Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What's in a name

A month or so ago, we were pondering the identity of a blue flower in the front garden. Susan Foss, the artist behind Minnesota Goose Garden, kindly suggested it "looks like vinca," rather than my guess of a Bottle Gentian. Anyone who's managed to get something like 400 plants used by the Ojibwe planted and identified in a walkable garden definitely outranks me when it comes to wildflower identification, but I haven't, until now, tried to double check and acknowledge her hypothesis. After taking a look at my usual reference sources, I think Susan is probably correct, although almost all of the periwinkle photos available portray an opened blossom, one of the main reasons I had trouble with identification (in case any field guide authors ever read this page). It's listed as an invasive species so either this Autumn or next Spring, once I can find it again, it will get weeded out, unless we decide to try it as a ground cover on the shady north side of the house.

Common Periwinkle ("vinca")
Photo by J. Harrington
Now that it's late October, the suet feeder is back up. We bring that and the sunflower seed feeder in a night because we're still reasonably sure the local bear isn't yet in hibernation. The return of the suet has brought about the return of woodpeckers to the feeder, hairy, downy and pileated. They seemed to largely disappear over the Summer and their red feather patches add a nice spot of color on a cold, cloudy, dreary day like today. We're also seeing the usual chickadees, nuthatches and goldfinches, plus an occasional squirrel who shows up to give the dogs something to bark at and chase away. I often wonder what they think they're seeing when they bark at creatures not there. Sometimes it's hard to know what we see and what words to use.

Goldfinch and nuthatch
Photo by J. Harrington

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use

By Ada Limón 

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.


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