Archives for category: Nature
Maybe it’s May-bell-ina.

Maybe it’s May-bell-ina.

I’d love to be in France today. Not because it’s International Labor Day or May Day, but because I could easily get my hands on a bunch of lilies of the valley. Every May 1st, the French celebrate the white, bell-shaped blossoms in the Fête de muguet or Lily of the Valley Festival.

Sweethearts once gave each other bouquets or sprigs of these diminutive sprays on this day. Those in the know still do. You see, it signals the return of happiness in floral speak. The tradition also lives on for this harbinger of Spring Summer as people exchange potted plants of the dainty bubbles peering out from green-sheathed stalks. For its scent, shape, color symbolism and delicate structure, this lily’s an ever-popular, if not expensive, bridal choice. If it’s good enough for Kate Middleton….

A lily of the valley by any other name? OK, I’ll agree with Juliet on this. There’s Lady’s tears (the drooping blooms evoking such), which might explain why ladies wore a stem upside-down on their dresses…the better to catch a glimpse or waft of their inner beauty. And Mary’s tears (for those shed at the cross). The botanical name, convallaria majalis, meaning “valley” (in reference to its preference for lowland habitats) and “of May” gives us May lily and May bells as alternates.

From lush, broad leaves emerge perishable tender hoods. Images of lily of the valley were common on postcards during the mid- to late-1800’s. Yes, floral-obsessed Victorians can claim to be the original flower power culture, often setting out on a lily picnic on Whitsunday (the British associated the LOTV with the return of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles) to gather wild ones in the nearby woods.

Aahhh! Alongside fragrant gardenias and hyacinths, the sweetest things.

I spy golden trumpets.

I spy golden trumpets.

My parents bought an old farm when I was in high school. The barn area had masses of daffodils fanning out like the sea from land-locked oaks and magnolias. Picking yellow ‘til I was blue in the face was a ritual. I miss that annual carpet of happiness.

Daffodils are hard to pin down. The late-16th-century word for what you see above went through several linguistic twists but is rooted in the Greek asphodelos, which in turn is of unknown origin.

Daffs are sort of stuck on themselves. In a fake, self-love-practicing kind of way. Their Latin name? Narcissus pseudonarcissus. (Why, thank you, Carl.) 50% ego; 50% not.

Daffodils are sneaky. So where did these yellow-crowned, graceful ballerinas spring from? Who gave them that tenacious d-? Sources say the Netherlands are to blame. Specifically, the Dutch language: its definite article, “de,” hooked up with the affable bulb, affodil. And there you have the story of stunning, sunny glory.

Tree HUgGAs, unite!

Tree HUgGAs, unite!

I drove by this tree transplanter for several days before I got to see the contraption at work. A South Carolina-based team received a large-sized grant from the University of Georgia to plant trees throughout the campus over the course of a year. They’re at around 1,000 now…mostly oaks. Makes me wonder where.

UGA has traditionally kept immaculate grounds while maintaining storied shade. Nevertheless, since my college days here, lawns and grassy or vacant spots have disappeared. So much of the green space has been taken over by awkward-looking, chunky McBuildings. These monstrosities are far too big for their respective lots. What’s more, their boxy structures can only mean that the sites were clear cut.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

In this case, the land was for as long as I can remember a field, possibly a cotton one, as Athens was once a key brokerage center for the southern commodity. The row here stands in front of what will next year be the university’s new $105 million Veterinary Teaching Hospital. (“Equine Teaching Unit” once marked an entrance, but the sign is gone, and there’s no replacement.) Perhaps they haven’t figured out what to call it yet or are waiting to honor a major donor with naming rights. Some fortuitous timing in this Chinese year of the horse!

A dirt missile.

A dirt missile.

Big John lifts a 10,000-pound root ball. That’s mega dirt! The tines nudge closer and closer together, disappearing into the earth. In a matter of minutes, the four steel arms cradle the red clay in a tightly closed tulip form and raise the entire plug onto the lift bed. The guys then truck this off to a nearby tree farm where it is swapped out for a newbie. Hydraulics are amazing.

