Thursday, February 18, 2016

Orderly, dark and deep

Verlyn Klinkenborg (born in Colorado, living in upstate New York) recounts waking up with “a deep taxonomic yearning” to identify the trees around him. So he begins learning. Hemlock: its needles have two white lines. Black birch: it grows on “disturbed ground.” White pine: its needles grow in fives.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, “February,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

My knowledge of the natural world is scant, and mostly derived from works of literature. (I have often learned about trees and flowers and such by first reading about them in poems.) I admire Klinkenborg’s knowledge of nature’s variety.

An inventory of wildlife at Dreamers Rise prompted me to pull this passage from Klinkenborg’s book. I admire Chris’s knowledge of nature’s variety too.

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

[Post title with apologies to Robert Frost.]

comments: 4

Chris said...

In high school I took a field biology course (we had an excellent science department), part of which involved learning to identify the common local trees. Much of it I've forgotten (especially the evergreens), but strangely I still remember a lot of the scientific names, which have a special poetry and logic of their own. My favorite is the tulip-tree: Liriodendron tulipifera ("tulip-bearing lily tree").

Michael Leddy said...

A lovely name. Our children had to memorize a bewildering variety of leaf forms in high school — I’ll have to see if they remember very many of them.

stefan said...

One of my favorite passages in Several Short Sentences about Writing comes relatively early and seems apt here:

"It's hard to grasp at first the density, the specificity with which the world has been named. This is a planet of overlapping lexicons, generation after generation, trade after trade, expedition after expedition sent out to bring home name upon name, terms of identity in endless degrees of intricacy, and all at hand if you look for them. Don't neglect such a rich linguistic inheritance. It's your business to know the names of things, to recover them if necessary and use them."

Knowing the names of things might not be enough to write as well as Klinkenborg, but it's a start.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for adding that passage here, Stefan. I wish I’d thought to do so. :)