“Intuitive meandering”

read the words on the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center blackboard. Is there a better kind?

Jane Whitney, citizen-scientist, makes every tiny detail on our meander come alive.

Consummate guide, she leads an ungainly gaggle down a boardwalk at The Ridges preserve in Door County to goggle at things both tiny and large. Not the wilderness of a John Muir, but accessible to those with mobility issues. And that is important.

It’s an orchid-y place, she says. Citizen-scientists have been conducting an inventory with GPS and found 29 kinds here. None blooming now, unfortunately. Otherwise we would see the blossoms of the ram’s head lady slipper, about as big as your little finger. Orchids, it turns out, will not germinate without a fungal partner in the soil. Something she says that I distractedly miss about a baby and a lunchbox. Sounds amazing but my tummy still hurts from all the chocolate-covered almonds I ingested at the bonfire last night. Each orchid contains a fairy dust of 10,000 dust-like seeds. Just DNA on the wing.

Now you’ve got my attention. You know, of course, that Latin names exist for all these plants. Those are for smart alecks, not for us. Did you take Latin in school? It was all I could do to master AP English.

Cat-tails. Where we live, back east, these have all been replaced by phragmites, noxious invasives.

The hardest part of being a citizen-scientist is getting down and getting up again, she says, especially when you’re in your eighth decade.

Ridges and swales, the geographic features of this biome. Turns out this discrete spot in Door County thinks it’s much farther north, and thus earns the title of boreal forest, hosting a northern community of plants and 17 species of warbler that nest here because they think it’s north. Silly warblers. Bailey’s Harbor offers a straight shot down to Chicago. A paleolythic boreal forest, and we’re in it. That must be the magic I sensed. Even the soil beneath our feet is special.

Jane shows us Joe Pye weed, a wonderful plant for your garden – a monarch magnet, and swamp candle a native kind of loosestrife, and therefore okay, not like the purple loosestrife that haunts the byways of America. Joe Pye, named after a New England man who used the plant medicinally for helping people with typhus fever.

Boneset, its close cousin. Self-deprecatingly, our guide points out little short plants on the ground – where else would they be, Jane? Dwarf lake iris, with a purple-yellow bloom in May, this was shoreline once.

Cedars are manifold. The bark, people once knew, could cure scurvy.

Now it is only picturesque.

Only? Differ.

And makes a trail like this give off an aroma better than the finest chi-chi spa.

Even Mimi, a teensy bit anxious to get us here on time. is becalmed.

Goldenrod gets blamed for allergies but ragweed is the culprit when pollen gets up your snoot. Spatter dock. Narrow-leafed loosestrife. Water parsnip. The poetry of wild plants, now forgotten by all but a few. Kalm’s Saint John’s Wort used to be used medicinally by ancient people, the smart people. Kalm traveled to North America from Sweden in 1747 and wrote the first scientific papers on Niagara Falls and on the 17-year cicada, among other marvels. He identified 60 new plant species.

We see tufty things. Standing beside the harebell, my pen runs out of ink, and Jane kindly lends me an extra from Door County Eye Associates. I am reminded of the tours I give at Ellis when she heads us into the shade. You need to be comfortable when learning about the doodlebug, or ant lion, one of nature’s premier engineers, which always goes backwards into an ant hill and knows perfectly the angle of repose. Funny, I thought I had the skinny on that.

A sedge meadow is a good place for mating dragonflies. Or mating anything, if there’s no room at the inn.

Spurred gentian doesn’t get any prettier than this – it’s just a blush, non-spectacular. Yes, gotcha, we all have those days.

In case you worried (I did), the only reason the lower branches of the cedars look dead is because the tree in shade finds it’s too much effort to maintain needles for photosynthesis.

But there are particular signs of continued life for this conifer forest. A recent wind-throw caused a canopy opening that was a gift to the forest floor, making a place for baby balsams to grow. Nurse logs coated in moss sprout seedlings, so if you have a wood lot, leave your wind-throw down. I hear wives rib their husbands: I don’t think you’re going to do that anytime soon. The usual guy-who-knows-everything points out berries that even Jane didn’t see. Mansplaining as popular a pastime in the Midwest as anyplace else.

The black-eyed susans are having a great time. Happy plants. Did you know that lilies of the valley are that modern curse word, invasive, also daisies, brought by European settlers?

I want to take a hot second and talk about… the tour is almost done, time to think about heading to the local brewery. This is Wisconsin, after all.

First, though, the old-old lighthouse with its amazingly small lens.

Its history of being powered by lard, its nationally recognized outhouse.

It’s not all about the wildflowers, you know. But they’re the best. Especially with common names.

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Beef grease begrimed

but content, with bulging bellies, we pull away from Mr. Beef in Chicago and back on to the highway.

If you’ve watched The Bear, streaming on Hulu, you know something about Mr. Beef.

It’s the premier Chicago joint to get an Italian beef sandwich, with great actors – including debatable hunk Jeremy Allen White – telling the story of a guy that inherits his deceased brother’s counter restaurant, the Original Beef of Chicagoland, modeled closely on Mr. Beef. It was even shot on site as well as a sound stage. Also Ayo Edebiri, a fast-rising newcomer who co-stars as his culinary sidekick.

Not debatable, the scrumptiousness of the sandwich sold there,”hand-carved” thin-shaved beef with what is called giardeneria, sautéed vegetables, and then the whole thing dipped in jus.

Okay to eat in the car, especially if you have dogs in the back seat and don’t want to risk broiling them by leaving them there.

Otherwise the counter by the window is the thing.

When I say dipped, I mean bun and all.

Twice-fried french fries also the best, the kind that have you licking salt off your fingers before you surrender to the necessity of wipes.

The highway spools out ahead, the trip post-Mr. Beef energized by Steve Earle’s I Feel Alright, though made somewhat tawdry by Maud’s addiction to true-crime podcasts. Also, Parliament Funkadelic, Flashlight, utilized to good effect at the beginning of the 1990 thriller Misery. James Caan speeds down a mountain road blasting Flashlight on his way to mail the manuscript for a novel he has just finished. Probably the best portrayal of writerly triumph and self-satisfaction in Hollywood history. That is, before meany Kathy Bates gets ahold of him.

Mr. Beef has many fans willing to wait on long lines.

Stars of screen and tube drop in regularly, and autographed head shots adorn the walls. The person at the counter said that Jeremy had come by several weeks ago, stimulating a bout of fan-girling.

There is a back room, but I’ve rarely seen anyone go in there. Well, we have. We’ve been to Mr. Beef many times before, having chanced on it serendipitously when taking a random exit off the road at meal-time.

Alright then, says Maud. Nuff said. That’s just about all you can say with jus dripping down your chin, onto your chest and everywhere else. Alright.

Taking a bite sets off fireworks in your mouth.

The largest (they say) fireworks warehouse on Route 80 welcomed our business, the quiet time between Fourth of July and Labor day.