You say Autumn, I say Fall.

You say Autumn, I say Fall.

The yellows this season have been spectacular: Ginkgos, buckeyes, chrysanthemums, hickory trees, poplars and aspens, to boot.

The reds and purples cannot be bested: Dogwoods, Japanese maples, burning brush bushes, mountain apples and sorghum.

Orange is the new neutral: Jack o’ lanterns, fothergilla, oaks, mini pumpkin trees, Chinese lanterns, red kuris and butternuts.

Green is the hang-on color: Pines, green hubbards, magnolias, acorn squash, cha cha kabochas and jarrahdales.

Brown and black won’t be left out, either: Acorns masting and brittle leaves descending — those aerial concerts; bark and branches don’t get much respect.

And finally, white not? Casper and great white pumpkins and snowball mums stir us to what’s next.

Tie-dye foliage…none of which blues me. Now, just who will bottle this?


Flight of fancy naming.

As a child, I was a big LEGO® fan…before the tricked-out kits with “know-before-you-buy” specificity. Back then, our creativity was our own, resulting in something new every time we dumped the pieces out onto the floor.

Fast forward to Nanoblock. I was feeling a little nostalgic as this Bald Eagle was coming into being. Curiosity also dug in its claws surrounding the name of this national treasure.

Bald this bird is not! In New Latin, it was a “sea eagle” (haliaeetus), which became “white head” (leucocephalus) in Latinized Ancient Greek. “Piebald,” a term for horses and other animals with an alternating and irregularly spotted color pattern that includes a large presence of white, gives us “bald.” Piebald (black and white) is to Brits what pinto (spotted or patched) is to Americans and Canadians. And now you’ve got the second half of the magpie’s story.

Huntin’ down a tagline.

Huntin’ down a tagline.

I’ve seen these ads in magazines and airports. Unfortunately, the tagline doesn’t do the campaign justice. It would read and look much better as “for those without one.” “Voice,” particularly just south of the very same word in the call-to-action, is clunky and redundant. It waters down the message, rendering it less powerful.

One of nature's floral water vessels.

One of nature’s floral water vessels.

Once upon a time there was a bed of flowers past its prime. On a sunny winter day walking around Agnes Scott during a break from a short course, I came across these. I think they are hydrangeas. So glad the college gardeners found the shrub’s sculptural beauty worth leaving for others to admire.

Curiosity got the best of Little Miss Etymology.  The Greek hydr- from hydor meaning “water” was obvious. But it wasn’t until I got to peering at the dark brown clusters on my screen that I connected -angea (from angeion for “vessel or capsule”) to what are actually cup-shaped seed pods.

Ice cream that doesn’t break a sweat.

Dreamstones, as they are commonly referred to, are essentially “nature imitating nature” in vertical canvases of rock. So highly regarded were these naturally occurring Cangshan蒼山 deposits from Yunnan Province (Southwest China) that the town where much of it comes from, Dali, lent its name to the Chinese word for marble: da4li3shi2, roughly “big texture stone” or 大理石。What a coincidence then that the Spanish great, Dalí, was principally a landscape artist.

First prized by scholars and the like-minded, the marble also formed a type of tribute to the Imperial Court. Unfortunately, along came a revolution, and the stones and most everything associated with them was destroyed, their romancers nearly silenced. You see, you don’t just cut a slice from the quarry, mount it in wood and call it art. There’s technique, knowledge and an eye for color and pattern that go into choosing, classifying and interpreting the marble. Raw stories in the massif; collected stories waiting to be polished.

The Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis.

Not sure what drew this beautiful creature to the Shell station, but it was huge — easily the length of my phone— and did not move the entire time I was there filling my tank. I think it liked the heat; it surely was not there to hear that annoying recording promoting the current soft drink promotion. Thank goodness for the mute button. Come Fall, you would not be able to tell this hyper-winged thing from a tulip poplar leaf.


Or is it the curb-matching tree? Whichever view you take, this specimen never holds back.

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