hI woke Monday morning and turned on the radio. NPR was airing a story about a hot new kids toy--a spinning top called Bleyblades. Apparently it's the rage among six year olds. Unlike the old-fashioned wooden spinning top, these tops are plastic, come with interchangeable parts, and are designed for stamina or to attack. Bleyblades appeared in the U.S. in 2002, but were conceived by Hasbro as a "three-year brand" meaning, I think, that in three years they would lose their appeal and fade from popularity. Imagine--built-in obsolescence for such a classic toy! Now, a bit later than planned, the tops have been "relaunched" in the U.S. with their own website for virtual battles over the Internet and their own show on the Cartoon Network.
Where, oh where is Richard Louv when I need him? Go Play Outside, America!
I switched to PRI (Public Radio International) for what I hoped was some real news--something pithier than a product promotion spun as a holiday news story. I tuned into a story about the outraged residents of the Los Angeles neighborhood near the HOLLYWOOD sign. The nine 45-foot-tall letters have been hard for tourist to find until now when GPS-equipped cars guide them into the winding hills without a hitch. Though the sign is on public land, the neighbors are complaining that the traffic and gridlock is "...dangerous. This is all unsupervised. It's like the Wild West, " according to one woman. Uh-huh. My heart goes out to them. I turned off the radio.
I had yet to read the Sunday Review section of the New York Times. So I made a cup of coffee and settled in with that. Everything was going along just fine pith-wise until I hit Delia Ephron's "If My Dad Could Tweet." Really? Have we all completely lost our perspective here? I needed some news from the outside, from the bigger world. I needed Pojar.
hIf you are a member of the flora cognoscenti here in the Pacific Northwest (I am not), this is how you refer to a well-loved and indispensable field guide, a book the rest of us call Pojar and MacKinnon's. The guide's official title is Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, but I have never heard anyone call it that except in print. This book is known by it's main authors and compilers, Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon, two research scientists from the British Columbia Forest Service--job titles that do not do justice to the wealth of knowledge these men have in the fields of botany, ecology, ethnobotany, and forestry. Bringing Pojar and MacKinnon along with you on a hike is kind of like bringing Pojar and MacKinnon along with you on a hike. I have never met these men, but it seems that they are right there with you, describing all the beautiful and functional things about the trail-side plants in their friendly and engaging style.
Pojar and MacKinnon were not with me on the hike I took with two friends last Friday around Spider Lake in Olympic National Forest. The two friends were plant savvy. They both had a copy of Pojar. They both left their copies in the truck at the trailhead intentionally--to be consulted after the hike. I left mine at home accidentally.
Spider Lake sits in an old-growth hemlock forest. The trail around the lake is flat. It is a two-mile loop. It took us two hours. Plus a half hour for lunch. We walked slowly because there was so much to see. We walked slowly and stopped often. Every thirty feet or so, to look at something green. We looked at moss, we looked at ferns, we looked at lichen. My friends identified everything. They spoke Latin. We examined mushroom gills, fern sori, growth rings, tripinnate fronds, spent seed pods, winter twigs, bud scales, newly fallen trees, a nurse log carrying a miniature forest of inch-high hemlocks.
If my friends came upon a familiar plant, they would find something new to tell about it. If they weren't certain of their i.d., they'd describe it out loud to each other. All three of us had forgotten our cameras so we had to rely heavily on our minds, our minds' eyes, and our minds' ears to help us remember what we saw. Being the novice botanizer, I offered my services jotting down plant names in my little waterproof notebook...until the ink in my pen froze.
The slower we walked on this cold and sunny day, the more we saw. The slower we walked, the more beautiful everything was. The slower we walked, the slower we walked. My feet were frozen and my fingers were numb, but I am not complaining. I am full of gratitude. I have seen this forest in a way I have not seen other forests. I know who lives beneath these ancient hemlocks in winter. I know one hairy woodpecker and a few Pacific wrens that live here, too. I can feel this forest.
On the way home, one friend drove, I navigated (sort of), and another read Pojar aloud from the back seat. I tried to take it all in. That was last Friday.
Monday morning, I was curled up on the sofa with a cup of coffee and my own copy of Pojar and MacKinnon. In 528 pages, Pojar and MacKinnon describe 794 species of plants--2 per page. Each entry includes a general description of the plant; details about its leaves, flowers, and fruit; its ecology; and extensive notes about its habitat, range, and traditional uses. There are 1100 color photographs, 1000 line drawings, and 794 range maps. This is the latest, 2004 revised edition. When it was first published in 1994 by Lone Pine, I doubt anyone was thinking of this field guide as a 10-year brand, nor of relaunching it with its own website and TV show. The revised edition, much like the original, is a lovely, hefty, sturdy, round-cornered paperback that weighs in at 1.7 pounds. It is full of news. It is full of amazing stories.
Here is what was happening at Spider Lake on December 12: Lobaria pulmonaria. Pterospora andromedea. Asarum caudatum. Vaccinium ovatum. Gaultheria shallon. Tusga heterophylla. Polystichum munitum. Blechnum spicant. Adiantum pedatum. Lycopodium clavatum. Petigera neopolydactyla. Oplopanax horridus. Ramnus purshiana. Linnea borealis. Alnus rubra. Thuja plicata.