Hard to know what to get in this multiple-football-field-sized store, between the ones that shoot balls, the boppers, or the ones that simply explode. Even the sparklers look somewhat iffy, though the young lady that checked us out assured us that it would all would be fine for a backyard display.

She also told us that Sturgeon Bay, our ultimate destination in Door County, has a terrific place to go if you want pancakes and also goats on the roof. We looked it up. Yes. It also has Swedish meatballs. Okay, but I believe that pancakes and goats are inherently a better combination.

Perhaps an improvement on Mr. Beef? Goats? Actually, there could be no improvement on Mr. Beef.

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You can read an old-growth forest

if you can interpret signs. It’ll still be tough, they’re so mysterious.

It’s easier if a very astute naturalist has come before you and shown everyone how important it is to preserve these ancient environments. In this case, A.B. Williams, who embraced a stand of woods in Ohio, with the great name North Chagrin Reservation, in the 1930s.

Williams was working toward his doctorate and established a trailside museum here (since burned down and replaced). It’s a maze of a forest rich in 300- and 400-year old beeches, sugar maples, tulip trees, hemlocks and other species. The United Nations has defined old-growth forests as naturally regenerated stands of native tree species where there are no clearly visible indications of human activity and the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed.

Not all trees in an old-growth forest, also called a climax community, are old. Counterintuitive, but true.

Some are though, big old honkers.

This one has significant wounds. It’s still alive! says Maud, looking up.

Compartmentalization. Something trees are great at, humans not so much. What happens is that, according to what tree people call CODIT (compartmentalization of decay in trees, duh), when a tree is wounded it begins to protect itself by slowing or preventing the spread of disease and decay by forming “walls” around the wounded area. Getting into the specifics of this process would take a year and a day, but suffice it to say that the walls run in every direction, ingeniously.

Maud has spent some time in emergency rooms as an r.n. How to deal with deaths there? Yep, that is what she says, compartmentalization. How a person stays sane when there is insanity all around. I know quite a few people now that are having a very hard time dealing with our current dire political situation. They can’t eat, can’t sleep, dream of taking up a new life in Canada or on Fiji, et cetera. They might do well to emulate the trees. Put aside a set amount of time each day to wring your hands and think dark thoughts. Then you can at least enjoy your dinner, and catch some sleep at night.

Wildflowers fringe the forest.

Here in North Chagrin, there are some signs that are a bit inscrutable. How to explain this marking on bark? All suggestions welcome. A map created by druids?

Or this stretch of marked ground where a fallen tree decayed. Looks like someone dragged a body through here.

The hills have eyes. So do some young trees.

We know that people love beech trees, their smooth grey bark, useful for leaving your mark. It seemed a mere toss-up whether she said, ‘I love you,’ or whether she said, ‘I love the beech-trees,’ or only ‘I love—I love.‘ That’s Virginia Woolf, from Night and Day.

Despite the fact that this forest is old growth, that doesn’t in this case mean unspoiled. Some people find peoples’ autobiographical messages on beech bark annoying. I don’t. Thoreau said, I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines. I like to think of someone tramping some miles through North Chagrin, too shy to unburden himself to someone he cares for, and surreptitiously taking switchblade out of pocket to say I love-I love.

There are also black cherries here, some of them quite opinionated. What are you trying to say though, standing there akimbo?

Gigantic hemlocks. Bark that is positively prehistoric.

Soaring tulip trees. They can reach 200 feet tall. Indigenous Americans used their straight solid trunks to build dugout canoes.

Delicate leaves.

Toadstools/mushrooms (your pick) thrive here in the humus.

Craggy roots lay upended, fairy tale characters.

All around, insects buzz. The only sound, aside from the panting of excited dogs. We fall quiet. Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me? Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road.

Here is shagbark hickory, bearing fruit.

There aren’t that many trees whose names denote their appearance. Think: apple, linden, oak, pine, chestnut, on and on. Shagbark is what it is.

When a tree falls in an old-growth forest, you let it lie. Well, most of the time. If it crosses a trail, it’s only mannerly to remove it.

Old-growth forests in the United States are rare. One estimate holds that stands of century-old forest now account for only seven percent of forest cover in America. Another expert puts it at less than four percent. Yet another, six percent. Whatever, it is indisputedly small. Since 1600, 90% of the virgin forests that once covered much of the lower 48 states have been cleared away. It’s sad because they harbor extraordinary amounts of biodiversity, including rare species. The percentage of the world’s forests that are old growth is a bit larger– 21 percent, according to the World Resources Institute.

Occasionally a view opens up, appearing out of nowhere.

Let’s try to interpret the signs. Preserve the canopy, the rot, even the bark scars (nothing is perfect, and sometimes imperfection is wonderful). Visit an old-growth forest near you and place your palms on the trunk of one of these giants.

Fall silent. Dream.

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What is luck?

You make your own, yada yada.

Had a friend who always said we were so lucky. Why? Dunno, just are. It’s our luck to find a dino and a rocking horse hanging out together while we’re first embarking on our trip cross country. 

Maud says, Luck is being afforded an opportunity not of your own making. Also, health and the health of my family. She thinks: Options.   

I’m a bit less lofty. Are you surprised?

Clouds over Pennsylvania. Amazing.

Luck is dipping the most delicious grilled shrimp in the world into the most delicious garlic sauce out of carry-out styrofoam in front of a tv screen choked with monkey pox, soldiers castrated in Ukraine and the kind of massive flood in Kentucky that has people perched on top of rooftops, their life possessions soaked, ruined. It’s not schadenfreude, just being conscious that we are spared – at least for the moment – all the terrible things in the world.

We have so much to be thankful for. It is almost shameful. 

Simplicity: dogs in the back seat, mostly snoozing. Good girl, Ottie.

The end of the day brings us to Mosquito Lake, and specifically the dog park there, outside Youngstown. Get out of the car. Heavenly cool air.

Remembering when Ohio was a marvelous, dangerous, always-startling frontier. Fanny Trollope settled in Cincinnati, determined to capture America in her travelogue—and make her fortune as a writer, which she did. A whip-smart, dowdy, indomitable Briton, she came to 1829 America and her observations caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

She was broke when she arrived and had never before written a word. No dog parks then, only corduroy roads, tent revivals and the “incessant, remorseless tobacco spitting of American men.”

If you have never read her epic Domestic Manners of the Americans, I will be happy to loan you my copy. 

The dog park at Mosquito Lake rocks. 

Tyson, a lucky German shepherd/husky mix with electric blue eyes, goes algae dunking. 

Beneath the lucky, soaring red oaks, many with multiple stems. 

Mainly today, luck comes in the form of love in the clouds.

Nothing to do but drive, eat, listen to Joni, Both Sides Now, on repeat.

