Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Our Place in History

As it is somewhat of a slow phenology time, between the rush of spring flowers and the drawn-out bloom of the prairie in summer -- although there are still things to be observed... such as, there are cottonwood seeds blowing all over today, floating gracefully down and up and down again... But back to the point, in the absence of the laundry list of new blossoms of three weeks ago, I shall wax philosophical about our place in history.  

Several weeks ago, fivecrows gave me this book she had acquired sometime earlier.  It's a fascinating book, entitled Apgar's Plant Analysis, published in 1874.  The book, intended, according to the preface, for students of biology, contains several pages of botanical terminology, and then the bulk of the book contains blank pages for the student to fill in describing plants.  (There is also a page that advertises other botanical texts and materials, which describes a botany microscope, with 2 lenses, available for $2.00!!!)  One page, written in 1880 and describing a Uvularia, is shown above.  The pressed flower shown to the left was inside the front cover.  

Among the species described in the book are spring beauty, hepatica, bloodroot, rue anenome, violets, larkspur, trillium, pipevine, columbine, stonecrop, strawberry, phlox, buttercup, cranesbill, lungwort, toothwort, bittercress, Solomon's seal, plantain, marsh marigold, and more.  Many pages are left blank.  (I am sorely tempted to fill one out, but will resist.)

There is no name in the book, although I imagine the botanist was a woman.  This may be because of the extremely neat handwriting -- although I think this was probably typical of everyone at the time.  But it may also be because I relate with his person, I imagine her stopping, almost 130 years ago, in Mrs. Neel's yard and Gardener's Woods -- wherever those places are -- and sitting down to study those plants.  For homework or for pleasure... or both... who knows... Perhaps she sketched them, too, in a different book, lost to time or preserved somewhere else, treasured by someone else.  

I think about her records -- scientific, sterile, formatted, yest still somehow lovingly done -- compared to mine.  Whimsical, on and off, switching from poetic to scientific to plain mundane.  Her perfect handwriting on the lines of a book, tucked away on some shelf, sold eventually at a garage sale; my typing into blogger, out there for anyone to see, and who knows what will happen to it in the future.   How the times have changed, and how they have remained the same.

I suppose it was more common, then, to know the local plants.  It's a different world, a different understanding, for people who do and don't, in some ways.  I was talking to someone last week who said that when he walked in the woods, he saw a lot of green plants and trees.  None of them were different to him.  He didn't understand how people differentiated between them all, or why they bothered, or how they remembered.  To me, every plant is different.  Even if I don't know its name -- or especially then -- I am interested in its characteristics, and how it differs from others of its kind and why.  There are so many things to see, everywhere.  I sort of understand him, though... what if I could tell all those little brown birds apart?  Would the world look wholly different to me?  

What is it they found?  On average, children can identify over 1,000 corporate logos but fewer than 10 native species that live in their area.  (Read more.)  I'm guessing that back in 1880 there weren't so many corporate logos cluttering people's brains and more care was given over to what grew in yards and parks.  It's a sad state of affairs, but I'm glad I am connected to this glimpse of a phenologist's records from the 19th century.  I wonder what someone will say when they come across mine, someday...  

1 comment:

  1. You should definitely contribute to your book--maybe a hundred years from now it will fall into the hands of someone else and they will find the same joy you did in reading the notes of not one, but two plantswomen, separated by little more than time. Just use your best handwriting!!