Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Lady's Washbowl

Today I read Hal Borland's essay about bouncing bet, which he mentions was prolific on this day of the year as he wrote. The article brought to mind a skit I've seen explaining the confusion of multiple names that can plague a naturalist. Saponaria officinalis, soapwort and fuller's herb also made the top 4 in the acted-out story. But I was intriqued as I read that the habit of women to wash their hair (or intimate clothing) with the herb inspired another name: my lady's washbowl.

Being unable to resist, I set about to find as many more names for the plant as I could. Here's what I found (just including names in English):

boston pink
bouncing bess
buryt ?
chimney pink (belongs to pink/carnation family)
dog's cloves (scent said to remind of cloves)
goodbye summer
hedge pink
lady-by-the-gate (or lady-by-the-garden-gate)
London pride (for the ability of the scented blooms to mask the stench of London's gutters)
monthly pink
old maid's pink
ragged sailor
sheepweed (referencing cleaning wool, as in fuller's herb)
soapwort gentian
sweet betty
wild sweet william
wood's phlox
world's wonder

Can you add more names to the list, or find explanations for any of the names?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

for all of us that saw it

naturally friends
rose and yellow and purple
in a shared sunset

Summer season's inspiration

Last year's garden blooms
like a fallen ceiling tile
from the Milky Way.
With soft voices, trees
gesture in conversation,
cool dark underneath.
My roses are dying,
bug-eaten, black spotted, spindly;
fragrant kiss good-bye.
The election nears.
Hydrangea and I are
all shades of purple.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Weather and the 4th of July

Hal Borland notes that on July 4th 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson bought a thermometer and noted the temperature was 73.5 degrees at 9 pm. Though weather watchers and historians now wonder how to reconcile this seemingly cool reading with the sweltering heat often noted on that occasion, Jefferson’s simple purchase began a lifetime of recording weather patterns. Borland also notes that Jefferson bought a barometer 4 days later to take home with him.

On a day that Jefferson was focused on independence, his purchases ratified the idea that an independent man is dependent on nature. Of course, today’s dependence on all manner of technology, while making us ‘independent’ of nature, might arguably be said to interfere with our independence from other men.

I think this same Jeffersonian understanding is evident also in the writings of Thoreau. A weather watcher himself, he moved into a cabin hand-built on land owned by Emerson on Walden Pond on the 4th of July 1845. Thoreau embarked on a journey (chronicled in Walden) to find out what was really essential in life, and to eliminate from his own that which was not essential. One assumption he began with was that dependence on other men for the means to live was not essential (though companionship certainly did turn out to be handy occasionally).

And thanks to Jefferson, we know the work of two other great weather observers and naturalists, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. July 4th 1803 brought Lewis the news of the Louisiana Purchase, his signal to depart for Pittsburg, which he did the following day. July 4th 1805 found the Lewis and Clark expedition at the Falls of the Missouri. They celebrated Independence Day with the last of their whiskey. But a thunderstorm ended the celebration around 9pm.

So what better day than the 4th of July to start a habit of observing and recording the weather? What better day to embark on a study of phenology? What better way to celebrate our independence?

To read more:

Thomas Jefferson

Henry David Thoreau

Benjamin Franklin

Lewis and Clark