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon, as Henry James famously remarked, to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. James liked to drive, or anyway be driven, by his buddy Edith Wharton in her model T on summer afternoons in the English countryside.

A life of luck.

We are privileged. Life on the road, on a vacation, reminds me of this every day. Life, love and luck. 

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The most pathetic park in the Bronx

might be Corona Parkway Malls, at Southern Boulevard and Elsmere Place. Pathetic as in pathos, evoking pity or sadness.

Never visited? Trash is everywhere.

Despite avid, well-peopled efforts by the Parks Department to keep it clean.

I snapped her photo right before she told me No photos allowed. Really?

Lots of people make this park their home. People that don’t have a roof over their heads are up early, combing their hair, performing ablutions. Washing up at a fire hydrant. Fresh NYC water, among the best in the country (ranked 13th if you must know). Delivered from pristine reservoirs in the Catskills, and furthermore treated with fluoride, chlorine and ultraviolet light so it’s safe to drink.

Nodding out, first fix of the day. Good morning. On to another New York City day collecting bottles. This is what they refer to as an underserved community. Underserved? An understatement, that.

There might be a better city in which to be homeless. But how would you get there? Without anything in your wallet?

One person smoking, scowling, scratching, weeping, dancing by her bench in the style of Indian mudra, delineating shapes in the air with her hands and fingers. Wasted. Grime-tan. I watch her for a while, can’t help myself. She takes her time opening a sleeve of crackers, then polishes them off. Hard to know where crackers go in that skinny little body.

Waiting for my man. (Lou Reed, of course.) This Man comes through in a spiffy pork pie hat and anime tee shirt, collecting fistfuls of cash and deposit ing product in palms. Someone had an open fire one recent night. At 7am, only cinders remain. And a half-full beverage

Amid the wreckage, beauty. Life. Even nature. Red in tooth and claw. (Tennyson.) Pigeons walking the tightrope of a branch. A young London plane.

Common buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis.

Buttonbush in the wild can attract more than two dozen species of bird, including kingbirds, towhees and hummingbirds.

Everlasting roses.

This is Jade. She sticks close, doesn’t need a leash. Nuff said.

Coneflowers that would present the same glowing amethyst countenance in a luckier person’s country garden.

A well-endowed shrine on the site of a historical obelisk.

Memorializing two loved ones short-term visitors to the neighborhood will never know.

Lest you wonder what I’m doing here, I have a job — inspecting the site of a working sidewalk construction crew to make sure no trees in their path some to harm.

So far, no harm, no foul. I’m watching over a 90″ American elm, doing my best to shield it from the ravages.

What is compassion? Is a trait we reserve for humans (sometimes!) or does it extend to trees? Trees care for us, of course – they cannot help it, it’s the way they roll.

Flaggers, lifeblood of the construction industry. Keeping us all safe. Thank you, men. (These flaggers happen to be male, but the women flaggers I’ve met are some of the most fierce mama bears in existence.)

You’d have to work pretty hard and pretty carelessly to break a honey locust. Here they are bringing forth their young seed pods. Cattle in another place like to feed on the green goo that grows inside once they ripen and fall.

Great as these trees might be for urban areas, the powers that be where I live have seen fit to demolish mature honey locust trees in our downtown in order to install new sidewalks. Including half a dozen mature, shade-throwing specimens.

Here in Corona, honey locusts thrive. To the credit of a powerful Parks Department, we do not damage trees in New York City, let alone cut them down.

The shade they cast has been proven crucial to keeping people alive in the sizzling temperatures we have had recently, as the earth fries.

We all need canopy. It’s not an extra, an add-on. It is a life preserver.

Bystanders like to check out what’s going on. Take the morning air, catching what faint breeze there is.

A lucky tree – hurting, perhaps, damaged, yet soldiering on. As if the tree pit wasn’t small enough already, you can see three types of unwanted material dumped at its base. Yet it grows.

Is there still a chance to do better by these folks who call Corona Parkway Malls home? Tree canopy is a start. That goes for everyone, not just the most obviously broken. Which is why it’s a privilege to do a little something to protect this tiny piece of the land, this patch of urban forest, even if only to ensure the backhoe keeps away from the roots.

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The concept of “soft fascination”

was I think my favorite takeaway from the tree conference I recently attended, put on by New York ReLeaf. That is the advocacy/education outfit which has a chapter I chair with my friend the DEC forester George Profous. Exposure to nature is not only enjoyable but can also help us improve our focus and ability to concentrate, according to Attention Restoration Theory,  developed in the 1980s by researchers Stephen and Rachel Kaplan. Visit a forest and you will let down your guard and enjoy the soft fascination of everything around you. In other words, as speaker Dr. Donald Rakow said, people need a break.

Remember Leadbelly? Famous lyrics of his tout soft fascination in a different way: Relax your mind, relax your mind/ It’ll make you live a great long time/Sometimes you’ve got to relax your mind. Perhaps this Ohio buckeye will give you a start.

Rakow spoke of kids who spend time in the woods growing up, of how they score higher on cognitive tests and have a lower risk of bad behavior in adolescence. About ecological grief (or eco-grief), nomenclature which describes the sense of loss that arises from learning about environmental destruction. Also nature deficit disorder, not currently recognized in the DSM but coined by scientist Richard Louv in his groundbreaking 2005 Last Child in the Woods. There is nothing really new under the sun; back in the 1890s, children participated in a radical Nature Study Unit at Cornell, which took as its motto “Study nature, not books.”

I remember when I had a big vegetable garden amply fertilized by aged chicken manure — my own favored exhortation to lazy weekend guests was “Weed, not read.”

Like any industry, the tree business has its own favored locutions, and over the several days of the meeting you could hear percolating up out of the general conversation terms that might be inscrutable to the general public. Phrases like beech disease …  air spadetree diapermulch volcano … and so on…

Why are trees good? Yes, they are majestic. Yes, they breathe out oxygen so we can live. But, in addition, phytoncides produced in the forest are volatile chemicals taken in through the nasal passages which actually increase our natural killer cells and have  an antiviral effect: phytoncides in, illness out. Related, there is a kind of microbiota that is common in soils; it stimulates increased levels of serotonin. Why just getting your hands dirty makes you feel good. I adored Marjorie Winslow’s Mud Pies and Other Recipes, growing up, even when I had officially put away my childish things.

Does what we do matter? asked Ian Leahy, a big wumpalump at American Forests, the premier tree organization in the country. He gave a plenary address that was informative, philosophical and even spiritual at moments. It’s an existential time, he said. He quoted poet Mary Oliver, talking about this one wild and precious life, and transcendentalist Thoreau, with the question of how do humans and nature combine? Leahy talked about the 12,000 heat-related deaths in America currently, projected to be 100,000 by the end of the century – many of which could be avoided with increased canopy cover. Tree equity is the concept popularized in 2018 by American Forests (and a program now overseen by Leahy), meaning that a map of trees in a given community is too often a map of income and raceThis is our moment, he said, this is our calling, but we can’t just throw trees in the ground. Knowing your city’s tree equity score – go to the Vibrant Cities Lab web site for guidance on how to do that – can help citizens tell the story of why trees are so urgently needed.

