Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Earth mother

If it crawls or grows, my Mom is interested in it. In her later years, she’s developed an aversion to snakes, but when I was a kid she’d pick up anything. I think it’s because of her that I approach any new plant as a full sensory experience. To see it is not enough; you have to smell it, feel it, sometimes even taste it.

On our nature walks, it seemed that nothing escaped Mom’s notice. She even coaxed ant lions from their sandy dens with a stick and the incantation, "Doodle-bug, doodle-bug: Come out of your hole!"

In early summer, Mom seems to know the location of every wild patch of milkweed within a 20-mile radius. When I was a kid, she picked a bouquet of the orange flowers, and there was a monarch caterpillar pupa attached. We waited for days, then watched in awe as the butterfly emerged from its chrysalis on the dining room table.

Mom was the sole source in helping me ID several dozen tree species for an elementary-school notebook made of leaves and seeds we collected. For another school project, we harvested all sorts of twigs and bark to investigate which made the best cloth dyes. I’ll never forget (nor likely will anyone else in the family) the rank smell in the kitchen as she let me boil pokeberries, sassafras and other plants in vinegar, then dip strips of muslin for staining into all the pots and pans. Mom is the main reason I am enthralled with native plants and animals.

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