Monday, November 05, 2012

`To Bathe Your Eyes with Greenness'

The common name for Polypodium polypodioides is a specimen of purest folk poetry: resurrection fern. Like ball moss, it’s an epiphyte, growing non-parasitically on the limbs and trunks of trees, especially oaks. In the Northwest trees look upholstered with moss. In Texas they look feathered or furred. In dry times, resurrection ferns become desiccated, turn dull and gray-green, and lend oaks a grizzled appearance. When the rains come, the ferns resurrect and turn brilliantly green again. Some homeowners, I know, resent the fern and see it as sapping the life-force of their trees. They mistake persistence for perniciousness, and sheer away the resurrection fern with electric hedge-clippers. Thoreau, in his journal on this date, Nov. 5, in 1857, thought otherwise: 

“Sometimes I would rather get a transient glimpse or side view of a thing than stand fronting to it,--as those polypodies. The object I caught a glimpse of as I went by haunts my thoughts a long time, is infinitely suggestive, and I do not care to front it and scrutinize it, for I know that the thing that really concerns me is not there, but in my relation to that. That is a mere reflecting surface. It is not the polypody in my pitcher or herbarium, or which I may possibly persuade to grow on a bank in my yard, or which is described in botanies, that interests me, but the one that I pass by in my walks a little distance off, when in the right mood. Its influence is sporadic, wafted through the air to me. Do you imagine its fruit to stick to the back of the leaf all winter? At this season polypody is in the air. It is worth the while to walk in swamps now, to bathe your eyes with greenness. The terminal shield fern is the handsomest and glossiest green.”

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