Cool corridors in Phoenix allow kids to walk to school without sweating their brains out. A recycled urban wood project in Baltimore excites the musical instrument community as the ash trees the industry has always utilized disappear. Leahy finished with an inspirational quote from environmental rock star Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of the inspired book Braiding Sweetgrass, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation: The land knows you, even when you are lost.

This is an urgent time for forestry and urban forestry, as more people seem to grok how trees relate to the larger issue of climate change and mourn the terrible fires in our western big-tree forests. Between downing vats of coffee and oceans of beer, arborists spoke of things that matter.

Some of it wasn’t so serious. My companion on a bus headed to a walking tour of Watertown, New York, told me of her love for the pawpaw tree. You may think of Asimina trilobal as inhabiting southern climes, but because she is a fan Kat Korba has coaxed it into producing for the edible ecology corridor she is helping to create in Syracuse.

It is wonderful, she waxed, kind of like a cross between a mango, a banana and an avocado. You eat it with a spoon. The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit indigenous to the United States.

Watertown, according to the arborist and historian who tag-teamed our tour, has many distinctions. After a series of ice storms and microbursts in the 1990s, the city embarked on a crusade to replace lost old trees with new healthy ones in a downtown arboretum. We talked under the shade of beautiful old lindens and katsura trees.

And saw a library built during the gilded age by a wealthy resident as a tribute to her father, with the largest rotunda north of the thruway

Bet you didn’t know that the paper clip was invented in Watertown, as were Little Trees, the car deodorizers, the 1952 brainstorm of Julius Sämann, a German-Jewish chemist and businessman who had fled the Nazis. Another famous product of the city is Viggo Mortensen, whose homecomings are assiduously tracked. The Black River flows through and powered Watertown’s original prosperity, during a time when mansions like the one housing the historical society currently were replacing the early settlers’ log cabins.

I love it when civic-minded people tow old structures to one property so you can see all the stages of development at once. Sure enough, here beside the grand historical society stood the wizened log cabin, among the black locusts and catalpas and the weeping beech. Oh yes, Sinatra had an album called Watertown.

History, trees. Everything great. We were introduced to a recently planted hybrid oak from Cornell, Quercus bicolor x vaseyana, in plain English a swamp white oak crossed with a sandpaper oak. Nearby, showing off its fringes, a juvenile dawn redwood.

And so on. A wonderful effort, Watertown’s urban forest, presided over by sensitive and smart city arborist Mike DeMarco, who likes the shade of a big old tree as much as the next guy.

Over 45 species can be found downtown, from redbud to red oak to red jade crabapple. As far as I know, no pawpaw. Yet. Just a suggestion, Tree Watertown.

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Alligator junipers don’t bite.

Stout, ancient ones mob this trail to the back of Boynton Canyon, Sedona’s most magical spot.

Some are mammoth, four hundred years old or more, their rough hides entwining with the silvery smooth underclothes.

I want to live!

Juniperus deppeana has a tendency to splay into multiple trunks, the fusion making it hard for dendrologists to accurately gauge the rings that would  show a specimen’s age.

A savage mysticism holds sway here, the home of indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Wayfinders at the trail’s start.

There is a word for two conjoined trees, trees that somehow find and make a life together.

Inosculation denotes when trunks, branches or roots of two trees grow together in a manner biologically similar to the artificial process of grafting. It comes from the Latin meaning “to kiss into/inward/against” or “to make a small mouth inward/into/against.” Wonderful, hmn? Trees that do this are referred to in forestry as gemels, again Latin, meaning “a pair”. Usually same species, not always.

What happens is this: the branches first grow separately in proximity to each other until they touch. At this point, the bark on the shared surfaces is gradually abraded away as the trees move .Finally the two connect, what is called braiding or pleaching. I aways look for this phenomenon in the woods, and there are more instances in this southwestern forest than anyplace else I’ve seen. Maybe the trees here simply like each other more than they do in other places. They’re sometimes known as husband-and-wife trees.

Only connect! E.M. Forster wrote that.

Padding along alone you see things you might otherwise miss. A hawk scree-screeing overhead, a quick rabbit, lizards skittering, hummingbirds drinking from thistles.

Underfoot, ants carry their groceries home. Gambel oak.

Someone has been here before me, probing, a sixth sense to find insects.

I’ve always liked the desert balance of dead and living.

Manzanita has that in spades, red twisted with grey. Chewing its leaves can ease a headache.

They call it the pygmy forest, where manzanita spreads out for acres all around.

After a few miles the manzanita and alligator juniper make room for the ponderosas.

I lean close, inhale the butterscotch scent.

S’cuse me while I kiss the sky.

Shagged, panting, I find a boulder, rest. Hikers whiz by. I listen to birdsong. Think of all the ways I’ve gone wrong, all the things I’ll do better.

Get up and get going. The end of the canyon, I am told by some European tourists coming back the other way, is magnificent. Well, they don’t say magnificent. They just sigh, wide eyed. Keep going. You won’t be sorry.

After the final scramble, triumph. The countenance of a hiker at the trail’s end says it all.

You can see forever here.

Sure, I love the view. It is magnificent. But I find I like what is on the ground as much.

I like  being grounded. Going to ground. Contemplating what will come next and readying myself for… whatever. Remembering the tough hide of the alligator juniper, which thrives in difficult soil and manages to find whatever water exists below ground, sustenance only the tree can see.

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So much beauty everywhere

but nothing compares with the dusk skies of red rock Arizona. 

See how a prickly pear glows, somehow, from within?

Their spines reflect the natural light, then the flowers say goodnight.

I always feel that given the strictures of growing here, the drought, mainly, and the intensity of the sun’s rays, plants have to really want to survive if they are going to make it. 

Does the cloud want to float?

The century plant—which contrary to the old wive’s tale actually blooms after 10 to 30 years, at the end of its life —busts out its brawny blooms. By the way, is there anything wrong with the tales of old wives? Speaking as one, I think we are usually correct. 

Clouds are dancing, slowly, sleepily. Almost nightfall.

Sotol happens to be so tall. 

Once upon a time, the base of a cooked sotol stem was eaten much like an artichoke leaf (by scraping across the front teeth). What is left, called a quid, resembles a spoon and can be used as one. Archaeological sites feature samples of “Desert Spoon” thousands of years old. Sotol flower-stalks used as atlatl dart hind-shafts have been discovered in ceremonial caves, while the sotol stem was used as a fireplow. Just now, a fantastic dusk sentinel.

Ought we to call these evening clouds sopink?

The light is beginning to dim. 

