nearest bud’s a long-throated peach hollyhock.
He cradles it in his palm, holds it up so I spy
the intimacy of the sleeping bee. Little life safe in a petal,
little girl, your few furious buzzings as you stir
stay with me all winter, remind me of my work undone.


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