Another Day in the Country
Restoring to bribery
© Another Day in the Country
This is my question to you: How will the generations coming after us protect the natural environment if they don’t even know the names of things that are precious?
A tree becomes just a nuisance — dropping limbs and leaves, having the temerity to fall down in our path, coming up and growing where we want something else, and fit only for burning.
Birds become generic moving objects — targets to be shot at when kids get their first BB guns.
A butterfly is just another bug to catch; a flower, something to randomly pick and discard a few steps farther on; a tomato, something to throw; vegetables, generic items from the store, most convenient out of a can or found in the freezer section.
My fascination, as well as my education, about the natural world around me came from my mother.
She loved growing things. She had fond memories of a shelter belt her father had planted west of Ramona that contained all kinds of trees, including apple and plum. She knew their names.
Mom loved birds. The mockingbird was her favorite. And, it seemed to me, mockingbirds always were found in her vicinity.
They used to be out at the Scully farm in Kansas City making a ruckus, and even in Boulder, when she lived there.
They were present in Oregon, and several were on the telephone wire, ever present, always singing, when she lived on the corner of 5th and D Sts. in Ramona.
Whenever we’d visit in Ramona and go to Aunt Anna’s place, she and Anna immediately would be outside, looking at flowers, watching for birds.
Mom would have her tape recorder in her purse and she’d record the bird songs, identifying them. Of course, there always was wind noise in the background.
I’ve tried to pass this love of nature on to my kids and grandson.
Since our time together is limited, I took another shot at it this summer while I had Dagfinnr in Ramona.
He was helping me in the yard one day, and I said, “Do you know what kind of a tree this is that we are pruning?”
“It’s a bald cypress,” I said. “You know I have this thing about learning the names of plants and trees. You are going to have to protect them if your generation is going to have a planet worth living on.”
I then outlined my plan.
For every plant, tree, bird, butterfly, vegetable, or flower he could identify in my yard, I’d give him a dollar.
“How long do I have?” he wanted to know.
“A month,” I answered. “You can ask me their names or you can look them up. I may tell you what they are in passing, but I’m not going to bug you about this. It’s your choice. Because I think it’s important, I’m just providing some extra incentive.”
He left last Saturday, and I was ready. I had gone to Tampa State Bank and withdrawn 100 $1 bills. (I’d wanted new ones, but they told me those were hard to come by.)
Suitcases were packed and loaded in the car.
“Are you ready, Dagfinnr?” I asked, grinning while displaying a fist full of money.
We started out across the street.
“Hackberry, cedar, tomatoes,” he grinned, “bald cypress, weeping Norwegian spruce, red dogwood, papyrus, roses,” another grin because roses were so easy, “weigela, phlox, four o’clocks, iris, liquid amber, chives, basil, oregano.”
We were walking past the herb garden.
He was pleased with himself for knowing that one.
“An apple tree (he’d climbed it), cucumbers, green beans, two kinds of peppers, potatoes (new ones coming up for fall), and cabbage.”
He’d help make sauerkraut out of the biggest head. Before he left, it was ready, and we’d had it for lunch with mashed potatoes — our very own, from the garden.
“Blackberries,” he was laughing again.
He was clutching a fist full of cash ($32 to be exact), and we were having fun, even though we were saying goodbye for a while.
“What about your tree?” I asked, holding up another dollar bill.
I thought I’d told him the name of that tree dozens of times throughout the years, as the two of them grew taller and taller.
This was a tree that had come up by the pond. I had been tempted to throw it away.
It was just a cottonwood, but I pulled it out of the rocky artificial stream bed and heeled it into a corner of my flower bed, daring it to survive the winter ahead.
It did, and I transplanted it, saved it, because it had come up the same year my grandson was born, 2007. It was to be his tree here in Kansas.
He couldn’t remember the name. After all, it is at the edge of the yard. Other trees are encroaching, and it doesn’t stand out unless you look up. It’s tall, like he is.
“It’s a cottonwood,” I prompted.
Of course, he didn’t get a buck for that one. Maybe next summer, on another day in the country.