What happens in and about these red rock castles in the dark? The mule deer take a break from chomping grass (ruminants have four-chambered stomachs, so it takes a while to fill them all, and it’s probably pleasant to lie down during a digestive spell).

The slitherers either slither or dither under the night sky, not sure which. Triumph of lizard brain

Red rock simply sits, stoic, stolid, awaiting—nothing. Simply being. A neat trick if you can manage to turn off your human brain and try.

I will.

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Arlow Burdette Stout

had a great name, and also revolutionized our thinking about day lilies. Never thought much about Hemerocallis? The name Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words for “day” and “beautiful”.

Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance. John Ruskin wrote that. I don’t believe that peacocks are useless however; nor are day lilies. I have been walking past a beautifully planted border of day lilies for the past month at Ellis Island, where the flowers are as diverse as the multitudes of immigrants that passed through over the years 1892 through 1954, when the facility closed. I get the feeling that many visitors just hustle past them every day in a rush to find their ancestors on the Wall of Honor, or to get a quick sandwich in the café before jumping on a ferry to Liberty Island. Everyone is in such a hurry, even on vacation.

Tens of thousands of cultivars exist. Arlow Stout alone produced over one hundred Hemerocallis hybrids, reawakening popular interest in the flower, which was introduced to America by European settlers—probably brought from Asia along the silk roads. By the 1800s they were naturalized in the U.S., and still what is called the “tawny” variety can be found springing up by the roadsides all over the country. Ancient Chinese paintings depict glowing orange day lilies.

It’s not actually a lily.

In the department of Harumphh: in 2009, under the APG III system, day lilies were removed from the family Liliaceae and assigned to the family Xanthorrhoeaceae, subfamily HemerocallidoideaeXanthorrhoeaceae was renamed in 2016 to Asphodelaceae in the APG IV system. Will someone wake me up when this is all sorted out?

Growing on long stems called scapes, flowers bloom for one day each. You can gather them, eat them, press them, present them to people you love. Hybridizers like our friend Stout like to fool around with properties like height or scent, ruffled edges, putting contrasting “eyes” in the center of a bloom, or creating an illusion of glitter called “diamond dust.”

Sylvia Plath also wrote about them, in a poem from 1962 called “Crossing the Water.” Stars open among the lilies./Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?/This is the silence of astounded souls.

But we don’t need such a hard sell. Their season is almost over. Go out and be agog over one, before their beauty sleep ’til next year.

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Are some trees bad?

Well. Depends who you ask.

Norway maples, callery pear, ailanthus, ash. Spotted lanternfly adores laying its disgusting eggs on the bark of the ailanthus, commonly known as the tree of heaven.

So ailanthus deserves to get whacked. But what about grape vines? Apple trees? These host the same invasive insect.

As for the callery pear, you might have some gracing your downtown sidewalks or your apartment complex. Offering bright white blooms for a week or two in early spring. Arborists’ assessmen: Pyrus calleryana is a nightmare. Why? Inquiring minds (mine) have investigated. These trees, originally from China, were widely introduced by landscapers in the 1960s, and displace native trees and plants. Also, they don’t smell sweet, as you would expect them too. Communities around the U.S. can’t cut them down fast enough – some are even offering rewards to those who destroy them.

Ash trees play host to another noxious bug, also imported from Asia, known as the emerald ash borer. Cities are eliminating dead trees by the thousands as well as infected ones as a kind of stay of execution. Last year I accompanied a crew in Queens that was feeding axed ashes into the chipper.

Whole blocks were decimated, and once-graceful allees of mature trees vanished, much to locals’ shock and confusion. Everywhere these strange diagrams exposed by peeling bark, the sure sign of disease.

Where is the tree I grew up with, whose branches swayed outside my window my whole life? No more birdhouses.

Thinking about the nature of bad and good trees as I stand in the grueling heat of an early Queens morning. The parade of Norway maples along 145 Street in Flushing provides the only shade separating residents from an New York-style Hades.

People tend toward puzzlement when the sidewalk crew comes along. Are they taking down our trees?

Don’t get me wrong. Sunshine is good! If you asked medical pioneer Florence Nightingale, she would have touted its healing properties. In the nineteenth century, she espoused the wondrous effects of sun and fresh air in the absence of cures we take for granted, antibiotics and penicillin and the like. One approach in the 1930s was to suspend a babe in need of fresh air out a tenement window!

But today, what we now call the heat island effect afflicts neighborhoods like this one in Flushing disproportionately. They need all the cooling they can get. Even the shade of the “invasive” Norway maple plays a part.

Researchers have noted that individuals with mental health issues (e.g depression, for example) are more at risk when faced with high temperatures and “need to take extra care” as cognitive performance has been shown to be differentially affected by heat. People with diabetes, are overweight, have sleep deprivation, or have cardiovascular/cerebrovascular conditions should also avoid too much heat exposure.

Residents need shade. These trees, in the words of an arborist friend, are working hard. And they’re not getting paid, either!

What’s the use of being house proud, like so many Queens-ites, if you haven’t any trees?

Residents love their flowers.

Some even plant small-scale farms – more ambitious than my raised tomato beds.

But others bake. The heat island effect means that people are cooked, literally, in their homes and neighborhoods. Fried like so many sidewalk eggs. Within the United States alone, an average of 1,000 people die each year due to extreme heat.

Mainly poor people. Those without recourse to decent air conditioning, swimming pools – and trees. Trees are a necessary feature in combating most of the urban heat island effect because they reduce air temperatures by 10 °F and surface temperatures by up to 20–45 °F.

Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies. The process of taking up water through its roots, up through the leaves and out again as vapor into the air, called transpiration, is something all trees excel at. It’s nature’s air conditioning. Canopy cover is always important, but nowhere more than in the places where it can’t be taken for granted.

In the suburbs we have grand old tall cedars.

In urban areas, not so much.

Nothing makes up for the simple, absolute value of coolness in hot weather.

Some surprising trees make it to a good old age on these mean streets. A Siberian elm somehow thrives in a 4×4 inch tree pit.

I stand outside a nondescript bungalow on 107 Avenue.

There is a robust swamp white oak. How nice.

These are some of the exotics you might stumble across in the boroughs of New York. Older specimens have obviously offered shade to strollers for quite some time. London planes thrive in the most destitute circumstances, and we are all the better off for it.

When you hear about property owners razing “good trees” to build additions or housing projects or basketball courts, it’s common sense to mourn their loss. Mature oaks, sweetgum, lindens don’t just spring up overnight and surely don’t deserve to be disappeared. We know we need them, though some knuckleheads will always come along to say they don’t matter and remove them.

But what about the specimens sometimes dismissed as trash trees? Are honey locusts expendable simply because they are so common in this city?

I think that logic is mistaken. Honey locust has its own sharp-shouldered beauty.

Even the city version without the spikes can make itself welcome as a shade tree where we need shade.

