April 3, 2019 Garden Moods, John Burroughs, Kate Brandegee, Rebecca Salsbury Palfrey Utter, William Glassley, Magnifying Glass, Trilliums, and the Wake-Robin

As I was preparing for today's show, I kept thinking about this quote from John Burrows:

"... One's own landscape comes in time to be a sort of outlying part of himself; he has sowed himself broadcast upon it, and it reflects his own moods and feelings; he is sensitive to the verge of the horizon: cut those trees, he bleeds; mar those hills, and he suffers."


Think about your own landscape.

What does it reflect about your mood and feelings if it is an outlying part of yourself?

Is it controlled and manicured?

Wild and wooly?

Relaxed and comfortable?

Unsure or confused?

Where are you today?

Where were you a year ago?

Five years ago?

Ten years ago?

Where do you want to be this season?

We are not static. As my youngest son said to be the first time he ate spaghetti sauce on his noodles, "People can change, Mom."

We are not static… and our gardens aren't either.




Naturalist, poet, and philosopher John Burroughs (books by this author) was born on a dairy farm on this date in 1837. He was sent to the local school, where his desk was next to that of Erie Railroad Robber Baron Jay Gould (the son of a nearby neighbor). When Burroughs struggled in school, Gould would bail him out.

Called "John o' Birds" for his particular admiration for birds, Burroughs loved the natural world.

One of the four vagabonds (a reference to an annual camping group that included Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford, and Teddy Roosevelt), Burroughs drove a Ford, a yearly present from Henry Ford.

John Burroughs wrote about what he knew and loved best: the land around his homes in the Catskills of upstate New York. The area included a stream called "The Pepacton" - today, it is known as the "East Branch of the Delaware River."

Burroughs was great friends with Walt Whitman (Books by this author), whom he loved dearly. Of Whitman, Burroughs reflected:

“[Meeting] Walt was the most important event of my life. I expanded under his influence, because of his fine liberality and humanity on all subjects.”


Here's a fun fact:

Whitman gave Burroughs some marketing advice in his first book, Wake Robin. Burroughs recalled

"It is difficult to hit upon suitable titles for books. I went to Walt with Wake-Robin and several other names written on paper. '"What does wake-robin mean?” he asked "It's a spring flower,' I replied. "Then that is exactly the name you want."


Wake-robin is the common name for trillium. Trilliums are in the Lily Family and carpet the forest floor in springtime. They have a single large, white, long-lasting flower that turns pink as it matures. During Burroughs's time, The Tennessean and other newspapers advertised English Wake-Robin Pills as The best Liver and Cathartic Pills in use. The price is 25 cents per box.

Here's the beginning of "Wake-Robin by John Burroughs."

“Spring in our northern climate may fairly be said to extend from the middle of March to the middle of June… It is this period that marks the return of the birds…. Each stage of the advancing season gives prominence to certain species, as to certain flowers. The dandelion tells me when to look for the swallow, the dog-tooth violet when to expect the wood thrush, and when I have found the wake-robin in bloom I know the season is fairly inaugurated. With me this flower is associated, not merely with the awakening of Robin, for he has been awake some weeks, but with the universal awakening and rehabilitation of Nature."


The 100th anniversary of Burrough's birthday celebration was held at Hartwick College. The college furnished music, a cappella choir who sang Burrough's favorite song, "Lullaby" by Brahms. Supreme Court Justice Abraham Kellogg presented this tribute:

"When the trees begin to leaf and the birds are here, the arbutus, laurel and wild flowers are blooming and nature is clothing herself with beauty and grandeur, turn ye to your library and in a restful attitude read 'Pepacton' and you will acquaint yourself as never before with John Burroughs, the scientist, the naturalist, the poet and the philosopher.”


Burroughs died at the age of 84 years - fourteen more than the biblical allotment of man. He was returning to the Catskills after undergoing abdominal surgery in California. Burroughs just wanted to see home one more time. Burroughs' nurse and biographer were with him as he made the trip by train. After a restless attempt at sleeping, he asked: "How near home are we?" Told the train was crossing Ohio, Burroughs slumped back and passed away.



The third woman to enroll at Berkely's medical school and the second to be professionally employed as a botanist in the US, the intrepid Kate Brandegee, died in 1920. After getting her MD at Berkley, she found starting a practice too daunting. Thankfully, Kate's passion for botany was ignited during med school. She had learned that plants were the primary sources of medicine, so she dropped the mantle of a physician to pursue botany. Five years later, she was the San Francisco Academy of Sciences herbarium curator. While Kate was at the academy, she personally trained Alice Eastwood. Later, when Kate moved on, Alice was ready to take her place - Kate was a phenomenal mentor.

