I am moving into history. When my aunt passed away recently it dawned on me that I’m now the oldest member of this particular branch of my family. This morning I consider what this really means and know the inexorable tide of history shall bear me away as it has taken all the others who went before. Where do we go, we scraps of flotsam drifting in and out on the tides of life? For a lifetime I’ve been asking the questions, who am I, why am I here, what’s it all about? And perhaps, like Wordsworth, am further away from answers than when I was a child. Time, now, to think about returning to the well from which I sprang.
To welcome death with open arms seems strange
and yet the slow decay of strength and wit
is horror greater to sustain than breath.
Once upon a time humans spent half their time beneath a canopy of stars. We knew them by name and understood their rhythm. Then one day we received the gift of fire. Not only did it frighten away circling predators and hold off nightmares, but so did the stars flee away and a curtain of darkness fell.
I was struck the other day by the number of different kinds of maple leaves I saw in all their magnificent fall colours blowing along the roadside. I picked a few up, I’m a bit of scavenger when it comes to Nature’s prettier droppings, thinking that I would identify them when I got home. But then I remembered I’ve packed my books, including Trees of Canada. I must have found six different kinds including Japanese maple which doesn’t really count, and the ubiquitous, prolific, invasive Norway maple. The others, which I don’t know the names of, the native species, are all different shapes, including one which is just like the one on the Canadian flag so I think it may be sugar maple.
The book of trees is just one of the hundreds I’ve packed in boxes scrounged from the liquor store in preparation for our eventual move. Already I’ve found it inconvenient, so I suppose that’s a good sign. My collection of books is a living, useful one.
A point to ponder: what is the difference between love of the land and patriotism? Is there actually any point of similarity at all?
One leads to a sense of place, a feeling of belonging, security. The other is the trigger for war, fear of the other, desire for conquest.
What is home? Is it the house we’ve lived in much of our life? Is it our town or city or country? Is it things, old familiar things, books you can find on your shelf, familiar kitchen tools, the way the light changes through the day, through the seasons? Is it the view from the kitchen window, or the neighbours passing by on their regular walks? Is it something we can take with us no matter where we go?
Is home in my heart?
The little girl, walking slowly up the hill to school in the snow, observing meltwater running down the ditch. A fairyland, a miniature river with space for fairies. She tells herself stories all the way, imagining the lives of little people.
The old woman, walking briskly under a summer sun, observing flowers and grasses, hearing birds, seeing insects, trying to name and classify everything in this burgeoning natural world so full of wonder and mystery.
What is the difference between seven and seventy, except for decades of life, decades which seem to have leaked unnoticed through careless fingers, hours and days, months and years running down the drain of time, flowing eventually into the ocean of infinity from which they once emerged?
The pink flowered shrub which we have in our garden and also grows along the trail is spirea. Have seen creeping bellflower, touch-me-not, pussy toes, possibly purple loosestrife (another bad plant) although its leaves seem different, various goldenrods, and both yellow and white sweet clover are blooming. Cattails are forming their large brown seed heads. Last year thoughtless people took away, “harvested”, all the cattail heads. There is a tall yellow-flowered plant of the Queen Anne’s Lace family and I think it is wild parsnip, which has a reputation for being toxic, burning the skin when touched and leading to photosensitivity, like giant hogweed. Not going to touch it to find out! It’s a jungle out there!
Add to the list: bindweed, mullein, some sort of wild mustard, rabbit’s foot clover, steeplebush, tansy, viper’s bugloss, the last an invasive, not just alien, species.
Pleased to see the delicate little Deptford pink is thriving and spreading along a rather arid, open section of the trail.
I paid more attention to the vegetation along the trail this morning. I saw at least twenty plants I hadn’t listed yesterday, although there are a couple I can’t really identify. Some I just ignored yesterday: forget-me-not, dandelion, sorrel, plantain, buttercup, because they are so common and ubiquitous. Today I took note of rhodora, pineapple weed, a stunted little plant of yellow sweet clover, hop clover (I think), groundsel (probably), butter and eggs (toadflax), wild mustard, thistle, St Johnswort, bracken, Deptford pink, Queen Anne’s lace about to open, a little creeping plant with white starlike flowers which I think is a kind of chickweed (not mouse ear chickweed), fleabane, evening primrose, something which might be crown vetch although it doesn’t look quite like the plant in my book, and several more of those dandelion-like species. Fruiting spires are starting to form on the staghorn sumac. There’s also a shrub with bright pink flowers, I even have some growing in my garden, wild-seeded, but I have no idea what it is. And, for the record, the birds were in more evidence: the usual pigeons, starlings, a couple of crows, but also sparrows, robins and I caught a fleeting glimpse of something which was probably a “confusing warbler”.
It makes me wonder, with all this amazing diversity, why so many of us are intent upon maintaining lawns of only one or two types of grass and wage war upon all other species which dare to sprout amongst the blades.