“There are more truths in a good book than its author meant to put in it.”-Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Reading Let Me Name a Plant
During my recent road trip to the top of Mount Lemmon, I snapped a photo of a tall plant high on a cliff. I couldn’t see its base, just a slender stalk whose top was bedecked in candelabra fashion with clusters of green nodules. I wondered if it was a plant or a tree.
This morning, as I was reading Richard Shelton’s Going Back to Bisbee – a fascinating book that is educating me about the landscape of my new home in the Sonoran Desert of Southeastern Arizona – I came across a perfect description of the plant, and learned that it was a Parry’s agave, an amazing cactus.
The one I saw was probably between 10 and 25 years old, and was in its final year of life, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it. The plant, for most of its life, is short and bowl-like. When it finally blooms, it sends all of its life forces into a stalk that quickly sprouts up to 20 feet tall, and sends out blossoms at the top. The one I saw hadn’t bloomed yet, but Shelton described the blossoms as “shallow bowls about half a foot across and filled with frothy pink ice cream.”
A few pages on in the book, Shelton wrote about the magic of names and naming, a skill which all good writers should possess. A tree is never just a tree it’s a live oak or a baobab, a dog is a Rottweiler or a poodle, and a bird is a robin or a golden eagle. Such naming provides better images in a reader’s mind. And being able to put a name to something, be it a tree, a mountain, or a plant, gives me joy. So thank you Richard Shelton for helping me learn the name of the plant that I photographed – and for writing such a fantastic book, which I’m slowly savoring.
Bean Pat: The Methuselah Grove http://tinyurl.com/hskgrcj Great Basin National Park, one of my favorite places.