Trees can’t help the species that spawned them, or the whims of the city planners who once planted these sometimes struggling urban forests. A Norway maple has gotta right to live too! And we deserve their shade. All of us.

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I do like pin oaks

and especially those in groves, urban oases, such as in Flushing, the massive ones ringing Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Whoever laid the concrete sidewalks here most recently politely made room for the spreading roots of venerable Quercus palustris.

Excuse me, said the tree, we were here first. And the City complied, which is more than happens in other municipalities. New York’s rigor regarding tree protection is legendary.

A breezy day in Queens. Anthony the flagger on a well-deserved break: It ain’t a hard hat, but it keeps off the sun. Not a day over 40, indeed. 

Deeply carved sinuses, the scallops that distinguish the pin oak leaf.

The tree has a unique habit – its branches hold up the sky at the top, stick out straight as a t square in the middle and droop a bit at the bottom of its shape. There is a monster of a pin oak square in the middle of this sprawling burial ground.

Mount Hebron opened its gates in 1909, and its permanent residents include Holocaust survivors and people who lived through the pogroms leading up to World War II. For example, a monument to the immigrants and immigrants’ descendants from the city of Grodno in today’s Belarus is dedicated to those who were “brutally persecuted and slain by the Nazis.” A stroll reveals many people in their mid-30’s and 40’s who died in the 1930s. Beyond tragic.

I couldn’t find acorn litter today. Someone here stays on top of autumnal sweeping. The nut would poison us but make a fit snack for a squirrel. Critters are more present that most people think here in the greater metropolitan area. I watched a woodchuck dive under a scrim of shrubbery recently in Liberty State Park. I’ve seen raccoons in a Flushing alleyway. This morning at six a.m. as I drove onto the Parkway, headed to the work site, an eight-point white-tail stared and stood stock still at the edge of the woods. Haven’t seen deer in New York City proper but surely it’s a matter of time. Do they like hydrangeas? Then they might like Flushing.

The chain link surrounding Mount Hebron had been conveniently pulled aside as an unofficial entrance for me to slip inside. No one I approached in the neighborhood seemed to know the name of the 250-acre burial ground in their midst, not the Mobil station attendants on the next block (5.59/gallon, with the cleanest restroom in Queens), not even the grave digger, who rose above the dirt he was shoveling to Google the query on his phone. The Yiddish theater industry produced  quite a few of the souls buried at Mount Hebron. 

The lady with the daisies hadn’t a clue as to where they might be.

Plenty of observant Jews have payed tribute to the dead here, leaving stones atop the graves.

Also abundant, the gnarly limestone faux tree trunks known as treestones. As a sculpted quote from the Biblical tree of life, they represent both eternity and humanity.

By serendipity, I came across a friend’s great grandparents’ plot – they fled Kyev when the pogroms came through and wound up in the Bronx, where Abraham was an expert jeweler and watchmaker.

But I knew the Yiddish actors were someplace – though my favorite, the ever entertaining one-time vaudevillian Sophie Tucker, “the last of the red-hot mamas” – had been buried elsewhere.

As a child, Tucker regaled diners in her parents’ restaurant between waitressing duties. She recalled later that she would stand up in the narrow space by the door and sing with all the drama I could put into it. At the end of the last chorus, between me and the onions, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The chanteuse’s hit Some of These Days made her super famous, kind of like the Taylor Swift of her day, if Taylor Swift were a middle-aged red hot mama and had a ribald sense of humor. Tucker’s version of The Lady Is a Tramp is the best out there. Banned in Nazi Germany: My Yiddishe Momme.

Plenty of mobsters here. Perhaps the most famous was Louis (Lepke) Buchalter, electrocuted in 1944 for the 1936 murder of Brooklyn shopkeeper Joseph Rosen after six judicial reprieves. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commented after the funeral, Well, they certainly tried everything. Pressed as to whether there would be another Lepke in New York, he was certain: Yes, there will, if we turn government over to the politicians. Take the rackets, the slot machines, gambling – that’s where the Lepkes find their pickings and their perquisites. LaGuardia put himself through law school at night by translating for immigrants at Ellis Island during the daytime. During his tenure as mayor he outlawed organ grinders with their capuchin monkeys, eliminating a source of much color on the streets and a certain career for many first-generation Italians.

LaGuardia believed that organ grinders perpetuated a stereotype of his countrymen. He spoke half a dozen languages: Italian, Croatian, Yiddish, German, French and Hungarian.

Mount Hebron sits on the former 2,000-acre Spring Hill estate of Colonial governor Cadwallader Colden, who died in 1776, four days after the British claimed New York. Colden acted as the first colonial representative to the Iroquois Confederacy and wrote the first history of the Five Nations. A doctor and botanist, the polymath was a patrician pioneer of public health, an expert on the subject of yellow fever. Looked okay in his crimson regalia.

Colden was reportedly not a nice guy. A slaveowner, he reputedly sold one female member of his chattel, a “good House Negro,” for a cargo of “white muscovado” sugar. He got a lot of flak from American patriots, who to protest the Stamp Act of 1765 burned him in effigy along with his coach after smashing it to smithereens in a celebratory bonfire on Manhattan’s Bowling Green (note: then a small green park where you could still go to bowl).

Cadwallader Colden had a number of distinguished children, but the standout was his daughter Jane, who followed in her father’s Linnaeus-inspired footsteps and became the first botanist of her sex in America. Most famous for her untitled manuscript describing the flora of the Hudson Valley that featured her own ink drawings – she was the first scientist to describe the gardenia! – Jane died  tragically from complications of childbirth in 1766, at the age of 41.

A visitor to her home noted that she actually made “the best cheese I ever ate in America,” a skill she detailed in her Memorandum of Cheese in 1756.

Cadwallader is buried here somewhere, in present-day Queens, in a plot on his old property, where he now rubs shoulders with mobsters, Yiddish stage stars and survivors of evil. Jane lies interred at the family’s upstate estate near her beloved flowers. I think she might have liked the pin oaks that line Main Street as much as I do.

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A nice trail at a nice time

if you happen to be a dog. Not.

Or the owner of a dog. Nope.

Or people temporarily in possession of granddogs. Yes. Their actual, official humans are in Italy for the week, so Gus and Ottie are making do with us.

Magic hour. Rowley’s Bridge.

Nice trail if you happen to like white mulberries.

Swamp white oaks.

A sugar maple mysteriously tagged long ago.

We buried a dog here once. Grave undisturbed, good to see.

A stand of mature osage orange trees, probably celebrating their millionth birthday. No production yet this year, of course.

Maclura pomifera is not actually an orange at all, though its oversize pimply fruits do resemble citrus. It is linked more closely to the mulberry. Native Americans preferred its wood for war clubs and bows, so much so that they would travel many miles to harvest the trees.

A nice place to pick raspberries, now still holding tightly to their promise.

