Monotrope

Not hot, but so humid the rocks sweat. I go for a very slow walk around the trails. On top of Laurel Ridge, an agitated pair of cardinals chaperones a fledgling across the trail in front of me. Only half-grown and dull brown in color, but s/he already has the crest.

I stop to admire the clumps of horn-of-plenty mushrooms sprouting through the moss of First Field Trail. Up close they look almost velvety, very dark gray to my eye – or is there such a thing as “light black”? In shape they evoke not cornucopias – there’s no twist to them – but old-fashioned ear trumpets. The fungus is hungry for news of the daylight world . . .

The two turkey families that have been going around together start up from the edge of the woods opposite the gate to the exclosure. I am torn between the desire to watch all the youngsters burst from cover so I can get a rough count, and the desire to create as little upset as possible. The latter impulse wins out; I open the gate and walk through the deer exclosure, taking the longer route back. The ground is riotous with mushrooms of every shape and color.

*

Ratatouille for supper. I never thought I would say this, but I love eggplant. Not so much for the taste or texture – though I do love its ability to sop up olive oil – as for its shape, color and overall weirdness as a vegetable. Pity that Neruda didn’t include an “Ode to Eggplant” among his Elemental Odes. I love the sound the peeler makes on the firm sponge of its flesh.

*

There’s a campfire; we are each introducing ourselves to the group.

–I am a mustard seed.

–I am the excrescence of a star.

–I am the blackening of a name the devil himself would not be able to rub out.

Whoa! Where the hell did that come from?

Just then I have to get up and go to the bathroom, so I stop at the desk on my way, scribble it down on my little pocket notebook by the light of the computer monitor: I am the blackening of a name . . .

*

But already, even as I write, I realize I have lost the image that went with it. Perhaps an Indian pipe? Immediately after pollination, Monotropa uniflora ceases the narcissus-like contemplation of its navel and points its flower-head straight up at the sky. In a few days the head grows bulbous with seeds and the whole plant turns black.

Other names for Indian pipe include “ghost flower,” “corpse plant,” “fairy smoke,” “birdnest” and “American iceplant.” Herbal usage has produced still more names: “convulsionweed,” “eyebright” and “fitroot.” John Lust (The Herb Book, Bantam, 1974) describes the “Properties and Uses” of Indian pipe as follows:

Antispasmodic, nervine, sedative, tonic. Indian pipe root makes a good remedy for spasms, fainting spells, and various nervous conditions and may be helpful in remittent and intermittent fever. Mixed with fennel seed, it makes a good eyewash and vaginal douche.

I hadn’t realized the eye and the vagina could be treated the same way, but there is a certain appeal to the idea. If anyone wants to experiment, here’s Lust’s recipe.

Infusion: Use 1 tsp. Indian pipe root and 1 tsp. fennel seed with 1 pint boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes and strain.

__________

If you missed Monday’s post, In the forest of the meantime, that’s where I first started thinking about Indian pipes, a common saprophytic plant in the eastern U.S.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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