Wildflower Wednesday: Fringed Gentian

Fringed Gentian

Common Name: Fringed Gentian

Scientific Name: Gentianopsis crinita

Habitat & Range: wet prairies & meadows, along streams and lakes

Bloom Time: late summer & fall

About: I see fringed gentian regularly up at Camp Lake Louise, but I only have pictures of it from odd years because…it’s a biennial! It takes two years to bloom and, like most wildflowers, should not be picked or dug up. Since 2013 is an odd year, I was on the lookout for them on our trip this year, but it’s been a cool summer and the late summer wildflowers were not in bloom yet when we were up there.

In addition, like many other wildflowers, it depends on a mycorrhizal relationship. In other words, it can only grow where certain bacteria or fungi are present in the soil, so if you decide you are the special exception and you’ll just go ahead and take that plant home thank you very much, it won’t grow in your yard anyway, so please leave it be and bring home some nice photos instead.

Fringed Gentian

The fringed gentian has been the subject of some poetry over the years, including

Emily Dickinson

God made a little gentian;
It tried to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.
The frosts were her condition;
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North evoked it.
“Creator! shall I bloom?”

William Cullen Bryant

Thou blossom bright with autumn dew,
And colored with the heaven’s own blue,
That openest when the quiet light
Succeeds the keen and frosty night.

Thou comest not when violets lean
O’er wandering brooks and springs unseen,
Or columbines, in purple dressed,
Nod o’er the ground-bird’s hidden nest.

Thou waitest late and com’st alone,
When woods are bare and birds are flown,
And frosts and shortening days portend
The aged year is near his end.

Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
Look through its fringes to the sky,
Blue–blue–as if that sky let fall
A flower from its cerulean wall.

I would that thus, when I shall see
The hour of death draw near to me,
Hope, blossoming within my heart,
May look to heaven as I depart.

and Robert Frost 

I felt the chill of the meadow underfoot,
But the sun overhead;
And snatches of verse and song of scenes like this
I sung or said.

I skirted the margin alders for miles and miles
In a sweeping line.
The day was the day by every flower that blooms,
But I saw no sign.

Yet further I went to be before the scythe,
For the grass was high;
Till I saw the path where the slender fox had come
And gone panting by.

Then at last and following him I found–
In the very hour
When the color flushed to the petals it must have been–
The far-sought flower.

There stood the purple spires with no breath of air
Nor headlong bee
To disturbe their perfect poise the livelong day
‘Neath the alder tree.

I only knelt and putting the boughs aside
Looked, or at most
Counted them all to the buds in the copse’s depth
That were pale as a ghost.

Then I arose and silently wandered home,
And I for one
Said that the fall might come and whirl of leaves,
For summer was done.

Fringed Gentian

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

10 Degrees Cooler in the Shade

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Hot off the virtual press (thanks to the near universality of wifi, even on Mackinac Island) is July’s short story, 10 Degrees Cooler in the Shade. This story started at simply pairing a title idea (with no thought of possible plot, characters, setting, content, etc.) and a photo I took at the Ingham County Fair a year or so ago. (Aside: The 2013 Ingham County Fair starts today and runs all week!) I asked my husband to suggest a name of a guy that sounded like he might be a carny (no offense to those of you out there who might share this name). And off my imagination went.

One of the fun things about writing a bunch of short stories this year is trying out different genres, and this is one I’ve never written–suspense. I hope you enjoy it!

Buy it here for 99 cents for your Kindle and Kindle apps.

Wildflower Wednesday: Columbine

Columbine

 

Common Name: Columbine

Scientific Name: Aquilegia canadensis

Habitat & Range: dry, open woodland in partial shade throughout the state

Bloom Time: spring further south & summer further north

About: One of Michigan’s more exotic looking wildflowers, the columbine is a favorite of our Ruby-Throated hummingbirds and butterflies. The photo you see above is of a true Aquilegia canadensis, but you’ll find other colors around, especially closer to towns where cultivated columbines have escaped and seeded. Columbines cross-pollinate and you can get some really pretty hybrid colors. Seeds may be collected from these wildflowers if you want to try them in your garden, but please leave the plants themselves alone. Also, these can nearly always be found at native plant sales. My heavy clay soil has not been very hospitable to them, but if you have sandier soil, give them a try. During hot summers a columbine may die back, but it will likely return the next spring.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

Sometimes, What You Seek Finds You

For most of my 33 years on the planet, as soon as I learned of the existence of Michigan’s state stone, the Petoskey stone, I have been searching for one. You can buy them all over up north in stores, pre-polished and sometimes cut into the shape of the state or a bear or some such thing. But I wanted to find one. And so, every trip I’ve taken up north to areas that potentially have Petoskey stones, I have walked, hunched, eyes peeled in the hopes that I might find one. Just one. That’s all I would need to be satisfied.

