Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The stuff I don't know

Dad and I were on the little bike path again today and I saw two peculiar seed pods on a yucca plant I couldn't identify. They were eggplanty/brownish in color, sort of like a cucumber in shape, with three flat sides, about 5 inches in length. Of course, I stole one of them, brought it home and cut it into slices to see the insides. It smelled rank, and I didn't taste it, even though I have this bad habit of sampling wild plants. Once, I was on a field trip with a busload of naturalists. I saw a wildflower that had umbels, like something in the parsley family but not Queen Anne's lace. So I snapped a stem and touched the tip of my tongue to it. It did taste rather parsley-esque. Back on the bus, I raided the stash of field guides. The mystery plant was Conium maculatum: poison hemlock, which is said to cause respiratory collapse and death when consumed in any quantity. Yet I survived.

Before sunset I watched a heron in the marsh for a solid half hour through the scope. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for it to strike a fish. I was going to give it 5 minutes, which turned into 10, and then 20. I felt that if the bird could wait, so could I. In a half hour it never moved a leg. First my neck started to hurt, then my shoulders, then my feet. And I was cold. And hungry. I gave up. Now here's the thing. You'd think as much time as I spent staring at that damn bird, I'd be able to identify it handily with a field guide. If I had to lay money, I'd say an adult little blue heron. But boy, do I feel ignorant.

Sitting on the table in front of me is a slab of a tri-color confection. I can quickly and easily identify it as Banana Split Fudge. Much tastier than poison hemlock. Decidedly less dangerous.

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