Sunday, November 6, 2011

(Click above for a larger image) When I hike or walk over open land, I tend to scan the path for interesting finds. The fallen fall leaf above has some small round structures on it. Why? What are they? Were they on the leaf before it fell, or did they form before the leaf dried on the ground? They look a bit like tiny mushrooms, or leaf blight, or both, if that’s how it works.  I have no answers for this question, and would love to know if any readers might have an idea.

(Click above for larger image) The second is a very fine traveling vine-like plant that forms a perfect model of a network. I’d like to identify it, of course. We are collectors by nature and sometimes, of nature.  This vine/plant/thing has nodes, and each node is surrounded by the same number of connections.  Essentially, it is a model of a of an early version of networking  also.

When I lived in New Hampshire, and when I spent a brief time in West Virginia, I knew a Freeman Smith (a father of a friend of mine), who had spent his life as an agricultural expert. He traveled widely as part of the programs the United States ran to educate farmers in many countries. He was able to walk through a wooded area or field and identify many of the plants he came across. Those informal walks with Freeman were enjoyed quite a bit by the twenty-somethings of the time.

This was when the “returning to the land” theme had begun to be discussed in popular culture. Euell Gibbons had come out with a book called “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and the notion of identifying, and sometimes eating, wild plants, had become a hot topic.  A person like Freeman could be a very interesting person to walk in the woods with.

After that I lived in various places, but when I moved from Washington D. C.  to Charlottesville, I took up hiking again. I started photographing plants purely for identification later. When I went through the first spring in “C-vlle” I was surprised by the wildflowers that sprung up near the trails, wherever they could get some light from the break in the trees. It wasn’t long before I hit the public library, and the library at UVA, looking for more information. It’s not just the notion of identifying plants, it is also the plant history that is interesting.  From that point on, I had to use some care hiking downhill.  I’d get to lost in the view on the side of the trail, and manage to do a nose-first dive into nature.

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