The Petoskey stone can only be found in certain parts of the state because it’s not just any rock. It’s a fossil. Fossilized coral from the long ago days when Michigan was beneath a sea. Now, any visit to just about any natural lake in the state can yield marine fossils. I have scads of them. But Petoskey stones are one particular type of coral and are found, unsurprisingly, in the Petoskey, Michigan, area.

petoskeystonemap
Devonian fossils like the Petoskey stone can be found in the blue regions.

In their rough state they look like pockmarked gray rocks, unremarkable and, compared to the lovely igneous rocks you can find in all colors, pretty forgettable. But shined up they reveal their true beauty.

As I said, I have never found one of these myself. But suddenly this week at Camp Lake Louise (an area to which Petoskey stones are not indigenous) six—yes, six—of these stones found me. (This is the spot I’d insert a photo, but I forgot my camera cord at home and my laptop refuses to read my xD card. Curses! I’ll share them with you at a later date.)

The funny thing is, they’ve been right under my feet the whole time. I’ve been up here probably fifteen times, once for an entire summer, and have walked over these rocks every time I’ve been here. And for the past five years I’ve stayed in a cabin mere paces from where I found the stones. In fact, two of them I found right up against and under the deck.

How did they get here? The ninety-year-old craft shop guru Wilma tells me that some time ago when they were doing some sort of construction project they brought in fill from another area of the state. After that, people started finding Petoskey stones a lot. My stones have apparently been working their way to the surface for a while.

It’s funny how you can look for something for so long you almost feel that you were destined never to find it. And then suddenly, without warning and without much effort on your part beyond keeping your eyes open, you can be overwhelmed with success.

And now I must get back to work here at camp, feeling the breeze off the lake, listening to loons, watching the bald eagles fish, and scanning the ground for treasures.

Wildflower Wednesday: Motherwort

Motherwort

Common Name: Motherwort

Scientific Name: Leonurus cardiaca

Habitat & Range: fields, edges of woodland, possibly your yard

Bloom Time: summer

About: Remember my explanation of the “wort” in plant names? Well, the common name of this plant suggests that either you use it when your mother is coming to visit (perhaps to calm your nerves?) or it looks like a mother. Or, more probably, it was used to treat some sort of menstrual disorder and/or aid in labor. The observant among you may have noted that the scientific name suggests that the plant may be used to treat heart ailments. The very observant might notice that there are also hints toward lions (LEOnurus) and another common name for this plant is Lion’s Tail (I’m thinking that is due to the shape of the leaves).

Motherwort was introduced from central Asia as a medicinal plant, so it is not native. However, like many Asian introductions to our state (carp, emerald ash borers, etc.) it is widespread, though thankfully not so destructive as some others. It shows up in overgrown back yards where some previous resident may have had an herb garden. But, as with all herbal remedy plants, do your research and be very careful when using them. Sometimes a plant is safe in a particular form or in a diluted amount but dangerous and even deadly in other forms and amounts. Be especially careful with herbs during pregnancy. Sometimes they are purported to help a pregnant woman’s health but actually they can cause cramping and even contractions. So never go by just one source (especially not an Internet source or an old herbal you found in a used bookstore) but check multiple modern reference books for the best information.

7 Favorite Movies about Writers and Writing (and Reading)

I love stories about writers, writing, and books. I love movies about the same. So here’s a list of some of my very favorite movies about writers, writing, and reading. Most are movies I watch over and over again. Some I’ve only just seen for the first time recently.

I’ve left off some with great concepts but poor execution (I’m betraying my fantasy-obsessed childhood self, but I have to put The Neverending Story in this category because it is SO very cheesy when you watch it again as an adult) and I’m sure I’ve left off some good ones because I haven’t seen them (so please add them in the comments if you are so moved so I can put them in my Netflix queue). Also, I very much doubt I’m covering any new ground here, but for what it’s worth, and in no particular order…

[WARNING: These trailers give away a lot of fun surprises in the movies (Why do they DO that?) so if you just want to experience these movies without the little spoilers, please refrain from clicking and just go find them on Amazon Prime or Netflix.]

Adaptation


I know that you either love Nicholas Cage or hate him, and that will color your decision to watch or not watch this movie, but who doesn’t love Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper? No one. What I love about this movie: I love when writers enter their own story; I love the commentary on genre, on being true to one’s own style and method of writing, and on the tired old cliches that we love nonetheless; I love Nicholas Cage. There. I said it.

Stranger Than Fiction


Proof positive that Will Ferrell can act (ergo, the question is raised, Why doesn’t he do this more often?) and that he can be believably romantic. Also Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman are fantastic. What I love about this movie: Again, I love the mixing of worlds between writers and their characters; I love slightly illogical and slightly surreal stories that couldn’t really happen but the creators offer absolutely no explanation as to why it’s happening because it doesn’t really matter in the long run; I love how morbid and off-kilter Emma Thompson’s character is.