The Hudson, majestic. A word coined specifically to describe the Hudson.

Tracks looking very Stand By Me.

I’m pretty sure we once parked here to speak of things that matter.

A nice place for a Golden mud bath in a filthy stream.

Just a start if you are a German short hair. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, according to  Seneca. Apt words for dog ball chasing.

Back at home for more wind sprints under the sycamore maple. Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure. Another quote applicable to ball chasing from another sage, Mr. Stephen King.

Why not stop and smell the tiger lily blooming out of a patch of fennel?

It’s a granddog’s life. Food, water, a ball chase at magic hour. Soak up all the mud while you can.

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Fragrant, spicy, lemony, lush and voluptuous

are some of the inadequate terms we use to describe roses, but equivalent to the terms oenophiles employ for the equally ineffable flavors of wine. Oaky, fruity, tannic, et cetera.

Really, no word can describe the experience of sticking your nose in a bloom and inhaling. My friend needs little encouragement to dive in. Swoon.

The thing to do if it is available to you (as they say in yoga class, referring to your ability to hold a pose) is to simply wander about a rose garden like the one at the Lyndhurst Estate and, yes, stop and smell the roses. We are so fortunate to have this magical place within walking distance.

What I love is that delving into botanical literature you find that roses have stories, roses are stories. The Lyndhurst rose garden was first planted in 1914 as the project of Helen Gould, the eldest daughter of robber baron Jay Gould, who bought  the estate in the 1880s. Over time and with successive owners who weren’t quite as enthused about the project it almost died out, to be revived by the Garden Club of Irvington-on-Hudson starting in 1968. Now 500 plants in five concentric rings thrive at the garden’s peak each June, and the lot is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Each ring features different kinds: the outer ring has been planted with shrub and old garden roses, the middle hybrid teas and grandiflora, and the inner with polyanthas and floribundas. The ones I like best have labels, barely legible old keys to each one’s provenance.

Pink Knockout, for example, is a bubblegum-pink sport – meaning, basically, offspring– of Double Knock Out. Kind of like race horses.

Another, Soaring to Glory, developed as recently as 2018, is a sun lover that is especially resistant to disease. Something to like in a rose.

One of the arches bears a mysterious old plaque, Zepherine Drouhin.

It’s a special flower, dating back to 1868, described in the rose literature as a vigorous climbing Bourbon rose with masses of highly fragrant, semi-double, carmine flowers, 3 in. across (8 cm), counting up to 30 petals. Born on thornless, purplish stems.

The world might be complicated, tedious, awful. The only complexity of rosa is how many petals each one has, what shape its whorl, how the heck you describe its scent to differentiate it from all the other spectacular specimens. There is no bad rose.

One reminds me of a wild rose we once found in a neighboring meadow. Why it strayed from a domestic border I don’t know. That flower had no name that I ever knew; it was anonymous yet ravishing. I dug up part of it when we sold the house and replanted it when we moved to suburbia, careful to leave some of the roots so the plant would bloom for the new occupants.

Some efforts fail, as in life outside the rose garden. Some deaths remain in the borders as if to remind us that existence is in fact fleeting. Such as Summer Surprise, surprisingly a nonstarter.

Or Voluptuous, which doesn’t quite live up to its hype.

You must time your visit to the 67-acre Lyndhurst properly. We have been overeager and jumped the gun with a visit when the season has barely started, only to find tight buds, not yet coaxed into blooming by sun and rain.

On the other hand, if you go too late in June, much of the fragile prettiness has shattered. Already, today, petals litter the lawn.

But still we find swaths of buxom beauties.

It’s difficult to take a bad photo of a rose, try as you might.

This is what one looks like close up.

Though it’s tempting to click, best to pocket your phone and simply drift from bed to bed, under the perfect sky, in a state of rose-addled bliss.

The frame of a greenhouse designed in 1881 by Lord & Burnham, when it was built the largest in the country, rises beyond a hillock. Once the foremost metal-framed conservatory in the country, now a ruin. You know I love ruins.

When Jay Gould had it built, he was inordinately proud of the orchids that were raised here – with a full-time staff of 16 gardeners, what could go wrong? – and used to run the plants down to gift to grateful New York City residents, with a steam heater to keep the flowers warm. Now there are just three gardeners to run the whole estate, and the greenhouse is nominally off limits.

Okay. But an original fountain in the center bubbles, its bowl upheld by… pelicans perhaps? Or some mythological creature with bird feet?

When Helen Gould first dreamed up the rose garden, she planned for the folly to have only pink climbing roses. After her death, the estate passed to her younger sister Anna, the Dutchess of Talleyrand-Perigord, who had gained a divorce from her new husband’s cousin Boni, the Count of Castellane, he who had bilked her of $10 million of her inheritance. The heiress had two children in this second marriage, Howard de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duc de Sagan (1909-1929), who died of a self-inflicted gun wound when his parents refused him permission to marry until he was 21, and Helene Violette de Talleyrand-Périgord,  who married Comte James Robert de Pourtalès, divorced him, then married Gaston Palewski, former Minister of Scientific Research, Atomic Energy and Space Questions. Lives perfumed with the best of the best, aside from that unfortunate suicide. By the time Anna went to the rose garden in the sky in 1961, few of the shrubs were left.

Jay Gould enriched the lives of his swanky city pals with orchids. Perhaps he might have sent roses.

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Perfectly performed

on a perfect early spring evening in Tompkins Square Park, the music of a person (pronouns fluid, if you are up to date) who calls his band Pinc Louds. He began in 2015 playing in the New York City subways for spare change, and now he goes all over the world, but also does his thing in New York at places like Joe’s Pub and Lincoln Center and Poisson Rouge. Still plays gigs for free in the Park though, as a fixture of the East Village.

He’s from Puerto Rico, and in his few hours not occupied with music he’s known as Claudi. 

Dogs walked their people all over the place.

Pinc Louds worked out on his guitar, though sometimes he prefers electrified mbira.

The friend I strolled with has played with him before – she’s a fantastic mbira player too. She describes his voice as Billie Holiday in Puerto Rico. Sometimes he has giant puppets with him.  Wish I’d seen that.

I especially liked the lyrics of one of his songs:

A little girl she tells me I got soul

She sees it when I sing

Yes, a little girl she tells me I got soul

She sees it when I sing

I tell a girl your eyes are getting old

You couldn’t tell a mountain from a hole

‘cause I can’t feel a thing

No, I can’t feel a thing

No, not even when I sing

[Chorus]

I’ve got no soul in my body

I’ve just got soul in my brain

I’ve got no soul in my body

I’ve just got soul in my brain

Cause there’s no soul in our bodies

Just soul in our brains

[Verse 1]

Ooh, Singin’

My heart ain’t singin’

And still

You’re wishin’ on it like you’re wishin’ on a wishing well

The drops sink to the murky depths of hell

I saw you once and you

Your little stars were true

Please take me up with you

[Verse 2]

So press me to your dress

And press me to your thighs

And press me to your chest

Caress me ‘til I’m blessed into the tide

Rushing to your blushing blood inside

And though the die is cast

And I am sinking fast

I feel alive at last

[Chorus]

I’ve got no soul in my body

I’ve just got soul in my brain

I’ve got no soul in my body

I’ve just got soul in my brain

Cause there’s no soul in our bodies

Just soul in our brains

Under the shade of a big old tree in the park, just leafing out, dusk fell. Yes, Virginia, there are big old trees on the Lower East Side of New York City.

