Reprinted with permission of Sue Kusserow
& the Green Mountain Gazette.
When the day gets too long with trivia and nuisance problems, I often drive my car to a dirt road that I have spotted before, as I was speeding along on seemingly ‘essential’ errands that will be solved for the moment of today, but will pop up like gremlins for tomorrow. I turn in on a dirt road that has been repaired somewhat, with water bars, potholes, gashes made from the tractors lopping off the first cutting of hay. The dogs and I are eager to explore, the littlest one jumping out the side window and immediately dropping her hound’s nose into sniffing position. I am not looking for anything particular, just a chance to examine the landscape in microcosm.
Ah, there is one of my favorites, on the shaded side of the road, with the ruts dribbling in water, which it loves. Meadow Rue: small feathery white blossoms usually smothered by ferns, with leaflets that are in sets of three thin lobes that are covered with fine down. Although very selective about watery spots, it can, in a rather rare lavender-flowered form, grow to a height of three to six feet. (As such it is labeled with its Latin name, Thalictrum, and sold by the expensive pot.) I am not finding that here, but I pull up a few of the whites from the watery leaf mold, using only my fingers. We’ll see if they can survive in a shady part of my topsy-turvy collection, euphemistically called a garden.
And of course, since I had to scrabble my way through ferns, that brings up a subject I would like to study more. I know the common ones: Cinnamon, Interrupted, Sensitive, and our seasonally-decimated Ostrich Fern. I don’t like the Sensitive Fern. It has no graceful fronds to it, and with the first minuscule frost, turns brown. As a portent of winter [is] coming, I don’t enjoy seeing it withering among its cousins. I spot some fern that is unknown, and wish I had brought my fern book. But, on further thought, I am glad that this walk is mine as a neophyte. I am not here to replace simple discovery with deductive education.
The edges of the meadow, where the sun drifts into the road, have a different feeling: the hidden flowers of the Meadow Rue are replaced by the plebeian Daisy, raising its yellow center to its namesake: Days Eye. And of course these are usually accompanied by Black-eyed Susans, which have found the poorest sandy soil in which to struggle forth. But I think, for all its struggles to survive and propagate (it only lasts in the same spot for two summers) I have never seen a happier flower.
The dogs are howling down the road. Must be something ferocious like a frog. That is confirmed by their obvious exploration of a mud puddle: blackened muddy feet and muzzles. A clump of day lilies signals an old cellar hole. The old-fashioned tall bright orange blossoms are almost misplaced in this deserted road. And next to it, are the pale purple showy flowers of the Purple Raspberry bush. The petals drop quickly into my hand and what is left will turn into an acid berry, but I have been told by ‘old-timers’ that they can be made into a jelly… with lots of sugar! What elderly occupant of that deserted cellar hole walked this road to find these berries, using the domestic excuse of provender shining in small jars on a kitchen shelf? Was she giving herself a break, as I am now, to escape routine, and walls, and people?
The leftover leaves of the Trillium, with the flower already turned into tripartite seed, have always intrigued me with their obsession with threes: three leaves, three sepals, three petals, six stamens, and the pistil divided into three parts. I missed its pink phase this spring: as it ages and dies, it turns the pale rose of a blossoming sunrise. Another plant with a peculiar bulbous calyx below its white petals inflated like a tiny football, is everywhere: a plant so common that I never bothered to look it up (what a judgment of overpopulation versus selectivity)… Finally, I decided to lower myself and learn what it was: White Campion, listed with the damning label of: weed.
It is time to go. My busy little internal clock of small errands has just alarmed for the second or third time and the dogs are scrounging around in the back of the car, smelling some old pieces of doggie biscuits. All three of us are muddy, but much calmer than when we arrived. I must remember to do this more often!