Monday, December 29, 2003


It's a beautiful, balmy day -- bright and warm enough at four o'clock to sustain faith in the eventual arrival of spring, and even feed the delusional hope that the rest of winter will be mild and snowless.

I'm just back from a riverside walk, and am listening to Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus." It's new to me, and lovely. Based on a folk tune. Bucolic, like my walk. There were others by the river today, more than usual, taking the sun. Walking, bicycling.

A group of boys was fishing. One of them was jabbering into a cell phone, and two of the smaller ones were swatting at willow branches with sticks. I groused, inwardly, at the electronic toy, the fish killing, the swatting. I felt vulnerable and misanthropic. I had fleeting convent fantasies.

I longed for my cerebral, androgynous fantasy botanist to emerge from the woods.

On my agenda was returning to the river hermit's midden. For two reasons.

I'd left it two days ago with the tiniest of nagging worries that there was, in fact, a dead hermit in the collapsed tent. A tiny, irrational worry. I'm a little obsessive, but not overly so. Nonetheless, when I was trying to decide on my itinerary today, I chose the river over the cemetary so I might check and resolve this little folie de doute.

Plus, I wanted to take a picture. Raptor that I have become.

Little had changed at the site, although I think one of the suitcases had been moved. I went right to the tent, and nudged the bulgy part with my toe. Trash, not corpse. Phew. I lifted the corner of one of the half-open suitcases. It was full of wadded up clothes. A tabloid newspaper was splayed between two trees. I took some pictures and left. There were some green shoots in the mud near the river bank, and one stand of vivid green grass.

On my way back, a policmen on a motorcycle slowly approach on the paved path. I asked him whether ATVs were allowed. Nope, he replied. That's why he was there. Patrolling for them. He inquired solicitously about my neck brace, then rode on. Not quite my fantasy botanist, but he'd have to do.

Yes, I have a few unresolved Daddy issues.

On my way back I stopped on the footbridge to watch the ducks . It's a beautiful little bridge, light green, and gently arched like the bridges of Japanese floating world woodcuts. Next to it, and a beautiful foil to it, is an ancient railroad trestle bridge, its dense cluster of upright poles dark, charred. The ducks were swimming in pairs among the dried river grasses -- green headed mallard boys and their duller brown consorts.

To my surprise, as I leaned on the rail watching the ducks, DK arrived on his bicycle.

He had his bright yellow bike jacket on, and I was in my usual dun, nondescript garb. We watched the duck pairs doing little head bobbing dances and rearing up out of the water. Courtship, we guessed. Duck love. I showed him the dried burcucumber pods and the Japanese knotweed and its golden seeds. I watched him ride off feeling my usual mild sadness and bemusement at mere fact of existence.

I suppose, earlier, when I was feeling the solitary female in an aggressive and stick-wielding male universe, I should have taken comfort in the rhizomtously proliferating knotweed --

The Japanese Knotweed Alliance explains that "Japanese Knotweed is one of the most extraordinary examples of an invasive plant known. Firstly it is a giant herb, which every Spring grows rapidly to a height of 2 or 3 metres, only to be cut down by the first winter frost and grow afresh the next Spring. It is actually a dioecious plant which means that you need male and female plants for sexual reproduction to occur, yet in Europe, so far, we only have female plants. Not only is it a single sex, it is also a single clone, as work carried out at the University of Leicester has shown. Given that it must occupy many thousands of hectares in Britain alone (the same clone is also known to occur in continental Europe and North America), in total biomass terms, it is probably the biggest female in the world!

I knew I felt a strange affinity for the plant.

You go girl !

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