Critics have deemed Pinc Louds “the band that saved summer” because it appeared in the park during the pandemic and lifted everybody’s spirits. People of all ages danced and went wild, with socially distanced mosh pits.

Someone’s observation underfoot. Not necessarily true, at least on this good-luck night.

Claudi and his wife have a baby at home. He told me that the child has watched him “transition” into his performance getup, but hasn’t yet had any kind of reaction. You can check out Pinc Louds on YouTube.

Pinc Louds, you can wear whatever you want, whatever look you want to rock. Just keep singing.

Your music is splendid.

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Can a flower speak to you?

I think it’s possible.

Standing in Floral Park, Queens, under the canopy of Lady Linden, I’m distracted by the  perfume in the air.

It takes something to be distracted in the shade of a linden, especially at this time of year, when the heart-shaped leaves (cordate, if you want the technical term) have materialized and you can see the lighter colored bracts hanging all over the trees like golden tickets out of Willie Wonka. Few seem to agree about the purpose of the mysterious linden bracts, which are actually a kind of specialized leaf. Do they exist to channel rainwater away from delicate buds and flowers, do they attract bees, are they some kind of wing to carry seeds away?

Lindens are magical — in ancient mythology, tilia symbolizes faithful love, and is more currently believed to neutralize negative energy. The edible flower is a sedative. Its fragrance is also seductive, but flowers here haven’t yet bloomed… so what smells so good on the streets of Queens? It could be the curry cooking in someone’s house, as I watch the Sikhs go about their business.

Yes, here there are plenty of Norway maples and honey locusts—weed trees — and pin oaks (no tree looks lovelier silhouetted against the sky).

Even some Japanese pagoda trees in these cramped New York City tree pits. Take that, Bronx Botanical Garden! Where we’re working I see a baggy, saggy old London plane, sheltering a seedling in its crook.

You might think it has seen better days, but I would assert this actually is this tree’s better day, perhaps its best, the distinguished old grandmawmaw, queen of the Queens block where Whitney Avenue meets Bryant Avenue, no doubt rooted here long before the tickytacky abodes sprung up in the neighborhood.

But what is so sweet about the air today? I looked around and then I crowdsourced some Petal Pushers I know to find out the ways in which flowers have spoken to them.

A lot of our passions seem to come down to bouquets. The yellow sweetheart roses in my wedding bouquet, a memory that blooms every time I see a yellow rosebush.

Lily of the valley, noted by one Petal Pusher as the bouquet she loved passionately but was denied when she got married because the flowers were “too fragile,” though she knew her mother had held them as a bride. Another Petal Pusher told me she was obsessed with the lilies of the valley in her yard when she was growing up, remembering leaning over them to inhale.

The lilacs by the railroad tracks one Petal Pusher used to gather for his mother: nobody cared how many I picked, he says.

I remember as a teen being so captivated by the scent of honeysuckle that I searched out the essence of honeysuckle perfume and dabbed it on, drowning pleasantly in its fragrance.

I always wanted to grow allium, the giant onion, but never have. Once upon a time, when we lived in a farmhouse in an upstate apple orchard, I used to patronize the garden of one Mrs. Yurg — she sold rose plants and day lilies, and visiting her you’d wind up chatting over a bucket of day lily plants swimming in a cold bath.

Some Petal Pushers cherish flowers that they associate with a loved one no longer with us. Trilium, for example, was the favorite of one Petal Pusher’s mother, whose passion for the wildflower was something the family would gently tease her about. White orchid, says another Petal Pusher, recalling the one that stood as a sentinel overseeing her husband’s hospital room at the end.

Flowers can speak of another time, a simpler time. Or perhaps they give a more complicated past some simplicity. The garish spectacle of tulips in a Dutch field, in the recall of someone who saw them on a teen tour of Europe. We passed fields and fields in every color of the rainbow. I swooned!

The iris farm across the street from where one Petal Pusher lived in college, into which he slipped on hands and knees so no one would see me to gather floral displays for dinner parties.Swanky!

The lotus blossom, which signifies resilience, on account of the troubled adolescents this Petal Pusher works with.

Childhood memories. Someone fancied Rose of Sharon: We would wait until a bee went deep into the flower then close it up.

Still another Petal Pusher reminisced about the wild purple lupines that grew at the edge of her grandparents’ land, and how she used to pretend I was either a Pilgrim or a Witch, and the lupines were my food or magic elixir.

I recently paid a visit to a border of peonies I walked by every June on my way to high school. Peonies, I have often thought, are the perfect flower. The ones I remembered had vanished, and I guess the new residents preferred the tired old standby, arbor vitae. Undeterred, I called upon a church where I knew they’d be on display, and I wasn’t disappointed. There they were, nodding after the rain.

And only one pink specimen in bloom, a promise of what’s to come.

Complete with a moment of inspiration.

In Queens, under the tilia, it is the rose that permeates the air, framed as it is by the chain link.

A rose is a rose is a rose – something of a misquote, in fact, from Gertrude Stein’s 1913 poem Sacred Emily.

She really said, Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, somewhat less intelligibly, referring to a person named Rose, but more the way Stein rocks it. Later, as the quote became known, she commented: Now listen! I’m no fool. I know that in daily life we don’t go around saying ‘is a … is a … is a …’ Yes, I’m no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years.

The point about roses is it doesn’t matter the location, they’re always superb. Yes, as I said, yellow sweetheart roses. But even the delicate pink but somewhat frowzy ones shine against the vinyl siding in Floral Park.

It can’t only be the roses. Is it the clover? Crush one between your fingers and it releases the scent of honey.  A whole yard of clover – why does anyone plant turfgrass?

They are truly bellyflowers, the term another Petal Pusher shared that is used by wildflower fanciers to denote blossoms you have to get down low to see, preferably with a jeweler’s loupe. Don’t possess a loupe? No time like the present.

Another flower lover prefers the gigantic fleshy flowers, like the okra blossom she grows on her deck.

Remember flower power? Such a cool expression. Coined in 1965 by American poetry icon Allen Ginsburg and inspiring countless daisy head garlands, not to mention the practice of inserting daisies into the snouts of National Guardsmen’s weapons.

Generations later, powerful flowers survive in Queens, between the curry and the bracts.

They do speak to those who listen.

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