from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
July 29, 2001
THE GREEN AROUND US
The green around us right now is the mid-summer green of forest and field that comes once all of spring's buds are burst, all its sprouts are unfurled, and every grassblade and tree leaf is as perfect as it ever will be. Soon blades and leaves will grow tattered and bug-eaten and, more than anything else, begin yellowing toward fall. In a sense, these green days constitute that moment in the yearly cycle which is neither exploding out of spring, nor withdrawing into itself in preparation for fall's frosts. The green around us is perfect, lusty being-alive-now.
In recent summers by now there's been a bit of yellowing in things. That's not so this year because rains have come when they were needed. I identify with this precise green moment. For, at age 53 somehow I feel the way I think a blade of grass must as it photosynthesizes efficiently, anonymously and contentedly in its random field.
Sometimes when I walk in the fields and forest I can't keep from chuckling. Maybe it's only because it tickles me to find myself so comfortable in the presence of all this powerful green. Or maybe it's because during these walks I am delighted by a certain insight.
In fact, if I have any religion at all it is this: That something we might as well call God has hung the Earth next to the Sun, and from the Sun comes sunlight, which carries the energy that fuels the activities of Life on Earth, including my writing this to you at this very moment. And here's the central icon in that religion: It's green plants capturing that energy, through the process of photosynthesis, and distributing it broadly and generously to all the rest of the Earth-ecosystem.
Sunlight --> photosynthesis --> green plants --> us by way of the plants we eat (and animals who eat those plants if you're not a vegetarian).
Think about it. Maybe you will chuckle too when you go walking inside the green of forests and fields.
These days on any forest trail eventually you will find grapes at your feet. Right now grapes are falling from vines with leaves so high in the forest canopy that usually it takes a while to spot where they are falling from. These are Muscadine grapes, from the vine known in Latin as Vitis rotundifolia.
Most of the grapes falling now are a little green, but not all. Of course for wildlife these grapes are manna dropping from Heaven. My book called AMERICAN WILDLIFE & PLANTS: A GUIDE TO WILDLIFE FOOD HABITS lists these animals as eating especially large amounts of wild grapes: Wild Turkey; Cardinals; Mockingbirds; Foxes; Raccoons, and; Eastern Skunks.
There's about half a dozen different wild-grape species in this area, but at Laurel Hill the Muscadine is surely the most eye-catching. It's easily distinguished from other species by two important features: 1) Its bark doesn't hang in loose shreds as in other species, and; 2) Its tendrils are "simple." By simple is meant that each tendril is like a very slender finger that never divides, while tendrils on other species usually divide, looking like spindly fingers issuing from a very skinny hand.
Since we usually think of wine as at least originally a European thing, I had figured that most grape species originated in Europe or Asia. Truth is that about half of the world's species are native Americans, and our Muscadines are one of the best.
You might like to visit a page on the Internet entitled "The Past & Present of Muscadines," at http://www.paulkvineyards.com/muscadines.html
ROBBERS & CHEATERS
The high deer-fences around our organic gardens are beautiful now, heavily draped with the vine my kinfolk in Kentucky call Hummingbird Vine, and people around here often call Cypress Vine, since its leaves look like feathery green Baldcypress leaves. I planted these vines because they produce many, many scarlet blossoms which our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and some moths and butterflies go crazy for. The vine is Ipomoea quamoclit.
Friday I was resting after doing some hoeing, just feasting my eyes on a big green and scarlet fence-wall with its circus of pugnacious hummingbirds and my eye was drawn to a Large Carpenter Bee (genus Xylocopa) visiting one red blossom after another. Thing is, this bee was not pollinating the flowers. It paid no attention to the blossoms' openings. Instead, it went to the outside base of each flower, thrust its "tongue" down between the corolla and the calyx, and did something.
What it did was to rob the flowers of their nectar.
"Rob" is the right word because flowers are designed so that their pollinators "pay" for the nectar they collect by pollinating the flowers -- bringing other flowers' male pollen to their female parts, then carrying their own pollen to other flowers. But this bee was actually slitting each blossom's corolla so it could get at the nectar inside, completely bypassing the flower's sexual parts. I examined the corollas after the bee visited them and I could clearly see the slit. It was violent robbery pure and simple.
All this is worth thinking about. It shows that Mother Nature condones robbery, at least on occasion.
As I was biking back from the gardens musing on the philosophical implications of this, I saw a striking mantle of white blossoms produced by the vine called Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) completely smothering the top of a small tree in the forest. Well, vines are rather sneaky, too, for they climb into the forest canopy without taking the trouble to build their own sturdy trunks, like any decent tree or bush would. Vines "cheat" by gaining their support from others, and then they may well spread atop their hosts and shade them out, as the one I saw was certainly doing.
For one to whom "Nature is Bible," a bit of thinking "outside the box" (the box of conventional human thought) must be done to see that in the end all this is exactly as it should be.
We've had a couple of small showers this week, making the mushrooms very happy. One of the most striking fungus reproductive structures I've seen lately is the Earthstar, genus Geastrum, shown on my page at http://www.backyardnature.net/fungi.htm
Earthstars are very closely related to puffballs, but their "outer walls" split and curve back forming the rays of a "star."
ROUGH GREEN SNAKE
On Wednesday my bike almost ran right over a Rough Green Snake lolling in the middle of the plantation's one-lane gravel road. It's called "Rough" because there's a Yankee "Smooth Green Snake." The "roughness" derives from tiny ridges running down the center of each scale. Anyway, this is one of the most harmless little snakes on Earth, but inevitably people get hysterical when they see it, thinking that any green snake must be deadly poisonous. Not only does the US have no poisonous green snakes (unless there's one in Hawaii), this little fellow's mouth isn't big enough to bite a finger. I simply reached down and picked up this snake to get it off the road, and it acted as if it had been a pet its whole life. Its main food consists of crickets, grasshoppers, larvae of moths and butterflies, and spiders. For some reason only Mother Nature knows, when a Rough Green Snake is killed, it turns blue. There's a beautiful picture of a Rough Green Snake at http://www.pitt.edu/~mcs2/herp/snake.pics/rough_green.jpg
Of course not all of our snakes are so benign. Last Saturday while one of our occasional yardmen was bush-hogging the lawn around the manager's home he spotted a Timber Rattlesnake on the ground next to him. I was working in the garden and heard him yelping as he jumped from the tractor, which just continued bush-hogging toward the woods. Naturally once help arrived the creature was killed. I hadn't known what the commotion was, or else I would have suggested relocating him. The last time I did that I ended up driving down the Natchez Trace Parkway with my arm outside the car's window holding a disgusted Copperhead I'd caught in a public campground. I have to admit that I was glad to toss him in a swamp once I found one. Even when the head says you can handle them if you know what you're doing, there's something in the heart that genuinely rebels against it.
Best wishes to all Newsletter subscribers,