Thursday, June 02, 2011

Hoary puccoon amid the spiderwort

Golly, don't the names of these native Iowa prairie flowers just sing? This is spiderwort, a recent addition to the palette at my favorite patch of prairie remnant when I walked in after lunch yesterday, spking upward both in damper areas and on more arid embankments.

My mother, armed with shovel and bucket, used to upend this plant (Tradescantia of the virginiana variety I'm guessing --- four varieties grow in Iowa) and bring it home to her flower garden, but I like its angularity and color best among trailside grasses.

Some speculate "spider" derives from the fact the flower heads look spiderish, sort of; others insist the name came about because if you break the head off, stick a finger in the sap and pull it away the sap will "thread," looking a lot like the basic element of a spider web.

Hoary puccoon's blooming phase is winding down, but the little yellow blossoms still sparkle in the grass. This name for Lithospermum canescens is easier to explain. Hoary because the stems and leaves are slightly fuzzy. And "puccoon," supposedly an Algonquian word for plants from which dyes were derived --- a reddish dye once used to decorate both people and their products once reportedly was derived from this low-slung plant.

Didn't linger long Wednesday in large part because "my" meditating bench now belongs to bees that have claimed the rickety little shelter in which it is located. I sat there for a few minutes kind of enjoying it as they bumbled around me, But then, as the volume of the buzz from under the bench increased, decided not to press my luck and moved along.


The report from far western Iowa is that thousands of acres of cropland in that broad band of rich bottom separating the Missouri River from the loess hills are about to disappear under water and stay there for some time.

Some speculate that will send the price of corn even higher, increasing the motivation to switch from cornflakes to oatmeal. Not many people actually live in the bottoms and farmers tend to have crop insurance, so other human side effects are expected to be minimal.

The major difficulty all along Iowa's western shore will be vast amounts of water released from impoundment in water-greedy South Dakota (outflow from the Gavins Point Dam --- Lewis and Clark Lake --- is expected to be double 1997 records). Below Omaha, the usually sluggish Platte also is pouring in great volumes of water.

Since the Nebraska side of the Missouri is banked and there are no flood-control devices other than levees along the ditched Big Middy in Iowa, water pretty much does what comes naturally --- although what's been done to the Missouri over the years in Missouri, Iowa and South Dakota is hardly natural.


One of the odder byways of the same-sex marriage debate in recent days has been the appearance of various maps comparing the number of states in which it is legal for first-cousins to marry to the number of states in which same-sex couples may marry.

While I'm whole-heartedly in favor of same-sex marriage, it seems unlikely this comparison has too much of a future. After all, if you start digging around in the family closet, most will discover they probably wouldn't be here if cousins hand't married cousins at some point or another.

I'm not advocating this, by the way. Beyond the yuk factor, the genetics involved seem to be hazardous. Inbreeding generally is blamed for some of the peculiarities within those "royal" families of Europe.

But my great-great-great-grandparents, Richard and Elizabeth (Rhea) Rhea, were first-cousins; and Elizabeth's parents were Rhea cousins, too, to some degree we've never been able to decipher. Richard was a Baptist preacher, so it must have been OK.

In fact Rheas always were marrying each other, which causes a good deal of genealogical confusion, especially since they all recycled the same given names generation after generation. Some of these marriages occurred in Kentucky, where first-cousins reportly are now forbidden to wed, and in southern Illinois, where first-cousins reportedly may marry under certain circumstances. We gave up inbreeding upon arrival in Iowa, which is just as well since such marriages apparently are illegal here.

Then there were my maternal grandmother's first-cousins, William B. Brown and Louisa Brown, who married each other rather late in life and by doing so united both themselves and a family farm in Ohio that had been divided by previous inheritance. Breeding, however, was not an issue here --- Louisa was beyond it and it seems likely Cousin Will just had never been interested in such things. Apparently, first-cousins no longer may marry in Ohio, ether. Such marriages are fully legal in Texas, hardly surprising.


If you're in favor of creeping nannyism, you'll love the policy that goes into effect July 1 at Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines. Blood tests will be administered to all prospective new hires and if nicotine shows up, even to the degree that might occur in a non-smoker who lives with a smoker, the applicant will be turned away.

The contention isn't, according to Mercy, that smoking staffers might harm patients --- just that no one should smoke. That's true, of course, but the policy does seem to be a mite intrusive.

The implication here is that if you're married to an unrepent smoker, you'd best divorce him or her in time to allow your blood to clear before the six-month waiting period for a new test --- if you fail the first one. This seems odd, considering the Mercy system's Roman Catholic history.

Of course the system now is controlled by suits to the extent that when the last Sister of Mercy in Des Moines died recently she was stuffed and mounted in the lobby --- just to show that there had once been mercy at Mercy.

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