During her time at the academy, in surprise development at the age of 40, Kate had "fallen insanely in love" with plantsman Townsend Brandegee. Equally yoked, their honeymoon was a 500-mile nature walk - collecting plant specimens from San Diego to San Francisco. The couple moved to San Diego, where they created a herbarium that was praised as a botanical paradise. The collecting trips - often taken together, but sometimes individually, would be their lifelong passion - and they traveled through much of California, Arizona, and Mexico at times using the free railroad passes afforded to botanists. Despite poor health, Kate loved these experiences. In 1908, at the age of 64, she wrote Townsend a letter,

“I am going to walk from Placerville to Truckee (52 miles!)”

In 1906, when an earthquake destroyed the Berkley herbarium, the Brandegees restored it by giving the school their entire botanical library (including many rare volumes) and their plant collection, which numbered some 80,000 plants. Thanks to Townsend's inheritance, the couple was financially independent but also exceptionally selfless. The Brandegees followed their plants and books to Berkley, where Townsend and Kate worked the rest of their lives pro bono. Botanist Marcus Jones said of Kate,

“She was the one botanist competent to publish a real [book about the native plants of California].”


But Kate had delayed writing this work. Kate was 75 when she fell on the University grounds at Berkley - she broke her shoulder. Three weeks later, she died.



Unearthed Words

In honor of Burrough's first book - Wake-Robin, I found a little-known poem by Rebecca Salsbury Palfrey Utter (Books by this author) called The Wake-Robin.

Rebecca was the wife of a Chicago minister named David Utter. She was a selfless missionary who coined the term "Daughter of the King" in one of her more famous poems.

Rebecca was a descendant of Gene Williams Palfrey, who served with George Washington and was ambassador to France.

Here's The Wake-Robin by Rebecca Salsbury Palfrey Utter.


THE WAKE-ROBIN (or trillium)

When leaves are green and hardy
From sleep have just uncurled —
Spring is so tardy
In this part of the world —
There comes a white flower forth,
Opens its eyes,
Looks out upon the earth,
In drowsy surprise.

A fair and pleasant vision
The nodding blossoms make ;
And the flower's name and mission
Is "Wake, robin, wake !"
But you're late, my lady,
You have not earned your name ;
Robin's up already,
Long before you came.

You trusted the sun's glances,
To rouse you from your naps,
Or the brook that near you dances
At spring's approach, perhaps ;
Your chamber was too shady,
The drooping trees among ;
Robin's up already,
Don't you hear his song?

There he sits, swinging, '
In his brown and scarlet cloak,
His notes like laughter ringing ;
'Tis plain he sees the joke.
"Accidents will happen,"
Laughs robin loud and clear ;
"If you think to catch me napping,
Wake earlier next year! "



Today's Book Recommendation: A Wilder Time by William Glassley

The John Burroughs Association was formed to preserve his legacy. Every April, on the first Monday, they gather in New York City to present the John Burroughs Medal, John Burroughs Nature Essay Award, and Riverby Awards to the authors, illustrators, and publishers of the best-published nature writing.

This year's winner is:

A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of The Greenland Ice, by William Glassley, published by Bellevue Literary Press, 2018

A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of The Greenland Ice is a rich literary account of six expeditions to Greenland, where the author sought (and found) Earth's earliest signs yet of plate tectonics, the slow-motion movement and collisions of continents. Anchored by deep reflection and scientific knowledge, A Wilder Time is a portrait of an ancient, nearly untrammeled world that holds the secrets of our planet's deepest past, even as it accelerates into our rapidly changing future. The book bears a nature-writing classic's literary, scientific, intelligent, and poetic qualities, the rarest mixture of beauty and scholarship.

William E. Glassley is a geologist at the University of California, Davis, and an emeritus researcher at Aarhus University, Denmark, focusing on the evolution of continents and the processes that energize them. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, Seattle, and is the author of over seventy research articles and a textbook on geothermal energy. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Other notable recognized authors include Rachel Carson for her book The Sea Around Us and Aldo Leopold for A Sand County Almanac.


Today's Garden Chore

Today's to-do is to add a magnifying glass to your garden tote.

The best gardeners throughout history have looked closely at their plants - often using magnifiers of some fashion.

Get up close and personal with your plants - Increase your intimacy with your garden.

As with every garden tool - you won't use it if it's not handy.




Something Sweet

to revive the little botanic spark in your heart

One last memorable fact about Trilliums.

Most of the parts of the plants occur in threes: 3 broach flat leaves, 3 petals to a flower, and three sepals (the part that enclosed the petals, protects them in bud, and supports them in bloom).




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