Oemlaria Cerasiformis

A good plant to think of in January. Also, the first Plant of the Month column I ever wrote.

Around the time this newsletter comes out, some of you will probably be looking for the first signs of spring. A good place to start is the shrub Oemlaria cerasiformis, also called osoberry or Indian plum. Native to the west slope of the Cascades from BC to California, it is one of the earliest low altitude spring bloomers. Here in the Puget Sound lowlands, it can occasionally be found in flower as early as late January. O. cerasiformis is dioeceous, with male plants being more common than females, and also sporting more flowers and a longer blooming time. Male and female flowers are superficially similar, but if you look inside (use a hand lens), the flower will either have developed stamens or ovaries. You can also “cheat” by looking for the remaining stems from last year’s fruit on the female plants.
In the landscape, osoberry tends to blend in with the other shrubs in the forest edge or riparian area, an inconspicuous wall of green when it is not dressed in sprays of delicate white flowers. In my yard, at least, the leaves start to yellow and fall by late August, making it both early to bed and early to rise.
The fruits are drupes, like plums or cherries, (also members of the rose family), and ripen as early as May or June, first blushing orange, then red, then nearly black when they are ripe. They are edible, if you can get to them before the birds and critters do – everyone from cedar waxwings and grosbeaks to racoons and coyotes enjoys an osoberry. Try to find one from a sunny branch. It will have a higher sugar content. If you can collect enough, they make an excellent jam.
So, put on your boots and raingear, and take yourself for a walk along a lowland forest edge, looking for the first signs of spring. See if you can find a female osoberry, and keep checking back in early summer. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find enough plums to make jam.

Reptillian Overthrow

Global warming is an alligator conspiracy.
The largest of them take jobs at wrestling venues throughout the South
And insist on heated pools and being paid in vast quantities of hamburger,
Leading directly to an increase in cow farts and emissions from coal-fired power plants.

They don’t understand the connection between arsenic released by mountaintop removal,
And deformed eggs.
Hatchlings born with fur, oversized brains, and glow-in-the-dark scales, usually get eaten,
But not always.

They eagerly await the promised expansion of their swampland territories brought on by rising sea levels.

The mosquitoes concur.

The cockroaches, who have been diligently evolving a greater resistance to the cold, calculate that their investments are well enough diversified to withstand a fifteen degree climate shift in either direction.
They are also developing aquatic options.

Only the mangroves, caught between deep water and new, nearshore expressways, are concerned.

But, who ever listens to a tree?

A Visit to the SAM Peru Exhibit

On Friday, M and I finally made it into town to see the Peru exhibit at SAM, the day before it closed. I wanted to see it partly because I spent a summer in Peru when I was eleven, and can still remember lots of the things I saw then. I was not disappointed. There were a few items in the exhibit, borrowed from the Museo de Oro in Lima, that I remembered seeing on our visit there. (If you ever get a chance, go. The upstairs is a collection of arms and armor from around the world. The downstairs is a house-sized walk in vault full of amazing golden objects.)

I thought the exhibit was well laid out – separate rooms for several pre-Inca cultures, then Inca Empire objects, followed by a room full of artwork from the Catholic sledgehammer of the Spanish invasion.

One of the paintings in the colonial period room was a depiction, by a native artist, of a Corpus Christi procession, one of the colonial answers to the traditional feast of Inti-Raymi, the return of the sun, which marks the (Southern hemisphere) winter solstice. In the center of the painting are several important-looking personages in the garb of Inca nobility.

My parents and I visited Cuzco about a week after the main Inti-Raymi celebrations, but the day we arrived, there was a procession from an outlying town, bringing their statue of the Virgin Mary to be blessed at the Cathedral.  The statue, more than life sized, was dressed in jewel-encrusted red velvet over many years worth of handmade lace.  She was supported on two beams, carried by a dozen(?) men, barefoot, and dressed in traditional campesino pants and ponchos.

The parade also included dancers, horsemen, floats, and clowns made up to look like conquistadors. The people seemed to have embraced the religion, without having forgotten the way it was brought.

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M said he was disappointed that the exhibit didn’t have more history to it; that much of it was a display of ruling class burial practices.

That, and some architecture, is what has come down to us. The Incas, (also an empire full of disparate peoples), didn’t have a written language. The art of reading their knotted quipu ledgers has been lost. The Spanish did what they could to melt down and destroy the rest. If people hadn’t buried these amazing objects, they wouldn’t have survived. Insert your own comment about unexpected afterlives here.