Midnight in Paris


Dare I admit that this is the first Woody Allen film I’ve actually seen? I’ve heard so much poo-pooing of his movies over the years that I haven’t sought them out. But this is a wonderful, magical film about writers, artists, and other creative types; about the seductive power of nostalgia; and about taking the right chances. What I love about this movie: Owen Wilson; the huge supporting cast of fantastic little surprises; the costuming and lighting; the unique storyline (which doesn’t come through in the trailer, but I’m not going to spoil it for you).

The Hours


This film enchanted me even before I knew I loved Virginia Woolf’s writing. The same story told through three different women in three different cities in three different eras–one writing the story, one reading the story, one living the story. What I love about this movie: Fabulous performances (how could they not be with that cast?); the examination of the power of story; the feeling that the words we write have life and meaning far along down the road.

Julie & Julia


Another film starring Meryl Streep? Yes. It seems the woman loves literary films as much as I do. But isn’t this movie about cooking? Yes, but also writing–a cookbook, letters, a blog. Writing your passion onto the page in the form of recipes. Writing about your life to your closest friend. Writing about your crazy experiment to perfect strangers. But always writing (and eating). This movie will make you hungry and inspire you to get Julia’s cookbook (the chapter on eggs alone can change your culinary life–seriously) and buy some really good knives.

84 Charing Cross Road


Oh, how far we’ve come in the world of movie trailers. This little bit gives you almost nothing of the tender quality of this film. Anthony Hopkins is a London bookseller and Anne Bancroft is a New York City bibliophile who can’t get the rare books she wants in NYC. These two characters begin a correspondence after WWII and get to know each other over a couple decades through letters and books. I loved seeing the economic and social differences between post-war Britain (with its deprivation and rations and ruins) and America (with its prosperity and expansion and optimism). A great film about the power of books.

Under the Tuscan Sun


She’s a writer whose marriage is over. At the behest of her concerned friends she takes a trip that will change her life and her writing. Based on a memoir (which I haven’t read), this movie is wonderfully brought to life through Diane Lane’s acting and narrating. The thought of spontaneously starting over in life (especially in a foreign country) is the impetus for many a literary character’s actions and holds such a romantic fascination for us, doesn’t it? Plus, it’s a movie about a house, an old house, and bringing that house back to life. What’s not to love?

Oh, I know I’ve missed some great ones, along with ones I haven’t had a chance to watch yet. And I haven’t included TV shows, but if I did I would put Mad Men in there.

What are your go-to literary movies?

Wildflower Wednesday: Wild Lupine

Wild Lupine

Common Name: Wild Lupine

Scientific Name: Lupinus perennis

Habitat & Range: sunny fields & open woodland in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula

Bloom Time: late spring & early summer

About: Wild Lupine is the only host plant for the threatened Karner Blue butterfly caterpillar. In order to maintain the health of the plant and the existence of the Karner Blue, please NEVER cut, pick, or transplant Wild Lupine. This is a good general rule to follow with all native wildflower species. Enjoy them where they are, take a picture, and leave them be. If you love the look of Lupines and want them in your garden, there are many domestic varieties to choose from that form pleasant clumps of flowers. Or, if you’d like to be part of the solution to the Karner Blue butterfly’s plight, get native plants that have been grown from seed at your friendly neighborhood university plant sale. Calvin College and Michigan State University both have yearly plant sales in May that include important native plants.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

I Am Building a House with a History

Lately, when I’m not working, cooking, reading, spending time with my family, or folding laundry, I’m busy building a nearly 150-year-old farmhouse. I’m digging the cellar, placing the windows and doors, nailing on the shingles, and sending long fingers of Virginia creeper up the chimney. I’m polishing the oak staircase, papering the walls, and arranging the furniture. I’m also planting gardens and trees and secrets all over the place.

It’s great fun.

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I’m building this house in my mind and on paper so that my characters can live in it–so they can move through rooms, stare out windows, and pull covers up over themselves at bedtime. I’m layering each room with the history of its inhabitants. Each floor is being smoothed by generations of feet. Each book in the library is being flipped through by countless fingers. I’m making it a place I would want to spend a lot of time and I hope those who one day read this book will love to spend time there as well.

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I dream about houses fairly regularly. Sometimes I’ll visit the same one in multiple dreams over the course of many years, but I’ll discover a room or a person I didn’t know was there. I’m hoping if I think about this house I’m building enough in the daytime I may be able to walk through it in my dreams at night.

When was the last time you built a world in your mind or on paper? I bet it was something you did a lot as a kid. You may be rusty, but I’m willing to bet if you dusted off your brain a little there would be no end to what you can imagine.