Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Back behind the barn, an old tree supports new barbed wire. I know without even looking for the bark that it’s a sassafras. We’ve got a lot of sassies in our woods. They are beloved by pileated woodpeckers for their tendency to go hollow, which was my first tip as to its identity.
And in those hollow cores invariably dwell carpenter ants, the backbone of the big woodpecker’s diet. In life, they bear navy-blue drupes which feed bluebirds, thrushes, woodpeckers, cardinals, waxwings and doubtless many others. Their mitten-shaped leaves are highly aromatic, smelling of Big Buddy bubble gum when first crushed, segueing into a sweet spicy scent that finally collapses into fresh-cut grass. Their roots, boiled, make a lovely light root beer. I’m not sure the wood is good for much other than woodpeckers, but already the tree has many charms to recommend it.
I know that he has been here recently, the landowner, because of how fresh the cut vegetation still is. And here are the tracks of his tires in the mud.
Yes, he was here only yesterday afternoon. I suppose one day I’ll run into him. Will I turn away before he sees me? Will I step into the white pines and study him for awhile before deciding? Will I tell him how much this old place means to me? Probably. I think we need to tell people we appreciate them. Places, too.
Here’s the welljack for the oil and gas well that once supplied the house with heat and the means to cook. Somebody’s planted crown vetch to cover the scars of the bulldozer that cleared the patch. Nasty plant, crown vetch, but oilguys don’t know or appreciate that. And the Soil Conservation Service is still giving it out to landowners as a quick groundcover. Duh. As a species, we are very slow learners.
Chet and I have enjoyed the farm, and we turn for home as the air begins to warm up. He pauses in the road to sniff a bunch of nascent chicory and I drop down low to capture the road running off over his bat ears. Mmmm.
The phrase coined by a photographer unknown to me, and gleaned from someone else’s comment on a photo, comes to mind: “Don’t patronize your subject.” So many photos are taken from five feet up. Most people photograph their dogs looking straight down on them, so you get a huge head and a tiny body and no idea what the dog actually looks like. And no sense of how he sees his world. I get down with Chet and try to see him as another dog would see him, and see his world as he does, and he takes on a kind of majesty that is his rightful due.
The same goes for flowers. A bug’s eye view is ever so much more satisfying, and it has the added bonus of giving you a slice of habitat and sky that really places the plant in space.
So get down on your knees, people, put your cameras on the ground and see how that changes everything.