July 20, 2013

North Cairn: Staying rooted through loss

(Continued from page 1)

During my stay I had been witnessing a whole range of wildlife I was unaccustomed to seeing, even encountering a dehydrated, disoriented moose that had wandered onto Bailey's Island in search of water. To acquaint myself with my surroundings I spent hours each day hiking, armed with field guides to New England wildflowers, grasses and reeds, anthologies of bird identifications and tape recordings of calls. I walked along the shore, picking up shells like dropped coins and pocketed them to be compared, later, to the drawings on the pages of books I had hauled with me for use on vacation.

In those days I was a bookmobile of field guides, always searching for a better guide to the natural world that made the human realm more tolerable to me. I was a great fan of the Peterson guides, and in time came to appreciate the Stokes' work on weeds and toted a copy of Newcomb's guide to wildflowers with me everywhere, from mudtime to first frost in fall.

But recollection tells me I first found Indian pipe on the pages of the Audubon guide to North American wildflowers, because it -- like the rest of the series -- provided identification through photographs rather than sketches.

"A white, saprophytic plant with a thick, translucent stem covered by scaly bract and terminated by a single nodding flower," the guide described, emphasizing the distinguishing characteristics of the stem and flower. "This non-green, waxy plant gets its nourishment from decayed organic material through a fungal relationship associated with the roots. The plant turns black as the fruit opens or when it is picked and dried."

Since that first encounter I have seen Indian pipe all over New England, even on residential lots where I lived for a time. I have observed them through the full length of their cycle, watching them dry and brown after broadcasting their seed.

But I am consoled to find them here, now, in the margin of forest I occupy in Maine, not far from where I first discovered these downcast countenances staring at the woodland floor near the rocky coast.

They remind me, this time, that I am not lost though grieving has sent me off-path for days. They show me that I am part of something larger, something as hardy as a hemlock, something wise enough to make a plant that shuns the ordinary means of vital chlorophyll and still finds life.

And though no one but an ethereal-looking translucent plant has told me, I know I can do it, too.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@pressherald.com

 

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